BDW Launches a Dialogue About the Future of Serbia by Novi Magazin, RS

By Ivan Jovanovic, June 2012

This year’s Belgrade Design Week, with the slogan “The Greatest Creative Minds of the 21st Century” is definitely in the rank of world-class events. In an interview by Ivan Jovanovic, founder and curator of this event, Jovan Jelovac, talks exclusively for Novi magazin about the phenomenon of new, modern festivals in Serbia, and about the importance of the creative industry which is not entertainment, but more than anything else – the business of the future that can innovate the economy of a whole country.

How would you define this year’s BDW? Is there something the citizens of Belgrade and everyone else shouldn’t miss at this year’s event?

This year’s Design Week is again amazing! In a time when festivals around the world are closing down, or lowering the level of their programs in an attempt to survive, Belgrade Design Week will be bigger and better than ever, and, now I’ll say something seemingly absurd – not necessarily because of our strategy, but FORCED to do so due to its significance in the world. Namely, in Serbian conditions it’s not necessarily a good thing to grow and expand your proposition, as the lack of institutional support could easily drive you to bankruptcy, if you insist on world-class quality. Unfortunately, we have no other choice, because if you live up to your own slogan “The Greatest Creative Minds of the 21st Century”, then you will either design a program in the spirit of that promise, or you will be deleted from the global map of world-class events. Just think, with the help of our partners and above all, using our own funds, this year we brought the biggest line-up of over thirty world-famous speakers since the beginning of the Design Week’s history. We were faced with a simple choice – produce a bad festival, as many have done, or one good conference. We have chosen the conference, not just a regularly good one, but definitely one of the best conferences in the world, with perhaps the most exciting line-up of speakers for this year. In this context BDW is perhaps the most important international cultural festival in Belgrade’s 2012 calendar, according to the media-value throughout the world. This makes it even more disturbing to think that, in its seventh year, and needless to say – after six successful years, the festival of this magnitude didn’t get a penny from the city in the annual cultural support competition.

What will we have a chance to hear from these speakers? Which new design trends will be presented?

The topic of this year’s Belgrade Design Week is FREEDOM SQUARED, as general reference for the careful curation of exhibitions, projects and speakers. For a year we traveled around the world between two BDW festivals, selected people, got familiar with their work and ideas, and each speaker was asked to adjust their presentation to the topic of freedom, as they see fit. BDW’s conference exists in order to provide the best and smartest answers to the issue of freedom in the creative community, divided in three rough categories: industrial design, communication, (advertising, branding, photography and graphic design), and architecture, plus media, publishing and entrepreneurship, with a relevance to Serbian- and South East European-project executions or plannig whenever we can find some of premium quality. We will present, for instance, Isay Weinfeld, the ingenious Brazilian architect from Sao Paolo who designed the award-winning interior of the “Square Nine ” hotel in Belgrade, Zoran Radojičić, the man who designed the magnificent renovation of the National Library of Serbia, “Enota” from Slovenia and “Studio 3LHD” from Croatia, who have designed the amazing design-hotel “Lone” in Rovinj and Patrik Schumacher, the partner of Zaha Hadid Architects, who will present their exclusive project for Belgrade. In the field of advertising we will see several of the world’s best independent agencies, to follow another of BDW’s traditions: “180 Amsterdam “, “Fallon” from London, “Jung Von Matt” from Hamburg, “Beetroot” from Thessaloniki, and the iconic Norwegian design studios “Non-Format” and “Heydays”. In the field of industrial design we are proud to present some really cutting edge global stars: Mathieu Lehanneur from France, Ole Jensen from Denmark, Thomas Feichtner from Austria, Héctor Serrano from Spain, Martino Gamper from the UK and many others – over thirty speakers, including the workshops, from over 20 countries. To conclude, we have definitely succeeded in gathering a “small Davos” of the global creative industry, so to say, with a few Serbian and regional gems, very important to us. Each one of these speakers would be enough to hold an entire conference. Unfortunately, each speaker will have only 30 – 45 minutes, but we will therefore witness a spectacle of nine or ten of them each day!

After the somber events of the nineties, Belgrade is gradually becoming known in the world by its conferences: there’s fro example Rezonate, Share and Belgrade Design Week, to name a few that share a strong educational message. How do you explain the fact that such events are drawing so much international attention to this unstable region, in very unstable times?

