Joseph Cavalieri reports on the 2012 International Glass Festival Sofia, held in mid September in Bulgaria. Joseph taught a glass workshop at the Brookfiled Craft Center this summer.
Bulgaria is a former Soviet-bloc country, who abolished the Communist Party in 1990. The country is still going through lots of transitions. According to a 2011 census, Bulgaria lost 1.5 million of its population since 1985. The number of young people is declining and villages are becoming depopulated as big cities grow.
I was invited to show work and participate in the 2012 International Glass Festival in the capital city of Sofia, which I found had a active art scene, including a small group of energetic glass artists. I immediately saw potential for growth of the arts in Sofia in time. Though the infrastructure of the city is old, and the resources for artist is lacking, the students we met were eager to learn, had a good understanding of English, and picked up on techniques quickly.
Discussions about when the Communist Party ruled varied, with some locals expressing major distaste for those years, while other showed appreciation for how the soviets helped to build the country with government and banking structures. The fact that the people could express themselves still was new. I had one conversation with a local artist about pricing work and gallery commissions that I could see was difficult for them to discuss, since it was an issues dealing with money.
Background of the Festival
In 2010 Carl Pforzheimer, board member of the America for Bulgaria Foundation the major funder of this glass festival, approached Dawn Bennet and Professor Svilen Stefanov to curate this biennial festival. Without Carl’s vision this event would have never taken off. Miss Bennet and Professor Stefanov’s challenge was to choose art for an exhibit at the Rauko Alexiev Gallery, in Sofia along with inviting specific artists to visit and present workshops and lectures. Most importantly they hand-picked appropriate artists working with glass that could could be understood by and directly influence young Bulgarian artists. Artists were chosen from the United States, Bulgaria, Israel and the Czech Republic.
Dawn Bennett, former Executive Director of UrbanGlass chose leading US artists in the field of glass, and Professor Svilen Stefanov presented Bulgarian artists experimenting in glass. Some artists exhibited work, while others exhibited and visited Bulgaria to present demonstrations to students at St. Lucas National High School for Applied Arts, as well as Bulgarian artists and the general public.
Much more was organized along with the large exhibit at Rauko Alixiev Gallery and demonstrations at the High School. These included satellite exhibitions by Boris Shpaytsman and Anastasia Andreeva at the Arosita Gallery and an exhibit by the Bulgarian glass artist Ekaterina Getsova at the Yuzina Art Gallery. Ekaterina was a major organizer of the festival in many areas.
Much press was created around the event. Posters were seen around town, along with a very nicely designed directory of events. Dawn Bennett along with American artist Matthew Eskuche, Marlene Rose and myself, were interviewed on the Bulgarian morning talk show, along with our translator.
All exhibitions were well attended, and the demonstrations presented during the festival were packed and most rewarding. The America for Bulgaria Foundation had built a new wing in the school including a modern glass studio, where the demonstrations took place. The big difference between presenting techniques in Bulgaria as opposed to larger cities in the US or Europe; this was the very first time people were seeing this in person. Eruptions of clapping and cheers accompanied the lectures and demonstrations.
In the end I saw this as a long term form of education. The potential of influence with these high school students may not be seen immediately, but definitely broadened the options of ideas, techniques and personal expression for years to come.
Joseph Cavalieri is an artist and educator living in New York.
He will be teaching next summer at the Brookfiled Craft Center.