Quo Vadis, Indonesia? Part II: Heritage Buildings

The Indonesian National Museum.
The Indonesian National Museum. (IO/Septo Kun Wijaya)

The National Museum fire provides the opportunity to launch a new government policy on public private partnership. Such an initiative should not only be for museum but also heritage buildings.

Jakarta, IO – Last week, I wrote about how in the aftermath of the fire that destroyed six rooms of Wing A of the old building in the Indonesian National Museum last September, an opportunity has presented itself for the government to launch a new policy and initiative in public private partnership. The origins of the Museum in fact stem from public private partnership and if approached with a far more welcoming and cooperative attitude private collectors, philanthropists and non-profit institutions, would be open to helping the government not only replace lost collections but increase them as well as creating better and more frequented museums.

My article last week, centred on public private partnership with regard to museums but there are in fact many ways in which the private sector can support the government not only in the field of museums but also in heritage preservation as a whole. In countries such as Indonesia which have a long cultural history, heritage preservation encompasses buildings and structures that go back thousands of years from prehistoric remains in Flores and cave paintings in Sulawesi to 20th century structures such as the sugar factories of Central and East Java. In Indonesia heritage preservation covers a very wide field. There are so many buildings and structures which under the Indonesian Heritage Law need to be preserved that it would be impossible for the government to do so on its own. Also, many of the structures and buildings belong to the private sector. It has long been acknowledged by governments and experts across the globe that the best heritage preservation policies are those that work hand in hand with the private sector. Public private partnership is very important. 

In many ways the Directorate General for Culture already does work with the private sector in the field of heritage preservation. The Director General, Hilmar Farid was a former activist and has close connections with grassroots non-profit groups and institutions across the Archipelago but as with most fields there is still so much more that can be done starting with the field of regulations. Most of these grassroots institutions do an excellent job in the fields of advocacy, education and public awareness. However, nearly none actually restore heritage buildings or structures and that is often the most difficult and expensive part of heritage preservation.  

If we look at countries where heritage preservation is strong such as in the European Union and Anglo-Saxon countries such as Britain and the United States public private partnership for heritage preservation is very much encouraged and sought after. The most famous example of this is of course, the national trust concept. The origins of this are with the British National Trust without which Britain would not have been able to preserve its built heritage and nature landscape so well.

The British National Trust has existed for more than 125 years and now looks after more than 250,000 hectares of farmland, 780 miles of coastline and 500 historic places, gardens and nature reserves. It has over 50,000 volunteers, 10,000 staff and is the largest conservation non-profit organization in Europe. Its membership of 5.37 million exceeds that of any political party in Britain

Octavia Hill
Octavia Hill. From a Drawing by Edward Clifford, 1877. (Photo credit: C. Edmund Maurice, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

The British National Trust was founded in 1895 so that natural and historic places could be protected for future generations. One of its founders, Octavia Hill who was one of the greatest social reformers in British history, understood how access to nature and the country’s historic buildings positively affect human wellbeing.

In 1907, the National Trust became a new breed of animal when parliament passed the National Trust Act. It was run by the private sector but created by an Act of parliament with strong links to the government. It has remained one of the best examples of public private partnership. It is able for example to accept donations of country houses with endowments of land or capital, tax free.

Such national trusts also exist in many other parts of the world in countries like the United States, India, Australia, France and the Netherlands. Countries that do not follow the Anglo- Saxon legal tradition usually create foundations rather than trusts. These national trusts or foundations have chosen different paths. In Britain the National Trust’s primary responsibility is preserving Britain’s natural and built heritage, in the United States the National Trust’s main task is advocacy and education, in India the National Trust does not take care of properties but will help owners of heritage properties restore their properties and in France the Fondation du Patrimonie or  ‘Foundation for the Patrimony’, helps owners of heritage buildings fund-raise for restoration of their buildings. The percentage of the restoration costs that the Fondation du Patrimonie manages to raise will determine the amount of tax reductions that the owner will receive for his property. An owner who receives such aid must then follow the Foundation’s guidelines regarding retoration.

