We see incorporating play and experimentation in activism as vital. This is how we came up with the term "playtivism" – we believe that creative play and collaboration across disciplines is essential to human rights work, as play sparks better ideas, and could be an antidote to the high levels of burnout and depression amongst activists.
We are Fine Acts. We are a nonprofit operating across issues and borders. We design socially engaged creative solutions. We make human rights, art, tech and science meet. We experiment with ways to make people care and act. We amplify important messages.
We love. We hope. We play.
Fine Acts is operating in a context of a global crackdown on civic space:
- Freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, and association, have come under sustained attacks;
- There is vast support for anti-democratic, authoritarian politicians;
- Human rights defenders are increasingly surveilled, harassed, intimidated and demonized by authorities;
- The rise of fake news has consequently given rise to a crisis of trust.
This reality calls for an urgent change in tactics. However, civil society actors often lack the capacity, knowledge, hope or inspiration to be truly effective. Too many NGOs are still stuck in traditional advocacy models. Too often human rights campaigns have only been preaching to the converted. Today, important messages cannot cut through the noise or break down echo chambers, and key human rights work fails to reach past the desensitization of society.
There is a critical need to provide insights, effective tools and creative solutions to a sector that is largely unprepared, underfunded, understaffed, underskilled, and burnt out.
In this context, Fine Acts works to:
- Ignite empathy: We produce creative projects that raise awareness, trigger action, and foster greater support for human rights campaigns.
- Inspire allies: We develop effective formats to excite the art and tech communities to support the human rights movement.
- Boost innovation: Through our concept of "playtivism", we create novel spaces for multidisciplinary play and experimentation in the human rights field.
- Support organizations: We work with groundbreaking nonprofits from around the world, and design tailor-made creative campaigns for their needs. We also consult and train civil society organizations in embracing art and play as a tool for social change.
- Promote openness: We see openness as a true force multiplier, and place it at the core of our work..
Our highlights for 2019 include:
Launch of actlabs.co | In 2019 we opened up our ACT Labs format, supporting organizations around the world to design and run their own events. Anyone can apply to host an ACT Labs bootcamp in their city to tackle a human rights issue. We provide everything that organizers might need to kickstart it: from a detailed guidebook, to templates and visuals.
ACT Labs x NYC | Our first independent ACT Labs kicked off in NYC in May 2019. ACT Labs x NYC was organized by New York Live Arts, a movement-focused arts organization, in partnership with the National Alliance of Mental Illness. Eight teams, consisting of an artist and a technologist, took part in the hack-art-thon to prototype projects that raise awareness or contribute to a concrete solution for breaking the stigma around mental health issues. The winning team is currently developing an app that teaches the language of empathy.
In 2019, we launched a new format, SPRINTS. It explores the intersection of human rights and visual arts and demonstrates the potential of art to communicate human rights messages in a creative and engaging way. In SPRINTS, visual artists are briefed by activists and then have 48 hours to develop and produce a visual artwork that communicates a respective message.
In less than a year, we organized a total of four SPRINTS bootcamps, including an online international edition. We brought together 50+ illustrators, graphic designers, filmmakers, photographers from across Europe to produce works on women’s rights, LGBTI rights, freedom of expression, democracy and freedom.
We showcased hundreds of works at four pop-up exhibitions organized in March, May, September and November.
In 2019, we also launched TheGreats.co, our free online vault with awesome socially engaged visual content, open to anyone to use or adapt non commercially.
All artworks created during SPRINTS are uploaded and published on The Greats. Activists and nonprofits from around the world can use them for their campaigns and communications, be it on social media, or print them out as posters for marches/protests. The website started out as a beta version, and a fully-functioning platform was launched in March 2020. It is now open for any artists, anywhere in the world, to upload their socially engaged works under a specific Creative Commons license.
The Greats is a unique space, as it features not just the print files, but also the work files of the pieces, and allows for all kinds of adaptation. It offers a solution to a key issue for the non-governmental sector – visual content is of grave importance for engaging support, however, often organizations lack the capacity and resources to create it.
In less than a year, we have over 100 artworks (and counting) that have been downloaded hundreds of times. We’ve seen our work used and adapted by activists worldwide, from Germany to Botswana, from Bulgaria to the US.
