Creative Projects for SICK Problems

Creative Projects for SICK! Problems resulted from the examination, identification, and creative response to a distinct wicked social or environmental health challenge located in a particular place.

Each student featured here considered their interaction with other sentient beings, including animals and plants, to envision innovative and emergent ways to contribute to their health and wellbeing, as well as that of individuals, families, communities and the inhabited land. 

The use of the creative arts including photography, painting, gardening, dancing, zine-making, collage, and poetry, provided methods and materials to develop mutual care practices that sustained and informed each of these creative projects. 

Wicked Problems Course: SICK! Social Innovation through Creative Knowing.

Online Summer Intensive, 2020

LOYC 398 GA/ SOC 498 GA/ ANTH 498 GA/ CATS 631 GD (3 Credits)

Concordia University

Instructors: Janis Timm-Bottos and Satoshi Ikeda

TA: Nina Pariser

Course Logistics: Rachel Chainey

Technical Logistics: Monica Escobedo

For more information:

  • by Julianna Diliberto 


    I wanted to address the social determinant of education and provide a quick activity that parents can do with their children to spark a meaningful conversation about the effects of climate change, creating these cute moss gardens!

    Along with being easy, DIY, and made from 100% recycled materials, these little moss gardens purify the air in your home so you can breathe fresh air free of dust, dander, allergens, and airborne pathogens while fighting climate change!

    Anyone can bring these low maintenance gardens into their homes with a little dirt, pebbles, a container, and some moss!


  • by Alissa Desormeaux & Nia Neumann


    This art project is a collaboration between two friends working together in different geographical locations in Canada to support sharing Indigenous knowledge through Robyn Kimmerer’s book, Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants (2013). This project was inspired by studying the social determinants of health, especially the health benefits of having access to education, mental health services and to community. We believe that by sharing quotes of Kimmerer’s book in public spaces, we are encouraging curiosity and education about the connection between humans and nature. This is being conducted in two ways. One, is through wheat pasting quotes from the book on stones and replacing them in various environments that would provoke one to look at their surroundings differently. The second, is through gifting the book and placing it in local Free Little Libraries.


    We believe that mental well-being can be enhanced through reading and connecting to Indigenous wisdom, and can promote connection and feeling a part of a wider environmental community through gift-giving and giving thanks.


    This project provided us with a space to take an idea to action and activism. Please see the PowerPoint shared here if you are inspired to participate in this project with us. Thank you!


    Kimmerer, R. W. (2013). Braiding sweetgrass: Indigenous wisdom, scientific knowledge, and teachings of plants. Minneapolis, MN: Milkweed Press.

  • by Chloe Hart

    Through this collective phone tree poetry project, I was interested in addressing the importance of staying connected during times of required social isolation in order to foster mental health. I was inspired by the phone tree created by my church that so effectively held our community together despite physical isolation and barriers to digital technology. Robin Wall Kimmerer’s Braiding Sweetgrass, also inspired me when she wrote that a gift is meant to be given away, again and again. By recording many voices from my community and editing them together, I am co-creating a collective, long-form poem, that archives reflections on the COVID-19 pandemic. What is it about the medium of the phone call that provides a coping mechanism and necessary social support and intimacy that can also spread messages of hope, strength and love like roots connecting us through a telephone wire?


  • by Monica Doan



    This project creative artwork is a self-expression made from repurposed materials, including the canvas (an old IKEA photograph). I utilized tools and materials collected from the building I reside in, that would have otherwise been thrown out. All the colours presented are from this collection of options, with nothing left out; every unique material contributes a difference in this piece. As to where this final painting might go, I would like to give it back to the community to be hung in the lobby of our building; stating that it was made from the repurposed paint collection found here. There is a sense of hope that defies the racial barriers that colors over the black and white zebra stripes. A blossoming of flowers that can birth love and kindness for ourselves and each other. It just takes time to breathe and self-reflect in order to understand that empathy for yourself will paint benevolence and hope for others.

  • By Maryam Gerami

    This painting is a reminder to consider the connection between human beings and nature and the fact that we belong to the land and the land provides our roots. Injustice towards humans goes hand-in-hand with injustices done to each other and the earth’s ecosystem.


