2020 was like no other year we know. It was frightening, challenging, and overwhelming, but it was also uplifting, exhilarating and unifying, pushing us into new waters and territories. During this new stage, our community of artists and activists grew, and so did our campaigns and actions. And even though we were confined to the walls of our very own homes for a greater part of the year, we felt that we travelled the world, working and carrying out meaningful initiatives in places from Cairo and New York City, to Berlin and Seoul.
In December, The Calvert Journal asked us: “What did you learn from 2020 that you will take into the following year?”
We wanted to put a hopeful and positive spin on what has been a difficult year for so many – so, these are our four lessons from 2020 that we take into 2021:
For this campaign, we worked with a group of prominent artists, all part of the TED Fellows program that celebrates and uplifts exceptional talent in various fields. Fine Acts (also led by a TED Senior Fellow) curated and produced the collection. The works included an actual pyramid of garbage (Cairo, Egypt); a mural that changes based on the temperature outside (Austin, TX); two sonic waterfall installations playing the field recordings of melting glaciers (Vancouver, Canada, and NYC); a climate justice procession led by an all-womxn brass band (Providence, RI); a billboard pointing to the reality and urgency of climate disaster (Los Angeles, CA); an audiovisual site-specific installation introducing the idea of local climate change heroеs (Cape Town, South Africa); an installation that permanently shelters the embryonic cells and DNA of rare lifeforms, threatened by climate change and habitat loss (NYC); a large neon sign that creates a sense of ownership and urgency about climate change (Dallas, TX); a video work depicting powerful still and moving images from Antarctica and the Arctic, with a twist (Limerick, Ireland); and a fifteen-feet-tall champagne glass pyramid responding to the next American housing crisis: property that has lost its value due to the effects of rising water and climate change (Buffalo, NY).
An actual pyramid of garbage mounted in Cairo, Egypt, the home of the only surviving wonder of the world, the great pyramids of Giza. The artwork hopes to bring to the attention of the viewer the contrast between majestic eternity and wonder, and our current apathetic over-producing, over-consuming existence.
“As a species we have built monuments that have defeated time. We have designed civilizations that dreamt of eternity. With climate change, this eternity is now challenged. Now is the time for us to rethink our legacy on this planet. Are we going to come together to build a sustainable future for all of us or will our new legacy be pyramids of garbage?”
A billboard in Los Angeles, CA, depicting Kim’s drawing, merging the artist’s interest in infographics and musical notations. She uses elongated musical notes to create an alarming graph, speaking loudly of the reality and urgency of the climate disaster, calling for significant change now.
A visually striking mural in Austin, TX, that changes based on the temperature outside. Partially painted with heat sensitive paints, the mural reveals a second image hidden beneath the main one – showing two possible, but very different futures – with and without climate action.
Two sonic waterfall installations in Vancouver, Canada, and Innisfree Garden, NY. The work focuses on the rapid change and depletion of our glaciers. The installations play the field recordings the authors collected in the Himalayas, the Pacific Northwest Coast Mountains, and the Greenland Ice Sheet.
A large, flashing neon sign that aims to create a sense of ownership as well as a sense of urgency about the issue of climate change. A temporary version of the sign was displayed on a moving truck in Dallas, TX. A large-scale, permanent installation of this sign will be created on top of a hill in Sierra Leone’s capital city of Freetown.
“If you were told you only had six months left to live, you would probably change your life or behavior in order to make the most of that time. To imagine or be reminded that our days are numbered can help us focus on what truly matters and encourage us to break patterns of procrastination and inaction.”
An audiovisual site-specific installation in Cape Town, South Africa, using poetry, music and film, introducing the idea of local climate change heroеs (from recyclers to indigenous healers), and sparking solution-based conversations around overconsumption, overproduction, environmental consciousness, and nature conservation.
TIDE is an installation that consists of a fifteen-feet-tall champagne glass pyramid, installed in Buffalo, NY. Each glass contains a miniature model of a house, cast out of a material with the same refractive index as water, making the houses invisible when they are submerged. TIDE is a response to the next American housing crisis: property that has lost its value due to the effects of rising water and climate change.
