Based in Cambodia and registered as a charity in the UK, Epic Arts use the arts as a form of expression and empowerment to bring people with and without disabilities together. Exclusively for British Council, Anthony Evans who’s the Program Development Manager at Epic Arts wrote about his four-day experience in Jakarta and how he met all these talented people here.
I was quite prepared for Indonesia, especially for the sights, smells, and crazy driving. After spending three years living in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, I am used to the usual things associated with big Asian cities. However, I did find Jakarta took the traffic jams to a whole new level. But that didn’t diminish my overall experience in Indonesia; on the contrary!
Based on my liaison with the British Council team, I was very clear about the aim of my four days in Indonesia. I was also very excited to hear from Indonesia’s next generation of artists and organisations about their feelings and attitudes toward inclusive arts.
I was particularly interested in hearing the differences and similarities between the sector in Indonesia and what I was used to experiencing in Cambodia. From reading the recent research, it seemed there were lots of crossover especially with regards to some of the political and religious barriers.
What struck me more than anything during my whole trip to Jakarta was the realisation of how big Indonesia as a country actually is. I knew Indonesia was made up of different islands, but I didn’t expect it to be consisting of 17.000 islands.
Bringing together the artists, leaders, and arts organisations from all over the archipelago is kind of a big deal; I felt very honoured to have been able to participate in an event that brought together this group of people for the first time. As I listened to each of the participants introduce themselves, I knew that the trip had already been worth it. This meeting of great minds was going to have a legacy far longer than the next four days.
I was here to talk about and celebrate diversity to a group who I could see already had a richness and understanding of diversity. Admittedly, perhaps not with regards to disability, but the room was full of different faiths, cultures, and languages discussing their successes and challenges. Our local facilitator, Mas Slamet, explained to me about one delegate: “This man speaks my local language. I mean, we all mostly speak Bahasa but this guy speaks my local tongue.”
I have to admit to thinking to myself, “What can I teach to these people?” They already have fantastic inclusive attitudes. They did go onto explain to me that they needed to see more role models, examples of best practice and as I was able to refer them to many, I did at the end the day feeling pretty useful.
By day two, we hit the tough stuff. Jakarta has a huge event approaching in October in the form of the Asian Para Games. Ruth Gould from DaDaFest and I were trying to act as catalysts, encouraging and nurturing the raw enthusiasm of the participants; trying to channel their ideas into the barebones of a cultural offer that could stand alongside this huge sporting event.
The main question of the day was: “What do you need in order to develop this?” We were urging some of the talented leaders to step forward and take on the responsibility of working with the British Council. We decided together that it was important to make some noise and so a working group was formed to take ideas forward.
I got a real buzz from thinking I’d played a small part in putting together this crack team of doers together. I cannot wait to see what they put forward for October.
The British Council team provided an open forum for the assembled working group to lobby the media, ministers, and officials of the Para Games. Together we pitched that the upcoming games was an opportunity to come together, to celebrate the diversity of the country, and that with their help a platform could be created to demonstrate the richness and diversity of Indonesia’s arts sector in a way that is not tragic, patronising, or second rate but that is thriving, alive, interesting, innovative, and distinctly Indonesian.
On my final day in Indonesia, we went to visit two participants who were busy putting up artwork for their weekend exhibition. One artist, Hana Madness, was exhibiting as part of a fundraiser for a charity supporting people with learning disabilities. Hana, who experiences mental health problems herself, explained to me how she was looking forward to her upcoming residency with UK artist The Vacuum Cleaner as she would use it to diversify the style of her work.