    I believe the problems within our communities are rooted in the hearts of people. To transform our community, we need to bring love into the heart and learn how to love our neighbours and everyone in the world as ourselves. Since everything in our world is interconnected, the emphasis should be on understanding and improving relationships and interactions to effectively address problems of humanity. In my opinion, the problems within interpersonal relations are directly related to the hardening of the hearts of individuals. Anything incompatible with the calling of our spirit manifests itself in our minds and actions. This painting was created as a reminder to deeply contemplate the feelings in our hearts in order to recognize the moments we think or behave selfishly, or when our thoughts are based on racism or the ways we behave towards others in the ways we do not want to be treated. These attributes have destructive and poisonous effects on people around us and our relationship with them with consequential repercussions on ourselves. Thus, in order to address any problem in our community, we need creative reminders to bring love and compassion to our heart first, in order to be a role model for others. In contrast to anger which burns and destroys the individual and his surroundings, every act of love and compassion coming from the heart could breathe life into the cold relationships dominating our society. To conclude, our relationships and interactions with each other and with the world works as a mirror to show us our hearts and creates opportunities for us to change from inside out and transform our community.

  • by Shannon Brown.

    June 2020 Bolton-Ouest, QC

    On June 9th I went into the forest to immerse myself in the land and connect to all of its inhabitants. My intention was to ask questions of the land, the wind, the sky, the animals and the plants surrounding me. I brought a drum, a recording device, an iPad and a sketchbook for drawing and painting (both digital and traditional). I chose to only eat nuts and dried fruit and drink water for that time period. My dog Sunny joined me as I set up my chair and tent for this birthday ceremony. I found a special spot in the woods and shared my gratitude for the land. The resulting video chronicles all that I experienced and learned throughout those 24 hours.

    Suggestions for your solo forest ceremony:

    • Be prepared! Bring water, light snacks, art supplies (sketchbook, pencils, markers, small paint kit), a folding chair, and instruments you may want to play (music is the language of all life), a blanket, umbrella, clothing for warm or cool temperatures, toilet paper and a small bag for any garbage, natural bug spray (lavender or citronella), a camera (phone is ok, just keep your data and wifi off!), your tent and all the cozy blankets and sleeping support you need. If you can make a safe fire do that. Fire is a great companion during an experience like this, but not necessary.

    • Make sure someone knows where you are and can be “on-call” if you need their help. Trust yourself to know what is right for you.

    • Start your ceremony by stating your intention, either writing it down in your sketchbook or saying it out loud or in your mind. Ask: Why are you doing this? What do you hope to discover? Ask for any help you feel comfortable asking for (your ancestors, your spiritual guides if you have them, ask the forest to support you)

    • What answers are you seeking? Write out some questions like: What do I need to know? What message do you have for me? What can I do next or what is my soul’s purpose? How can I be of best service to the world? Who am I? Stay away from yes or no questions, although they can sometimes clarify the inquiry.

    • Settle in and open your ears and mind to the sights, smells and sounds around you. Trust your intuition when it guides you to pay attention. Connect in through your breath and your senses.

    • Draw and paint what you feel and see. Try not to rationalize what is happening, get into the no-mind state and just feel.

    • Pay attention to everything around you. Focus-in on a plant, animal or tree (for example) and ask it a question. Listen for the messages you hear/see/feel, usually they appear in your mind's eye, for some it is an image or vision, for some a voice in their head, and others may get a strong feeling of knowing in the body. Record your thoughts on a recording device. Let it flow in a non-linear fashion. This is a dreaming type of experience and dreams often don’t make “sense”. You will be able to make sense of it later.

    • Notice the different times of the day. How does the light differ, the smells, the sounds around you of the birds, frogs and other animals; who is out at night and who isn’t? Notice the sky and the moon, stars and sun. What messages do all of these elements have for you? How do the leaves rustle in the breeze? get down on the ground and smell the earth. Touch things around you, stay present and connected. This is your time, the outside world can wait.

    • Ask for messages from your ancestors too, how can they help you at this time?

    • When you sleep, remind yourself to remember your dream when you awake. Keep your sketchbook and pen right beside you so when you awaken you will be able to write the dream down right away. Don’t judge your dream, again, the meaning will come later, this is the gathering time of messages. Draw or paint your dream if you feel inspired.

    • Challenges: If you feel you aren’t receiving “messages” just focus on the experience of connecting to what is around you. Move, sing, dance, play. No one is here to watch you (except the sentient beings surrounding you) so try to remember what it was like to be a child who played in the woods, or sat watching a bug crawling along the ground. Reconnect to that curious part of yourself. This might be difficult and that’s ok. If you have emotions let them out. Keep in mind to give it time to come and then pass. If you need support make sure a trusted friend or support worker knows you are doing this. Ask them to be on call if you need them.

    • What is your biggest learning or take away? Make a song, dance, drawing, poem or painting about it.

    • How will you bring this learning into your life? What are the next steps?

    • Enjoy nature! Give your thanks in whatever way you feel most comfortable! Take your garbage with you and don’t leave a trace. The planet needs us now more than ever. 

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