Bali Arts Festival

Images copyright Paul v Walters and Elisabeth Lenahan

Bali’s Glorious Past And Present Packed into one Glorious Month Long Arts Festival.

Traditional art is everywhere in Bali.

Be it in temples, community ceremonies, government events, weddings and cremations, the Balinese practically grow up and live within a stage of performance art. But, as the Indonesian scholar I Made Bandem put it,
” Bali’s traditional arts are never a static entity. Instead, challenges brought about by changing times have spurred local artists to be more innovative to stay relevant.

Now it’s common for performers to incorporate contemporary issues, such as the country’s political ironies to millennials and their social media addiction, while at the same time retaining dance dramas inspired by Hindu epics written centuries ago.”

The Bali Arts Festival is one of Indonesia’s most famous cultural festivals showcasing the entire gamut of Balinese culture. This fabulous festival is an annual event held during June and July was initially started to promote tourism in Bali and is now in its 43rd year.

Initially conceived in the late 1970s by then Bali governor Ida Bagus Mantra as a platform to showcase the island’s artistic masterpieces and cultural legacy, the Bali Arts Festival has played a pivotal role in ensuring the survival and relevance of Balinese traditional arts in the 21st century.

The festival opens with a glamorous, magical and colourful opening procession that meanders its way through the leafy streets of Denpasar.

The festival opens with a glamorous, magical and colourful opening procession that meanders its way through the leafy streets of Denpasar.

The procession is a magical showcase of the seven different types of Balinese dance and musical styles. Dressed in stunning traditional costumes and makeup, participants follow gigantic floats, many sporting the massive ogoh-ogoh statues that are usually only seen at Nyepi (Bali’s day of silence).

The month-long festival includes exhibitions, cultural programs and other related activities, the participants coming together from the districts and villages scattered across the island.

Each year the festival is given a different theme, and all dance, theatre, and music performances revolve around the set parameters of that particular year.

Over the month’s festivities, attendees have a smorgasbord of cultural events to choose from as the schedule is packed with all types of dance, from classical dance performances such as legong, gambuh, kecak, barong, baris and others. The mask dances are a spectacle and not to be missed.

Most events are held on the premises of the Werdi Budaya Arts Center, the spacious cultural compound in East Denpasar that hosts Indonesia’s longest-running arts festival each year.

Again, as I Made Bandem put it, “The Bali Arts Festival is the ultimate testament to the enduring ability of Balinese traditional arts to adapt, innovate and maintain the important affinity and emotional connection between the Balinese people, including and most importantly among the younger generation”.

This year’s festival will run from mid-June until mid-July (check the website for dates and performance times) and will feature 230 performances involving around 17,000 artists. Art troupes from France, Tunisia, U.K., and Mexico will also be present.

It is one of Bali’s spectacular cultural offerings and shouldn’t be missed, for as they say, if you don’t go, you’ll never know.

For more information, go to

Paul V Walters is the best-selling author of several novels, and when not cocooned in sloth and procrastination in his house in Bali, he scribbles for several international travel and vox pop journals

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