Campaigns & Actions
Campaigns & Actions
Our key campaigns for 2019 feature:
Marking the International Day of Action on Women's Health, Fine Acts launched a (successful) Indiegogo campaign, to create the first illustrated book on sexual health for girls in Bulgaria. The female body and sex continue to be taboo topics in the country. Our Vagina Matters book explores important issues like menstruation, sex, sexual health, and much more. It provides information in an easy to understand way, with hundreds of illustrations created by the artists Borislava Karadzhova (Borislava Мadeit) and Mihaela Karadzhova (Stalker Since 1993).
Vagina Matters was featured in over 20 media outlets, which started a conversation about the need for sex ed classes. Our campaign reached over 250,000 people. With nearly 200 backers, the fundraising campaign was a success, which will allow us to finish the book and publish it online for free in Spring 2020.
Furthermore, we are currently translating the book in English, in order to open it up to translations in other languages – as compassionate materials on sexual health, that are also well-designed, are lacking across Eastern Europe and beyond.
INSIDE OUT SOFIA
In July 2019, we organized Inside Out Sofia the first action in Bulgaria part of the global project by renowned artist JR. Inside Out communicates various social problems through portrait photography and giant posters placed in urban areas.
In 2017, the houses of the Roma community – the largest ethnic minority in Bulgaria – living on Gradinite Street in Sofia, were destroyed, automatically making at least 50 people, 30 of them children, homeless. Together with the community we created an art action, consisting of giant posters with their portraits (by photographer Vesselina Nikolaeva). They were printed and placed in the ruins of their homes, and shot from above.
The resulting campaign, in which the Roma families reclaimed their homes, shed light on the problem that millions of people around the world each year are forcibly evicted or threatened by evictions due to lack of land rights recognition. The action was well-documented, including a video and behind-the-action photos. Aside from the action, we plastered posters across the city and organized an exhibition, visited by hundreds.
Our action reached nearly 70,000 people online. It contributed to countering hate speech; it humanized the Roma community; it empowered the community to organize and think about how to generate impact on an issue.
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In 2019, we test-launched WESEUM our community-curated pop-up museums that we aim to develop into a global series. WESEUM is designed to make marginalised, oppressed and “invisible” communities visible, empowering people to own their narratives and rise above the stereotypization and misrepresentation.
In WESEUM, members of a community are asked two questions: “What makes you happy?” and “What makes you sad?”. To each question, they respond with a personal object, and tell the story behind it. The pop-up museum constitutes the collection of these objects.
The format aims to build understanding, foster empathy, promote a common humanity, and break down barriers.
The project creates an extraordinary space as a meeting point to rethink stereotypes.
For the pilot edition, we worked with a Roma community who have recently lost their homes. The exhibition evoked deep emotional reactions from the public – while some broke into tears, others were provoked to ask deeper questions and engage in conversation with members of the community.
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A day in the life
A Day in the Life is our campaign video that aims to counteract negative stereotypes against refugees and migrants, and to support their integration. The video provides a glimpse into the life of Neely Rifai-Antonova, a refugee, daughter of a Syrian and Indian family, who’s found her place in an Eastern European capital.
The video was featured at the Global Migration Film Festival supported by UN IOM, and circulated in all subway stations in Sofia for a full month (approximately 20 000 times). Online, the video was watched 60 500 times, and shared by over 115 organizations and individuals.
Eat, Breathe, Pray is our project that shines a light on the issue of air pollution. We created a series of “gourmet” dishes made with common pollutants. The initial concept came from our 2017 ACT Labs edition tackling climate change and pollution, when Juliana Tekova, a Bulgarian artist, and Stefan Valentinov, а technologist, devised a way to make pollution visible.
Fine Acts produced the project for Greenpeace Bulgaria and For the Earth Foundation, fuelling their campaigning efforts to introduce measures to curb pollution in Bulgaria, the country with the most polluted air in the EU.
Our creative campaign Fakery launched on World Press Freedom Day 2019. It tackles the issue of fake news and disinformation and promotes media literacy through an unconventional method – deliciously looking but horribly tasting cupcakes. A core element of the campaign is a video of a social experiment, based on sensational fake news which we created and spread in the media.
