Our year in focus: Looking back on 2022

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.

Review of Bulgarian Design 2021, Bulgarian Cultural Institute, Prague


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.

Sustainable practices in Ruse


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.

10 days of culture in District Six


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.



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.

MELBA Design Festival 2022


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.



Lucas Beaufort starts his self presentation by sharing the following:

What to say when we have already said everything? I am Gemini, born in Cannes… I love life, good food, the night and the stories since my first day on Earth which was back in 1981. I love all types of pasta… and horror movies especially those of Sam Raimi and Wes Craven. I love Wednesdays because it’s the day I get my lunch box at my mother’s house. I like blue, green, yellow, red, white and purple. I love falling asleep on my cat while listening to Bowerbirds’ Hooves. I like running and sweating… I like standing in front of my wall and imagining what it could become if my wife let me do it. I like happy and sad people, broken mouths and virgin beauties, those who have a story to tell. I love melancholy, the strident notes and the feel of Faber Castell on my sheet… I like to come back from the office and make a detour through the concrete curves of Mandelieu… I like to sleep on my stomach and feel my feet out of bed. I like to go to bed late and get up late. I like lively discussions, slaps in the mouth, smiles that say a lot. I like bulldogs and beagles who snore. I like it all the more if they drool and make noises of washing machine…

Lucas Beaufort is a skateboard devoted artists. He paints and he says he has always been crazy about board graphics. “When I was a teenager I did not care about the brand I just wanted a nice graphic. I’m 32 years old now and I feel like 18 on my skateboard.”

The French illustrator draws intermingled creatures on walls, pieces of paper, clothes and all types of items. He also adds quirky doodles on the covers of famous skateboard magazines and collaborates with brands like Vans, Converse and Dakine. Lucas Beaufort loves to travel and collect skateboard magazines. He is nostalgic of the 90s and admits his art is closely related to this period.

We have Lucas Beaufort for a masterclass and a lecture at Generator and there is also a screening of his DEVOTED documentary at So Independent film festival.




<Photo credit: Viktor Bobchev>

Тhe new museum

There are international standards how to develop art institutions in order to attract broader public. There are also local specifics that need to be taken into account. The intersection between these two positions might be a successful formula for a vital and perspective museum, gallery or art center. Go small! Big institutions are remnants of the past.”

Maria Vassileva (curator)

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The above words come as a reaction to a most prolific and interesting discussion organised on the occasion of the visit of Pedro Gadanho in Sofia, where he delivered a lecture on the new role of the museum and the challenges it faces in terms of programming, education, audience and marketing and communication. Тhe meeting with local culture activists happened as a leisure breakfast lead by us, Studio Komplekt.

Pedro Gadanho is an architect, curator and writer. For four years he was a curator in the Department of Architecture and Design in MoMA, before quitting the job and becoming the first director of the Museum of Art, Architecture and Technology  in Lisbon, Portugal – MAAT. He aims to turn the museum into a place with a unique space for exhibitions and collaborations, events, educational programs and other diverse activities.

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We were most honoured to meet Pedro Gadanho in person and listen to his insightful stories. Through his personal experience he touched upon such pertinent and interesting topics as grabbing opportunities in the independent cultural sector, starting an ambitious new museum and turning it into more than an exhibition space and keeping the audience coming through strong and interactive content but also through a landmark architecture point in the city.

The discussion turned out to be a dynamic and engaging one also due to the participation of such bright minds like: Architect Aneta Vassileva (WhAT Association), Architect Angel Zahariev (Grupa Grad), Velislava Popova (editor in chief, DNEVNIK daily), Vessela Gertcheva (Program and exhibitions director, Muzeiko), Architect Ina Vulkanova, Kalina Zhuleva (clinical psychologist and design thinking lecturer, Generator), Architect Mariana Sarbova, Maria Vassileva (curator), Sevdelina Voynova (program director, Sofia Development Association), Zornitsa Mitkova (public relations).

Content: Adriana Andreeva and Boiana Gjaurova, Studio Komplekt (journalists, curators, cultural managers)

Organization: Zornitsa Mitkova (public relations) 

Photography and Editing: Ilian Ruzhin

Sound design and mixing: Yordan Markov

Music: BenSound

Special thanks to: architect Ina Vulkanova, the Embassy of Portugal in Bulgaria and Instituto Camões Sofia

The podcast is available –> here.

WEAR Sustain

The multidisciplinary character of our creative consultancy often engages us in some unexpected but quite interesting projects, like WEAR Sustain – “an all European initiative engaging designers, visual artists, engineers, inventors, coders, technologists etc. to co-create ‘the next generation wearables and e-textiles’, and help pave the way for future ethical, sustainable, environmental and aesthetic technologies.”

We have been invited by the Bulgarian group of partners to the project –  Digital Spaces Living Lab and Smart Fab Lab to support them locally by being the link with the design sector and also assist in the formation of a Balkan hub for WEAR Sustain.

{Link to the visualisation which has appeared in the Independent}

This is what is ahead of us and how you can take part in this developing challenge.

The project is going to be launched with an event on the 30th of March, followed by a weekend of hackathon-ing. You can participate by joining the happenings through the following link: https://goo.gl/forms/x1KV4bX8q8K4SpPI2 

Find out more about WEAR Sustain events in Sofia on the Facebook page.



Love is that powerful force that has always intrigued people, regardless of time, space and place. Musicians berime it in songs, artists immortalise it in paintings and the editors of The New York Times masterfully channel it in the column Modern Love, which has been captivating millions of readers worldwide for 12 years now.

We catch up with two of the main figures behind it – editor Daniel Jones and illustrator Brian Rea whose visuals have become an inseparable part of the column.


