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"KvARTal" - a cultural encounter with old Sofia

The seventh edition of "KvARTal" festival takes place in Sofia September 16-18th

Photo: Facebook / kvartal.art.district

Is it possible for culture to change the image of a European capital? The answer is yes, according to DOMA Art Foundation cultural manager and executive director Martina Stefanova. Together with like-minded people, for a seventh year she has been clearly demonstrating how this can be done by the "KvARTal" festival, taking place in a place known as the old Jewish quarter of Sofia. Traditionally, the event is always held in the days around the Day of Sofia, (September 17) and this year it starts on September 16 and continues until September 18th, as the topic is "The Small Things".

"The quarter is one of the few artistic places in the center of the city. An area that a few years ago was a bit unknown and avoided by many citizens. That is why the festival itself emerged," Martina Stefanova says. Today, she proudly says that for seven years their efforts have been rewarded with several changes in urban environment, new attractive artistic spaces, beautiful and colorful graffiti on walls and facades, and more and more supporters of the idea of changing the place we live in through cultural events. The first edition of "KvARTal" was presented with the idea to show the people living there and the guests of the event the potential this part of the city has, with the small spaces, the streets, the houses, the architectural and historical landmarks around us, as well as the importance of their preservation. "This festival is a cause for the place", Stefanova says.

The appearance of the former Jewish quarter and commercial center in Sofia, as we see it today, took shape in the period after the Liberation of Bulgarian until the 1930s. After the bombing of the capital in 1944 and the emigration of a large Jewish community from Bulgaria, a large part of the buildings were nationalized and the area was deserted. There are 110 cultural monuments here, but this status was withdrawn from 49 of them in 2005 after an update by the National Institute of Immovable Cultural Heritage. The quarter has a population of about 12,000 people these days. It is a place where a number of museums and temples of various faiths, numerous creative workshops, galleries, restaurants and cafes are concentrated. Martina Stefanova recalls the words of famous architect Belin Mollov, who in the 1970s said that this area had an artistic, bohemian spirit that need to be harnessed.

"Each neighborhood has its own characteristics. Some neighborhoods are industrial, others are more commercially oriented. In our case, the space carries the history of the Bohemian neighborhoods in old Sofia and a place where intellectuals gathered. There is also professors’ neighborhood that is located near the Sofia University. Each space must develop according to its characteristics and relevant policies must be implemented," Martina Stefanova has told the "Night Horizon" program of BNR.

The main problems faced these days in the quarter, just like in many areas downtown Sofia, are the lack of sufficient green areas and parking spaces, non-maintained and in some cases crumbling facades of historical buildings, and poor infrastructure. Through its program, the "KvARTal" festival tries to overcome the difficulties and give the place back to the people for at least a few days.

"This year, residents and guests of the city will once again be able to enjoy a bigger pedestrian zone without cars, as the goal is to have more space for people in this city. Especially in this neighborhood, where construction at the expense of public spaces is a serious problem. More than 100 locations that are our partners for the event participate. The program includes workshops; there will be a music program, entertainment for the little ones, street performances, literary tours, a historical tour called ‘My Jewish Sofia’ and other interesting events that will extend our summer mood.”

You can see the entire program of the seventh city festival "KvARTal" on the page of the event in social networks.

* "KvARTal" festival is part of the cultural events calendar of the Sofia Municipality and is carried out in partnership with the "Oborishte" District of Sofia

* Martina Stefatova is a cultural manager, curator, art critic, co-founder and executive of the DOMA Art Foundation. She works in the sphere of contemporary art, culture and urban development. She is a graduate of the Moscow State University of Printing Arts, after which she specialized in media and animation in South Korea.

English: Alexander Markov

Photos: Facebook / kvartal.art.district
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