The Future is You(th) - An inspiring overview of Festival Mata Air

Australian Volunteers International, volunteer, Indonesia / Jan Cornall

27 May 2010

Rudy Arianto & Vanessa Hyde, Indonesia

The Future is You(th). Jan Cornall provides an inspiring overview of Festival Mata Air, 2009. AVI volunteers Rudy Ardianto and Vanessa Hyde began the festival in 2006, setting up a local NGO, Komunitas TUK which runs environment focused community programs throughout the year.

Festival Mata Air 2009 - Indonesia

In the pretty tree lined town of Salatiga in Central Java, it's that time of year again. A band of young people dressed in wild and wonderful costumes has taken over the streets bringing a message of hope for the future. A police car, blue lights flashing, siren blaring, leads the way as shop keepers and shoppers pour out onto the street to see what the commotion is all about. A drum and xylophone band beats out a compelling rhythm on large blue plastic recycled barrels. Four young girls walking tall in feathered witches hats and gold lame boots twirl long batons and prance and dance with such confidence and charm you know you will buy anything they have to sell. A band of cardboard box boys like versions of the Tin Man from the Wizard of Oz, follow. There's an assortment of tree people, young men in fabulous recycle drag and children adorned in Soto Mie packet dresses to die for. A fat cat developer with a hoop stomach tries to get passers-by to sell their trees, their land, even the clothes they are standing in.  Bringing up the rear is a contingent of BMX and Ontel cyclists as a team of leafleteers and rubbish pickers work the crowd.

The message these kids are selling is Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, and the public are buying it, reaching out for leaflets, holding their babies high to watch -, even drivers stuck in the traffic jam are snapping away with cameras and calls of encouragement.  Onlookers stack the median strip, banks of motor-cyclists wait patiently to get through.  An old lady joins in, selling her colender hat for 2,000 rupiah.  Over two hours the procession weaves its way through Salatiga's busy streets, stopping, starting, resting but never for a moment losing its spirit of youthful celebration. On the down hill leg it starts to rain but no- one is bothered, they are high on the message of change and wear their creations proudly to the last minute, breaking out into a whooping drumming frenzy when they arrive back in the park they started from.

This parade is the advance party - the result of months of workshops leading up to Festival Mata Air, an annual environmental arts festival now in its fourth year. The festival brings together art, music, community, ecology and environmental awareness around Salatiga's natural water springs- this year in the village of Senjoyo. AVI volunteers Rudy Ardianto and Vanessa Hyde began the festival in 2006, setting up a local NGO, Komunitas TUK which runs environment focused community programs throughout the year.

This year's festival is bigger than ever, drawing crowds in the thousands over two days and three nights from local and neighbouring towns - Solo, Yogyakarta, Semarang and as far away as Bali and Jakarta. A crew of Australian artists, musicians and volunteers are involved, some arriving a month early for arts residencies and helping out in the lead up. The scale of the event is impressive - two music stages, an electro tent, workshops, installations and art areas, warungs, information stalls, camping and plenty of room for Indonesian 'spontan'. The water stage in front of the blue pool hosts up to fifty punk/ noise /metal bands. The main stage in the shady uphill area hosts thirty Indie, rock, blues, percussion and performance groups, while the electro tent has the same number of sound/DJ artists chilling the crowd until the dawn hours.

And amazingly it all runs on time with MC's giving up-beat eco- themed patter and commentary in between acts. As well there are workshops through out the day - yoga, mosaic, mural painting, recycled handicrafts, lantern making, community radio, social media marketing, sculptural crochet, hula hoop and circus skills, guitar and more. A market place has stalls selling eco-craft and giving out information from environmental and community groups. There is a gallery space; eco installations built around trees or floating in the lake; muralists and mosaic artists busy on walls and pylons; roving performance artists; a flying fox across the lake and adventure ropes and activities. Warungs (food stalls) lining the site are busy day and night. A huge clean up day in the weeks before has netted a ton of trash which organizers have left as an installation next to the spring for all to see, with the slogan on a wall, "Bawa Pulang Sampahmu" - 'Take Your Trash Home.'

The bands draw an audience of young people, but families wander through especially when the trance dance and the kids workshops are on. And they are all there as the lantern parade on the final evening threads its way through the woods to the lake. There, a giant reclining lantern is launched on the water along with all the smaller lanterns children have made. Fire twirlers dancing to a percussion beat add to the wonder of this celebration of fire and water reminding all of the sacred origins of the natural water spring we have come to celebrate.

You might be thinking, yes, well, what's so new about this idea, but this is Indonesia where government support for the arts and environment is minimal and environmental awareness is hampered by lack of facilities and entrenched conservatism.

If I told you how much the budget for this festival is you wouldn't believe me (try $10,000AUD), but lack of funding never prevents Indonesian artists from making their art. This is a community effort. Everyone gives their time and art for free, local businesses, community groups and individuals (Australia also) give donations and a few major sponsors chip in.

Australian Volunteers International have supported Rudy and Vanessa in volunteer positions for the past two years and as they get ready to return to Oz they leave a solid legacy for the incoming volunteers to work with. Titi Permata, an environmental consultant and indispensable TUK volunteer, along with the remaining TUK team plan to start work on a book documenting the history of the festival thus far.

The TUK Secretariat (office) with its screen printing studio and workshop space continues to be a meeting place and magnet for young people. They are the ones who, with the support of TUK and Festival Mata Air, have a picked up the baton to carry this message to the community. They recognise what older generations perhaps forget - that the future is theirs. With their vibrant creativity nurtured by TUK, Salatiga youth now have the confidence to find solutions to the environmental challenges their communities face.

Festival Mata Air 2009 was sponsored by AusAID, Australian Volunteers International (AVI), Ford Foundation, Mandiri Bank, PT Pertamina, PT Bapak Djenggot and The Institute of Good Governance & Regional Development (IGGRD).

For more information about Festival Mata Air, check out the Tanam Untuk Kehidupan (TUK) website.