‘Sacred Heart Church’
The Heilig Hartkerk or ‘Sacred Heart Church’ (1870-1880) on Vondelstraat, Amsterdam was restored by the Stadsherstel Amsterdam. (Photo credit: Amsterdam Municipal Department for the Preservation and Restoration of Historic Buildings and Sites (bMA), Attribution, via Wikimedia Commons)

The Netherlands has a unique heritage organization known as Stadsherstel Amsterdam or ‘Amsterdam City Restoration’. Since the 18th and 19th centuries and especially after the Second World War buildings in Amsterdam – especially historic buildings were becoming more and more run-down and dilapidated. The government planned simply to demolish many of them and replace them with concrete modern blocks of apartments. In the process, they would be destroying the historic beauty of Amsterdam. So, in 1956 the Stadsherstel Amsterdam was set up. It is rather unique in that it was established as a limited liability company that used the capital of its shareholders to buy property to restore historic buildings and make them habitable again. They are then rented out and nearly all the profit is reinvested in more historic buildings. Since its inception, the Stadsherstel has restored and repurposed more than 750 historic buildings.

In Indonesia, there are many, many societies, clubs, foundations and other forms of non-profit organizations dedicated to built heritage. They are very popular especially amongst young people who are interested in them because as a young nation we are still building our national identity. Most of them are dedicated to leisure activities, education, advocacy, research and building public awareness.

A good example of two private advocacy organizations that saved a government owned 18th century historic building from demolition are the Depok Heritage Community and the Depok Historical Community which in 2018 conducted a forceful campaign both through the press as well as social media, while simultaneously lobbying the government not to demolish the 18th century Cimanggis Manor House which is located on the grounds of the new Indonesian International Islamic University. A third organization Lingwa or the ‘Indonesian Heritage Circle’ introduced Ratu Farah Diba, the head of the Depok Heritage Community to the Director General for Culture who instructed the Heritage Conservation Board of Banten, West Java, Jakarta and Lampung to send a heritage team to observe and make recommendations to the Ministry regarding the Manor. The building was finally declared a heritage building which meant it could not be demolished after which it was restored by the government. See: https://observerid.com/cimanggis-manor-house-first-tolerance-and-diversity-test-for-indonesian-international-islamic-university/)

Landhuis Tjimanggis before its restoration.
Landhuis Tjimanggis before its restoration. (IO/Fino Simarmata)

Very few private sector organizations in Indonesia however, are involved in actually restoring and preserving heritage buildings and structures. Most of such work is done by the government and as the government owns hundreds of heritage buildings and structures it is a very big financial burden for the government. There are however, a few private sector organizations that help restore and/or maintain historic buildings.

A successful example of public private partnership in the past was the Yayasan Gedung Arsip Nasional RI or ‘Foundation for the National Archives Building’ which looked after the government owned National Archives Building on Jalan Gajah Mada from 1998 – 2013. During that time, the Yayasan raised all the funds needed for the Archives Building’s operational and maintenance costs, paid for the building’s insurance, charged no entry fee to the public, increased its collections, increased visitor numbers, won various awards and paid Rp 2 billion to the State Treasury.

Before the Yayasan took over a group of Dutch and Indonesian idealists collected the funds from the Dutch business community in Indonesia to restore the Archives Building which had been built in1760 and which was rumoured to be up for demolition under a foundation known as the Stichting Cadeau Indonesia. Part of the restoration took place during the rioting on Jalan Gajah Mada in 1998. So, that year when so many businesses and banks went heavily into debt and had to be rescued through government bailouts, there was a group of people who did the opposite. They saved a government asset.

As the government and the economy were in disarray at the time, they then set up the Yayasan Gedung Arsip Nasional RI to manage the building and raise the funds   for the building’s operational and maintenance costs. After 14 years, the Yayasan handed back the building to the government because Ministry of Finance regulations do not cover non-profit organizations that are created to assist the government in maintaining government-owned historic buildings.

