by Dimana Trankova; photography by Salzburg Global Seminar

Can culture industries become a thing in Bulgaria? Trailblazers Shelagh Wright and Peter Jenkison provide advice, optimism and inspiration

Shelagh Wright and Peter Jenkison.jpg

Art, culture and proper management of creative industries have proven a force for efficient and positive change for local communities. Just think of the excitement when your visit to another town or country coincides with an interesting festival, concert or art show. Remember all the beautiful pictures you have taken and shared of inspiring exhibitions, thought-provoking graffiti art or innovative visual solutions of urban and rural spaces. Look at the coffee mug rack and the shelves at your home, with their beautiful souvenirs that are more than mementos, but true objects of art. Who can argue, then, that creative industries make our lives more beautiful and meaningful?

Creative industries, however, are more than that. Like other industries they provide employment, but what makes them different is that they bring local communities together, instead of putting on them the burden of the rat race and environmental threat.

Bulgaria proudly claims to be one of the cradles of European culture and literacy, but it is yet to realise the full potential of culture industries and culture management. Both people and institutions don't get it. This is why this May, in Sofia and Plovdiv, the Bottom-Up Culture event put the focus on culture-led urban regeneration, the role of cultural entrepreneurs, creative places and the shift towards socially, civically and politically engaged practices. Bottom-Up Culture materialised with the help of the America for Bulgaria Foundation. It is a followup to the 2016 Salzburg Global Seminar for Young Cultural Innovators, and a part of the FORUM 2019 educational platform, which includes seminars and other events focusing on Plovdiv's being European Capital of Culture 2019.

Bottom-Up Culture's main events were a public talk in Sofia with Shelagh Wright and Peter Jenkison and a professional workshop in Plovdiv where the two London-based culture management specialists were joined by the British Council's Lubov Kostova.

Wright and Jenkison have significant experience in culture management. She has worked for decades on a number of projects on cultural and creative economics policy, publishing several books and countless articles in the process. Wright was also a contributor of the Creative Britain strategy and a member of the EU Expert Working Group of the Creative Industries. Jenkison is a cultural broker with more than 20 years in the culture sector, which he spent advocating and acting for change across the cultural and political landscape and for building of social justice. An abridged list of his achievements also includes being a Pop-Up Chancellor of the Cannon Hill Art School 2015 and a founding director of the £110 million Creative Partnerships creativity in learning programme in England.

In Bulgaria, however, the importance of intelligent culture management seems, at best, largely ignored by national and local institutions. In most of the cases, fantasy reconstructions of ancient and medieval ruins are the only – but very expensive – effort of local municipalities to promote historical heritage to the broader public. On a regular basis businessmen are allowed to destroy beautiful old residential and industrial buildings that used to be – and could have been again – an integral part of life in communities. The sale of ugly souvenirs is seen as enough to boost interest in tourism, and festival programmes mainly gravitate around reenactments of ancient or 19th century traditions, be them folklore dances, production of plum Rakiya, rose-picking or mummers shows.

Shelagh Wright and Peter JenkisonThe importance of creative industries should not be underestimated in Bulgaria, believes Shelagh Wright. "They have the advantage of largely being a low capital intensive sector," she said to Vagabond during her stay at Bulgaria. "You don't need a huge factory, heavy machinery or massive infrastructure to start a creative profession or business. Often these enterprises start in people's bedrooms or garages or through small economies of exchange and niche communities and grow from there. Bulgaria has an abundance of smart and committed creative people. From our short visit, Peter and I felt like there are two main things that are needed for the sector's development, and they are both probably more about mindsets than management."

Changing the attitude involves institutions, investors, and people in creative industries. "Municipalities and developers have to move to the 21st century and to understand far better how to nurture and grow the exiting creative potential," Wright explains. "Partly that means supporting people with space to make and offer their work to the market. And not just on short leases – growing creative quarters requires taking some risks and having a bit of patience. There is a growing evidence that slow, careful development of lots of small creative offers is far more effective in regenerating communities and has a bigger pay-off in the long-term."

The second step is for people in the sector to move from competition to collaboration. "Those we met on our short trip in Bulgaria have so many assets they can share, like skills, knowledge, equipment, programming. But a lot of those assets are locked and under-utilised," says Wright. "The sector could be a lot smarter in creating new supply chains, not just for commercial work, and partnerships that can generate much more value. So more crowd-sourcing and more crowdfunding could be very beneficial – the World Bank estimates that the crowdfunding market will be worth $93 billion by 2025. Surely Bulgaria would benefit from a bit of that to build it's creative sphere."

