‘River of Tolerance’, in partnership with UNESCO, will mark the 40th anniversary of NEF ‘13 Centuries of Bulgaria’

The most intriguing and valuable donations will be shown in an exhibition on the Bridge of Lovers and published in a book

Text: Magdalena Gigova

There are two key events in 2021 dedicated to the 40th anniversary of NEF ‘13 Centuries of Bulgaria’, stated its Executive Director Slava Ivanova. The first is the publication of a book devoted to the history of the Fund, with the forty most significant, valuable, and remarkable donations it has received. An exhibition will be prepared on the basis of this publication, to be displayed on the Bridge of Lovers at the National Palace of Culture, in partnership with Sofia Municipality. Photographs of the most interesting collections, and works of art, provided to the Fund by donors over the years of its existence, and included in the book, will be on show.


‘The criteria for their selection are many and varied. They are not limited only to the scale, value, or reputation of the donation. We have attempted to include examples of different types from various spheres, our idea being to show that each is invaluable, as it is an act of goodwill and is done for the benefit of the people,’ explained Slava Ivanova.


That is why NEF ‘13 Centuries of Bulgaria’ has selected donations most diverse in terms of theme and type. Some of them are extremely familiar—people have seen the signs on institutions subject to donation—whereas no one seems to have heard of others. And now is the right time to lift the curtain a little. The book, albeit concisely, presents the way the profile of donors has changed over the years. If a person is sentient, he will decipher and realise it.


That profile ranged across many, different social groups, including famous scientists and professors, people from BAS, Sofia University and other higher educational institutions, world-famous artists, musicians, and painters… but also people from completely different professions, such as lawyers, doctors, dentists, magnates of exceptionally good financial standing.


One can discover all this in the book, as long as one digs a little and reflects. It will also be evident in the exhibition. In addition to information about these 40 donations, other documentary materials will be included in both the publication and the exhibition. ‘We had no alternative but to also trace back the history of the Fund in names and dates. We will present all the normative documents that have determined its activities. This is the important page that so far no one seems to have undertaken to compose. And it is particularly important because this is the basis thanks to which the Fund has continued to exist over the years,’ added the Executive Director of NEF ‘13 Centuries of Bulgaria’.


The book will also cite the names of those who made the decisions—chairpersons and members of the Management Board, executive directors… and, in a sentence, with specific figures, there will be a mention of the causes the Fund provided money to over the years. Those were funds raised through targeted campaigns and given for the implementation of the respective projects. The honorary list includes monuments, museums, galleries, libraries, and community centres. All of them were touched by the generosity of Bulgarians through the ‘13 Centuries of Bulgaria’. It is impossible for a book to be fully comprehensive, but if all the generous hearts and charitable deeds were to be included, a multivolume book would be needed. Only the most visible, most tangible and enduring examples are listed.


This jubilee publication will not be for sale, but will be presented as a gift. ‘As an art historian, I feel it is my duty that a little something of the history of the Fund be collated and presented on the occasion of its anniversary. Not that it hasn’t been done before. But, this time, everything published will be based on concrete facts and documents,’ said Slava Ivanova.


The exhibition and the book are scheduled for the first half of 2021; in the second half of the year, the largest project of NEF ‘13 Centuries of Bulgaria’ will be the fourth edition of the ‘River of Tolerance’ International Youth Art Festival under the auspices of UNESCO. This is a key project for the Fund, not only with respect to the 40th anniversary it is celebrating, but also in connection with its partnership with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization—recognition for NEF, received five years ago, which it proudly wants to continue to maintain and develop.


‘River of Tolerance’ is especially important for strengthening our cooperation with UNESCO over the next five years. Hopefully, the COVID crisis will come to a favourable end for the festival to be realised in all its diversity and completeness. ‘We have invited colleagues from art academies—lecturers and students—in Turkey, Greece, Northern Macedonia, Serbia, Romania and this time, Croatia also, to visit us at our regional centre in Samokov, the famous Sarafs’ House,’ said Slava Ivanova. ‘There again, in non-traditional forms of education, lecturers and students will have the opportunity to share experiences, create, demonstrate their talent and, last but not least, to become acquainted with our national artistic heritage. For Samokov is one of the cradles of the Revival culture. It was the religious harmony in this town that inspired the idea of calling the festival ‘River of Tolerance’. Its history is proof of how much Bulgarian spirituality has always been tolerant of different religions and ethnicities. In Samokov, as well as in Sofia and elsewhere, the mosque, the church and the synagogue coexist next to each other in a very small area. In addition, they were built by the same masters, they were painted to the same pattern (if we use Revival terminology). The mosque has so many elements of the typical Bulgarian culture of that time. In the Christian church, there exist traditionally architectural and ornamental forms that come from Europe, but through the Orient. The famous ‘Lâle’ [Tulip] style, typical of Istanbul during that period, also influenced Revivalist ornamentation. The synagogue was built and painted by these same masters, although commissioned by the wealthiest Jewish families in the city.’


‘When young people find themselves in this atmosphere, they cannot help but look for the contemporary dimensions of this spirituality. And this is reflected in their output. Proof is the collection of artworks by students from the Balkans, which the Fund owns from the first three editions of the Festival. I hope that the fourth, which is now forthcoming, will be the next step forward in the development of the Festival,’ Slava Ivanova stated, full of optimism.


In November, one month before the very date on which NEF ‘13 Centuries of Bulgaria’ will celebrate its 40th anniversary, the exhibition ‘Bread’ by Bulgarian artist Atanas Katchamakoff, who carved out an excellent career in the United States in the first half of the 20th century, will be shown at the Haus Wittgenstein in Vienna as a prelude to the celebrations.


‘In December, we will present a collection, not too numerous, of extremely high quality, and selected by Nayden Petkov himself, of his pictorial canvases from the most wonderful, most mature period of his oeuvre—the 1980s. We will show these eight magnificent paintings by Petkov in the Sredets Gallery of the Ministry of Culture. And, by then, we will have decided to whom to award the honorary crest of the Fund, presenting it at a solemn ceremony. Perhaps not only to one,’ concluded, in an open-ended way, the Executive Director of NEF ‘13 Centuries of Bulgaria’, Slava Ivanova.

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