Cultural Performance as a Commodity for the Preservation of Local Identity and Financial Sustainability

This op-ed is part of AASYP’s Digital Dialogues 2022, which is a programme that aims to provide a platform and forum for future leaders from across the region to contribute to the policymaking and diplomacy sphere by engaging in issues relating to innovation and investment, digital economy, and regional mobility.

Culture delineates society’s behaviour from time to time. Regrettably, “from time to time” also causes the older legacy to fade or be influenced by other, newer trends. For instance, at Patèngtèng village in Madura Island,  Indonesia, there is an almost extinct dance called Topeng Patèngtèng. Muhammad Rizki Taufan, the author of Topeng Patèngtèng Moḍung in 2021, explained that only one dance group is left in its place of origin, although it is critical to preserve this dance as it captures the essence of their local identity. Indeed, the local government is planning to propose Topeng Patèngtèng as an intangible cultural heritage.

Topeng Patèngtèng is just one of a plethora of examples of cultural performance that has been left behind. There are a considerable number of areas in Indonesia, and even wider in neighbouring countries that experience the same boat, such as the Cambodian Classical Dance.  In order to preserve and maintain such local practices, engaging the local youth’s interest is key. The government also has an essential role in this endeavour, where they could incentivise youth participation by way of a school practicum test or graduation requirement; incorporating it as part of the education curriculum. This is a more effective means of having a long-term impact on regeneration than simply refurbishing dance practice venues. 

Inadequate incentives from the government or community leaders are also contributing to the diminished role of culture preservation, particularly cultural performances. Even though countries with diverse cultures can attract tourists, as is well known, the tourism industry contributes significantly to the growth of the gross domestic product (GDP). For example, Bali, (Indonesia) is ranked ninth worldwide for a city’s leading cultural attractions. According to this, the tourism industry contributes 4.97 per cent of GDP (pre-COVID-19). Whilst that is welcomed news, these developments would also have to be balanced with other local areas. The management of cultural assets must be renewed and integrated into the global value chain to ensure a continued source of livelihood for the local community, but also to ensure sustainable financial growth for the wider region in the country. 

With regard to funding support for cultural performances: indeed, this funding can be obtained from various parties. Through innovation, cultural performances can be revitalised and marketed as a commodity that is unique to the community and has the potential to generate greater tourist appeal, which would allow locals to diversify their source of income and livelihoods, widening its variety from current goods, such as food, instruments, or jewellery. Culture is a powerful tool. Among other things, it could broaden local Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) and Social Enterprises (SEs) leeway and financial sustainability, considering culture always forms and reforms. This method will allow highly culturally diverse countries to participate in the global value chain in the creative economy sector., while at the same time protecting their legacy from extinction. 

This reverses the passive paradigm that the government is the sole actor in progress. Departing from the school curriculum, which requires cultural understanding and practice, schools must cooperate with cultural performance training venues through paid collaboration. Here, students will be required to become young agents that promote culture hence they would be equipped to develop their existing culture into products in their future ventures as SMEs or SEs. 

Culture is the identity of a region, which is one of the elements of tracing the nation’s history. More than that, integrating culture in various relevant sectors of people’s lives can turn this into a high-value asset. Consequently, another challenge in preserving cultural performance is duplication, which may pose an issue for stakeholders. This obstacle can also hinder protecting the products’ value through authenticity. Hence, each cultural performance product should have clear branding and registration not only for national but also for international trade.

Local and national authorities have to broaden their cooperation with regional and worldwide blocs, organisations, programs, and projects. Furthermore, involving youth in this process is necessary because their presence is dominant in several countries, such as Indonesia, when compared to other classification age groups. 

This article was written by Farah Diya Yasmine edited by the Diplomacy Team, and reviewed by the AASYP Publications Team.

Note: The views and opinions expressed in this op-ed are solely those of the writer and in no way represent nor reflect the position of AASYP and members of the AASYP Publications Team. The AASYP Horizons Blog provides a platform for the free expression of opinions and intellectual discourse.

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