Situated in central northern Bulgaria, Gabrovo (pop. 70,775) was one of the country’s largest craft centres in the 19th century. The lack of arable land has motivated a rapid development of crafts production and trade, particularly of woodcarving and wool weaving. The Ethnographic Open-Air Museum (ETAR), established in the 1960s, features the vitality and diversity of Gabrovo’s craft culture, which focuses not only on protecting practices but also on improving the status and living conditions for artisans. Today, the sector is represented by 33 crafts enterprises and 111 independent artisans.
The International Crafts Fair held annually in the ETAR Museum is assuredly the largest event dedicated to crafts in the region. Artisans from all over the country and abroad display their artworks and exchange skills on traditional techniques. The fair also features a master competition as well as an international scientific conference reviewing the current global trends in the field of crafts and folk art. Gabrovo also hosts a large-scale carnival, bringing an audience of 30,000 to the city. This festival is popular for its use of traditional Balkan songs, folklore choreography, and a rich display of Gabrovo’s humour and folk culture.
A culture programme was implemented by the Municipality in 2011 and has effectively stimulated active multi-sectorial partnerships to support the creative sector. The Culture Development Strategy of Gabrovo Municipality 2014-2024 strives to make Gabrovo an attractive centre for young artists from all over the world and a privileged place for creative residencies and international co-productions. Gabrovo is firmly engaged in promoting its cultural and creative industries as key factors for enhancing local and regional competitiveness and sustainable development.
As a Creative City of Crafts and Folk Art, Gabrovo envisages:
- raising awareness about the local cultural specificities, notably crafts practices and Gabrovian humour through the ‘I Love the Carnival’ programme;
- implementing creativity-based educational workshops such as the Children's Animation Workshop targeting children aged 6 to 14;
- setting up the educational ‘Woollen Braid from the Past Until Nowadays’ programme, aimed at promoting crafts as a lever for development;
- facilitating opportunities for artists and professionals in the cultural sector, notably through the Carving Festival of Laugter;
- stimulating cross-cutting linkages between crafts and design through the Tradition Meets Modernization – Crafts/Design Challenge programme; and
- creating the Crafts Movements and Sounds for New Inspirations; an interactive audio-visual database to promote intangible cultural heritage by capturing the movements of craftsmen using 3D motion techniques.