Lanny Merlinda Losung
Senior Assistant to the Vice Minister for Culture, Ministry of Education and Culture, Indonesia

Culture. Is it still relevant in the twenty first century, the age of globalization? Can culture provide useful input in solving the problems of development, democracy, economy, environment, urban development, interfaith, and social development? Such questions on the role of culture have become targets of attention and debate among world leaders and experts today.

The Secretary-General of the United Nations, Ban Ki Moon, opened the debate at the General Conference of the UN in June 2013 by underlining the significance of the role of culture in development. During that same debate, the President of the Republic of Indonesia, HE Dr H. Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, remarked that the nexus between culture and development had not yet been sufficiently explored, and he declared his commitment to deep exploration of the matter of culture in development in the UN Post-2015 Development Agenda. Yet on another occasion, in reference to the various conferences on culture organized until now, the UN Secretary-General had sounded a note of caution by saying, “More of the same will not do.”

Acting upon this chain of thought, in 2005, Indonesia’s president conceived of the idea of establishing a periodic international World Culture Forum (WCF) as a venue and vehicle for discussing matters related to culture in development. Indonesia’s Minister for Education and Culture was charged with preparing and organizing the forum.

Prof Kacung Marijan, Director-General for Culture, Ministry of Education and Culture of the Republic of Indonesia, hopes that the Bali WCF will become a regular international forum for discussing culture and its relevance, a forum similar to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, and the World Environment Forum in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Indonesia’s Vice Minister for Culture, Prof Wiendu Nuryanti, PhD, has been involved in developing the concept and planning of the WCF for many years, since her days as Professor of Architecture at Gajah Mada University. Prof Wiendu, who was appointed as a member of the governing board of ICHCAP in 2013, explained that intensive WCF preparations had started with intensity since the end of 2012, in consultation with Indonesian and overseas experts; among them are Prof Amareswar Galla of the Inclusive Museum Institute and Jeff Campbell of Asia Media. Preparations for the WCF reached a climax at the end of November 2013.

The WCF was opened by the President of Indonesia on 25 November 2013 at the Bali International Conference Centre in Nusa Dua, Bali. In the presence of over two thousand participants, including five hundred overseas delegates, ministers of culture, representatives of international organizations, and experts as well as local and international media, Dr H. Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono delivered his opening speech. Prof Amartya Sen, the Nobel laureate in economics, and Dr Fareed Zakaria, an international media figure, followed the opening speech with thought- provoking keynote addresses. The opening was preceded the evening before with a gala dinner and a large-scale collaborative performance by over six hundred artists at the Garuda Wisnu Kencana open stage.

Chairman of the WCF Steering Committee, Prof Azyumardi Azra of Indonesia, explained that many of the most renowned public figures and experts had been invited to address the two-day WCF.

After the opening ceremony and press conference was a ministerial roundtable. Ministers and high officials from the People’s Republic of China, Bangladesh, Brazil, Malaysia, Yemen, Philippines, Brunei, Timor- Leste, Kyrgyzstan, and Singapore made presentations on culture in development based on their own national and international perspectives.

The ministerial roundtable was followed by two roundtables. The first roundtable was of Intergovernmental Organizations, including UNESCO, ICCROM, WIPO, World Bank, ICHCAP, CRIHAP, and APCEIU. Dr Seong-Yong Park, Assistant Director-General of ICHCAP, one of the most active international organizations in the Asia-Pacific region in the field of ICH information and networking, made a presentation that was well appreciated by the audience. NGOs that addressed the international NGO roundtable included the Inclusive Museum Institute, IFACCA, IFLA, ICOM, ICOMOS, IFCCD, ATS, and BPPI (Indonesian Heritage Trust).

WCF continued on 26 November with expert speakers from all over the world addressing six thematic symposia, on the topics of:

  • Holistic Approaches to Culture in Development
  • Civil Society and Cultural Democracy
  • Creativity and Cultural Economics
  • Culture in Environment Sustainability
  • Sustainability Urban Development
  • Interfaith Dialogue and Community Building

Veteran Indonesian journalist, Goenawan Mohamad, a speaker at one of the symposia, hoped that the impact of the WCF could be disseminated widely to the public through printed and electronic media.

WCF produced a joint declaration titled “The Bali Promise.” The Promise calls for a measurable and effective role of culture in development at all levels in the UN Post-2015 Development Agenda. The Promise notes that culture is a driver, enabler, and enricher of development.

The WCF was recognized as a permanent platform for promoting the role of culture in sustainable development and the safeguarding of the cultural and linguistic diversity of humanity. WCF participants welcomed Indonesia’s commitment to be the host of future WCFs.

Vice Minster Prof Wiendu Nuryanti, on behalf of the government of Indonesia, warmly thanked all those who participated in the WCF. Indonesia is committed to hold the Bali WCF again on a biennial basis. The second WCF may be held in Bali towards the end of 2015.