On the campaign's website, one can find useful tools and resources on how to detect fake news, as well as tips on how to talk about the problem with friends and relatives, who might be prone to consuming disinformation.
Our video reached nearly 500,000 people and led to over 45,000 social media interactions.
In 2019 we completed a number of works:
Our ongoing joint art project, The Future with artists Alicia Eggert and Safwat Saleem, was among the 50 artworks featured at The Value of Sanctuary exhibition at New York City’s Cathedral of St. John the Divine. It is a series of data-driven sculptures that illuminate critical human rights issues affecting people around the world.
For the artwork exhibited at the Cathedral, at the start of 2019 we conducted in-depth research on the current overall state of peace around the world.
The Value of Sanctuary explores the question of sanctuary through the work of modern and contemporary artists, using the Cathedral’s sacred space as a canvas. The exhibition ran for 5 months, through June 2019.
Captive and Invisible
Our Captive and Invisible series, done with the UN's Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, incarnates stories of real women, children and men with disabilities facing abuse, violence and neglect in different parts of the world. The series of illustrations raise awareness of the fact that millions around the world are still deprived of liberty because of their disabilities. Their lives and freedom depend on government action to enforce and protect their fundamental rights.
BUILD SOLID GROUND
Habitat for Humanity Bulgaria invited us to work on their Build Solid Ground, focusing on land rights.
We invited 20+ illustrators to “translate” the key campaign message →
“Everyone deserves to have a decent home and feel safe from threats to their property”.
The work is ongoing, with activities until the end of 2020.
Party for the Narwhal
Party for the Narwhal is a comic book with illustrations by Aglika Spassova, illustrator and art director at guts and brains DDB, and story by Fine Acts co-founder Pavel Kounchev. The book tells the story of a Narwhal seeking asylum, and the beauty of accepting those that seem at first different from us.
The Bulgarian version of the book is a collaboration with the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee, the leading human rights group in the country – all proceeds go to support BHC’s work promoting and defending children’s rights (e.g. kids at risk, in institutions, children-refugees, etc).
A launch across schools is planned for Spring 2020. Additionally, we created an English version of the book, that we will be launching later in 2020.
During the year, we also worked on a number of other projects, to be completed in 2020, including:
DECKTATORS is a 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 stems from our latest Labs edition that focused on the threats to democracy and civil rights in Europe, and the shrinking space for civil society in the region.
The winning team, Weronika Jurkiewicz and Michal Szota, both from Poland, proposed the creation of a board game where the goal is to “put yourself in the shoes of a dictator and suppress, take over, and shut down” as many civil society organizations as possible.
The game is in the final stages of production by Fine Acts, and will launch in Spring 2020.
Lead Characters is a social campaign focusing on the need for the abolition of guardianship for persons with disabilities. Without the right to decide, persons with disabilities are denied their humanity.
Lead Characters is a campaign that puts self-advocates in the limelight, where they belong.
The cornerstone of the campaign are two creative videos, supported by a series of visuals for social media, postcards to be sent to Members of Parliament, and a free zine for the general public.
Lead Characters will launch in Spring 2020.
CHASING CHASING AMY
Fine Acts is the Executive Producer of Chasing Chasing Amy (working title), a documentary about the 1997 film Chasing Amy and its cultural impact on the LGBTQ+ community. It is directed by Sav Rodgers a narrative and documentary filmmaker based out of Los Angeles. He is a TED Resident, an OutSet Fellow at Outfest, an Adobe Project 1324 award recipient, and a Narrative Shorts Programmer at the Slamdance Film Festival.
The documentary film enters post-production in Spring 2020.
Our publicity highlights for the year are:
TED published on its main platform the talk by our co-founder Yana Buhrer Tavanier on 30 April 2019. It focuses on the value of playtivism – what we call the process of incorporating play and experimentation in activism.
The talk argues that multidisciplinary, creative play is essential to human rights work – as play sparks better ideas, and could be an antidote to the high levels of burnout and depression amongst activists. For 9 months, the talk has been translated into 21 languages, and has over 1.65 million views. The talk raised the profile of the organisation, and led to a number of opportunities, including direct funding.
