Central Java Cultural Park

In the eastern part of Surakarta regency, Central Java, is an eye-catching compound of large buildings on Jl. Ir. Sutami, the road connecting Surakarta with Surabaya, East Java; or to be exact, it stands next to Sebelas Maret University (UNS) and the Indonesian Fine Arts Institute-Surakarta (ISI Surakarta).

An iron fence surrounds this compound of over 5 hectares while the attractive buildings, in a traditional Javanese architectural style, loom high and imposing.

If it did not have a large sign out front identifying it as the Central Java Cultural Park, no one would imagine that this compound of imposing buildings is actually a cultural park, but perhaps a hotel or a university.

A cultural park is typically associated with a single large building, or with structures in a general state of neglect. But the Central Java Cultural Park has a well-kept, landscaped yard where grass grows and large trees tower in neat rows.

Just beyond the fence is a winding, descending path like those of mountain passes. A pendopo (open-air pavilion) bids welcome to visitors as though saying that here is no ordinary collection of buildings; and the pendopo itself is no ordinary building, either.

At about 1,648 square meters, it can accommodate over 2,500 people and also has an auxiliary building of 225 sqm. Further, the pendopo also has a stage measuring 25 m by 28 m. Aside from its use for large performances, this stage is often used by performers to rehearse dances, Javanese karawitan song music, Javanese ketoprak dramas and other productions.

Next to the pendopo, separated by a smooth paved road, is an amphitheater. This U-shaped building of about 600 sqm comprises a stage and an open stand for the audience.

The amphitheater is complete with equipment and facilities for stage performances such as lighting and a sound system. The structure, which can hold about 350 spectators, is used for drama, musical and dance performances and discussions, as well as poetry and short-story readings.

At the other side of the cultural park is the Exhibition Room, divided into two parts: a smaller room of about 300 sqm and a large room of about 600 sqm. The Exhibition Room may be used to display artworks, both traditional and contemporary, by either Indonesian or foreign artists.

Then there is the Bangsal Pengrawit, or gamelan hall, comprising six buildings that store the Javanese, Balinese and Pakumartan (Kodok Ngorek, Monggang, Cara Balen and Sekaten) gamelan sets.

The cultural park also has a sound-proof music studio of about 105 sqm, which is used for rehearsals by musicians and students, including university students. Nearby is a recording studio used for recording vocals as well as both modern and traditional music.
When touring artists must stay in Surakarta for a program at the cultural park, accommodation is readily available at the Wisma Seniman (artists house). The dormitory has 100 beds and 22 rooms, half of which are air-conditioned while the other half equipped with an electric fan.

Wisma Seniman is also open to the public, and as demand rises, a new wing is expected to be added.

In the vicinity stands the Gedung Pertemuan (conference building), with a capacity for 80 seats. This room is suitable for working meetings, seminars and governmental meetings.

The Central Java Cultural Park is yet to have a separate building dedicated to its library, which is temporarily located on the first floor of the Secretariat Building.

This library, while modest, maintains a comprehensive collection of books, cassette tapes, video cassettes, VCDs and DVDs, mini-DVDs and photographic documentation on the activities of the cultural park. To date, the library boasts 1,755 books, 2,585 cassette tapes, 1,461 video cassettes, 335 VCDs and DVDs, 19 mini-DVDs and 449 photographic albums.

The library collections generally focus on culture and heritage, such as shadow puppetry (wayang kulit), wayang Javanese dance-dramas (wayang orang), ketoprak, theater and dance, karawitan, keroncong orchestra, literature and fine arts.

All of the park’s facilities — which also includes a small pendopo, the Teater Taman (garden theater) and cafeteria — are maintained by the staff who work in the Secretariat Building.

On the first floor of this administrative building are a meeting room, an audio-visual room and a library, with offices for cultural officials and the head of art development. On the second floor are a lobby and the offices of the Cultural Park administrators.

Aside from these comprehensive facilities, the Cultural Park contributes to cultural conservation and education through its various programs.

According to Wijang Wharek A.M., head of the park’s literature section, over 100 programs have been planned for 2007. These programs cover both traditional culture and modern art forms, such as monthly wayang kulit and keroncong performances.

Meanwhile, the Cultural Park management does not charge artists for the use of its facilities, instead “exchanging” space and facilities for the artists activities.

The Cultural Park, Wijang said, serves as a guardian of art and culture — it assists in their conservation and development.

There are three crucial elements in the arts world: the artists, the art experts and the arts space or media. The Cultural Park is an arts space and so it must be able to accommodate the other two elements, as an artist’s work will never reach the public without mediators.

As an institution, the Cultural Park thus endeavors to accommodate both artists and art experts, which is why it is located strategically in an area where artists are produced (ISI Surakarta) and art experts are groomed (UNS).

As to why Surakarta was chosen as the site of the Central Java Cultural Park, Wijang said this was a special case since a cultural park is typically located in a provincial capital.

Surakarta was selected as the home for the cultural park in view of the city’s socio-cultural background and the relationships it has already developed with extant art institutions. The Central Java Cultural Park, therefore, may be said to differ from similar facilities in other provinces because it is the result of careful consideration.

The cultural park commenced activities in 1981, and for the first six years, its programs and those of the Indonesian Karawitan Academy (ASKI) of Surakarta and the Central Javanese Arts Development (PKJT) were carried out in the Sasonomulyo, Baluwari Surakarta room at Surakarta Palace.

In 1987, all activities of the Central Java Cultural Park were moved to its present location.

It was the late S.D. Humardani (d. 1983), better known as Gendon Humardani, who pioneered the establishment of the cultural park.

Gendon, Wijang said, nurtured an ambition that a facility serving as the hub of arts and culture activities in Central Java would support arts development. He also imagined that this center would overcome issues related to cultural impoverishment, a condition that could result in shallow comprehension and knowledge, and cause the stagnation of artistic creativity and innovation.

The ISI Surakarta and UNS campuses were thus designed to be an inseparable part of the realization of this ambition.

If each province had an arts and culture center like the Central Java Cultural Park, artists indigenous to those areas would no longer need to worry about space or opportunity. In such a case, local arts, whether traditional or contemporary, would develop dynamically and independently.

As the Central Java Cultural Park demonstrates, paradise must be built on this earth properly, and that space and opportunities for artists are not left as mere ambition on paper.