Jalan Gajah Madah
The National Archives Building on Jalan Gajah Madah in the first half of the 20th century. (Photo credit: AnonymousUnknown author, CC BY 4.0 Wikimedia Commons)

Yori Antar was the son of renown heritage architect Han Awal who was known as the Father of Indonesian Heritage Architecture. Whereas his father dealt mainly with built architecture in Jakarta, Yori has focused on adat or tribal heritage in places such as Flores, West Sumatra, Alor and Sumba (see: https://observerid.com/the-blossoming-of-sumba-sumba-tenun-route-and-the-road-to-economic-parity-part-i-building-the-rumah-tenun-or-textile-house/).

Through his ‘Rumah Asuh (Foster House) and Friends Circle’ he raises funds for tribal or traditional communities to restore or rebuild adat houses that have been damaged or destroyed. He collects the funds needed from the private sector but he does not build the adat houses. These must be built or restored by the adat community themselves using their traditional materials, techniques and rituals to do so. In this way, the adat communities feel that the restored or newly built adat house truly belongs to them. It empowers them and helps them preserve their built heritage as well as their culture and traditions. The Ministry of Public Works which in the past always stepped in and built any public works projects including the restoration of historic houses and adat buildings themselves has started to be influenced by Yori’s example. Ministry of Education and Culture has adopted the Rumah Asuh and Friends Circle program of not bringing in contractors but of allowing the community to build the houses themselves.

textile house
A rumah tenun or ‘textile house’ that Yori Antar helped make possible. (Photo credit: Yori Antar.)

Another example is Lingkaran Warisan Indonesia or the ‘Indonesian Heritage Circle’ also known as Lingwa, a foundation dedicated purely to restoring historic buildings. Its founders were architect Han Awal and philosopher Toeti Heraty Nurhadi Rooseno. In 2021 during the COVID pandemic, Lingwa finished restoring Masjid Angke, one of the most pluralist mosques in Indonesia which was built in 1761 and whose architecture reflects Javanese and Balinese architectural traditions as well as Chinese, European and Moorish influences. (See: https://observerid.com/part-i-masjid-angke-al-anwar-the-restoration-of-one-of-the-most-pluralist-and-unique-mosques-in-jakarta/) Lingwa raised the funds from the private sector, negotiated with the owners of the mosque and Lingwa’s architects did the restoration work under the guidance of the Jakarta City Heritage Evaluation Board.

There is so much private sector non-profit energy, funds, expertise and participation available that the government has not yet properly exploited which could make such a difference in the restoration and maintenance of Indonesia’s historic buildings and museums.

Minister of Education and Culture, Nadiem Makarim declared the National Museum closed for a year after the fire last September during which time the Ministry will no doubt be restoring the damaged section and building a better museum. One way of harnessing the public’s enthusiasm and support would be by creating a weekly or bi-weekly youtube program covering the restoration of the Museum as well as introducing the Museum, its collections and history in a personal and interesting way to the public.

Interior of Masjid Angke.
Interior of Masjid Angke. (Photo credit: Lingwa)

Many years ago, when I was executive director of the Gedung Arsip, during an exhibition two school buses arrived with students from rival schools which were often involved in street fights. After the teachers came to us in panic, we divided the students into groups and kept them apart.

I took the group with the naughtiest boys and led them around the building telling stories about the history of the building, its owner and the ghost and about the exhibition itself. When the tour ended the boys simply stood there waiting. I told them that the tour was finished and for a moment they said nothing and then one of the boys said to me, “We’re waiting for the second tour. We want to do it again.”

That day was a red-letter day for me when I truly felt that I had succeeded at my job running the museum. Museums, historic buildings and structures are about stories and about helping people to understand the past and how the people then lived and thought and felt and ultimately about how they themselves think and feel about the past and this helps in the creation of their own identity. For the young this is an important element in the education process and if well done, they usually embrace it with enthusiasm. It is this enthusiasm in the public that the Ministry needs to foster and that, will depend on the direction that the Ministry takes and whether it can use the fire to create a new positive energy for museums and heritage buildings alike. (Tamalia Alisjahbana)

If you enjoyed reading this article you may enjoy reading more on this topic by the same writer:

The Museum On Fire… : https://observerid.com/the-museum-on-fire/

– Quo Vadis, Indonesia? Part I: Museums : https://observerid.com/quo-vadis-indonesia-part-i-museums/