Our Project Light has been selected as a Finalist in Fast Company's 2019 World Changing Ideas Awards. Project Light is a global art campaign by Fine Acts and Peek Vision, aiming to increase public understanding, engagement and support for the right to sight.
Project Light is one of ten finalists in the Creativity category of the Awards that honor "innovative solutions to issues facing humanity". 2019 was the most competitive year for the awards, with a total of nearly 2000 entries.
Our co-founder Pavel Kounchev was named one of the twelve inaugural Obama Scholars for his work inspiring civic engagement. The first class of Obama Foundation Scholars at Columbia University features an accomplished group of 12 rising social change-makers from around the world.
Pavel was recognised for his role in the two organisations he co-founded, Fine Acts and Time Heroes. The program resulted in increased global visibility for Fine Acts, as well as in direct funding for the organisation.
Research & Training
To better illustrate the power of art and play in campaigning and narrative change, we kickstarted our research and training unit:
We partnered with Hivos, a development aid organization based in the Netherlands, to pilot a Knowledge Studio for Aesthetic Action, whose goal would be to increase the capacity and knowledge of civil society organizations and other progressive actors worldwide by promoting social justice and human rights in the use of digital technologies and aesthetics for developing new strategies and narratives.
Notably, in 2019, we prepared a comprehensive field and desk research report, which provides insights into the needs, key external and internal challenges and effective practices of civil society organisations worldwide, as well as information on comparable initiatives, and relevant resources.
Our team led research and analysis on the historical role of art in various social movements during the 20th century – including the women’s suffrage movement, the civil rights movement and the anti-Vietnam war movement.
In 2019, we launched our training programme by developing methodologies to target various groups – artists, activists, young people etc. We consult and train civil society organizations in creative thinking, utilizing art and embracing play as a tool for social change. We help equip nonprofits and activists with new tools and ideas on how to better fight for human rights advancement and protection.
Some of the highlights from this activities include:
- July 4-5 2019: We were invited by Open Society Foundations in Georgia to lead a training on disability rights for 20 notable artists on the issue and how to use their platform to support campaigns.
- July 23, 2019: Two of our co-founders, Julie Freeman and Yana Buhrer Tavanier, led a session at the 2019 TED Summit in Edinburgh in relation to Project Light, by inviting participants to create an ‘imagined artwork’.
- July 26, 2019: We were invited by Friedrich Naumann Foundation Southeast Europe to lead a lecture on creative activism for young people (18-25) at their week-long seminar on the future of democracy in the region.
- September 15, 2019: We led a training workshop on creative advocacy and activism for LGBTI activists in Sofia, Bulgaria, invited by the youth organization “Deystvie”.
- September 20-22, 2019: We led a training workshop in Chisinau, Moldova, on creative campaigning and advocacy for a program, organized by Resource Centre for Public Participation, a Romanian nonprofit, for activists and nonprofits from Eastern Europe and Central Asia.
- November 1-3, 2019: We were invited by Friedrich Naumann Foundation Southeast Europe to give a talk on playtivism during the Future of Freedom Consultation, a regional meeting in Kyiv, Ukraine.
- November 21, 2019: We were invited by New Media Advocacy Project to lead a training workshop in Tbilisi, Georgia on creative campaigning as part of their Rights Reframed program that supports activists in creating and distributing media advocacy projects that challenge the way human rights are framed in Central Asia and the South Caucasus.
Snapshots from major global happenings in 2019 where we’ve participated:
Future of Freedom Consultation
Obama Foundation Town Hall Meeting Berlin
Global Solutions Summit
Creative Commons Summit
Personal Democracy Forum CEE
(Lublin) Poland, (Edinburgh) Scotland, (Cluj) Romania, (Barcelona) Spain
Global Cultural Diplomacy Platform
Creative campaigning training
Creative campaigning training
Creative campaigning training OSF
Creative campaigning training NMAP
"The work of activists is relentless and terribly difficult. Especially today, I believe. However, it is even more difficult not to get lost in despair and tedious messages, and not to bury your ideas at a time when lightness, momentum and brilliant vision are the only way to reach the audience. In this respect, Fine Acts is a real pioneer – they manage to raise important questions and at the same time achieve it with ease, which invariably attracts people and before they even know it, they’re already thinking about the issues that they would otherwise diligently avoid."
