How it all started? 

The Bread Houses Network started as part of the global network of national networks of community cultural centers called International Council for Cultural Centers (I3C), www.international3c.orguniting more than 50 countries on 6 continents where people find meaning through community arts and local cultural traditions (intangible cultural heritage).

I3C was founded by Dr. Nadezhda Savova, Cultural Anthropologist from Princeton University, during her work as a consultant to UNESCO at the headquarter in Paris. There, upon meeting various Ministers of Culture, Nadezhda realized that what was missing is a global organization to unite all the unconnected national associations of community arts organizations around the world, dedicated to non-professional arts for social transformation. Since its registration as a non-for-profit in 2008, I3C has been recognized at various UNESCO and other UN, EU, and trans-continental conferences as the global network championing the vision to unite community arts centers and their networks around the world.

After the establishment of the International Council for Cultural Centers in 2008 and its first international projects and programs, in 2009 Nadezhda kept wondering what could be a universal art form attractive to all people. In answer, while in Bethlehem and discovering with intrigue that the name means “House (bet) of Bread (lehem)” in Hebrew, she imagined that perhaps bread-making indeed could be that group activity that would engage all, since it does not require any talent, education, physical capabilities, or even linguistic proficiency for immigrants! Bread could speak any language! It was further inspiring to ground the methods of cooperation around bread in a city whose name is meant to unite but it has rather become a synonym for divisions and conflicts for decades. After all, breaking bread with someone is a universal phrase implying friendship widely used by both Christians and Muslims, in addition to being the only food that all three major monotheistic religions in Bethlehem can share with each other despite their dietary restrictions. 

With the inspiration to bring peace and simple humaneness around bread-baking, the first Bread House was born as an innovative community cultural center in 2009 in Bulgaria, and from there the model has now inspired communities and expanded to more than 15 countries on 5 continents.

On May 9th, 2009, Dr. Nadezhda Savova ceded her old family house in Gabrovo, Bulgaria, to test the vision of the Bread House as a new kind of community cultural center. The idea inspired wide community volunteer support: the house was to become a place where all sorts of people could come together around the warmth of a wood-fire oven and make, bake, and break bread together! The Bread House in Gabrovo (www.bread-art-house.org), registered already as a cultural center (in Bulgarian, chitalishte), and in 2013 the Bread House in Gabrovo grew into an innovative social enterprise kneading together the space of a community cultural center and a community bakery, where people engage with art while the bread is being baked in the traditional fire oven. Since 2009, more than 20 Bulgarian cities and more than 15 countries have been inspired by the model and are currently developing local initiatives part of the Bread Houses Network.

The network keeps growing and we welcome anyone who is inspired by its values and model to contact us and join our dynamic network with the right to share our methodology of work, support and network, and logo in your community work.


…from a small house in Bulgaria across 5 continents…


The first Bread House Cultural Center, www.bread-art-house.org, was born in the mountain town of Gabrovo, Bulgaria, on May 9th, 2009, housed at the old family house of I3C President, Nadezhda Savova. She ceded the space for service to the community as an experiment with a community cultural center, which would have a focus on activities related to food. Such activities would center in particular on the sculpture-like making and decorating of bread, both of which are perhaps the most universally-appealing art and creative activities. The Bread House strives to foment inter-religious dialogue and cooperation among different generations and professional and ethnic groups as they all knead together around the same table, and during the baking time in a fire oven, they share their artistic talents, from poetry and music to theater and sewing. The major aim is to enable people to discover their creative potential and identify the strong sides, the social assets, of the community – rather than delving into local problems – to help one another move forward. Called the St. Christopher Bread House (Хлeбна Къща “Свети Христофор”) since it is the celebration taking place on the BH birthday (May 9th), some of the St. Christopher Bread House activities revive the traditional Bulgarian Orthodox Christian festive breads. Bread House activities thus generate discussions and artwork around the practical living of Christianity’s moral values in everyday contexts and civil efforts for social change. The name Bread House in itself is a translation of the name of the city Bethlehem which in ancient Jewish means “House (beit) of Bread (lehem)”.

I3C’s Bread House in Gabrovo promotes local biodiversity, bio agriculture, and ecological lifestyle, and thus it formed a partnership with Slow Food International (www.slowfood.com) to apply Slow Food’s Taste Education toolkit (http://www.slowfood.com/educazione/welcome_eng.lasso) in workshops with diverse groups, and on Terra Madre Day in 2010 the Bread House model was recognized by Slow Food as one of the best models of ecological education in the world. The vision since the Bread House inception was to plant seeds around the world for community cultural centers to understand the potential (and flavor!) of mixing art with food as one of the most effective ways to bring communities together and to approach in a holistic manner the issue of community sustainable development.

