In the final days of 2022, we look back at the key events and projects we have been able to deliver in collaboration with our longstanding supporters, as well as new partners from the creative sector, business, NGOs, the diplomatic corps and public institutions. Recall with us what were the main points through which we experienced design in its various forms.
We are on the verge of sending off a calendar year in which we have managed to continue our activities despite the challenges. For a small independent organisation like ours, building long-term activities in the cultural sector requires perseverance, flexibility, openness and uncompromising attention to detail. But most of all a trust in collaborations, trust and cohesion with the community. We are grateful to everyone we have met and worked with. This reciprocity has enabled us to build on the varied MELBA design initiatives and engage in new meaningful projects. Here’s what has come our way in 2022.
One of the significant steps in 2022 was the first trip of the annual group exhibition REVIEW OF BULGARIAN DESIGN. In March, its fourth edition, The Value of Design (2021), visited the gallery of the Bulgarian Cultural Institute in Prague, where we showed the work of 11 Bulgarian designers and studios. With this event we came closer to one of the bold goals of MELBA Design Festival – to connect the Bulgarian with the international design scene.
SUSTAINABLE PRACTICES IN DESIGN AND FASHION
Another highlight of our program for the past year was a series of events dedicated to diverse practices in design and fashion that articulate an important shift in the industry towards more environmentally friendly production and consumption. In a series of five discussions and presentations in five Bulgarian cities – Ruse (28th May), Burgas (7th June), Gabrovo (25th June), Varna (24th September) and Plovdiv (22nd November), together with experienced speakers from various European countries, we put the spotlight on responsible attitudes and environmental practices that are increasingly necessary in the current context of serious climate change. The selected cities hosted presentations and discussions as well as a travelling exhibition with 24 examples of sustainable fashion and design brands from the Visegrad Group countries. The events took place on the initiative of the Liszt Institute – Hungarian Cultural Institute in Sofia, and we had the pleasure to curate and host the programme.
One of our most important experiences as an organisation in the context of Europe’s creative and cultural sector was the Interreg CINEMA project, within we tested approaches and tools for the revitalisation and positive transformation of Gabrovo’s District Six together with the Municipality of Gabrovo. After two and a half years of active work, the end of 2022 marks the closure of Interreg CINEMA. Among its more important phases was the realisation of ten days of cultural interventions in Gabrovo’s oldest district in June 2022. The programme was dynamic and varied: we immersed ourselves in Vox Populi’s documentary theatre with authentic stories from the inhabitants of the Sixth District, experimented with waste materials to create a new identity for the place, held activities with children, discussions on sustainable design practices, exhibitions with social posters, literary tours. In this way we were able to involve local and international institutions and cultural operators, initiate creative change, awaken interest and draw attention to the potential of the central Gabrovo district. We believe that in doing so we have been able to highlight the power of the creative sector to fuel ideas and occasions for beneficial change, and to reveal the potential of the district to attract visitors and be a hub for diverse activities and cross-sector collaborations.
DESIGN SEMINAR FOR RUSE
The Kolektiv Foundation invited us to lead a workshop to collect ideas for the long-term development of the Danube coastline and its better connection to the central urban fabric through the involvement of citizens and their active participation in these important processes. The half-day design marathon brought together 30 students and active community representatives from Bulgaria and Romania. Organized by the European Parliament Offices in Sofia and Bucharest, the event aimed to showcase and instigate ways of civic participation on the current topic of a “New European Bauhaus”. It was a valuable experience for us and the six concepts proposed as a result of the workshop gave us faith in the potential and success of public-private partnership as a necessary way to make positive changes for the environment we inhabit.
MELBA: website and archive
Five years after launching melba.bg, the dynamic archive for contemporary Bulgarian design, it was high time to update the visual identity of the platform. NEXT-DC, the creative agency behind MELBA’s visual identity to that point, logically took on this task and built a unique colorful MELBA webpage in summer 2022. Participants in the archive such as existing and new profiles have also been updated and we are proud to have been able to add another 30 names. The extension of our archive continues.
This year we continued to implement MELBA MEETINGS, the already established as a favorite format of many of you, presenting Bulgarian designers from different fields and their strong ideas. In 2022 we introduced you illustrators, graphic designers, typographers, graffiti artists, product designers and social activists. We believe that the mix of their stories and creativity as a pulling force managed to inspire the audience that each of us carries the potential to change and develop the environment for the better with our deeds.
In 2022 we managed to bring to life another MELBA initiative – the so-called MELBA SCHOOL educational classes, which aim to encourage professional development and creative thinking through the acquisition of new knowledge and specific skills. Led by professionals and aimed at designers and visual artists, the classes create sustainable knowledge and skilful approaches among students, young or established professionals and visual artists with a bias towards acquiring new qualifications. Invited speakers in 2022 were national and international recognizable names in their field, with proven track records and contributing not only to the development of their discipline, but also to society at large. Topics included screen printing (with Nadezhda Georgieva, founder of Sito Studio), vintage furniture and 3D printing (with Delcho Delchev, founder of Smart Fab Lab), (un)personal insights into graphic design (with Dima Stefanova and Filip Boyadzhiev from the independent educational platform Know-How/Show-How) and inclusive design (with Ivelina Gadzeva from the independent educational platform Know-How-Show-How) enriched the attendees and gave them new horizons for professional expression. We are already preparing next year’s editions.
FIFTH EDITION OF MELBA DESIGN FESTIVAL
The fifth edition of MELBA Festival offered ten days full of valuable and captivating content on different locations in Sofia. The event introduced to the Bulgarian audience fascinating foreign speakers, reviewed the most interesting and significant Bulgarian design of the past year, included classes and discussions for professionals and offered six exhibitions on different topics. This year we had the opportunity to hear the stories of seven great European speakers who talked engagingly about their creative visions and professional paths to over 200 people at Toplocentrala and to many more who joined us online. The traditional highlight of the programme, the exhibition Review of Bulgarian Design, had its own external curator this year. Marina Dragomirova from Studio Furthermore developed the concept of Local Beauty through specific interpretations in the form of jewellery, fragrances, lighting bodies, textiles, ceramics, food, fountains and recycled car headlights. For the first time we organized a national T-shirt illustration contest with the theme TIME in collaboration with our long-time partners Fashion Days. The interest was huge and the results – surprising. Our winner got the chance to replicate her artwork on T-shirts for sale during the festival and 18 other runners-up got to see their ideas in large format. We offered five exhibitions specially arranged for the festival on different locations. We held two fruitful design classes and two discussions aimed at professionals. Charged with many impressions, we look ahead to the next edition of the festival, which will take place between the 2nd and 12th of November 2023.
None of this would be possible without the designers and artists we work with, without you, the audience that follows us and gets excited about design, architecture and visual culture, without our partners and supporters. In 2022, we were financially supported by the National Culture Fund and the One-Year Grant programme. Thank you for being with us along the way. With a great deal of optimism for all the moments we are about to share with you in the year ahead, we wish you a healthy, inspiring, fulfilling and meaningful 2023.