Excellent observation! We believe that Rezonate and Share are true successors of the original spirit that BDW introduced back in 2005. We are delighted that they appeared this and last year, after so many cheap copies and prevailing entertainment content in Belgrade, characterized not by professionalism but by populism and amateurism! I don’t think that’s a lot for a city of two million people and a territory of South East Europe of almost 100 million. In Belgrade alone, you have only these three festivals, along with the Belgrade Dance Festival, maybe BITEF and the October Salon, among the so-called “premium quality” events, which are at the forefront, representing the contemporary cultural image of this country, and I really think there should be more of these events. On the other hand, it’s absolutely amazing that in this poverty, both financial and spiritual, there is a decisive, progressive spirit that has established totally new world-class festivals in this country. How brave! What else do we have that has world-class quality? Not much, I’m afraid. Both Rezonate and Share now help the lone rider in this city, BDW, to bring to this region something that it never really had – a serious approach to progress, primarily through world class education, nurturing the culture of knowledge, instead of some cheap local show for the masses, feeding the local egos. In my humble opinion, that is the only way to fulfill the dream of the “society of knowledge”, which is the core mission of the Belgrade Design Week. Design is just an illustration, and creative industries are simply a convenient, obvious media, a “how to”. Serbia, as the entire SEE region btw, lacks education – terribly. I attended several times the Serbian Economic Summit on Kopaonik, the so-called “Serbian Davos”, where the key players discuss Serbian business and politics. It’s unbelievable, but the concepts you can witness there are five thousand years old: pensions, taxes, etc. Nothing new and groundbreaking, while the world develops at lightning speed!!! IMO, the only thing that can represent this region, which is classical “Third World” compared to the rest of Europe, are literally “Nobel Prize winners”. No more, no less. Global leaders in their fields who are able to explain to us, from personal experience, new concepts of society, business, environment, employment, development, progress… The only three places in Serbia where I heard such “Nobel Prize winners” speak are, besides Belgrade Design Week, now Rezonate and Share, except that they are directed to a somewhat younger and more artistic audience, not the usual accomplished professionals from BDW. I think it is also indicative that these are probably the only three important festivals in Serbia that haven’t received a penny of institutional support. You can draw your own conclusions.

How hard is it to organize a design week in this country?

Too hard – in terms of content. There is no design industry here. But at the same time, that is the very reason for establishing Belgrade Design Week, because in twenty or thirty years we will be able to count on new generations “infected” with the idea of the creative community who will cherish it, “infected” at BDW that is:). These new people will know that it’s possible to create your own future and the future of your country and society, in the same way that “Bitef”, historically speaking, educated the future of the Serbian theater, or that “Fest” educated the future of film. The difference is that the achievements of arts, no matter how great and important, are not as far reaching in communities as poor as ours, being by nature more introvert. Design, by contrast, is not art – it is a serious business with serious ties between different branches of social, cultural and economic life of a country and its society. Our government supports arts – someone might say poorly, but it learned well to support the “classic” cultural industries over the last century: film, theater, museums, painting, etc. But there is no understanding, not even an interest, for the creative industries. Creative industries do not even exist on the radar of the Serbian (and Belgrade’s) administration, while they have been declared the most important element of development of the entire European Union, which of all the development opportunities identified creative industries as good old Europe’s reaction to challenges that come from the rest of the world. In other words, Europe is actively getting ready, primarily by using its creative forces, to secure its position in the new world geopolitical reality, burdened by military power and the influence of cheap resources in the world. Meanwhile, what is Serbia during? Do we have oil or tourism to help us invest in development, so we don’t have to invest in brains? Don’t we have a strong heritage of battle for knowledge and expertise to be proud of and build on? My university professors used to say that, back in the day, Energoprojekt (a leading Serbian engineering company in socialist times) designed and built half of Africa…

Can Belgrade Design Week launch a new industry in Serbia – a creative industry?

Of course it can’t launch it, but it can and does initiate discussions on the topic. And that in a meaningful, responsible, and above all, qualitative way, with significant background and arguments, because on our international reputation and our fairly exclusive memberships in important global decision making organizations such as BEDA, the Bureau of European Design Associations, which was selected by the EU to be the main consultant in the aforementioned project of creative industries development on the European level, or ICSID, the International Council of Societies of Industrial Design. This interview is a proof that it is being discussed, and if there wasn’t for Belgrade Design Week, we probably wouldn’t even be talking about it. So what’s the problem with understanding this in Serbia, by both institutions and media? The problem is in the misconception that the creative industries, or DESIGN, are mere entertainment for fashionable and probably rich youngsters, which consists of casual socializing and chatting, wearing cool printed shirts and badges, and that with a barbecue and some rock music, we will easily support it with some peanuts competition for the kids to keep quiet… and that’s it. Obviously we at BDW don’t really have much luck in addressing these kinds of discussions, because the institutions, even the media, have a weak and uncritical attitude toward such a serious issue, even though the country’s economic recovery can literally depend on it. We believe that Serbia needs a serious and responsible discussion on the subject: “How are we going to define ourselves in terms of the challenges and opportunities offered by the creative industries?” There are no “naturally talented people” for creative work. Serbs are not “naturally creative and communicative”. There can be only society’s continuous, carefully planned investment in human resources, in people who have the courage, the talent and the know-how to be a part of the process, and the readiness to wait for the results in five, ten or twenty years. An excellent example of this is Korea, a completely “uncommunicative, uncreative” nation by Western standards, and a huge investment that the entire society, economy, state in general, have made in creative industries and universities, schools in the past 20 years. And what is the result? Anywhere you go, worldwide, ten to twenty percent of all innovations, best solutions, ideas and products today come from Korea! The mission of Belgrade Design Week is to inspire such a process in Serbia, and that is also why this year we brought to BDW the arguably key exhibitions from this region, from Slovenia and Croatia: because both countries have become aware of this opportunity, long before we did, and are investing considerable energy to change their societies with the help of creative industries. It’s time to join the club. Or we will forever work for a wage of some 300 EUR for some foreign intellectual property owners – and be always one paycheck away from bankruptcy.