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Textile Museum Unpopular: Jakarta, West Java

Despite its classic architecture and wide collection of traditional clothes, most Jakartans have probably never heard of Museum Tekstil (the Textile Museum), let alone visited it. The museum, formerly a French private house built in the 19th century, has a collection of some 1,800 pieces of clothing from around the archipelago, most of it batik.

The museum sits on busy strip of Jl. KS Tubun, previously known as Jl. Petamburan, in Tanah Abang, Central Jakarta.

Experts say difficult access and the surrounding slums of Tanah Abang are factors that have helped drive visitors away from the museum.

That, and a lack of public interest.

“Museums do not have a place in the hearts of our people. Many people prefer to go to a movie theater with a Rp 40,000 (US$4.25) entrance fee, rather than visiting a museum with a Rp 2,000 entrance charge at most,” said Danang Priatmodjo from the Architecture Department of Tarumanegara University.

He was speaking at a seminar on spatial planning for the neighborhood surrounding the Textile Museum last week.

The Textile Museum charges Rp 2,000 (about US$0.22) for an adult visitor, and only Rp 600 for a child.

“Making matters worse, the pavement in front of the Textile Museum is always filled with street vendors,” Danang said, adding that the museum was virtually hidden behind the vendors’ stalls.

He said Tanah Abang had long been stigmatized as a slum full of criminals, thugs, drug addicts and prostitutes.

This also harms the image of the museum, which was opened in 1976, Danang said.

There are 260 museums nationwide, 59 of them in Jakarta.

The museum’s head, Dyah Damayanti, said traffic congestion made it difficult for tourist buses to get to the museum.

“Most public transport stops and waits for passengers as they please right in front of the museum,” she said.

“The museum attracts 200 people at most, but on a slow day we might have only 10 visitors,” Dyah said.

This figure is far below the number of daily visitors to Monas (the National Monument in Central Jakarta), which attracts between 500 visitors on weekdays and 10,000 during school holidays.

Dyah said that 90 percent of the visitors to the Textile Museum were school children obliged to participate in school study excursions.

Andi Oetomo, a planning expert from the Bandung Institute of Technology, suggested that the museum’s management enliven things by holding activities other than its routine textile exhibits.

Danang said the museum should not be a place where people take the passive role of only viewing the collections. He said the museum could also come up with productive activities, such as developing the textile industry in local neighborhoods.

Win Djuwita Ramelan, who teaches archeology at the University of Indonesia said, “Honestly, I only went there once. I don’t want to go there again because of the (traffic) congestion.”

Win said placing the Textile Museum in a new building could also be one option to help pull it out of the doldrums.

“Why must we insist on keeping an old building that has no historical value anyway? I don’t think money would be a problem for the city administration to construct a new building for the museum,” she said.

MR Manik, the head of the city’s most popular museum, the Jakarta History Museum in West Jakarta, said in a separate interview that museum caretakers were often reluctant to make changes and overlooked visitors’ desires for attractive and educational displays.

“We cannot simply blame the public’s lack of appreciation — it all correlates with their education and economic status,” he said.

Agnes Winarti