A few weeks ago, the 8th Belgrade Design Week took place in the Serbian capital. We were given a unique chance to attend its complete program including all 31 lectures held within the BDW 2013 Conference in the remarkable space of Belgrade Museum of Contemporary Art. As usual for this event, the line-up of international guests was outstanding. Together with Balkan hospitality and a bit bizzare context of this wildcat metropolis with no significant design industry, it creates a very special atmosphere where one feels that everything is possible. At least for that one week in the beginning of June.

Here we bring an exclusive interview with the exceptional, totally unpredictable, always half-joking but extremely harty Jovan Jelovac, the founder and curator of Belgrade Design Week.


Jovan, why do you organize Belgrade Design Week? What do you consider as its main purpose – from a national and from a global perspective?

From the upper-international, from the space perspective, there is one main reason: to meet all my heroes live.

So it’s rather your personal reason…

Totally personal. I don’t have a big agenda, I don’t do good things to anybody, I hate people, I am totally selfish (laugh).

Don’t you believe in design as a medium which can help to the society in Serbia then?

No. There is no help for the society in Serbia and there is no help to the world (laugh).

It’s very simple. People are buying books and putting them on a shelf. And whoever we buy in one year and put on the shelf – someone we are totally impressed with – we invite him to Belgrade and let him speak freely and live. So this is the secret about Belgrade Design Week: We create a very selfish collection of the leading global creative minds of the 21st century year after year. Then we can just sit in the first row and enjoy. How else could you ever meet such personalities at once? Nobody has time and niether do we, we work all day. So for these three days we invite 50 best people, listen to them from the first row and it‘s fine for us until one year. Then we need to do it again.

Belgrade Design Week works as a non-profit NGO and is dependent on sponsors. How do they take the fact that the event is organized mainly to satisfy its boss?

I think they like the fact that it’s my selfish idea (laugh).

Actually, I can‘t imagine Belgrade Design Week without you. You seem to be the most important person here – you are the curator but also enternainer and moderator, a very good one by the way. You hold it all together.

I am the most important servant here. I am only the framework. I am the chauffeur, the audience is being driving and the car are these 50 superstars. I am totally unimportant for the experience – the experience is for the audience and for the superstars.

And who is the audience than?

I don’t know but each lecture is sold out.

Can I ask you how many people do really buy tickets for the full price (229 EUR regular price, 99 EUR for students – editor’s note)? I mean there are many journalists, the speakers themselves and BDW staff in the audience.

Everybody who is not a journalist or speaker. Everybody. I think we sold like 500 tickets.

Do you have an idea whether the audience is rather Serbian or international?

I know it. It’s about half – half. But I don’t think these are huge figures. I think 500 sold tickets is nothing. I also know it’s nothing for us economically because in order to survive we would need to sell 1.500 tickets. But we do sell only 500 which means that we don’t have a sustainable business. We are loosing money on Belgrade Design Week. Actually, we put our private money into the budget every year since we created it.

This year’s conference topic was INNOVATION so what is your innovative approach to Belgrade Design Week? Because you aparantly don’t want to keep on such loosing system forever, do you.

We have a perfect curation and we have a perfect organization of the conference. What is bad is the ticket sales. We would need to sell 1.500 tickets to all over the world and this is why we are leaving Belgrade as a location. This was perhaps the last Belgrade Design Week in Belgrade because we cannot get these 1.500 people here.

You are right. It’s quite difficult to come…

Yes, it’s very difficult to come, there are no cheap flights, there are no cheap hotels and so on and so on. It’s very very difficult. The thing is that we would really like to produce the best conference in the world. Which we are doing right now, I believe! For us it’s just a pitty that only 500 people can see it.  This is also the reason why we started with the live streams on last year – because we want 200.000 people to see it.

Let’s get back to the conferences outside of Belgrade. They are not going to be called Belgrade Design Week again, are they?

No, Belgrade Design Week is only in Belgrade. The name for the global platform is World Design Festival. We have so far arranged 6 conferences in 6 different venues all around the world and these are to be called the best conferences in the world.

And all these conferences are still to be made just for you?

Absolutely. And untill the day I die, I will make them just for me, you understood. Or actually not just for me – also for you and everyone who wants to meet his heroes live.

The point is that when I was young , when I grew up old enough to have the knowledge and the money to meet people who are my heroes, they were all dead. I was too late for Beuys, Enescu, Buckminster Fuller, Le Corbusier, Julio Cortázar, Buñuel… The key people I grew up with in my education, in my imagination. I realized the horror that I never met them. So I swore to myself that one day in my life I would create something that would enable people like you to meet all your heroes.

That’s a very nice thought…

…and listen to them and talk to them and even touch them and drink beer with them. And nobody else will suffer from the same thing that happend to me. It means that Belgrade Design Week is actually the result of my personal damage. And instead of going to the psychoterapist, I created Belgrade Design Week.

Thank you very much, Jovan. On behalf of DESIGNEAST I wish you a great success with the World Design Festival.
Images on courtesy of Belgrade Design Week and DESIGNEAST.