Renewing visions for culture

  • Published: 03 Jan 2017 16:55
  • Author: Intercultura Consult

This text is partially based on the article  A Capital at Crossroads: Sofia, Bulgaria activates cultural participation to become a leading creative European city published by  Catalyst - Winter 2017 - the platform for communication and exchange, of the graduate programs in creative enterprise leadership in Arts and Cultural Management (ACM) and Design Management (DM) at Pratt Institute, School of Art, New York.

by Petya Koleva with contribution from Elisa Calosi

In 2016 for the first time since democratic rule in Bulgaria, the municipal authorities of the capital (1, 5 million inhabitants) partnered non-state actors in Dance, Literature, Music, Theatre and Visual Arts. This precedent marked the prominent rise of self-initiated cultural activities. The ambition to boost the potential of Sofia’s growing independent arts scene resulted in a proposed long-term strategy under the brand name ‘Shared Vision’. By 2023 the support for the free initiative of organizations, artists, formal and informal associations should transform Sofia into an attractive European city, where co-creation, public interaction and professional development in the arts thrive.  

The design of the project relied on open participation. Its cumulative effort reached 10 000 people and engaged the qualified input of over 300 persons and organizations. This lead to a joint proposal for a strategy with a concrete plan of action that has been shared publicly and is now in a consultation dialogue with the Sofia Municipality Council. Four priority lines of action were established: Monitoring of strategic activities and analysis of their impact; Optimization of the municipal program support and creating stimuli for stakeholder participation; Strengthening the creative scene and audience involvement through long-term partnerships; Supporting the sustainable development of non-state cultural organizations.

This maybe the most known cultural policy initiative in the capital of Bulgaria, but culture is considered a gateway to ‘keeping up with the times’ even in cities like Ruse (facing Romania across the Danube River). Bulgaria as an EU country and the town of Ruse are actively involved in the EU Strategy for the Danube Region. This regional strategy unites fourteen countries (including EU neighbours), with the common aims of better connecting the region, protecting the environment, building prosperity and strengthening institutional capacity and security. In 2016 the conference held in Ruse brought together many representatives of the cultural public as well as actors of the independent scene. The meetings, presentations and discussions highlighted a challenge common to most post-socialist countries and important to reconnecting European countries. There is a high demand for professional development in the field of cultural management, in particular improving the skills for regional and international cooperation. This is because of aspirations and needs to work together and establish closer connections with local cultural contexts.

Ukraine is among the Danube Region neighbour partner countries (along with Moldova) and probably the one most rapidly transforming its cultural polities. In 2016, the country has effectively launched a transformative move in the perspective on culture as a resource to the development of smaller towns. The municipalities’ conferences in Vinnitsa discussed new perspectives with local authorities responsible for regions where 51% of the population resides. Two mid-size municipalities from Bulgaria were showcased to illustrate the strategies for development that seek to redeem post-socialist stagnation and benefit from the resources of post-industrial towns – Kostenetz and Gabrovo.

It takes time, but Bulgaria demonstrates the drive to keep up with new developments in the cultural field. In 2017 Bulgaria will appear more prominently than before a country in the EU that is an outpost on the border with the East Countries (Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova, Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan) and with the Western Balkans (Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo). It is a direct neighbor of the republic of Turkey marked by unrest affecting cultural and political freedoms and an EU partner with regard to balancing frozen and open military conflict zones and refugee flows reaching Europe.

There is a significant role of cultural influence needed in Sofia and in Bulgaria, to make the European and democratic values be known and practiced. Immediate change should start now only a year before 2018, the year Bulgaria will take over the presidency of the Council of the EU. A ‘Shared Vision’ that would unite the freedom of artistic initiative with a cultural strategy is an asset for a region where the European culture should stands for what it means.