Leaving the Ivory Tower


It is no exaggeration to say that the spirit of design is dynamically thriving in Bandung more than in any other city in Indonesia. With 60 per cent of the population under the age of 40, huge numbers of creative enterprises have sprung up all around the city. There is a strong sense of collaboration among these businesses — from small scale activities, such as sharing space in design studios and putting on small exhibitions, to bigger scale events, such as the upcoming design biennale festival being held in November 2017.

Story by Prananda Luffiansyah

Interestingly, this city was endowed as the City of Design in 2015, becoming a part of the International Creative Cities Network of UNESCO. Looking at these achievements, the question simply comes up: Why has Bandung successfully emerged as such a leading centre for design activities in this nation?

One possible explanation is the long presence of art and design schools in the city. As places to experiment and enhance design knowledge, as well as producing skilled human resources, these academic institutions have undoubtedly played a key role in making Bandung such a successful design city, locally and internationally.

Eleven such schools are scattered around the city, including, Institut Teknologi Bandung (ITB), the oldest art and design school in Indonesia (which has a periodical academic publication: the Journal of Visual Art and Design), the School of Creative Industries of Telkom University which regularly hosts the Bandung Creative Movement International Conference, the Institut Teknologi Nasional (ITENAS) with three major design programmes and a regular final project exhibition by its students, and the Indonesian Art and Culture Institute of Bandung (ISBI) with its strong focus on art and graphic design.

Other design schools have also contributed to the growth in design knowledge in Bandung, such as the study of graphic and multimedia design at Widyatama University and the University of Bina Sarana Informatika (BSI), Maranatha University with its keen focus on interior, graphic and fashion design; and Universitas Komputer Indonesia (UNIKOM) with their focus on art, technology, design and entrepreneurship.

The Indonesian School of Design (STDI) and the Institut Teknologi Harapan Bangsa (ITHB) both teach fashion design; and the University of Bina Nusantara (BINUS) Bandung, a branch of BINUS Jakarta, will soon offer courses in design and creativepreneurship. Various academic works from these schools have attempted to create real solutions for the problems in this city. For instance, the class of Art, Design and Environment at ITB has encouraged its students to work multi-discipline to develop and offer ideas focussed on specific problems in the city. During the process, the students collaborated with local communities, undertaking intensive fieldwork, meeting and listening to various groups of people.

At the end of the semester, they will present their work to the wider public, getting insights and critiques for further development. Last year, they held a successful exhibition, not inside an art or design gallery, but in a pendopo walikota (the official residence of the city mayor). Another example is the active presence of academics from universities in the Bandung Creative City Forum (BCCF)—a melting pot for design and creative communities in the city consisting of diverse stakeholders—to hold regular discussions, events and exhibitions related to the development of Bandung. Through the efforts from the academics to work with international collaborators, design knowledge is rapidly building and spreading through the expanding network. Such academic contributions have long been triggering designers and other stakeholders to meet, collaborate, debate and tailor various ideas.

What we can see from these various activities and initiatives is the innate ability of academics in this city to dynamically shift from one local community to another, to get involved in various business associations, and actively offer suggestions to help shape government policy. They are able to be a catalyst, assimilating an amalgamation of ideas from various groups and representing the real needs of the citizens. In this way, they have managed to distance themselves from the ivory tower of academia and to actively take part in community-level activities as well as in policy making. They have become a bridge between the key stakeholders: academia, government, industry, and the community.

Having created such a comfortable and conducive environment, however, there will be a new challenge for the academics. They will need to venture out of their comfort zone, not only to look for pragmatic solutions, but also to critically re-question and re-examine what has been done, and then, start looking for the development of design theory that is relevant to the local context from a scientific perspective. Publishing papers in local or international journals is one way to mobilise such a dynamic movement so that local designers can have a more robust understanding of design, and be able to explore ideas that touch more fundamental issues and problems in the local context. This might also help to spread the word about what’s going on in Bandung to the wider world.

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