Over the past few weeks, millions of people have been displaced as a result of the ongoing war in Ukraine. To help support the growing number of artists and designers who have lost their livelihoods, a new platform called No Shelter is working to provide them with the creative resources and opportunities they need most. 

When the team behind No Shelter first took to social media, their goal was simple enough: to share the profiles and portfolios of those who have been directly affected by the war, and connect them to a global community of potential employers and peers. Since then, the project has grown into a small but lively movement; one that calls for a more empathetic and engaged creative industry.

Following the launch of their new website last week, we caught up with No Shelter’s founder, Stanley Vaganov, to learn more about their story. In our conversation, we delve into what it means to be a designer in times of crisis, how to leverage tools like Instagram, and why ‘nothing beats the heart of a volunteer.’ Read it in full, below.

Can you tell us about how the idea for No Shelter first came about?  

Surely! I think when the war in Ukraine began a few weeks ago I started to feel helpless. We, as creatives, are not the frontline responders. We are not the first folks you think about when these tragic events happen. Sure, as creators, we do possess some power to amplify messages but I felt like that was not enough.

I spent the following weekend thinking of all the things that are happening and what can be done. I started looking at our industry as a whole and seeing that the displacement of Ukraine’s creatives is just the tip of the iceberg. There are a lot of injustices happening globally—whether it’s racism, sexism, ageism, wage gaps, opportunity gaps, you name it. This problem isn’t unique to just the creative industry, but you have to start somewhere, and the creative space is my domain. I know it well, so naturally this was a starting point. And of course the Ukraine response has to be the beginning, but how can it grow beyond the headline news and into solving more of the silent wars that we as a community and society are fighting every day? 

I brought it to my team at our agency, BeCurious Studio. We quickly started ideating and No Shelter was born. The name derives from the song by Rage Against the Machine—a group that is famous for speaking out against injustice. ‘No shelter’ is a call to action. We have to stop hiding and being stagnant while watching media reports. Instead, we need to become the frontlines of change ourselves. 

What was the next step?

We quickly launched a website that focused on providing an immediate platform for displaced creatives. It was as simple as highlighting their profiles and their skills in hopes of them getting necessary exposure and potentially getting hired by companies. We had tremendous response not only from creatives but people wanting to volunteer, and in a matter of days we went from just me feeling lost and confused, to having a platform, a strong team of volunteers and over 60+ highlighted creatives (and growing each hour).

We love that No Shelter empowers creatives to help themselves and each other. What made you TAKE SUCH a community-centred approach? 

I have always been pro-community. I think it would be foolish to say that any personal success comes purely from your own individual merits and hard work. You need a kick-ass support system. You need your click, clan, family. And the creative community is one of the strongest that I have been blessed enough to be a part of. We empower each other, we compete with each other and we constantly better one another. The fact that people came together for No Shelter was a big part of it as well. We went from it being just me to now having a mini-community. This idea may have been birthed in my mind but it certainly is not mine, it is ours as a community. We are all responsible for growing it and making it impactful.

At the moment, No Shelter is urgently trying to support creatives impacted by the war in Ukraine. What does your outreach process look like, and how is it going so far? 

Ugh. It is a hectic combination of a lot of things firing off at once. What we do currently is leverage social media to drive traffic to the website where creators and companies alike can sign up to be featured. We do not ask for money from anyone, we just facilitate this space so creatives can be paired with agencies and projects organically. It is as simple as processing an intake form, and then publishing it on our website and social media channels, specifically Instagram.

“The creative community is one of the strongest that I have been blessed enough to be a part of. We empower each other, we compete with each other and we constantly better one another.”

What are the resources and tools that these creatives need most right now? 

They need work opportunities and a voice. When we as outsiders see the war on the news, we feel sad, briefly, but think about what it is like for the creatives affected? One day you are in the office creating something for your client and the next day you are separated from your family, fleeing your country. Don’t believe me? Look at this transcript of an email I got today:

Today, my sister and I had to flee Ukraine because of the Russian attack, our parents are still in our country. This is scary! And what scares the most is unknown. Being at home, we planned, built, lived with the thought of the future. Today we have been warmly sheltered in Slovakia, but for a short period of time. I need to find a job, provide for myself, my sister and send help to our parents in Ukraine. I can work remotely or locally, I can move to the office of a new company to another country if it’s needed.”

… I get these emails daily! 

Next to providing emergency relief, No Shelter is also about driving change across the creative industries. What are some of your goals for the future?

They are quite ambitious. The goal is to become a safe haven for creatives and an advocacy of change for agencies and law makers. We want to be a hybrid of Humans of New York and The Innocence Project. A space that tells personal stories of creatives. We are really trying to get away from getting a reputation of us being some sort of talent management marketplace. That is not at all our mission. 

In the long term, we want to shine a light on all creatives affected by injustice or prejudice. We want to put faces to those stories and we want to make it super uncomfortable for the big businesses and companies to keep doing things as they currently are. We want to create a transparent conversation to learn what happens in our community when a Black creative person doesn’t get the same opportunities as a white creative person. Or why women are still getting paid less than men. You name it. Pick your poison. 

Once we have enough of these stories maybe we can start making the big shift, where policies are changed, and empathy is the main driver, not profits. I do not claim that I know how to solve these things and I might be as clueless as anyone else, but I am willing to learn, hopefully do better myself and inspire other companies to do the same.

Has this work changed the way you think about the link between design and activism?

A few weeks ago I may have given a different answer but today I can confidently say that design and creatives have a big impact on political and social change. Design is a communication tool. Art is a form of expression. Music is a form of connection. Photography and cinema are forms of storytelling. As creatives we have the power to take any situation, movement, project, product, war, or injustice and amplify the message or immortalise its wrongdoings. We can take what people are feeling and make it relatable on a grand scale. By default we are creators. But maybe sometimes we forget that we can create more than just award winning work. We can create change.

“As creatives we have the power to take any situation, movement, project, product, war, injustice and amplify the message or immortalise its wrongdoings.”

Finally, how can our readers get involved, or support the work that No Shelter is doing? 

If you are a creative struggling in any capacity, if you have been a victim of injustice of any sort we would love to hear from you and tell your story. If you are an agency looking to hire perhaps begin your search with our platform and help those in need. 

Other than that, nothing beats the heart of a volunteer. We still need help in growing our message and spreading our mission. If you are a PR or marketing entity please help us get this message out. If you are a blogger, magazine, influencer let’s talk and create conversations that we all should be having now. Myself and our partner Dot Lung are constantly trying to reach out to folks and agencies and conferences. We are very new (not even a month old) so we have a long way to go yet, but we do our diligence daily to make sure it grows. Please follow us on Instagram @nosheltercreatives or visit our website.

A big thank you to the beautiful people of What Design Can Do. Thank you for reaching out and giving us a space to tell our story, you are bringing us closer together and closer to our ultimate goal of change.


All images from No Shelter Creatives.