Snezhana Yoveva-Dimitrova, Director of the State Institute of Culture of the Minister of Foreign Affairs:

‘We are the right partner for NEF “13 Centuries of Bulgaria”.’

Text and interview: Magdalena Gigova

Snezhana Yoveva-Dimitrova is the Director of the State Institute of Culture of the Minister of Foreign Affairs, which is marking 15 years since its establishment.

On 8 November 2019, she and Slava Ivanova, Executive Director of the Fund, signed an agreement for cooperation in the Prof. Vasil Gerov Hall of the ‘13 Centuries of Bulgaria’ National Endowment Fund. According to this, the two institutions partner in significant initiatives in the field of culture and on projects bringing together and promoting the cultural and historical heritage on the European and regional levels.

We spoke to Snezhana Yoveva-Dimitrova about the joint ideas and the implementation of projects in the coronavirus situation.


Ms Yoveva, NEF ‘13 Centuries of Bulgaria’ has been cooperating with the State Institute of Culture of the Minister of Foreign Affairs, but recently the relationship has become closer.

Proof of this collaboration occurred in 2019, on the eve of the National Enlighteners’ Day. The two bodies—the ‘13 Centuries of Bulgaria’ National Endowment Fund and the State Institute of Culture of the Minister of Foreign Affairs—formalised their cooperation, signing a partnership agreement. The main intention outlined in our discussion with the Executive Director of the Fund, Ms Slava Ivanova, was to work together on projects promoting Bulgarian culture and the arts, the historical heritage and archaeology, through the channels of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the Bulgarian missions abroad. The State Institute of Culture is the natural translator of such cultural products and we are the right partner for NEF ‘13 Centuries of Bulgaria’.

Moreover, the Fund, as a structure affiliated to UNESCO, is preparing the next International Youth Art Festival, ‘River of Tolerance’, in Samokov, under the auspices of the world organisation. This is an extremely good way of bringing together young, creative people, studying or developing in the Balkan countries and universities, who will gather in Samokov, a wonderful place for inspiration, to draw ideas and emotions from the religious temples. It is well known that, in this town, religious tolerance is expressed through the magnificent architectural masterpieces of its churches and monasteries, the mosque and the synagogue. And the Sarafs’ House, which is managed by the Fund, has a unique architecture and fascinating history. Additionally, we shall be partners and promote the results of the festival, present exhibitions together, lecture, and introduce the participants to the rich Art Collection and cultural diplomacy. It is important to mention that NEF ‘13 Centuries of Bulgaria’ was granted UNESCO’s patronage for the International Youth Art Festival, which was postponed to 2021 because of Covid-19.

Unfortunately, the pandemic has forced us, as a structure engaged mainly in public cultural events, almost to a standstill. However, we managed to organise several important events on the occasion of the 15th anniversary of the establishment of the State Institute of Culture, some online publications, as well as virtual presentations of exhibitions. We entitled one of our successful projects ‘Stay at Home with Art’. The aim of the initiative, which the institute developed, was to show masterpieces from our rich art collection, to inform about the artists and the works themselves. We succeeded in attracting over 80 artists from Bulgaria and abroad, scores of institutions, galleries, and museums… I am grateful to NEF ‘13 Centuries of Bulgaria’, as it actively and regularly participated and presented examples from its collection that are true masterpieces of figurative art—for example, the magnificent creations of Kachamakov or Nayden Petkov from your collection. In this way, what the endowment institution possesses is popularised and our initiative is given publicity. It is a form of partnership, sustainable and developing.

I should like to note that the initiative, ‘Stay at Home with Art’, was until recently the only Bulgarian online project registered to Creatives Unite, the international platform in the cultural and creative sector, and we are pleased to publicise our artistic heritage through European online platforms.


Do you envisage joint initiatives with NEF ‘13 Centuries of Bulgaria’?

We plan to involve the Fund in showing some of the exhibitions it has held so far, such as ‘Together in Art for a Better Future’, organised in partnership with UNICEF on the 30th anniversary of the adoption of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. We very much hope that this exhibition will be shown at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to mark 75 years since the founding of the United Nations, and 65 years of Bulgaria’s membership of this organisation, as the exhibition of NEF ‘13 Centuries of Bulgaria’ interprets important topics of UN policies. We believe that we will be able to present some of your classic art collections, at the right time and opportunity.

This year, as I have mentioned, we are celebrating a modest 15 years since our establishment as an institution and our connection with the diplomatic missions of Bulgaria abroad, as well as with the foreign diplomatic missions here. We are preparing events that we hope to realise ‘live’. From 1 September to 14 September, in the so-called Crystal Park, we shall be presenting a modern photographic exhibition, the result of the ‘Directions’ competition for young artists. I have been assured that the exhibition will be shown in some of the wonderful places managed by NEF ‘13 Centuries of Bulgaria’—the Sarafs’ House in Samokov, Gabensky Gallery in Tryavna, the Hadji Dancho’s Houses Ethnographic Complex in Sliven—to be enjoyed by a wider public. We are also planning joint ideas concerning the National Enlighteners’ Day and the European Days of Languages.


The pandemic postponed many events for next year, including ‘River of Tolerance’, but you continue your activities not only online, but also by holding exhibitions in the gallery, The Mission, in compliance with all measures.

That is correct. We recently opened an exhibition at the initiative of the Embassy of Kazakhstan, of two great Kazakh intellectuals and thinkers: a philosopher and a writer. The event enjoyed the presence of Kazakh Ambassador Temirtai Izbastin, Deputy Foreign Minister Milen Lyutskanov, the Director General for Bilateral Relations at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Hristo Polendakov, other guests, and diplomats. One of the ambitions of The Mission Gallery is to provide a space for the realisation of cultural diplomacy. An interesting project of the Embassy of Japan is coming up in the autumn.