The times, however, seem darker and unsuitable for investing and developing of "fancies" like culture industries. Xenophobia and anti-globalism are on the rise worldwide, creating a toxic atmosphere.

Peter Jenkison is aware of the bad timing, but he is also an optimist. "These are  indeed very dark times across the world. Many are comparing this frightening period with the 1930s only perhaps even more sinister, given the technology forces at play and the potential for sudden nuclear warfare. It is natural to feel powerless and despondent. And yet... And yet there is much we can do by creating new and unexpected alliances, collaborations and partnerships within our communities, nations and internationally, focussing on more positive and practical values, ideas, propositions and scenarios that challenge the threats and lies and fake news of the ascendant Right. And art and culture, wherever you are in the world, provides one of the best platforms or laboratories for imagining and disseminating these more hopeful ideas and behaviours and for offering the means of popular creative resistance."

bottom up cultureIt is largely a generational thing, Peter Jenkison thinks, and sooner or later there will be change for the better. "This rise of xenophobia and anti-globalism is, largely, driven by older people, including the so-called baby boomers. Younger people, the so-called Generations Y and Z, are said to be less interested in conventional politics than older people and many have lost faith in our political leaders and the political system in general. But this does not mean they are not interested in politics. They are more connected across the world than former generations and are passionate about increasing international understanding and relationships, as well as in getting directly engaged in political change at home in new and usually collective ways. So the resistance and re-imagination we now desperately need will surely come as much from involving (normally ignored or sidelined) younger generations in creatively suggesting and working for different futures as from the older generation of powermongers who, to many, are part of the problem not the solution. Step forward art and culture in this vital endeavour!"


    Commenting on

    Vagabond Media Ltd requires you to submit a valid email to comment on to secure that you are not a bot or a spammer. Learn more on how the company manages your personal information on our Privacy Policy. By filling the comment form you declare that you will not use for the purpose of violating the laws of the Republic of Bulgaria. When commenting on please observe some simple rules. You must avoid sexually explicit language and racist, vulgar, religiously intolerant or obscene comments aiming to insult Vagabond Media Ltd, other companies, countries, nationalities, confessions or authors of postings and/or other comments. Do not post spam. Write in English. Unsolicited commercial messages, obscene postings and personal attacks will be removed without notice. The comments will be moderated and may take some time to appear on

Add new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.

Restricted HTML

  • Allowed HTML tags: <a href hreflang> <em> <strong> <cite> <blockquote cite> <code> <ul type> <ol start type> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd> <h2 id> <h3 id> <h4 id> <h5 id> <h6 id>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
  • Web page addresses and email addresses turn into links automatically.

Discover More

The charity exhibition Buy Art, Give Future To a Child is a chance to buy top photography from some of Bulgaria's finest authors and to help disadvantaged children to realise their talents and potential.

The New Yorker is an institution; a magazine bought and read by generations for its captivating and meticulously researched, fact-checked and proofread texts, the dry witticism of its cartoons and the illustrated covers that offer a visual commentary on bot

Sinemorets, which name means "blue," is one of the most picturesque parts of the Bulgarian Black Sea cove: a rare combination of pristine beaches, impressive cliffs, a river and thick oak forests.

We had visited Bulgaria briefly and loved the rich history of the country, the traditional culture still honored and close to the surface, the welcoming people we met, the Balkan cuisine and the wines of the countryside.

Through vivid and at times poignant images Communist Bulgaria shows what has remained of this country's Communist material heritage.

Yambol, in southeastern Bulgaria, has been a hub for various folk traditions for many centuries. Nowadays, alongside Pernik in western Bulgaria, it is thought of as one of Bulgaria's capitals of Kukeri, or mummers.

Yet Greece is a lot more than the well-travelled destinations such as Cassandra and Kavala.

The exhibition was organised with the support of the American Embassy in Sofia. Ambassador Eric Rubin opened the event, together with Amelia Gesheva, the deputy minister of culture.
"There are many such places," he continues. "Every man, every woman, carries in heart and mind the image of the ideal place, the right place, the one true home, known or unknown, actual or visionary… For myself I'll take Moab, Utah.

The exhibition covers some of the mesmerising and atmospheric remains of Jewish heritage in Bulgaria: from the mosaics of a 2nd century synagogue in Plovdiv, to abandoned and crumbling synagogues and cemeteries, the only reminders of the Jewish presence in
For over 10 years Yambol, the city in southeastern Bulgaria, has been the host of a major street festival attended by dozens of groups of mummers from all over Bulgaria.

Photography has of course changed beyond recognition since the digital revolution.