The Bali Arts Festival 2019 - A Balinese Cultural Rollercoaster

If you wish to witness culture, music, art, and madness all in one place, then the Bali Arts Festival is the place to be. A month-long affair, centred in the province’s capital, Denpasar, featuring all of Bali’s most epic cultural displays- be it music, art, dance or artistry, the Bali Arts Festival is considered the life and blood of the Balinese people. People from all over the island, as well as tourists, gather to attend and participate in parades and events that revolve around a particular theme every year. Locally known as the “Pesta Kesnian Bali”, this annual affair attracts big Indonesian names, from movie actors to political figures.

Bali Arts Festival - 2019 Theme and Dates

For 2019, the theme around which the entire festival will be planned is called ‘Bayu Pramana’. It translates to ‘strength of wind’, but is understood to mean the ‘breath of life’. Air is assumed to be a life force, without which life wouldn't survive, and so, one can expect the various art concepts and choreographies to have this theme incorporated in their performances. The topics that the festival revolves around are often based on one of these life-sustaining forces. Hence, there is a philosophical underpinning to the performances and exhibits that one might witness at the Festival.

Dates: 15th June to 14th July 2019 

Participate in the Bali Arts Festival - Venue

Legong dance, Bali, Indonesia
Varied festive themes each year
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The Bali Arts Festival opens with a grand parade in front of the Bajra Sandhi monument, in Bali’s capital province, Denpasar. The procession then travels to the Bali Arts Center, or the Taman Werdhi Budaya Arts Center, where the rest of the program takes place from the festive month.

Things You Must Experience

Balinese mask dance
The famous masked performances at the festival
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The Opening Parade
To be sure, the opening parade at Puputan Renon Square is a must-see. All of Bali’s eight regencies exhibit their unique performance styles in the most exciting way. To top that, there are floats and envoys of other Indonesian islands, showcasing their cultural roots. The parade is accompanied by the ‘gamelan’ which is the traditional ensemble music of the Indonesian island of Bali and Java.

Amphitheatre Performances
Bali Arts Festival
The Ogoh Ogoh Performance During The Bali Arts Festival
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Next, it is the performances that take place in the various amphitheatres that one mustn't miss. The competitions that take place are on the themes of the traditional arts of the remote corners of Indonesia. They are, however, not static or stuck in time. The festival sees a beautiful fusion of old with new, traditional with contemporary, and the performances that unfold are its sweetest products. The groups that come from the interior to showcase their talents compete for the title of the best in the most popular genres, like baring, legong, Kecak, mask dances, and the like.

The Balinese Melting Pot
Bali Arts Festival
Diverse performances at the Arts Festival
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In addition to modern music, dance and theatrical styles into traditional cultural patterns, one witnesses a mixed pot of cultural diversity, all in one city. If one wishes to experience all of Indonesia in the shortest possible time frame, then the Bali Arts Festival is the only place to be. One can realise this internal diversity, as well as a feeling of internationalism, and tourists from all over the globe attend the festival in huge numbers. These performances must be at the top of anyone’s list while browsing through the Festival.

Bali's Delicacy Spread

Bali Arts Festival
Indonesian specialities at the festival
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Along with these cultural showcases, which are the undoubted centres of the event, one can also enjoy unique Balinese culinary spread that features not just Balinese delicacies, but also Indonesian favourites. Handicrafts and artisanal works are also a top favourite of the people that visit Denpasar for the Festival.

The Balinese Arts Museum
Bali Arts Festival
Women performers during the festival
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The Arts Center is in itself a museum showcasing Balinese cultural artefacts and its history. During the Festival, various exhibitions are also put up to display, and even teach some Balinese painting styles, like the Batuan style. These exhibitions also showcase Balinese fashion and couture, including traditional clothing and body painting. There are also puppet shows and theatrical shows that are a must-visit during the festival.

Traditional Balinese Ballet
The festival usually concludes with a grand conventional ballet known as ‘Sendratari’, held at the Ardha Candra, in the late evening.

About the Festival

Bali Arts Festival
Main Stage of the Bali Arts Festival
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The Bali Arts Festival is a four-week celebration of not just Balinese culture, but its way of life. It is not only promotion and preservation of centuries-old transitions of the Balinese and Indonesian people, but a platform to revive old, dying art forms to take centre-stage at a grand level, giving them a longer lease on life. The festival is celebrated for a month, usually from mid-June to mid-July, at the Bali Arts Center. The festival now mostly hosts locals, as it is free of cost and safe from commodification. Through the Bali Arts Festival, the government and the people of Bali have been able to attract more tourists, and create a Bali for tourism.

