The Goethe-Institut has long been established as an institute that not only provides German language classes, but also offers a colourful array of cultural projects and events in Jakarta and beyond. Anna Maria Strauss, the new head of cultural programmes at Goethe-Institut Indonesien, spoke to NOW Jakarta about her new tasks, upcoming events and her view on the cultural scene in the city.
You are the new head of cultural programmes at Goethe-Institut Indonesien, but this is actually already your second stint in Jakarta. What are your favourite memories of the first time you were here?
Back in 2012 and 2013, I was already in Jakarta for one year, also working for Goethe-Institut. One of my many favourite memories is getting lost inside of Thamrin City. My husband and I used to live in one of the Thamrin City towers and for about two months every time I ran errands I managed to not find a straight way to the basically in-house supermarket. I hated getting lost and at the same time loved wandering around this very unique cosmos.
What are your main responsibilities as head of cultural programmes?
I’m in charge for the cultural programme that we as Goethe-Institut initiate and facilitate in Indonesia. So it’s not only a Jakarta job. We have a Goethe-Institut in Bandung as well, and we closely work with partners from all over the archipelago. Being the head of cultural programmes luckily means you get to work with many talented and passion-driven people from all over the country. My job together with my team is to bring the cultural scenes of Indonesia and Germany closer together. My responsibilities range from developing projects with partners from the initial thought onward to making sure our logo is displayed correctly on an evening programme for a concert; from giving advise to partners from Germany who want to get in touch with interesting artists from Indonesia to choosing the films we screen at our annual German Cinema festival. Jakarta is the regional office for Southeast Asia, Australia and New Zealand, so I also have an overview over what happens in the region and am in close touch with the colleagues from Yangon to Wellington to see where we can work together.
The Goethe-Institut is not only well-known for its cultural programmes but also as a provider for German language classes and its information and library department. How closely do you work together?
Closer by the day, I would say. We’re working on bridging the departments and see a huge potential; many German learners are of course highly interested in our cultural programs – we just have to make the right offers. The language department also facilitates fantastic programmes for schools that often have a strong cultural background, e.g. in our PASCH (Schools: Partners for the Future) initiative. One of our long-standing projects, the annual Science Film Festival, also closely connects PASCH schools with the cultural department. Thousands of young students take part every year and gain unique access to scientific topics: We screen entertaining science-related movies and host scientific experiments that are easy to relate to. The library and language departments have always been strongly connected as the German learners flock to the library most of the time. Many cultural programmes are actually also hosted by the information and library department – they work with authors, comic artists, game developers. Within the whole field of games and digital culture, we share many thoughts between the departments and also work in mixed teams. Generally of course the whole distinction between culture, library and language is a virtual one and we like to see ourselves as one institute.
Where do you see the biggest challenge in your work?
Right now the biggest challenge is certainly of private nature. I have a toddler at home, so I can hardly spend as much time as I would like being out and about in the city seeing the interesting things that are going on. There is so much happening, places to be discovered and interesting projects by so many different people. Missing many of those is certainly a challenge, especially if you are new to a city and really want to jump into it, absorb the atmosphere. But of course having a family of your own is a very special experience I would never want to swap for anything.
Do you feel that Jakarta changed much compared to the first time you were here? Does it have an impact on your work?
Yes and no. When I came back to Indonesia this year, I was eager to see what had changed: new high-rise buildings on the way into the city or the huge building site of the MRT. I was very sad to learn my favourite warung had given way to a new office infrastructure. But generally the city seemed much like when I left it. Thriving, dynamic, full, revealing its beauty only to the ones who know the right spots. What I notice very strongly is the popularity of art exhibitions that apparently has multiplied by many in the years I was gone. I’m also very happy seeing new places growing in the city like Kinosaurus, who have a fantastic programme. Interesting partners, established and new, making things happen in Jakarta and beyond of course are the very fuel of our work. Absolutely new to me upon my return was that Indonesia created with BEKRAF such a powerful tool for promoting Indonesia’s creative industries. They are involved in so many interesting topics and initiatives.
What kind of cultural programmes can we look forward to in the coming months?
The coming months are really packed with a variety of things. We’re very excited to bring German performance collective She She Pop to Jakarta to open the Salihara International Performing Arts Festival. She She Pop’s pieces are strong, intellectually and on an emotional level. In October we’re showing a great selection of recent German films in six cities within our festival German Cinema. We will also host a concert that fuses Baroque music and electro: Barock Lounge by Elbipolis Barockorchester and DJ Brezel Göring. Within the region, we started the music focus Anders Hören (Listening differently) last year presenting contemporary approaches to classical music. We’ll have an Open Innovation Week at Goethe-Institut in November bringing together initiatives that tackle social challenges by using open data. Friedrich von Borries, an architect and design theorist from Berlin, will come to Jakarta to give a lecture along with Hafiz Racanjale about the question “Is Design Political?“. Looking further into the future we’ll have a strong focus on textiles with a project called IKAT/eCUT in 2017. IKAT/eCUT already started this year with a series of events mainly in Thailand. Next year, the exhibition Fast Fashion is coming to Jakarta. This is actually a highlight for me as I’ve been personally very interested in the whole complex of finding and promoting sustainable alternatives to the mass production of fashion, which severely impacts the environment as well as being notorious for its working conditions. And that’s exactly what the exhibition is about. Last but not least, the film project “5 islands / 5 villages” brought five German film students from the University of Fine Arts of Hamburg to different Indonesian islands. They shot amazing documentaries there. The outcome is truly great and we hope to see the films in many festivals.