The ‘Culture’ of the Bali Arts Festival

Every year, after the Bali Arts Festival I get questions from my readers about the way it is (mis)presented. Here are some of my answers:

There seems to be little information available about the performers or their art-forms, so I don’t know what I’m watching. Why is there no festival guide?

If you’ve lived in Indonesia for any extended period, you will quickly learn that this is not a culture of information or details. Since this is poorly organized government-sponsored event, don’t expect a comprehensive festival guide any time soon!

When I was looking to park my car, I was guided into somebody’s house! Here there charged me some seemingly random amount and there was no ticket – it all seemed like a joke – is this for real?

This parking system is organized by the local banjars and does little to provide a safe parking area or provide any tax revenue for the government. Locals tell me that behind the scenes at this festival is a ‘mafia’ that is in control, so this bizarre system that only seems to benefit a select few (families who opened up their houses to vehicles during this time can make up to 100 million rupiah!) is an integral part of the whole set-up it seems.
At all the performances I went to, the sound systems were awful. Are there good sound technicians in Bali?
Sadly, this ‘professional sound gear’ is not only the result of an ongoing corruption scandal but also operated by inexperienced, incompetent technicians. Like the third-world toilets that you have to pay to use at this event, festival sound wizardry has a long way to go!

There was a lot of noise during performances and some people eating and drinking, even yapping on their mobiles – is there no respect for the performers?

In Balinese society, people never sit deadly silent through a performance as we have been doing since the Victorian era. At temple ceremonies, people are used to flowing in and out rather than intensely watching – after all, most traditional art-forms in Bali were not created for the pleasure of us mere mortals!

© 2015 Vaughan Hatch

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