If a variety of culture is considered the main determinant of national creative output, Indonesia would likely be one of the richest countries as home to no less than 300 ethnicities and 500 languages and dialects.
Whatever the case, figures on exports of local creative products have shown Indonesia still lags behind even regional competitors.
Possibly unnerved by Malaysia's ability to make the most of its comparatively limited cultural resources, which prompted the recent copyright claim fiasco over an allegedly Indonesian traditional song (used for promotions by Malaysia's Tourism Ministry late last year), the government has apparently emerged from a deep slumber and is boasting plans to prop up the local creative sector.
The plans, referred to as a road map, seems nothing short of ambitious, aiming to "guide the creative industries, encourage people to be more actively involved in creative industries and help drive the national economy," as Trade Minister Mari Elka Pangestu said at the Java Jazz music festival last week.
Creative industries are industries whose products originate from individual creative endeavors, skills and talents. Such fields have potential for wealth and job creation through the generation and exploitation of intellectual property.
There are 14 such industries formally recognized by the government: music and musical instruments, advertising, architecture, art and antiques, craft, design, fashion, film, video and photography, interactive games, performing arts, printing and publishing, computer services and software, and radio and television.
Indonesia's creative sector presently comprises around 2.5 million companies, 1.3 million of which are in fashion, 900,000 in craft, 200,000 in graphic design and some 25,000 in other areas, according to data from the Trade Ministry.
Over the 2002 to 2006 period, the creative sector contributed an average 6.3 percent of the national GDP, equivalent to around Rp 104.68 trillion, absorbing some 5.4 million workers and ranked fifth among the Indonesia's top export commodities.
Creative industry exports were worth an average Rp 70 trillion over the same period, with a peak in 2006 of Rp 81.5 trillion.
This year, the ministry predicts, creative exports would increase in line with national export growth targets, between 10 and 15 percent.
Of all Indonesia's creative industries, fashion goods contributed the most to the export figures, with annual growth of around 30 percent.
Many of Indonesia's fashion industry players were able to grow their businesses by relying on design power rather than capital might, as seen in the "distro" phenomenon.
Distro (short for distributor outlets) have been pioneered by creative professionals from Bandung, West Java.
Dendy Darman, a founder of one of the country's first established distros, 347, shared part of his story of starting the business from scratch.
347 was set up by a surfing community, interested in arts and product design, who pooled their ideas and built their first line of products using no more money than a college student's monthly allowance.
"Distros are usually established by communities and have grown big now, but we don't see other distros as rivals. Instead we compliment each other," Dendy said.
"By complimenting each other we can breed new creativity," he said.
The 13-year-old 347 now produces some 200 different t-shirt designs every month, and has 5 stores including two stores in Singapore and Australia, employing a total of 150 people.
There are estimated to be around 1,500 distros across Indonesia, managed by the young and creative, some of which have total revenues of up to US$ 100,000 a month.
Distro businesses are resilient because they dare to challenge ideas and can be flexible in managing their finances due to their small size, said Yudhi Soerjoatmodjo, a British Council project team leader for learning and creativity.
"Young entrepreneurs were willing to grow their businesses gradually, and tended not to risk more than they could afford to lose," Yudhi said.
Commenting on the government's creativity road map, industry players said the government needs to address numerous issues which have hampered growth, mainly in the lack of access to investment capital, weak entrepreneurship and limited networks for distribution.
"The extent of our creativity is often limited by shortages of funding," Indonesian Fashion Designers Association (APPMI) chairman Taruna K.Kusumayadi said.
Not just financial incentives were needed, Taruna said, but, most importantly, non-fiscal incentives like greater access for product distribution.
"Our creative fashion industry is already big, but to make it bigger there should be incentives from the government and deeper cooperation between bigger and smaller industry players," he said.
Indonesian Creative and Smart Foundation chairman Seto Mulyadi said the creative industries also suffered from a weak link in the country's education system.
"The education system has a very rigid curriculum that gives a very limited space for students to express their creativity," Seto said.
Without creativity, he said, "there would be no opportunities for work."
National export development body (BPEN) head Bachrul Chairi said the government would complete the road map in May.
"The road map will define existing opportunities and ways to tackle challenges in the industry, including the lack of awareness, to improve creativity in schools and accelerate domestic and export growth."
Other issues highlighted in the plan, as hinted by the Trade Minister, would include means to further integrate creative minds with developments in science and technology.
"Creativity is not only based in the arts, but can also be based on science and engineering," Mari said.