We are preparing to take part in the European Heritage Days, and the European Day of Languages at the end of September, among other events. Recently, our luxury bilingual compendium, ‘Diplomacy and Art’, was published, presenting the most emblematic masterpieces from our Art Collection, as well as accounts of the Sculpture Park, the symbols of sovereignty, some of the buildings of the Bulgarian missions, and so on. We are planning its presentation; I believe that, jointly with NEF ‘13 Centuries of Bulgaria’, we will present it in places of interest around the country, to a dedicated and enthusiastic public.


You have other points of contact with NEF ‘13 Centuries of Bulgaria: the Fund works with Bulgarians abroad, while you operate with Bulgarian missions abroad. This is another opportunity for close cooperation.

Our activity is also oriented to the Bulgarian communities abroad, as they are the main recipients of some of the projects that we implement through our missions around the world. I should just mention that we are preparing an internet initiative ‘Bulgarian Cinema Online’, which will take place in November, for about a month, and will be available through a special platform on which we will upload selected Bulgarian films in different categories—documentaries, feature films, animation, shorts—with subtitles whenever possible so as to be accessible to our communities around the world. Thanks to online platforms, we are beginning to overcome our isolation. We are actively developing our Facebook page, our website is bilingual, and we have significantly stirred up our YouTube channel.


The coronavirus thwarted the opening of an exclusive exhibition of works by Konstantin Shtarkelov, ‘The Solitary Wanderer’, at the Sofia City Art Gallery…

Yes, but the exhibition has an extended duration and can be viewed until the end of October in the wonderful space of the Sofia City Art Gallery. We are one of the key partners in this project because, through our efforts, 14 of his magnificent works arrived in Bulgaria, part of the Art Collection of the Institute—paintings from the embassies in Belgrade, Bratislava, Berlin, Vienna, Ankara, from the Central Office of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. I am glad that we succeeded in organising the logistics for the paintings to be included in the representative exhibition and in the luxury bilingual compendium.

We have an invitation to show some of Shtarkelov’s paintings and the publication at the Bulgarian Cultural Institute in Berlin. Hopefully, conditions will allow this to happen.

The exposition at the Sofia City Art Gallery is truly impressive. It includes over 300 works: watercolours, paintings, drawings. It is because of them that ‘The Solitary Wanderer’, as Konstantin Shtarkelov was called by many critics is so famous. The exhibition is a real experience! The immersion—through Lake Ohrid, the mountains and fields, the beautiful flowers and the vivified tulips with which he fills his canvases—indeed commands respect and emotion.


The Fund has many valuable works of art, as has the Institute. Are you planning a joint exhibition?

We do have such plans; we have indeed discussed them. We are just waiting for the situation to become favourable in order to realise them. We are truly impressed by Atanas Kachamakov’s exhibition, which NEF ‘13 Centuries of Bulgaria’ held at the Sredets Gallery of the Ministry of Culture. We would be very happy to welcome it to visit the halls of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for a longer period of time.


Let us return to ‘River of Tolerance’, for which UNESCO granted its patronage to the Fund. This art festival really brings together bright minds and talents from all the Balkan countries. Will there be representative of yours next year, if all goes well?

It would be our pleasure to take part! We are heading towards hosting the exhibition after that—with our help and assistance to present the exhibition, the result of this creative process, in Paris, at UNESCO and elsewhere in the Bulgarian diplomatic missions and cultural centres in Europe—wherever possible and suitable as a subject.

Apart from that, we would be happy to be involved in the programme as lecturers in order to share the powerful weapon of cultural diplomacy and how art can change, challenge, alert society. Ecological themes are often the subject of inspiration among younger artists. Various installations are created to provoke human imagination. It is no coincidence that, in 2017, the Antarctica Biennale was launched through the activity of curator Nadim Samman, and is again being planned for 2022. Another example is Artur Bordalo from Lisbon, who makes extremely impressive installations of trash to provoke people, institutions and politicians to be vigilant about nature. There are many artists who set topics for reflection in this way and we as an institution will promote them through our educational programmes, lectures and publications. A handbook on cultural public administration is being compiled by our colleagues at the Diplomatic Institute, developing the topic of levers and mechanisms for influencing foreign policy segments through cultural, digital, public diplomacy. So, we can also share this with the participants in the festival at the Sarafs’ House.


Cultural diplomacy runs like a red thread through our conversation. What would you say to those who argue that now is not the time for cultural diplomacy—political unrest, coronavirus…

I think that there is a lot that cultural diplomacy can do, even during these restrictive periods because, through online platforms, through various communication channels such as YouTube and Facebook, initiatives can be shared. We recently launched a new one, entitled ‘A Peek into the Missions’. We tell ‘a story’, presented with visual materials—photographs and video—about the artistic heritage of the Bulgarian diplomatic missions. In July, we presented the Bulgarian Embassy in Berlin on the occasion of the German presidency of the EU Council. We told not only about Shtarkelov’s masterpieces located there, but also about the exceptional paintings of Encho Pironkov, Vasil Stoilov, and many more—part of the collection of the Bulgarian mission in Berlin, whose building also has its own history. Throughout August, we presented our embassy in Belgrade, with its incredible architecture, stained glass and works of art. Now, in September, we shall present the rich collection of our embassy in Paris.

Congratulations that NEF ‘13 Centuries of Bulgaria’ also makes virtual walks around the buildings—the museums and galleries it manages—and thus makes its sites more accessible. We as partners share these directions and visual materials through our channels.

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