How the around-the-world journey all began….


In July 2009, Nadezhda Savova was in Venice, Italy, to present her PhD research at the STPA Conference Social Theory, Politics, and the Arts (www.stpaconference.com). Nadezhda then presented the Bread House Cultural Center concept, which was welcome with a lot of interest and a recommendation to present at the Slow Food Salone del Gusto in Puglia, Southern Italy, where she discussed the idea about collective bread-making as an art form with traditional baker Giuseppe Incampo, and Michele Polignieri (www.ilsognodiarlecchino.it), who represent the Bread of Alta Mura Slow Food Presidium in Puglia, (http://www.slowfoodpuglia.it/presidi_scheda.asp?id=11). Giuseppe liked the idea very much, and so the Bread House in Gabrovo and the Alta Mura bakery became “twinned” within the Slow Food Terra Madre network. With this first brother of the Bulgarian Bread House, the model started spreading as the dream to create around the world cozy, home-like community centers whose bread aroma and warmth draw people from all over the city, around the country, and even foreign guests to come and value as an art the most basic and beloved thing: warm bread.


After Venice, in August 2009 Nadezhda flew to the Peruvian “Venice of the Amazons,” the city of Iquitos, where she was invited by the Pan-American Health Organization and the Latin American Network of Arts for Social Change to represent I3C at the Belen International Arts Festival (Iquitos, August 10-15, 2009), which grew into the First Forum of Scholars and Practitioners: Art, a Bridge Between Health and Development (Lima, August 17-19, 2009). The idea for another Bread House in Peru was born within the framework of the Festival, held in the Iquitos neighborhood called Belen. It was inspired by the name of that neighborhood (indeed, Bethlehem, meaning “House of Bread” in Hebrew) and the planned Belen Integral Community Center, which the Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO) and the Spanish Development Agency (AECID) were to develop at a local house to address health and violence issues. Nadezhda organized a workshop inviting all people to come make and decorate bread together while informally brainstorming about the strengths of the community to improve their reality (an asset-based approach to community development rooted in positive psychology). The bread-making workshop proved very popular as it was the only workshop among the other art series that brought in also men and teenagers, rather than the usual groups of women and children! The Bread and Arts Method was therefore offered as Programa Belen (“House of Bread” Program) to educate about nutrition and local food culture at the Belen Integral Community Center, run by the NGO La Restinga, www.larestinga.org and which will treat health issues through art and creativity.

The Belen Center is the spatial summary of a long-term PAHO pilot community project experimenting with health education through the arts: house-painting and clowning with volunteers from Patch Adams’ Gezundheit Institute and the Peruvian hospital clown organization Bola Roja. The Belen Festival culminated with the Lima Declaration on Art, Health, and Development, signed on August 19, 2009 by the Pan-American Health Organization and the Latin American Network of Arts for Social Transformation, an associated network of I3C. This a historic moment, as for the first time the global medical community affirmed the role of the arts at all levels of well-being, from prevention and promotion to therapy.

At the end of August, Nadezhda helped set up a second official Bread House, Casa del Pan (Tantawasi in Quechua) San Cristobal in Ollantaytambo, in the Peruvian Andes. Nadezhda shared the Bread House concept with Sonia Guzman, awarded the best woman entrepreneur in the region, and Sonia undertook the initiative in her own house with the vision to develop both cultural tourism and local cultural revitalization, re-creating the ancient Inka tradition of wheat bread with yeast made of fermented Andean red corn (chicha morada). Casa del Pan/Tantawasi San Cristobal is now open to the community and to tourists on their way to Machu Picchu to make bread together and bake it in Sonia’s oven under her guidance, filling the baking time with her lessons on medicinal herbs (and tea sipping) as well as the making of traditional dolls. The Tantawasi San Cristobal presents an interesting case of the link between sustainable cultural tourism and local heritage preservation and social vitality through a home-based community cultural center. The project also happened to coincide with a recent municipal decision to promote healthier diets through an emphasis on local potato bread as well as whole-wheat bread made with local grains.


