When I first encountered Raluca Ocean and Carmen Mărginaş and their successful events planning business Ocean Evenimente, they hinted that this project was just the tip of the iceberg. There was something else, a much larger scheme they had brewing, and they were waiting for the right moment to unleash it.
The girls, who have been inseparable since high school, first envisioned the idea of a cultural festival whilst studying together in Florence. But deciding to proceed cautiously they first began organising weddings using their distinctive and lovingly made upcycled decorations, and thus began to build up a receptive audience and reputation for themselves as professionals and creatives.
Fast forward to the present and I am sitting in the beautifully restored Butcher’s Bastion in Baia Mare in the middle of their first two-day Festival Re/Creativ, a series of imaginative workshops, storytelling, performances and craft stalls that aims to bridge the gap between traditional and modern crafts and create an open space for collaboration and knowledge sharing between crafters of all ages, styles and backgrounds.
It is easy to see that Festival Re/Creativ has been a long harboured dream for the Carmen and Raluca; there has been incredible attention put into to even the tiniest of details, from the concept behind the workshops (which combine traditional techniques with more modern concepts such as accessorising scarves and repurposing old objects), to the decorations (almost exclusively made from recycled materials), and in particular the logo of Re/Creativ (a bottom segment of a plastic bottle) which is echoed in the name tags that the organisers and volunteers wear around their necks.
‘It was very important to us that people understood the purpose and vision behind this event’, says Raluca. ‘We are trying to show people that handmade is not just about, I don’t know, buying some beads or make some flowers from Fimo. We know that there are a lot of handmade crafts around in Romania these days, and you can easily find a tutorial and copy others people ideas. We want to show people that there is more than that, you can find your own inspiration. It was important for us to encourage the visitors to be truly creative, not just copying glass icons and traditional motifs.’
Carmen and Raluca lead by example: almost every aspect of the event has been made using off-beat and original ideas, some gathered from their inspiration from abroad and some from their own imaginations. Finding themselves short of money for the printing of the posters they laminated them and hung them for a few days in different places: libraries, shop windows, even off bus handrails. When the festival finishes the girls intend to recycle all the materials they used, drawing the festival into itself and emerging even larger for the next instalment.
The girls are undoubtedly the core team behind the event and their style is apparent in everything they put their hand to. However, coming to visit them in Baia Mare I realise that there is a large and dedicated team of people around them. ‘The people who work with us really understand our vision’, says Carmen. ‘We were all drawn together by a similar way of thinking. Many of us spent time away from Romania, studying in Germany or living in Spain, and we came back full of all these ideas and nowhere to put them. We all had this thing in common and we were attracted together, like fish swimming in the sea.’
One of the most important, and recent, additions to their team is Minerva Luca, a softly-spoken conservator from the History and Archaeology Museum, Baia Mare. Although she is reluctant to emphasise her role in the festival, Raluca insists ‘she is responsible for 80% of the event. She is an amazing creative force, with so many ideas and skills, and she taught us so much. It’s incredible that there was this person at the museum with all this potential, and she doesn’t usually get the chance to use it.’ Minerva explains how she developed her talents: ‘Sometimes when we didn’t have money at the museum to buy something so I had to find solutions. I really like this idea of making rather than buying. When the girls approached the museum about the festival idea I was attracted by the similarities of our perspectives.’
‘We’ve only been back in Baia Mare for 4 years and the museum lent us some authority and inspired confidence in us’, adds Raluca. ‘They also gave us a space in the Butcher’s Bastion we can use as an office, which is really essential.’ In return, Oana Leşiu (another member of staff from the museum involved with the event) suggests that the festival allows the museum to attract a broader audience, especially with children. ‘Young people often have a negative perspective of museums, and it is fantastic that we have attracted a lot of kids here this weekend. It provides a fun environment for them to learn about traditional crafts and learn how to see the museum. This is so important, because these children will be the visitors of tomorrow.’
The time is up and we return back to the glorious sunshine in the courtyard of the Butcher’s Bastion in time to start the next workshop. The tables are filled with excited children and adults sitting side by side as Minerva starts explaining to the visitors how to repaint tin cans to create colourful pen holders, her shyness slipping away to be replaced with the passion she has for these projects.
Festival Re/Creativ’s aim was to bridge the gaps between traditional and modern crafts, between young and old perspectives. But they managed to do more than just that. The success of Festival Re/Creativ and projects like these prove that the gaps we see around us are only a space for a new idea. They are crying out to be filled, with an innovative vision, an unexpected event, or an original perspective.
Photographs by Dan Mihai Mustea