Organizing an art exhibition in Sofia

Suggestions, tips, and inspiring stories

Written by Claudia Pecoraro in collaboration with Siana Genovska and Kristina Chimbaraite, edited by Scott Green, photos by КО-ОП Facebook page 

In our recent article about art galleries in Sofia, we’ve shared some of the best places you can visit if you want to spend an inspiring and delightful time with art, and to take a break from Sofia’s hectic city vibes. But what if you feel the need to express your artistic vein and organize an exhibition! 

If you’re reading this, maybe you have something you want to share with the international community, but you don’t know how and where to start. If you’re a foreigner or a budding artist, you might not be very knowledgeable with Sofia’s art scene. Things can get confusing, and you may risk ending up discouraged and frustrated.

How to organize an art exhibition in Sofia? Some tips

Sofia’s artistic environment is lively, young, and open to international artists: if you have an idea you want to develop, most likely you’ll find a place open to welcome your work. Where can you organize an exhibition, how to find places welcoming new artists, how to get involved in Sofia’s cultural scene?

Again, we’ve asked Siana Genovska (read about her in her previous collaboration with Open Sofia) about what advice she would give to those who want to organize an exhibition in Sofia. She suggested some places that welcome contemporary and international artists and gave a few tips for emerging artists.

Do you have any advice for emerging artists or foreigners who want to organize an exhibition in Sofia?

As Elvis sang, “only fools rush in”. A relationship between an artist and a gallery must resemble a true love affair. If you’re to fall in love, make sure you fall in love with the right gallery. Choose a space, with which you resonate, whose mission matches your own: a gallery accommodating your vision, your style, your passions, your essence. 

For example, a space welcoming contemporary art as well as foreigners, with curators who have international experience. If you are an emerging artist, bet on the new, or the so-called, “new places for art”, among which Structura Gallery, One Monev Gallery, and +359 Gallery. 

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Most of the new gallery spaces do not have an established list of artists, with whom they work, and are open to ideas. Know what you bring to this relationship, to these spaces and their mission! You help them as much as they help you to grow and develop. Therefore, finding a common goal, mission, or vision with a gallery, is at the core of a healthy and supportive relationship.

Here’s a little tip for emerging artists, who don’t have the means to rent a gallery hall for their first exhibition. There’s a lovely space located in the heart of Sofia, part of UAB - Union of Architects in Bulgaria. It is equipped with proper lighting and other technical means, which could easily be adapted to one’s vision of display.

Organizing an exhibition in Sofia through the eyes of a foreigner: the story of Kristina

At Open Sofia we believe that it is essential to share stories of foreigners who’ve been through the same process about which we’re writing. That’s why we reached out to Kristina Chimbaraite, a Latvian girl who took part in a European Voluntary Service (EVS) program in Sofia. Kristina decided to organize a photo exhibition as a part of her volunteering project. 

She shared her story with Open Sofia, as well as some tips and considerations that may help foreigners who want to organize an exhibition in Bulgaria.

How did you look for possible places to organize your photo exhibition?

It happened that during my stay in Bulgaria I had created a storytelling project that I wanted to be displayed as a photo exhibition. And for someone with no experience and a very specific atmosphere in mind, it was quite challenging to find the perfect place.

The first step was to ask people I knew in Sofia about their favorite art places, galleries, even coffee shops. But it didn’t bring me clarity. Some places were really cute, but cute wasn’t what I was looking for. And some places didn’t share the same passion about the project itself — which actually ended up being the crucial point in choosing the place. The point is that the project was about loneliness and it was very personal, and I wanted to create a safe space to openly talk about this topic.

Another step was to follow all the art spaces I could find on Facebook, and that’s how I found out about КО-ОП. I had no idea who they were but they had a black and white photo exhibition going on, and I just decided to go and see for myself how it was done, to get some inspiration. And I immediately fell in love with the place.

How was the organization process? What did you have to do to prepare for the exhibition?

Our communication went very smoothly. They got the idea of the project and understood all my concerns; they also took over all the organizational procedures so I had nothing to worry about. 

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One thing I did have to worry about was the renting price. Even though they gave us an impressive discount for being a social project, we still had to pay a sum we didn’t have at the time. The solution was to create a crowdfunding campaign, which felt very scary and wrong in the beginning, but ended up being a wonderful experience. 

After that, I was ready to organize the exhibition. The whole process took around two months: from the day I first visited КО-ОП on January 11 and until the opening of the exhibition on March 5. We didn’t start working on the exhibition itself immediately, but once the date was set, everything happened very quickly. And the best feeling I had through this collaboration was knowing that they have got my back.

Do you have any advice for foreigners or emerging artists who want to organize an exhibition in Sofia?

My pro tip to anyone who plans to organize an exhibition is to talk to people. Ask locals about their favorite places, get practical advice, vocalize your needs and expectations. 

I wouldn’t have found this place and the incredible experience of organizing an exhibition in Sofia if I hadn’t started talking to a girl who was working that day at КО-ОП. I felt she had a genuine interest in my project, and this motivated me to ask for cooperation. 

Don’t get discouraged after your first or second, or even third ‘No’. It might take some time to find your place. But once you do, you get to experience true professionalism and collaboration.

How to organize an exhibition in Sofia? A wrap-up

There are several places where you can head to if you want to organize an art exhibition in Sofia. The golden rule is to ask locals, get involved, and get rid of shyness. Sofia’s art environment is lively and looking for emerging artists. If you have an idea you want to put into practice, give it a try, you won’t regret it, and best of luck with your exhibition!

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