Nathasya Eki (14) was beaming after she performed gamelan with 19 other kids representing her school, SMPN 4 Surakarta. She was so excited and happy to play gamelan in front of an audience. It was not their first public performance, because the SMPN 4 Surakarta gamelan had performed in RRI and school art shows. But the 9 August 2018 performance was special, because the youthful gamelan players played on Sriwedari stage in the soft opening of the International Gamelan Festival 2018.

Another satisfied smile can be found on Nanang Aris Utomo’s face. The third-year ISI karawitan student was enthusiastic in his role as the conductor of the performance. “Participating in a karawitan event, especially at the international level, made me very happy,” he confessed.

The soft opening act, entitled “Gamelan with People and Schoolchildren” began on 15.45, opened by Hilmar Farid (Director General of Culture, Ministry of Education and Culture), Surakarta mayor FX Hadi Rudyatmo and vice-mayor Achmad Purnomo.

The event involved 73 school, neighbourhood, and other gamelan groups from all over Surakarta. They brought their own gamelan instruments, and set these up along Jalan Slamet Riyadi from the Sriwedari Park to Fort Vastenburg. All of them played simultaneously, led by 30 conductors. Passers-by watched enthusiastically, crowding the sidewalk and taking pictures. Street vendors did not pass the opportunity to profit from the crowd. Rahmat, 49, itinerary ice tea seller, managed to sell 45 glasses for Rp5.000 each. “Thank God”, he said.

Besides the local groups, International Gamelan Festival 2018 (IGF 2019), which will be held in 9–16 August 2018, also featured 19 gamelan groups from abroad: United Kingdom, United States, Australia, Thailand. Many of these had studied gamelan in Indonesia, in particular Solo, Hilmar said. The event would be a reunion for them. Other performers include 42 gamelan groups from all parts of Indonesia.

IGF 2018 is organized by the Surakarta City Government in collaboration with the Directorate General of Culture, Ministry of Education and Culture, through the Indonesiana platform. Indonesiana is a new initiative by the Directorate General of Culture to empower regions to hold cultural events.

Organizing a festival, as a form of cultural activity which can produce excitement and joy, is not easy. Many festivals failed to provide joy for the audience, as well as performers and supporters. Hilmar said that the Indonesiana platform is expected to bring back that joy by focusing on the gotong royong (collaboration) principle, because joy should be the main element of the festivals. This mau be achieved by opening dialogue, conversation, between regional governments, artists, and all stakeholders. The dialogue would aim to seek what motivates each party, to encourage them to do something and build a paradigm to develop local culture. Festivals used to fail because the organizers had a fixed, outdated pattern. The Indonesiana platform seeks to refresh that, to put back togetherness in cultural efforts.