History of the Bali Arts Festival

At the Bali Arts Festival
Exclusive performances at the Bali Arts Festival
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The Bali Arts Festival was first started in 1979 as a way to gauge better the rapid increase in tourism, and also as a way to galvanise and resuscitate dying Balinese traditional arts, as more and more people found there way out of the interiors and into the commercial urban centres. It is a month-long affair to remind the people of Bali of its rich, diverse and colourful traditional roots, and to exhibit its effervescence to the rest of Indonesia and the world. It hence began as a competition between the various districts, to revive Bali’s cultural life, and numerous government-supported schools of dance and art were opened in urban cities during the same period.

Commenced by Governor Ida Bagus Mantra, the festival saw an impressive initial response as the district and regency level contests proved to be very fruitful. Since then, the festival has only grown further.  

What happens at Pesta Kesnian Bali

Bali Arts Festival
Traditional Performances during the festival
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The festival is kicked off by a colourful parade that features floats and performances celebrating the Balinese culture, showcasing their various musical and dance talents, donned in colourful Balinese traditional costumes, complete with headgears and dramatic make-up. The cultural parade takes place in the Niti Mandala Park, Renon, and passes by the Bajra Sandhi monument. If one misses the first-day ceremony, worry not- the rest of the month sees many more similar parades.

The Taman Budaya 
Bali Arts Festival
Evening celebrations at the Taman Budaya
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After the parade, the official ceremony then takes place in the Bali Arts Centre, considered to be the citadel of Balinese cultural and artistic expressions. The Taman Budaya, or the “ Cultural Park”, is where the rest of the day unfolds. It is in itself a beautiful ensemble of traditional architecture, complete with pavilions, on massive amphitheatre with a capacity to seat 6000 spectators together, and several other, smaller open-air amphitheatres.

Events and Activities at the Bali Arts Festival

Bali Arts Festival
Delicacies at the festival
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The Festival then sees a month-long spectacle of not just competitions in the traditional arts, also including those in documentary film screenings, handicrafts, literature, painting and photography, but also an array of food stalls, flower arrangements, fashion, and crafts booths, photography competitions, culinary festivals, loaded with the best of Bali. Visitors can browse through the stalls and taste authentic and traditional Balinese food, while also sampling delicacies from around the archipelago.

Reaching the Festival

Thankfully because of its increasing tourism, Bali is now accessible from any corner of the world, via a well-connected flight system. Flights are scheduled for almost every day, thus making Denpasar most accessible to the rest of the globe. From the airport, till the Bali Arts Center, the distance is a 21 km drive that would take about 30 minutes, and one can hire a taxi at IDR 135,000, which converts to roughly INR 650. However, it is advised to hire a motorcycle to and from the place of lodging, as taxis and cars can get blocked in the insane traffic. There is no entry fee for the Festival.

Things to Remember While Visiting the Bali Arts Festival

Bali Arts Festival
Visitors during the Bali Arts Festival
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As the festival is one of the biggest gatherings in Bali, it is advisable to have some sense of what one might be getting into.
  • Bali in June-July is relatively comfortable, weather-wise. The highest average temperature is around 27 °C, and the lowest is about 22 °C. However, it is the hottest time of the year, and these months are relatively warm; hence, one must dress in light clothing.
  • June-July doesn’t see heavy rainfall. One may face some sprinklings of rains, but a downpour is unlikely. However, due to its tropical climate, humidity is almost always high. So, visitors may like to carry water bottles (most suitably the non-plastic kind) with them wherever they go.
  • As mentioned earlier, the festival attracts the most significant density of people to the capital city, so one must expect a full one month. It is advisable to be wary of one's belongings, as the festival can get very crowded and be dizzy of an event.
  • Because of the high influx of tourists, it is advisable to book travel tickets and accommodations well in advance, to avoid any hassle later on. It is also advisable to look for lodging options near the venue, as traffic jams during the festival month can be rather displeasing. Due to a higher footfall, accommodations tend to be high priced; however, booked in advance, one might be able to find cheaper places to stay.
  • Clothing in Bali must be as comfortable as possible. However, beachwear isn't appreciated everywhere, and it is helpful to ask ahead and save oneself any embarrassment.
  • Learning some local lingo is always a good idea to get by the city breezily, and avoid any bogus market vendors.
Bali Arts Festival
Traditional rockstars at the festival
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To truly get an extended glimpse of what Indonesia, and Bali, in particular, is about, the Bali Arts Festival will certainly overwhelm, amuse, entertain, and educate. If you happen to plan a visit to Bali for a relaxing time, you may want to pick a different month. But for those who would like to get to know the cultural and traditional history of the land better, this is the only time and the only place to be.

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