The Triend team has fallen in love with Croatia since the moment we stepped off the plane. What’s not to love? You have the stunning islands, clearest and warmest sea (in our opinion) in Europe and sunsets to die for…You are literally in paradise. The unfortunate problem with this is that year on year the tourism has been growing here to the point it’s not manageable or sustainable for the islands. One of these islands facing this issue is the island of Bisevo, a small stunning island situated behind the island of Vis which has only 10 residents living on it year-round. One of our co-founders Matt was invited to the island to stay at the Bisevo Island residency. A small community that is working to keep Bisevo a sustainable island, away from mass tourism. Matt was lucky enough to sit down with Stipe, the creator of Bisevo artist residency to find out what it is all about and where the sustainable vision and where his vision for the island originated from.
First of all Stipe, can you tell us about the artist residency and what it entails? Where did this concept originate from?
Well, the main purpose of the residency is to offer an escape from the mass tourism which is slowly degrading the cultural and environmental heritage of Bisevo island. It’s meant to introduce new energy to an almost abandoned space. I think the only way to provide that is by inviting creative young people who are willing to transform the environment. That’s why I started the residency, in the beginning. In the beginning, it was more like a hippy community, just crazy but really creative and that’s how I got the idea to make it a bit more serious and the next level. When I came here 6-7 years ago I heard of this from my grandparents and saw this with my own eyes. Their house was in real bad shape and the idea popped in my head to call artists to help not only repair but beautify their space and spend a free vacation here and everything evolved into helping me kickstart this house and naturally, the idea for Besivos grew as more and more people came in and out.
And what essentially is the vision? What’s the end goal?
The end goal was to always cultivate a small oasis for artists and to brand this as an island of creation. Because the island was abandoned for 15 years and slowly losing its identity, I knew the best way to preserve it is through what we’re doing now.
Why is it important to stop mass tourism? In reference to other islands, I’m sure you’ve seen firsthand the progression of harmful effects of such things in the past years.
Well, the only way to stop it is by offering some new or alternative content to the island. Mass tourism is slowly destroying the community because the island cannot sustain so many people at once, there’s no infrastructure here that can support an influx of 2000 people per day. Those people aren’t really into the island either, they only come to see the cave and move on. It would be great to engage tourists in a way that educates them as welcome visitors and to know the story behind the island and its people. One of our goals is just to communicate to tourists to make all visitors have a more synergistic relationship with our residence.
Can you tell us about Bisevo? It’s quite an under-the-radar island. Why should people come here and can you please give us a bit of a run down about Bisevo?
It’s quite isolated, not an island for everyone and it gives off that sort of feeling. It’s far away from the city. It attracts a certain kind of people.
In terms of traveling, what do you think people can do to be better travelers when visiting or staying? What can people do to respect this island and its heritage and others like it?
The main approach is to educate the tourists to engage them somehow to make them wonder, make them a question and realise the purpose and social impact of tourism on local communities, that’s our goal. That there’s a whole alternative to mass tourism that’s more in favour of the environment.
From what I can see there is two different parts, there’s the community aspect of the artist’s residency. The first is that it’s a beautiful place and helps share and build a community on one side. And on the other side, it’s a big fight to preserve the whole island. As a mission that’s no small task for one person.
Yes, one of the main advantages and disadvantages is the number of people. One of the disadvantages is it generates a lot of money which in some instances attracts criminals and those types of degenerates, which is obviously one of the things we’re trying to prevent you know? Building without permits and destroying the cultural heritage as well, because where there’s money there are people who are going to try to take advantage to make a quick buck and be in and out. So we need to educate people about the protection of nature, about zero waste. Which is a big problem, taking the trash out of the island because it accumulates rapidly. We want to be like the idle man between them and the local government. We are trying to slow down the progress of that new school being turned into a restaurant, it’s pointless and kind of stupid and no one asked for it. Activism and educating are the biggest combinators to prevent these sorts of pointless projects.
