Homegrown & Well Known: SUARNATHA

The guy behind one of the longest running NGO in Bali—Wisnu Foundation, the person who walks the talk of so-called “creative industry” even before the term was coined; the calm but sharp man, Suarnatha, has a big plan. A very big plan.

You have run Wisnu Foundation for decades and mainly focused on eco issues. But now, with Wisnu Open Space, it seems like you want to expand. Seems like a big development is underway?
True. That’s how both friends and the general public perceive us. Mainly due to not really knowing what Wisnu Foundation is about exactly. Wisnu has always been a non-governmental organization focused on managing community resources. And one of the most solid programs we have run so far, yes, was eco related. I guess that’s why people think that we are all about ecology and environmental issues. But actually we also do other “eco” things in the context of facilitating economic growth that is based on community cooperation: evaluating community opinion.

Something big is going to happen?
Indeed. We will formally launch Wisnu Open Space very soon. We will have a coffee rendezvous, a community gallery, a public library, and a big organic garden, in one place.

So Wisnu Open Space will be the new creative hub of Denpasar?
You can say so. After years of meeting and talking with lots of different and interesting people, including many who are smart, talented and relatively young (or young at heart), I came to the conclusion that it’s really time to build a place… Well, more like a media to connect all the dots, a venue so all those inspiring people can interact, can communicate with each other. Where Wisnu Foundation has been located from the start, there is some empty space, so I just thought that rather than waiting for someone else (haha) to facilitate the media to connect all the dots, I should create it myself. That’s how Wisnu Open Space started: from thought to action.

So far we have a few exciting components, already running, or just about ready to go. First is Kedai Kopi Kultur, a coffee hang out place already open, where you can drink our authentic, premium, local coffee produced by local farmers; and also learn about coffee—we hold weekly “Cupping is Believing” sessions where our coffee experts explain about a different coffee each time and you can also have a taste. Like a wine tasting session. Second is a community-based art gallery where we exhibit creative products from talented—mostly junior—artists (picked by our inhouse curator team). Third is a radio station named Radio Rebel Indonesia which operates as a community radio. We are presently in contact with local celebs-cum-activists, and socio-environmental movers and shakers, sharing perspectives and planning RRI. Fourth is, out the back, we have a big block of land, where we’ll commence urban, organic farming, for food supply for Kopi Kultur. We will also sell some of this produce at Kopi Kultur. Fifth is a public library where people can do serious stuff like doing research or relaxing stuff like reading books (while enjoying their coffee). Among all these entities, Wisnu Foundation remains as a backbone. Each entity will empower the others.

I’m interested in this Radio Rebel Indonesia—interesting name!—and the library. How will it differ from regular radio and what’s so special about the library?
First I have to thank JRX Superman Is Dead for contributing this explosive RRI name. And as I said, this radio is more like a community project. We are thinking of letting local celebs-cum-activists and socio-environmental movers + shakers producing their own radio programs (under supervision of our Program Director, of course). We will also play music that you rarely hear on commercial radios. Hopefully on 12-12-12 RRI will commence broadcasting. While with the library, the main principals of Wisnu Open Space can be found inside the library: books about coffee, urban farming, youth culture, rock rebellion, environmental revolution, responsible designs, whatever properly reflects the ideals of the Wisnu Open Space. To tell you the truth, we don’t have all the books yet but we are slowly compiling. Some friends also promised to donate some related books.

I’ve seen a lot of these so-called “creative hubs”—I used to even run one myself—, the problem is always the maintenance, how to remain sustainable. What makes you so sure Wisnu Open Space will be glorious and last forever—or longer than attempts that preceed it?
Even though I’m moving slow, I’m pretty sure about what I’m doing. We are planting strong grass roots foundations, a solid bond with the creative community, as they are our main constituents. They have their products (skills and creativity) we facilitate them, we build a creative hub for them; as you may know, they don’t really have any other “playground” anymore. So we are offering a playground, offering a partnership, to work together, hand in hand,a mutually beneficial relationship. The other significant point here is, we also back upWisnu Open Space with good, professional governance in order to shape a strong management team.

For Wisnu Open Space, are you working with the local government at all? Don’t you think the involvement of the government would help you grow, make you stronger and sustainable?
Not directly, not yet. But it’s already in our grand design to involve local government,other parts of the private sector, academics, journalists/mass-media, NGO’s, and for sure the community at large.

Any last nagging words?
It’s been almost 10 years since I first dreampt about this Wisnu Open Space concept—and finally it’s happening. But I realise there’s still a very long way to go. Let’s just step up, right or left foot first, it doesn’t matter. I believe that good things come to those who wait.


*Homegrown & Well Known is my biweekly column in The Beat (Bali) mag. Basically it’s an interview via e-mail with Bali’s local big shots. This is the 17th edition, was firstly published on The Beat (Bali) #323, Oct 26 – Nov 08, 2012

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