As part of Countdown, Kenyon also showcased Cloud – his installation that produces house-shaped forms out of helium foam. The clouds shrink and grow in response to real-time housing and climate data, then rise to form a constellation or “neighborhood” floating for miles in the sky.
A video work portraying Seaman’s still and moving images from Antarctica and the Arctic. A living artwork, meant to be projected on the walls of cities most threatened by rising sea waters, a line in Seaman’s video depicts where the water level would be in that particular location in 2050 – if no action is taken to curb climate change.
A climate justice procession linking significant public spaces in Providence, RI. Led by the Clam Jam Brass Band – an all-womxn brass band, the procession highlights the environmental injustices, including climate change, that have a disproportionate effect on communities of color and low income communities in the United States and around the world.
An installation displayed at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, NYC, that permanently shelters the embryonic cells and DNA of rare lifeforms, threatened by climate change and habitat loss. The Anti-Extinction Library allows anyone to submit suggestions of local species to save.
Our global initiative Reimagining Human Rights is building the largest collection of free, hopeful visual content around human rights, for activists and nonprofits around the world to use in their campaigns. We believe that human rights imagery needs to be reimagined so we can bring more people on board.
In April 2020, we launched the global art campaign Spring of Hope as a response to the acute necessity of hope and positive messages amidst the Covid-19 pandemic. The campaign included commissioned artworks, as well as a global open call, engaged more than 80 artists from over 30 countries, and resulted in over 100 works – all free to use, share and adapt. It was featured widely by media outlets such as Mashable and It’s Nice That, and endorsed by global organizations such as TED, the Obama Foundation and Creative Commons. The campaign reached millions online, and got tens of thousands engaged.
The illustrations were used by dozens of organizations, to promote their work online, including on social media.
Several books and reports published by NGOs used the images as key illustrative material, e.g the latest report by Oxfam on Narrative Power. Many people reached out to us with images of the artworks printed as posters and postcards and distributed in different cities across the globe. We partnered with Into Action to create another collection of gifs that accumulated more than 2 million views.
The artworks inspired others – like the South Korean composer Lee Sung Gyu who composed a music piece, played daily for a week on a local radio show; or the Romanian organization ArtLink who included a selection of 20 of the artworks in an AR exhibition.
Postcards from Forever is our postcard writing campaign demanding an end to police brutality and state-sanctioned racism against Black communities. With the works of prominent American photographers, past and present, we created a powerful set of postcards that highlight the timelessness and perpetuity of these issues in the U.S., while also creating a space where people can call on their legislators to work towards a more accountable and equitable future. For the campaign, we collaborated with award-winning photographer Jon Lowenstein and Diversify Photo, a community of BIPOC and non-western photographers, editors and visual producers.
For the contemporary images in the campaign, we teamed up with the great Jon Lowenstein, Brent Lewis, Joseph Rodríguez, Joshua Lott and Nina Berman. For the archival images, we worked with the images of Dick DeMarsico, Gordon Parks, Jack Delano, James F. Gibson, Marion S. Trikosko, and Thomas J. O’Halloran, all sourced from the Library of Congress.
In July 2020, Fine Acts collaborated with award-winning Black trans poet and LGBT+ activist Lee Mokobe on Surviving Blackness – a spoken word poem and a kinetic typography video, calling for an end to systemic anti-Black racism. In a continuous commitment to amplify Black artists’ voices, for the video we used fonts by Vocal Type – a protest type foundry uplifting creatives of color. The project has reached over 50 000 views across platforms, and has been widely shared by Black and trans activists alike.
On October 11, International Day of the Girl, we released Vagina Matters, the first illustrated book on sexual health for girls in Bulgaria – a country that completely lacks sexual health education classes as part of the curriculum and, along with Romania, has the highest rate of teenage pregnancies in the EU.
In over 200 illustrated pages, Vagina Matters covers everything from periods, vaginal health and STIs, to body positivity, sex, LGBTQ+ issues. It aims to close the sex education gap in Bulgaria and beyond, and is available to read for free on the Vagina Matters website and in a print edition (2000 copies).
