September 18, 2019


Bureaucracy and Artists’ Creativity

By: Kongso Sukoco, anggota Dewan Kesenian NTB

There is sufficient budget for development of the arts in the regions to support the creativity of local artists. While most of the budget is dedicated to the interests of “tourism arts”, some is aimed at increasing the quality of the arts. However, programs run by the regional Culture and Tourism Agencies, including those carried out by the Technical Executor Bodies (UPT), such as the Culture Park, cater more towards the interests of  bureaucrats rather than supporting the artists’ creativity wholeheartedly.  


People living and working in the arts living in rural regions are not as lucky as their counterparts living in urban centers – Jakarta in particular. Jakarta allows for the diversification of working space for its artists. There, the practice of the arts does not depend on government support. But that is not the case in the regions. Financial support from the regional authorities is highly valued and awaited by the art communities, both traditional and contemporary.  Regional artists nurture hope that the local authorities, through related institutions, will provide clear plans for programs to support the artists’ creativity.

In reality, however, art workers who succeed in establishing understandings with the bureaucracy generally find their interests subordinated to the political interests of those holding power in the regions. The local bureaucracy rarely opens its doors to those outside that circle of power. The fierce, ongoing reform of bureaucracy should, in theory, encourage bureaucrats to expand public service, yet in practice the bureaucracy still caters mostly to those in power, or, at least, seems to perceive the public – including the art community – as there to serve their purposes. This situation exists in almost all regions: Bureaucracy, which is supposed to expand the space to create for artists, is apparently more concerned about itself.

Artists in Mataram, West Nusa Tenggara, have consistently lamented over this state of affairs after participating in the regular exhibition held by the Taman Budaya art center there. The main issue raised is the extent of preparation and the expense an artist has to bear to participate, including shipment of artworks, for which each artist, with usually only five to seven artists exhibiting, is allocated only Rp. 1 million, although as much as Rp 50 million has been allocated per exhibition, which also covers publication costs, booklets and the opening ceremony. The funds are managed by the bureaucrats.

What boggles the mind is the appearance of an “official trip” expenditure item involving airline tickets in the budget of a local exhibition whose target audience is students and involving local artists in a simple exhibition space, with a local official for the opening.  Another example is a Performing Arts workshop involving local “experts”, with a budget of Rp 50 million for two days. If that fund were handed over to the artists themselves it would most likely evolve into a truly interesting art event. However, generally an event organizer, who usually has ties to the bureaucrats, manages the program and allocates only Rp 500,000 each at the most for any artists used as guest speakers. Thus, if there were eight speakers to deliver lectures on directing, acting, artistic arrangements, and so on, artists would only get Rp 5 million at the most from Rp 50 million. The rest goes to the bureaucrats, whose main duty is to take care of art and culture, but consistently nix the artists’ ideas to hold shows, intensive discussions and other events that could empower the participants further.  Instances like these are also par for the course for workshops for a wide range of arts other than visual art or film.

The above is just the tip of the iceberg. There are plenty of other examples, on a larger scale, and it is important to investigate the performance of the bureaucracy in relation to the arts.  Moreover, artists need to learn about where the budget for arts and culture goes. Nothing will change if the artists themselves are apathetic and reluctant to monitor the activities of the bureaucracy. Abduh Aziz is correct in saying: In a corrupt civilization, art will certainly be an accessory in a shop window- easy on the eye yet meaningless.


As was the case in many other discussions in other towns, the talk of the Indonesian Arts Coalition (KSI) with the artists in Pontianak (30/1), revealed how minute the government’s attention or support towards the artists’ creativity is overall. This sort of condition leads to the artists’ apathy. This happens almost everywhere. A group of Indie musicians in Mataram, West Nusa Tenggara, have formed a community, and carried on with their work in the arts on their own. They refuse to resort to facilities or budget support from the local government to maintain their independence; a move that is indeed something to be proud of.

The choice facing the artists seems to be to just turn a blind eye to the bureaucracy’s doings, or to oppose any involvement with them at all. However, the arts need artists, who realize how important it is to support the transparency of the local government’s management of the people’s budget for arts and culture activities. In West Nusa Tenggara, a sufficient budget was provided by the Tourism and Culture Agency, but it remains unclear how much of that budget actually reaches the artists and art workers. For instance, the West Nusa Tenggara Tourism and Culture Agency has a Technical Executor Unit (UPTD) for the local Taman Budaya art center. The unit carries out shows, experimental art events, exhibitions and so on. Currently, the West Nusa Tenggara Arts Council, along with West Nusa Tenggara’s SOMASI (the Solidarity for Transparency Society), are planning to look into the utilization of the budget allocated by the West Nusa Tenggara Tourism and Culture Agency, which increases every year. In 2015, in the adjusted Regional Budget, the fund for Culture Month alone reached over Rp 2.5 billion.

The question remains overall as to how much of the budget allocations for art and culture, reach the artists themselves?  The development of arts in the regions is not about having an insufficient budget, but more about the usage of the existing budget in a non-transparent manner. That is why advocating transparency in budgets for the development of arts and culture in the regions is important, and the starting point could indeed be shaking the artists out of their apathy by teaching them about their rights and the need to fight for them through demanding transparency in budget management from the regional government.

In the words of Abduh Aziz, artists should refuse to be silent spectators in the margins. They must go out to demand transparency in the management of the people’s funds.

Mataram, August 2015.

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