> How did you get started drawing? Do you remember if you loved to draw as a child? Where did you study? What was your first job?
Brian Rea: I recall drawing as a child- mostly coloring. Seemed to be something I was constantly doing. My parents were not very artistic, but they were incredibly supportive. I studied illustration at Maryland Institute College of Art. My first “job” was in high school- I did drawings on kids jeans jackets- mostly rock band logos. Def Leppard was my specialty.
> Was there a particular moment when you realised you’d “made it”? What were you doing at the time?
Brian Rea: It was more panic than pride- When I was hired as an art director at the New York Times, I remember my first day of work repeating to myself “holy hell…can I do this?”  Resting at the top of the trail is not something I do. I’m too afraid I’ll fall off the mountain.
> What’s your proudest project to date? And why?
Brian Rea: The Malcolm Gladwell Collected art box set is a project that helped take my work in a new direction. Some of the recent animation collaborations I’ve worked on with the great designer Pablo Delcan have also allowed me to explore storytelling in new visual ways.
> What do you find the most challenging aspects of your work? And the industry you work in?
Brian Rea: I’m incredibly lucky to be able to paint and draw for a living- so whatever challenges I may find in my daily work, they’re pretty insignificant.
> How did you get involved with NY Times Modern Love column? When was that and what were you doing at the moment? Do you recall your first essay and illustration accompanying it?
Brian Rea: I received an email from the art director Corinne Myler. She was interested in taking the art for the Modern Love column in a new direction and asked if I’d be interested in working on it. We discussed how best to approach the column visually and how I might tackle a long term series on love. We agreed to 3 things: no hearts in the work, no relying on hand lettering in the images and treat each image as a parallel story to the essay. The first one I worked on I believe was about a father and daughter- I don’t recall the specifics of the essay, but I do remember the art having a young girl looking on from a doorway as her father played an accordion. It was about 6 years ago.
> What is the hook / the idea that you look for when reading an essay in order to make one illustration out of it?
Brian Rea: My approach has always been to match the tone and emotion of each writer’s essay with the story in my image. If I can elicit the same emotional level in the image as the essay, then I feel like I’ve done my job.
> Have you received complaints from the authors that the drawing does not correspond to their story? If yes, on what occasions?
Brian Rea: Most writers have been very supportive and are more curious about how I will portray them in the illustrations. I did receive a lengthy email from a very committed reader who critiqued my illustrations since the beginning of my time on the column. She described in detail how my work had evolved over the 5-6 years. The takeaway was that she preferred my earlier work. I love anyone that passionate about anything.
> What is your favourite love story so far and which one would you recommend to our readers?
Brian Rea: Each essay has the chance to touch us in different ways- I’ve had pieces that made me laugh, made me think, made me change my own behaviour and certainly have made me cry. I’ve met some of the writers and chatted about how my illustrations have affected them and how their essays affected me. I’ve laughed at a story about a woman who REALLY loved her pet turtle and shared emails with an 80 something year old essayist who wrote a loving column about marrying her now deceased 90 year old marathon running sweet heart. That’s what the column is about really- making us think about our own relationships and our own lives and how important we are to each other. At least, that’s what I take away from reading the column each week.
> Have you thought of contributing your own Modern Love story to the column with a pseudonym – what would it be about?
Brian Rea: I have thought about it, but I’m not a very skilled writer. If I did, it would be the story of meeting my wife- you’ll have to wait to read it.
> Is there one thing that really motivates and assures you to keep doing what you do?
Brian Rea: Three things: Passion, emotions and an audience that hopefully connects to the work.
> When did the Modern Love column start? What prompted it? Who was behind the idea? Do you recall what was the first published essay?
Daniel Jones: The first Modern Love column appeared on October 31, 2004, and it was the idea of Trip Gabriel, who then edited Sunday Styles in the New York Times. He had read essay anthologies that my wife, Cathi Hanauer, and I had edited: his and hers tell-all books about the stresses of modern marriage. Hers was called “The Bitch in the House”; mine, “The Bastard on the Couch.” He wanted stories like ours in his section on a weekly basis, so he hired us, as a couple to create “Modern Love” (named after David Bowie’s song). The first essay was by a writer named Steve Friedman who kept getting turned down by women – his life story!
> How did the column evolve? What is the one thing that never changed?
Daniel Jones: What never changes is how it is to find and build lasting relationships. What also never seems to change is our expectation that true love should feel natural and be easy. There will be problems. Life is messy.
> How many submissions do you receive in a month? Do you track how many people read the column and in how many countries?
Daniel Jones: We receive about 600 submissions a month for 4 spots. We do track how many people read the column and how much time they spend reading it but we don’t release such figures. I can tell you that the most popular column we have ever run – “To Fall in Love With Anyone, Do This” – reached more than 10 million readers, and that essay, combined with its sidebar (a list of questions) reached more than 16 million readers who collectively spent more than 160 years of time reading those two pages. It was the most popular article to appear in the New York Times in 2015.
> How many people are involved in the NY Times team working on the realisation of the Modern Love section? I notices that you have launched also a podcast –  is there anything else new in your plans for the near future?
Daniel Jones:The column has one editor, me, and a deputy Styles editor who oversees my work. The column is then read by two copy editors, an online editor and an art director. We have an illustrator. For the podcast, which is brand new and quite successful, remaining in the Top 5 on iTunes since its launch three weeks ago, we have three producers, two hosts, and many technical people. I may be biased, but I think the podcast is phenomenal.
> On the visual part: why did you choose to work with Brian Rea? How do you realise the videos – how do you choose which story is for a video project and which not, how do you select/invite the artists for the videos?
Daniel Jones:I didn’t choose Brian – the art director did. But his smart, playful and beautiful illustrations have come to define and identify the column as much as anything else. The video animation project has come to an end. It was gorgeous and nominated for an Emmy but we can only do so much for so long.