GWK: A Bali Vision Still Looking for Light

A BALI TIMES SPECIAL REPORT

Carla Albertí de la Rosa looks at the dream that is yet to be realised, the Garuda Wisnu Kencana Cultural Park on the Bukit at Jimbaran

The founders of Bali’s Garuda Wisnu Kencana Cultural Park (GWK) sought to create the greatest cultural park in Indonesia with the highest statue in the world as the main attraction. But 15 years later it is still a dream because of lack of funding.
   
Now, though, there is new hope. Possible new investors are on the horizon and if they materialise, the project could resume in six months.
   
Five years after starting off, the dream of creating a statue that surpassed New York’s Statue of Liberty with a height of 146 metres in a park that would cover 240 hectares is far from being realised. The crisis that hit Indonesia in the end of the 1990’s led to the halt of the project in 2002 as it struggled to find investors.
   
The idea of creating a remarkable park at Jimbaran that would showcase international cultures for people from all around the globe to see and interact with, was put forward by the Garuda Wisnu Kencana Foundation. The group included the then minister of tourism and telecommunications, Joop Ave; the mining and energy minister at that time, IB Sudjana; and one of Indonesia’s most renowned modern sculptors, Nyoman Nuarta.
   
Nuarta was commissioned to create the huge statue of God Wisnu sitting on Garuda, the mythical bird that carries him. In Balinese culture Wisnu is the god that represents water, protects the environment and makes a balance between human and nature.

Today, 90 percent of the 2,000 daily weekday visitors are Indonesia and the Indonesian cultures are the only ones on show. God Wisnu, Garuda, and Wisnu’s hands would make up the unified Garuda Wisnu Kencana statue, but are temporarily separated into three different plazas. The uncompleted God Wisnu is at present 22 metres tall and Garuda’s wing span is 15 metres, instead of the 64 metres envisioned in the project.
   
Made from 4,000 tonnes of copper and brass, the statue is planned to be placed over a 14-floor pedestal building that would be a world culture forum with a museum, a gallery and convention halls to hold cultural exhibits from all over the world. This would be the park’s main attraction.
    
The park’s executive manager, IB Gde Budi Hartawan, who was the project administrator when it started 15 years ago, says they would need US$80 million for the statue to be finished. “If funding was available this main attraction would take three years to be completed and the rest of the park would take an additional three years,” he said.
    
When the project began in 1995, GWK was expected to be completed in 2000, but the project has been on hold for almost a decade. President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono promised to find investors so the project could continue in 2008. But nothing has eventuated.

Hartawan says the government has always supported their idea but not financially. “The president supports the park, but he can’t do anything about financial support, and that’s exactly what we need,” he said this week.
   
And he added, “Bali’s government has started considering this year to invest money on the park, but they need approval from the provincial legislature and it will take a long time.”
    
Even though only 20 percent of the park’s initial project has been built, Hartawan is optimistic about the future of the park. “We have been in standby mode for eight years, but we still want to be the best cultural park in Indonesia, and possibly the best in the world,” he said.
   
“This project was our ideal, our dream, and it’s time for Indonesia to do something big and show it to the world.”
    
GWK is set in the rocky and hilly area of Jimbaran, in what was once a limestone quarry. It currently takes up 100 hectares and the possibility of expanding to the 240 hectares set in the initial project is now unrealistic because land prices have risen steeply.
   
“The reason why we built here was because the land is limestone, it was unproductive but a lot cheaper,” said Hartawan. Local land prices had gone up because of big villa and hotel developments in the area. So development of GWK would continue – investors permitting – with the master plan on the current 100 hectares.
    
GWK’s promotion is by word of mouth. Hartawan believes the park doesn’t need much advertising as it has been host to events such as the Bali bomb commemoration and the International Climate Change Conference and has held concerts of famous bands such as Scorpion or Deep Purple that have promoted the park. “We will do a big promotion when the park is finished,” he said. At that point they expect to get an average of at least 5,000 visitors a day. 
    
But GWK also had to deal with bad publicity when Australian underwear model Michelle Leslie was allegedly found with ecstasy during a raid at the 2005 Vertigo Goes To Bali dance party held at the park’s Lotus Pond. Hartawan is sanguine about this. “It was an issue, but we had rented the venue for that rave and we tried to explain it was not our responsibility,” he said. And the errant underwear model had actually been in a car on the way to the party when the police found her, so the drugs never made it into the park.
    
The park’s Lotus Pond is the venue for concerts and dinner parties, but it would disappear if the park carries on with its initial plans. Some other projects included in the master plan are a water park, 100 residential villas, a resort hotel and completion of the International Trade and Promotion Centre that is half built and is intended to be a centre for the promotion of the park and a shopping area.
    
With GWK still having a long way to go, some foreign visitors are unimpressed. An employee at the souvenir shop said: “Some foreign visitors leave a bit disappointed as the project will need a long time before it’s finished.”
    
But a visitor from Jakarta, Sari Natalia, said: “The place feels a little empty but I was curious to know how it will look.” She had not known what to expect and thought she’d be able to see the statue from Ngurah Rai Airport, some 8 kilometres away. 
    
Her husband, Wisnu Krisnamukti said he had seen the picture of the finished statue and it would look very impressive, especially surrounded by the gorgeous setting. “It’s a shame it’s not finished, because the park is so beautiful,” he said.

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