“Fine Acts is one of the most meaningful organisations in Bulgaria, and our collaboration with them makes us part of the bold attempt at social change that they bring. We are constantly learning from their ability to face any social and artistic problem or challenge with fairness, sincerity and care.”
“Since our first celebration of the International Day of Persons with Disabilities in 2016, Yana and her Fine Acts team have worked closely with us to advance a vision of disabilities as a key aspect of human diversity. They have compelling ideas, and brought excellent artists that not only were highly professional, but also committed disability rights advocates. Yana’s leadership skills, excellent writing, and her commitment as a human rights advocate herself made this complex process easier and rewarding; we are extremely happy with the results and impact.”
“If my illustrations can help spread an important message, then I'm in. And if it can be used as visual ammunition for activists - that's even better!”
Justė Urbonavičiūtė (Kissi Ussuki)
“Design has always been one of the strongest languages to speak about social injustice, to support civic movements, and political campaigns. Images trigger our imagination, and have the power to change realities. I’m glad there are projects like SPRINTS that bring artists from different countries together to reflect on a topic and to produce an image that can contribute to social initiatives and hopefully bring positive changes to society.“
The numbers ->
Fine Acts in 2019:
exhibitions and art interventions
events featuring Fine Acts
cities around the world
pairs of socks produced
dashing dogs that took part in our formats
Total Budget 2019
Total Expenditure 2019:
We started our Patreon page in 2019. Even though a proper launch campaign is in the pipeworks, we already have 18 patrons, donating a total of $155 per month.
The Fine Acts
Fine Acts team
Yana Buhrer Tavanier,Executive Director
Ana Alexieva,Programs Director
Svetla Baeva,Campaigns Director
Maxim Stoimenov,Creative Director
Martina Koleva,Digital Lead
Nataliya Zhelyazkova,Operations Assistant
Board of Trustees
Pavel Kounchev,co-founder, Chair of the Board
Yana Buhrer Tavanier,co-founder, Executive Director
Julie Freemanco-founder, Member of the Board
Shoham AradTED Fellows Director, Member of the Board
Maria Popovafounder Brain Pickings, Member of the Board
Esra'a Al Shafei
Lars Jannick Johansen
Gayle Karen Young
Core artist collective
Zena el Khalil
Christine Sun Kim
Jorge Mañes Rubio
Joey Foster Ellis
Saeed Taji Farouky
Core activist collective
Esra'a Al Shafei
Zena el Khalil
Aziz Abu Sarah
Donors – global
Open Society Foundations
Sigrid Rausing Trust
Active Citizens Fund
Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom
US Embassy in Bulgaria
Davis Projects for Peace
UN Rapporteur for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities
New Media Advocacy Project
Romanian Resource Center for Public Participation
Black Sea Trust
Donors – local
Bulgarian Fund for Women
Bulgarian Centеr for Not-for-profit law (BCNL)
Bulgarian Association for Persons with Intellectual Disabilities (BAPID)
Sofia Municipality Culture Programme
National Fund Culture
Habitat for Humanity Bulgaria
Bulgarian Helsinki Committee
The Obama Foundation
New York Live Arts
Association of European Journalists in Bulgaria
Partners – in-kind
Cosmos Coworking Camp
KO-OP Coworking and Art
Generator - Center for Design and Co-operation
SeeMeOn 29 Gallery
Volunteers & interns:
Gergana Petrova Romanova
Alex Dabi Zevi
Artists, whom we collaborated with in 2019:
Goldgrippin: Gabriela Mineva & Rusen Minchev
Anna Katalin Lovrity
Juste Urbonavičiūtė a.k.a Kissi Ussuki
Other art/creative professionals we partnered with in 2019:
Studio Komplekt - Adriana Andreeva & Boiana Gyaurova
Handplayed Productions: Angel Ivanov & Krasimira Krasteva
Fakery shooting team:
Lead Characters shooting team:
Lead Characters - the characters:
Borislava Karadjova & Mihaela Karadjova
Bulgarian Helsinki Committee (Dilyana Angelova, Nadezhda Tsekulova, Radoslav Stoyanov)
200+ Indiegogo supporters