From the Lima Forum, Nadezhda was invited to the World Forum on Voluntary Arts in Seongnam, South Korea (September 15-16, 2009, Seongnam City) to represent I3C and become acquainted with (and potentially accept as an associated network) the recently established Korean Sarangbang Community Arts Centers Network. At the Forum, the President of the European Network of Cultural Centers (ENCC), Andreas Kampf, welcomed the Bread House concept and planned with Nadezhda a Bread House Program at the German GEMS Cultural Center, which could serve as a model for other centers in the ENCC. The Conference organizers also noted as a BH associate a pre-existing community project that used the space of a small local bakery to animate it with cultural and artistic activities.

In Seoul, Nadezhda gave a bread-making and decorating workshop at the St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church, and the workshop inspired future bread-related discussions and artistic activities, from sculpting to theater. Before arriving in Korea, Nadezhda had spent a day in Tokyo at the St. Nicholas of Japan Russian Orthodox Church, where the idea for bread-making and discussion activities were also welcome. The Bread House model could thus be used for other Christian youth or adult group activities around Korea (a predominantly Christian nation) to help people discover new depths of understanding the core of Christianity as symbolized by the humble but essential bread. At the same time, the Bread House model is not limited to Christian communities, since the universality of bread as food and symbol can speak to any group, as tested by Nadezhda with Muslims, African animists, Jews, Buddhists, Amazon tribes, Quechua-speaking Inka descendents, and many others. Bread is, indeed, for all, and it is always brings out the best in people!



From Korea, Nadezhda presented I3C at the 4th World Summit on Arts and Culture in South Africa, www.artsummit.org, (September 22-25, 2009, Johannesburg), organized by the International Federation of Arts Councils and Cultural Agencies (IFACCA), www.ifacca.org. For South Africa’s Heritage Day, September 24, Nadezhda participated in an inter-ethnic and inter-religious bread-making event, including Jewish, Orthodox Christian, traditional African, and Malaysian Muslim breads at the Arekopaneng Community Cultural Center in Orange Farm County, Johannesburg. The center is supported by the non-governmental organization Ma Africa Tikkun (http://www.maafrikatikkun.org.za/web/content/view/108/256/) yet self-run and self-sufficient with its arts and organic agriculture production and community volunteers. The bread-making proved so popular among all participants (men and women, old and young alike) that the Center Director was inspired to join I3C’s Bread Houses network with a Bread House Program to carry on other mixed bread-making and art activities for the whole community throughout the year.

Cape Town

At the World Summit, Nadezhda was invited as a visiting artist to the Greatmore Studios in Cape Town, where she taught Byzantine Iconography. She also developed an outreach project with a local organization called Beth-Uriel, www.bethuriel.co.za, which is a shelter for former street teenagers that tries to develop the boys’ artistic skills through artisan work. Nadezhda taught a few teenagers Ethiopian icon-painting on wood with a gold leaf, using the image of the Black Madonna from a public mural from Soweto, a township in Johannesburg.

Nadezhda developed a second project called Beth-Lehem at Beth-Uriel, or “House of Bread at the House of (the Angel of) Light.” The event had as a goal to bring together different social actors from the Woodstock community who had up to that point been working separately and did not even know one another: NOAH (Neighborhood Old Age Homes,www.noah.org.za); the Greatmore Studios for Artists Residencies, www.greatmoreart.org, where she was; and the Ruth Prowse School of Arts, www.ruthprowse.co.za , with its community outreach program on jewelry design development. Beth-Lehem at Beth-Uriel started with an activity in which the diverse group of people came around a table to paint a vision of their life on shells; then, each one was to stylize and sculpt that vision on a small, round bread. They then played with the dough, singing about and discussing these “visions.” Carrying the trays with rising dough, Nadezhda took the group to the neighborhood Woodstock Greek Orthodox Church to show how the bread decoration’s sacred geometric designs synthesize the heart of Christian iconography as universally spread across holy bodies, faces, clothing folds, natural shapes, angel wings, and cosmic symbols. Once the group’s breads baked in the Church oven and ready to eat, all blessed them with a prayer in the aroma-filled temple and took the steaming trays back to Beth-Uriel for a late-night meal, sharing each other’s dreams as each one ate another person’s bread expressing his or her unique perspective on existence.

