In honour of April’s Earth Month, Grad Matters features a project that encourages sustainability, both in its content and in its potential to live on beyond the graduate degree program.
Some people go into graduate school with a loose vision of what they want to achieve with their degree. But that wasn’t the case for Anna Timm-Bottos. She knew exactly what she wanted to accomplish – which was a way to integrate reusability into institutions.
The journey that inspired her to pursue her master’s of art education at Concordia University began when she was a high school teacher in British Columbia. At the time, Ms. Timm-Bottos was working as a substitute teacher, predominantly in art. In that role, she used a lot of reusable materials such as fabrics and even wood to create sustainable art with limited materials and a smaller budget.
“I really did a lot of hustling and trying to find alternative sources for materials,” said Ms. Timm-Bottos.
From there, she met many like-minded teachers and artists who were doing something similar. While she attended Concordia, she was visited school boards, such as the Peel District School Board in Mississauga, Ont., that prioritized the use of sustainable and reusable materials.
“We knew that things were being thrown away and that people could use them,” said Ms. Timm-Bottos.
Her visits to places like Artsjunktion at the Toronto District School Board and ArtsJunktion mb in Winnipeg formed part of her research for her thesis examining models of community-based centres that promote the collection and redistribution of used materials for creative purposes. When it came time to put her research into writing she began to think about how her work would go in tandem with what Concordia might be able to produce when it came to creating a hub for reuse. Her thesis titled “Seeing the Potential: A Canadian Creative Reuse Centre Case-Study” was completed in 2017. This would later lead to the creation of the Concordia Centre for Creative Reuse (CUCCR), a pilot project that began from Ms. Timm-Bottos’ research. The centre “diverts materials from Concordia’s waste-stream and offers them to the general community for free,” says its website.
“Primarily, it makes sense that it is used a lot by fine arts students but I really wanted to make sure that people could access it from every department, and even folks from off campus are welcome,” said Ms. Timm-Bottos.
In 2019, CUCCR moved into its new space in the Grey Nuns Building where it was able to expand and host larger numbers.
A "Don't Buy That" Event hosted by CUCCR in 2018. These events offer participants the materials and space to DIY their own gifts, decorations and costumes around holidays.
Anna and a member at the checkout station. All materials are weighed as they come in and as the leave in order to keep track of the amount of reuse and materials categories.
CUCCR's initial space in Concordia's Hall Building. As shown, materials range from fabric to wood to office supplies and beyond!
Volunteers sorting through donations.
Ms. Timm-Bottos wanted the space to not only promote sustainability, but also be inclusive of students, staff and community members of all backgrounds and disciplines. If a student in planning needed materials to build a city model, she wanted the centre to have something to offer to them too.
After receiving an initial $40,000 in funding from the university in 2016, Ms. Timm-Bottos was able to put her plan into action. The centre has grown and been able to accommodate a wide array of requests. During the height of the pandemic, CUCCR sent out care packages to the Concordia community so that they could create joyful art in isolation.
Not everyone with a graduate degree can apply their research into real life the way Ms. Timm-Bottos did. Sometimes people are interested, but they get stuck in completing their project which turns into a burden instead of a passionate research project. Her advice to her fellow graduate students is to always think broadly about how your research can be extended to have a real and greater impact on the community and to start small with a topic that matters personally to you. Being passionate about a subject is often what pushes people to move past words on a page and find a way to bring it to life.
“It is very possible for you to use a degree to create a job and to create something new inside of a network or institution, it just takes a little bit of flexibility,” said Ms. Timm-Bottos.
Her second word of advice is not to worry about a full plan because sometimes that can bog down what you want to accomplish. Let your plan develop as you gather research, resources and potential funding for what you want to accomplish, she said.
For Ms. Timm-Bottos, success is being able to have a shot at achieving her goals. To those who are still trying to figure it out, she says to give it a go even if you don’t fully know what you are doing yet.
“If you just wait until you figure it all out, it can be really isolating and hard to imagine what you haven’t even created yet,” she said.