The book, initially the target of an anti-LGBT+ and anti-women’s rights smear campaign launched by a far-right political party in government, has been read over 80 000 times on our website, and reached women and girls all across Bulgaria. Vagina Matter’s launch was featured in several notable national and international media outlets, including The Calvert Journal and Dnevnik, as well as in two major national exhibitions in November – the Melba Sofia Design Festival and the Illustration Biennial.
The Vagina Matters English edition will be launched in the UK in 2021 in partnership with Daye, a gynae health innovator, and Brook, the UK’s leading sexual health and wellbeing charity for young people.
Illustrations: Borislava Madeit & Stalker Since 1993
In October 2020, we launched Love Speech – a video social experiment on hate speech that reached nearly one million people online, and triggered thousands of positive reactions. The campaign, supported by the Active Citizens Fund, aimed to counteract the rising hate speech that targets Roma, LGBT+ people and POC in Bulgaria.
DECKTATORS is our board game that puts players in the shoes of a dictator, so they get to really grasp the tools and tactics of oppression. The idea was developed during one of our Labs editions that focused on the threats to democracy and civil rights in Europe, and the shrinking space for civil society in the region. In 2020, we continued testing and improving the game, and have entered the final production and pre-launch phase.
WESEUM are our community-curated pop-up museums designed to make marginalized, oppressed and “invisible” communities visible, empowering people to own their narratives and rise above the stereotypization and misrepresentation. In 2020, we worked on developing the global implementation strategy for the concept.
In 2020 we started conceptualizing the next phase of Imagined Artworks – our series of written visual artworks: imagination triggers which evoke conceptual, poetic and emotional experiences. We began the process of engaging a talented group of blind and partially sighted artists and authors, and a number of high profile ʻcelebrities’, to produce a series of unique written visual artworks. The collective works will generate empathy between non-sighted and sighted audiences regarding how visual art is perceived. The project will expand in 2021.
In 2020 we started working on Culture of Solidarity, a creative challenge, supported by the European Cultural Foundation. We commissioned 27 artists (one representing each EU member state) to create compelling open-license visuals that deal with the aftermath of the pandemic, counteract the rising nationalist sentiments, and bring to life a European common vision for a better future.
We launched Born Ready – a campaign focusing on the need for abolition of guardianship for persons with disabilities. Today, tens of thousands of people with intellectual and psychosocial disabilities around the world are stripped of their legal capacity, and placed under guardianship. Born Ready puts self-advocates in the ‘limelight’, where they belong. The campaign originally launched in Bulgaria in 2020, in support of the efforts of the Bulgarian Center for Not-for-profit Law and the Bulgarian Association for People with Intellectual Disabilities to abolish guardianship in the country. In 2021 Fine Acts will publish all campaign materials under an open license, allowing activists and advocates anywhere in the world to use and adapt them in their local campaigning. The campaign was supported by the Open Society Policy Center.
In 2020, our partnership with Habitat for Humanity Bulgaria continued. We produced a number of creative products for their global advocacy campaign Build Solid Ground, including an online exhibition featuring 20 visual artworks that we created with local artists. The campaign promotes access to housing and housing rights, and aims to build critical understanding around the sustainable development of cities and communities.
Objects of Activity is a social media campaign that we created for the Bulgarian Center for Not-for-Profit Law. The campaign aims to improve the image of civil society organizations, which has been negatively impacted by various demonization campaigns and attacks on the sector. We featured prominent civil society actors who spoke about their work, tnpm run build hrough a personal object. Their stories reached 200 000 people online, and triggered thousands of positive reactions. The campaign, initially supported by CIVICUS, will be expanded in 2021.
The posters are published under a Creative Commons license, which means that they can be directly used, adapted or printed for free for non-commercial use.
At the March on Washington we also launched Postcards from Forever, our postcard writing campaign, handing out thousands of postcards that people filled in and sent to their friends, families and representatives.
