The ‘River of Tolerance’ Art Festival opens with special greetings from UNESCO

Students and their lecturers from the art academies of Bulgaria, Greece, Romania, Serbia, and Croatia exchange creative ideas online

Text: Magdalena Gigova

For the first time, the ‘River of Tolerance’ Art Festival, organised by NEF ‘13 Centuries of Bulgaria’, is being held online owing to the coronavirus measures, but communication over the Internet did not diminish creative ardour.

The event, which runs from 13 to 17 September and involves students and professors from academies of visual arts in Bulgaria, Greece, Romania, Serbia, and Croatia, was inaugurated with a greeting by Toussaint Tiendrebeogo, Secretary of the Convention for the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions, on behalf of UNESCO. The World Organization for Cultural and Historical Heritage traditionally grants its patronage to the NEF ’13 Centuries of Bulgaria’ youth art festival. (Video of Mr Toussaint Tiendrebeogo’s speech can be seen via the link below).

Ms Slava Ivanova, Executive Director of the Fund, also greeted the festival participants. (Her words of welcome are also available for viewing online).

Prof. Georgi Yankov, Rector of the National Academy of Arts, delivered a short speech on behalf of the hosts.


After the official introductions, each of the universities of fine arts had the opportunity to present their activities by showing a short film, while today’s participants gained an idea of the past, ‘physical’ editions of the Festival through a video recorded by NATFA graduates.


Before settling down to practical matters, mutual acquaintances continued with the introduction of the various professors introducing their students by their professors.


In the second half of the Festival’s opening first day, the hosts set the tone with the lecture by Prof. Svilen Stefanov, DA, on the topic of ‘Changes in Bulgarian Art on the Cusp of the 1980s and 1990s’.


After that, the participants breathed small sigh of sadness during the virtual tour of the Sarafs’ House in Samokov, where the art festival was normally held.


For ‘dessert’, the young people from the Balkan countries learned more about ‘The Music Instead of the Street’, a project of the world-famous violinist Georgi Kalaydzhiev.


The first day of ‘River of Tolerance’ ended in an entirely suitable way, with a musical performance.


Day Two of the ‘River of Tolerance’—with Her Highness the Graphic Art

During the Youth Art Festival, organised by NEF ‘13 Centuries of Bulgaria, students and their lecturers take a virtual tour of Samokov


The second day of the ‘River of Tolerance’ Youth Art Festival, under the auspices of UNESCO, was dedicated to graphics. Students and their lecturers from the art academies of the Balkan countries met online (for the first time, the event takes place via the Internet, for reasons of sanitary safety) with Assoc. Prof. Yohan Yotov from the Graphic Art Department at the National Academy of Arts in Sofia. Then using the Zoom platform, they ‘attended’ his Graphics workshop.


Dr Vasil Kolev – Vassillo, another graphic artist, told the students about his involvement in a previous edition of ‘River of Tolerance’.


Dr Veselin Hadzhiangelov, the eloquent Director of the Samokov Museum of History, spoke to the young people about the cultural history of the town, known for its religious and ethnic tolerance.


In Samokov, Bulgarians, Turks and Jews have coexisted for centuries in harmony and peace, and so their houses of prayer are situated close to each other; all of them contain elements of the respective religions that are atypical and borrowed from other nationalities.


The ‘River of Tolerance’ Day Three—Photography in the Spotlight

Participants in the youth art festival, organised by NEF ‘13 Centuries of Bulgaria under the auspices of UNESCO, virtually visit the Barakli Mosque, the Synagogue and Belyo’s Church in Samokov


The main lecturer on the third day of the ‘River of Tolerance’ Art Festival was Ivan Kyuranov, D.A., from the History of Art Department at the National Academy of Arts in Sofia.


Students and lecturers from Balkan countries, using the Zoom platform, took part live in Ivan Kyuranov’s workshop on ‘Medium-format Analogue Photography as a Tool for the Contemporary Artist’.


After delivering the ‘master’s workshop’, the professor recounted his memories of the ‘River of Tolerance’, when it was part of the festival that, in previous editions, was held at the Sarafs’ House in Samokov.