The second major project Nadezhda developed in Cape Town was in the township of Khayelitsa, where people were forcefully moved during apartheid. Nadezhda taught a local weaver, Thandeka, the symbols and techniques of Bulgarian bread decoration, so she could begin experimenting with local designs and organize groups with the women she had previously taught to weave at the Philani Nutrition Center (www.philani.org.za). Philani’s work is infused with Christian values, directed by a French woman from the Greek Orthodox Church St. George. This is where Nadezhda led a bread-making workshop for the Sunday School children and their parents; this activity can be made to relate to Philani’s nutrition programs, especially now that Thandeka is already trained to teach the bread workshops, thus forming a third Bread House. Nadezhda also connected Thandeka with the community tourism project at the Lookout Hill Arts Center and Tourism Facility to employ local people as guides or hosts. Thandeka had the idea to apply her newly acquired skills of round bread decoration to greet tourists at her home with home-made bread around which she would tell stories about the neighborhood and its transition out of apartheid. Nadezhda also connected two other dispersed projects in Khayelitsa: the initiative of the World Film Collective (www.worldfilmcollective.com) to engage local youth in making documentaries telling the visions of the community; and Ma Afrika Tikkun who work both at the Community Center in Johannesburg and in Khayelitsa with a dance project at the Ntwasahlobo Primary School (similar to the Brazilian Open School Program developed by UNESCO).

The volunteer projects in Woodstock and in Khayelitsa applied the approach that I3C has been promoting, based on the grounded theory of how to generate “community creative capital” – the mixture of Bourdieu’s cultural and social capital – by bringing various vectors from within a community to intersect at an art-producing focal point.

The around-the-world trip Nadezhda took representing I3C and her PhD research and also spreading (and enriching) the Bread House idea ended in Barcelona, where Nadezhda was selected as finalist for the Best European Young Cultural Policy Researcher in October 2009, and two months later, on December 27th, 2009, the remodeling at the Bread House in Gabrovo was finally complete and it was officially opened, already with 7 sister houses around the world.

From Beth-Lehem at Beth-Uriel to Bethlehem in Bethlehem ….

In 2010, the vision for the expansion of the BH Network was to take it to the place which gave birth to its name: the city of Bethlehem in Israel. Thus, I3C got in contact with the Wujoud Cultural Center in Jerusalem, aimed to preserve the rich but disappearing traditions (including bread-making!) of the Arab Orthodox Christian group. Inspired by the Bread House model, Wujoud welcomed the idea to start organizing collective bread-making for all ages and also to open up the activities to other ethnic groups in Jerusalem and at its sister center in Bethlehem. Nadezhda also discussed at the IFACCA World Summit in South Africa a possible partnership with Iman Aoun, founder of Ashtar Theatre (www.ashtar-theatre.org), which has worked for years developing Forum Theater for civic participation and social change in Israel and Palestine. Ashtar Theater is currently working with the world-renowned Bread and Puppet Theater Group from the USA, whose creative use of bread as an artistic (drama) and social experience would be useful in developing the Bread House in Bethlehem. It could help promote dialogue and peace-building between the Palestinians and the Israelis around regular, weekly or monthly, collective bread-making and bread-breaking evenings mixing art-based approaches (theater, dance, story-telling) as ways to imagine – and bake and eat – coexistences. The Bread House in Gabrovo is already experimenting with this kind of mixed-media theater by incorporating food; this method is called “Theater of Crumbs”. The BH Network in 2010 also expanded to Russia and through the Slow Food Terra Madre Network and its global meeting in October 2010 in Torino, Italy, a few more countries implemented the Bread House model in Egypt, at the Village of Hope for Development and Rehabilitation Mentally Challenged Youth People (www.alamalvillage.org) in Alexandria run by Nobel Peace Prize Candidate Nada Thabet. At the Slow Food Global Meeting in Italy in 2010, the Bread House also inspired the development of the Engenhos da Farinha point of culture (http://www.cepagro.org.br/projetos/ponto-de-cultura-engenhos-de-farinha/) on Florianopolis island, Brazil, where local people are reviving the mandioca flour products and the traditional local music and arts surrounding their creation. After the UN Ecology Summit RIO+20 in June 2011, a few other organizations expressed interest in joining the network and implementing the BHN methodologies of work: community bakeries in Sao Paulo, in Paraiba and potential one related to Bread and Chocolate in Bahia; bakery for people with mental disabilities in Praia Vermelho, Rio de Janeiro; and Institute Maniva focused on promoting traditional cuisine as an intangible heritage and resource for community empowerment through social enterprise. In Italy, the Bread House model gave birth to a Bread Houses, with its first collective bread-making event taking place in December 2010, on the island of Sardegna as Slow Food Convivia. Bread Houses Programs have since then started evolving in USA, Mexico, Tadjikistan, Thailand, and the network keeps expanding, woven by many hands around the globe….

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