Photo: Mihail Novakov
The platform provides a solution to a key issue for the non-governmental sector – powerful, hopeful visual content is of grave importance for engaging support, however, oft en organizations and social movements lack the capacity and resources to create it. High-quality and impactful visuals are oft en either diff icult to find for free, or do not allow adaptations. Our platform is without analogue – as all illustrations are published under a Creative Commons License (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0) allowing free use AND adaptation. For all works, we publish the work files, in addition to the print files, so that nonprofits, grassroots organizations, social movements and activists globally can use and adapt them according to their needs – e.g. translating or changing the copy, etc.
Currently, the platform features over 700 (and growing) free illustrations by 300 global artists, on topics ranging from women’s rights, LGBT+ rights, racial justice, freedom of expression, and many more. Most of the content on The Greats is commissioned by us at Fine Acts, through our creative challenges. On top of that, many artists have decided to open up their existing works to support the work of activists worldwide. The works undergo careful selection and curation by our team.
In its first year, The Greats attracted amazing support and interest, with hundreds of large and small organizations downloading, using and adapting the works, including the UN Human Rights Council, Oxfam, Amnesty International, and Creative Commons.
“Fine Acts is one of the very few curatorial teams who are putting the bigger narrative on our humanity above art. Their approach is to shift perspectives and create more equitable conditions for all of us on this planet. I have had the pleasure of collaborating with them as an artist on multiple occasions. Each time, their compassion, intelligence, drive, kindness and dedication are a reminder that the old systems are falling and a new vision of what art is and should be is being created.”
“Art is central to social change. Fine Acts centers this philosophy and is an incredible partner to creatively think about how best to use art and artists to advance an impact agenda. The team and their output are exceptional.”
“I never truly considered the impact my creations could have until partnering with Fine Acts. Not only did they revitalise my guiding principle of making a socially positive impact, they opened up further narratives to that meaning. As much as I can, I’ll continue to contribute, partner and share their projects and works of Fine Acts as they are truly creating catalytic change from a visually passionate point of view.”
“There are many reasons to see 2020 as a dark year for humanity. But in these days we all need a hopeful vision to motivate us. Throughout the year, Fine Acts was a source of joyful action and hopeful creativity. Fine Acts fills a unique and vital function in bringing to life progressive values in powerful, emotional ways. Working with Fine Acts took my work on human rights narratives to a whole new level, mobilising a global community of artists to create a new way of depicting human rights.”
“Collaborating with Fine Acts during the global pandemic provided me community, resources and time to produce a pair of art projects for TED’s Countdown. Working with Yana and her team was a rare bright spot in a dark and difficult time.”
“It felt so empowering to know that while I was driving a neon sign around Dallas, 9 other artists were also showing their own work in cities all around the world. To be a part of a global action that is tackling the world’s most pressing problems is an incredible feeling.”
“Our friendship with our friends and colleagues from Fine Acts is not only a happy and incredibly satisfying creative process of inventing, creating and doing great campaigns, but it’s also a time for learning, provocations for ideas and opportunities, and ultimately the most important thing for us – to change the status quo. We always announce our joint campaigns with the following statement: “We are proud to be a part of this.”
director of the Bulgarian Center for Not-for-profit Law
“Art for the right reasons and changing the world has been part of my life. In collaboration with Fine Acts, I had the great honour to express myself and be part of an amazing talented community of social change. Knowing that whatever art you create won’t end up catching dust! So keep creating and let’s change the world together!”
“The work that Fine Acts is doing is timely, necessary, and accessible. I had the pleasure of participating in two initiatives and both surpassed my expectations. Coupling beautiful artistry with powerful messages amplifies important messages with an immediate resonance.”
“It has been quite an experience, the truth is that I loved being part of all the projects and feeling that I am helping and supporting other people with my art.”
art director and lover of typefaces and lettering
“It all started with a brilliant invitation to use my drawings to talk about human rights, but it ended up a permission to combine my illustrations with the lyrics of one of my favourite bands. Thank you, Fine Acts and IDLES, count on me to fight the good fight with my pens and pencils. Unity!”
Esra’a Al Shafei
Lars Jannick Johansen
Gayle Karen Young
COMMISSIONED IN 2020