And because, owing to the coronavirus measures, the students followed the event on their screens, Dr Veselin Hadzhiangelov, Director of the town’s Museum of History, ‘organised’ a virtual tour of the Barakli Mosque, the Synagogue and Belyo’s Church in Samokov.


The ‘River of Tolerance’, Day Four—‘Where Is Serendip?’


What could be a more natural theme for an art festival that goes online for the first time than that of the digital arts? And who could be a more suitable lecturer than Assoc. Prof. Venelin Shurelov, D.A.?


His workshop, ‘Where Is Serendip?’, initially took students and lecturers from Bulgaria, Greece, Romania and Serbia to the realm of fairy tales with the legend of the three princes from Serendip (the ancient name of Sri Lanka). And then the participants in the ‘River of Tolerance’, the youth art festival organised by NEF ‘13 Centuries of Bulgaria’ under the auspices of UNESCO, immersed themselves in the magic of art made using digital media. Assoc. Prof. Shurelov stated: ‘Serendipity is a science, but beyond its traditional attributes—logic and predictability. Serendipity is the study of the unexpected, it is the comprehension of the accidental, the connecting of the fragmented.’


They had the opportunity to watch a video about the ‘Light and Spirit’ project, a multimedia exhibition of Vladimir Dimitrov – Maystora, created by Assoc. Prof. Venelin Shurelov in partnership with the Fund.


The second part of his workshop revealed what is meant by data-enhanced interaction.


Then they saw with their own eyes that one of them, Bogdan Topicenu from Romania, a participant in the 2nd ‘River of Tolerance’ International Youth Art Festival, had developed his own project with talent and imagination. He presented a video on the topic: ‘A handbook for the survival of the artist. From adversity to opportunity. An inside look at Art Factory and ArtLink projects’.


The computer magician, Boyan Vassilev, with whose assistance the online version of the festival was made possible, showed fascinatingly and competently how a Balkan hero such as Krali Marko could be turned into an avant-garde computer game.


The ‘River of Tolerance’, Day Five—Not Farewell, but Goodbye!

The Youth Art Festival, organised by NEF ‘13 Centuries of Bulgaria’ under the auspices of UNESCO, is over, but the exhibition of the participants’ artworks is forthcoming


The main event of the ‘River of Tolerance’ ended with a fascinating lecture by Snezhana Yoveva-Dimitrova, Director of the State Institute for Culture at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The Youth Art Festival, organised online for the first time by the ‘13 Centuries of Bulgaria’ National Endowment Fund, having been granted UNESCO’s patronage for the second time, brought together students and their lecturers from art academies in Bulgaria, Greece, Romania, and Serbia.


The participants listened with interest to the lecture, ‘The Art That Connects Us: Useful Practices, Partnerships, and International Exchange’, in which Snezhana Yoveva-Dimitrova presented various avant-garde and interactive projects that create bridges between countries and peoples.


The final live Zoom meeting was led by Assoc. Prof. Dr Venelin Shurelov, with an engrossing presentation on the development and future of digital arts in Bulgaria. Yoana Angelova, a lecturer in Photography, also from the National Academy of Arts in Sofia, shared her impressions as a participant in the festival. Joining in from Bucharest, Mihai Rusen was taking part in the ‘River of Tolerance’ for the first time, but his broad smile suggested that it would not be the last. He introduced the Romanian students and shared his latest ideas.


Lampros Psirakis of the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki praised the organisation of the festival and, like everyone else, regretted that the pandemic had forced it to be held online; he hoped his Alma Mater would establish close ties with the National Academy of Arts in Sofia and that of Bucharest.


In her closing remarks, Slava Ivanova, the Executive Director of NEF ‘13 Centuries of Bulgaria’, summarised the general feeling of creativity and friendship, the desire to exchange innovative ideas and inspiration, and thanked everyone who organised and took part in the festival.


Youth group FROYD from Bulgaria gave an emotional closing musical performance.


‘River of Tolerance’ was sent off with hard rock sounds but, as Ms Ivanova said, it did not end with turning off the computer. The artworks created by the participants during the Festival will be included in a joint exhibition at a prestigious Sofia gallery.