So for someone that wants to take part in the Bisevo artist residency spending a week here what does this work really entail? What’s the normal day-to-day look like?
Well, people are interacting with the residents and exploring on their own, mingling and also helping me with my work in the garden and stone walls. Anything to make our lives better from watering the plants to whatever else needs to be done. Some people have a biased view of island life and don’t really know what it takes to upkeep such things. We want them to get the whole story to get involved right away.
Do you think there’s going to be repercussions if serious action isn’t taken soon? Do you think the Bisevo will go down the roots of turning into more privatized places like Hvar if people like you don’t fight the good fight?
Yes, I think you’re right, Hvar and Stari Grad lost the battle already and I think they are relying so heavily on tourism. There’s no capacity on Besevo to support something like that and it will if we let it. If this message isn’t taken seriously will more things like the restaurant will happen more as Croatia begins to develop more and more as a staple tourist destination. This is a real risk. The only way to prevent that is with the alternatives we discussed. Civil NGOs and such can provide employment and you can work for such entities which would help our cause greatly.
Outside of the pandemic, tourism in Croatia grows yearly and so does mass tourism. Is there the worry when tourists have saturated the usual Croatian hot spots they will eventually want to go to places like Bisevos because it’s new and different?
That’s the worry, all it takes is an influencer or celebrity to come here and before you know it you’ll have an influx of tourists Besivo will not be able to support. . This is also what our NGO is trying to prevent, trying to see which direction should the future of the island go. Should we support more tourists or more locals? It’s all open for discussion so that’s why we’re consulting with professionals to see what’s best for us here.
With the residency itself, when people hear this conversation and become interested, are there any sort of particular traits you’re looking for? I know with the application process and such, you must sift through and have some qualities you favour over others and I’m just wondering what those are?
Well, are they used to live in another foreign country with strangers? We ask them to bring their own knowledge, to support us with their ideas as well, a knowledge exchange if you will. There are many challenges we have here and the best outcome would be them coming in with their ideas and helping us solve a problem. It’s a community of people putting in different pieces of themselves, those who are willing to share and contribute.
Can you please tell our readers about this Summer and the art residencies coming up?
We have 8 different artist residencies that we sort of Split in half so four of them are very specific and four of them are open studios, so anybody or any artist or creative can apply and come create. We are trying to convey the concept of a voyager as something opposite to a tourist. The idea is to inspire them with a symbiotic creative vibe between the tourists and nature, we can’t really think that tourists will go away but we can change the perception of those who come and have them want to become more of a Voyager.
So as far as Bisevo Summer goes we have a couple of specific ones such as curator week, which is not the same climate as what they may have in New York where we invite some experienced ones and some outside of the inner circles. Mapping the Island is another where we marry art and science in a way where we’re inviting professionals in the field of Archaeologists and architects and the whole idea is to get a whole creative team to map the island and touch on historical sites and scenic spots and map everything. The others are just any creative is invited and the reason I’ve them so much is just like Stipe was saying we’re trying to create a very active community that stays even if the leader sleeve that is self-sustaining in its mission and purpose.
In Bisevo, you can see the stars so clearly so we’re trying to get that title and negotiating with a group of astronomers to come do observations, lectures and engage in round tables. The whole idea is whoever comes here is to come to experience the island, have a good time, and leave their imprint here and be able to tell others so it has a revolving door effect. But kind of everything with the purpose of balance.
Why do you think it’s important to protect the island?
This really should sound cheesy, but we have to leave the island in good shape for the next generation and the only way to preserve it is to identify all the cultural things. It’s personal for me, and I can compare how it looked in the ’80s until now and so much is forgotten about fishing and agriculture. I’m just typing to preserve the old world and old knowledge of what used to be. We Are the last line of people who seem to care about preserving what our ancestors tried to convey to us that was so important. And it’s happening everywhere and I’m happy people are becoming more aware because this mass tourism is no good thing. Such as in places like Hvar as we mentioned. It’s the perfect time to restart and treat the world better and ensure these changes are made.