Dobrich in some 30 kilomtres inland from Balchik and has the look and feel of a town double its official size of 93,000 citizens. Its central square is one of the largest I have ever seen – and is adorned by various large buildings, one of which (previously the Court of Justice built under the "occupation") now houses the extensive art collection – which you can find listed on the town’s excellent (English) website (at the end of its list of cultural centres)
While we were admiring the small special exhibition of Vladimir Dmitrov- he Master’s work, we were approached by the Gallery’s Director, Evelina Handzhieva who speaks excellent French and, very graciously, gave us a personal tour of her domain. It started with a group of schoolkids who were receiving some interactive training in the process of paper-making – the gallery, uniquely, has a collection of paperworks produced by the participants of a recent international event held here.
Separate sections are devoted to the gallery’s collection of sculptures and prints – and to local artists as well as old masters - such as this rare work of Ivan Mrkvichka (1856-1938),
one of two Czechs (the other is Jaroslav Vesin) who are credited with setting Bulgarian painting on its modern path.
The breadth of the collection is one of the widest I have seen (with a nice mix of older and contemporary). The exhibition space is so extensive that the tour took more than an hour – with Daniela being loaned a coat to protect her against the cold (no heating again).
I was very taken with this contemporary work by Plaven Valchev (born 1951).
I have been nicely received in all of the Regional galleries I have visited in Bulgaria – but this was the first time I was able to have a proper conversation about the problems of running galleries here at this time. Over a cup of tea, Evelina (like all the Directors here I’ve met an artist herself) explained that it is the Ministry of Culture who set a formula which dictates the number of staff to which regional galleries are entitled. So much for local government autonomy!! And, in Dobrich’s case, with such an huge palace, the staff of 12 (including 2 cleaners and 3 attendants) is simply insufficient. There is no surveillance system - so security is labour-intensive.
As was evident from the number of brochures, the Director is highly proactive in seeking out opportunities for marketing and funding (A Swiss Foundation was mentioned) and the Gallery’s CD lists the various international exhibitions (eg China and Slovakia) which have been mounted with the support of Embassies here. But it is an uphill struggle – a good venture of bussing tourists from the beaches nearby during the summer fizzled out.
It is not easy to produce a winning formula for such a problem. But one thing is clear for me – it requires local solutions and this means removing the dead hand of central control – and encouraging networking between galleries (national and international), hotels, businesses (eg the new owners of the rich agricultural land and the golf courses!!) and educational establishments.
Don't get me wrong - national financial support needs to be maintained (otherwise the galleries could be at more risk)) but on the basis of more imagination......
This is a detail of the Valchev painting