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A trip to town

This past weekend I was invited to participate in a city-wide public art event called City Drift in Portland, ME. With public interaction as its core principle, there was an ongoing schedule of performances, video projections and site-specific installations. The entire cityscape was the viewing platform. As there have been some snags around the legality of the trailer for the mobile hive (which has now been sorted out), I took the opportunity to create and show a more compact observation hive.


After conferring with Master Beekeeper Erin Forbes about bringing bees into the public sphere, it was clear that the hive was open for interpretation as long as it had adequate ventilation and was completely contained. Because of my research this summer I know that the bees themselves are enough to draw a crowd so I decided to keep the hive simple; two frames, one over the other like a cross section of a standard Langstroth hive, set in a wood and acrylic cabinet with a handle for easy transport.


Part of the objective of the mobile hive on the trailer is allowing the bees the freedom to fly. However, with a small hive and bringing the bees to crowded areas of the city, it was best to keep them enclosed. Though the direct relationship between foraging bees returning to the hive with local pollen from the surrounding landscape wasn’t possible for this outing, the ease of transport of the small hive allowed some unexpected abilities, like stopping into Starbucks for an afternoon coffee. And searching the city for ready-made pedestals on which to place the hive to quietly change the landscape.

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Over all the weekend went off without a hitch. I spoke with many passers-by, folks from around Maine as well as talking with some visitors from England who empathized with our plight as English honeybee populations have been dwindling as well. I met many people who knew about the troubles we are having with bees but who had never seen a colony close up. I introduced little kids to the wonders of the hive and had them search for the queen. And when the sun set, I brought the hive back to the gallery and displayed it as an artwork.

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The City Drift exhibition will be at Space Gallery in Portland, ME for the next two weeks, showing the documentation of the events that occurred around the city. Of course the bees couldn’t survive being enclosed for two weeks so I will bring them back for Portland’s First Friday Art Walk happening on October 3rd.


Signing off!

After an intense, roller coaster of 12 weeks in Delhi, I’m finally back in the US.
Just in time for this year’s A Better World x Design conference being hosted by RISD and Brown University, whose theme this year coincidently happens to be “Way-finding”. I was honored to be invited as one of the presenters and talk about to my incredible experience in Zamrudpur. The conference was also a great platform to interact with some truly amazing people and organizations about their works across issue, scales and locations. It is really interesting to see how that one word can have so many meanings and connotations and the countless ideas that stem from it.




In the coming months, I hope to share this work at some other platforms around Providence like DESINE-Lab’s Student lecture series, Brown & RISD’s collaborative Design+Health Seminar and RISD Landscape Department’s Spring lecture series. It will be interesting to discuss the project and the idea with fellow design community and receive valuable feedback.

Looking back, 2 months seems like a very short time to initiate a big change in the lifestyle and mindsets of people. But while short-term deliverables were set during the project, their impact was palpable soon enough and I was able to see changes myself. ‘Delhi Diary’, a local lifestyle magazine became aware of the changing face of Zamrudpur and published an article on our project. I’m still well in touch with Adhyayan and the children and keep getting updates from them. Its heartening to see that the project did not end with my leaving, they’re moving to planting winter vegetables in the beds, starting more art projects and the amazing group of girls from the neighboring Lady Sri Ram college who started off by volunteering to help with our murals around the village have started other programs with the children.


Leaving Delhi is always a bittersweet parting for me, made exceptionally hard this time. I received the sweetest goodbyes from all the children and parents and I realized just how deeply I’d been accepted into the community and their lives. If no one else, my own perceptions of such neighborhoods will never be the same.




Back in the US, I’m currently in the process of using the map created by the children to build a proper document to send to Amit in Zamrudpur. This will be a basis to discuss the more serious infrastructure problems of the community, which was never previously mapped out with respect to its physical infrastructure. Streets too narrow for the municipal trash collector trucks to traverse are highlighted, while we get a graphic document.

My summer with the community has definitely made clear my personal interests in community engaged design and place making, and the role of art and interventions as being as key to this end as pure architectural or urban design. With my relocation to Boston, and not wanting to lose touch with such projects even on the east coast, I’ve joined the Congress for New Urbanism (CNU) and Boston Society of Architects’ (BSA) Lab for Art in Public Places, both great think tanks engaging in Tactical Urbanism as a means of creating democratic urban spaces. I look forward to collaborating with some great designers and thinkers on interesting projects around New England.



– Zoya


A farewell to the Porvir office, but thank-heavens for Skype!

While my time in São Paulo this summer was very busy, the work with the innova+ project is really just beginning. My role at Porvir was to get this project off the ground. I established connections with our partners, created proposals and presentations explaining the project and drafted a plan for the initiative to continue moving forward once I was back in Providence. I also understood the inner-workings of an organization whose work I had always admired from afar. As school is just about to start, I am eager to continue working on the innova+ project, but this time more as an advisor to the team of journalists. The innovations have been submitted by the network of specialists we have gathered from California to London to New Zealand, and now it’s the journalists’ turn to take over in editing our content.

Before leaving, I also contacted a talented graphic designer (and self-taught web developer) to take on the job of creating the site for the final publication. Though our deadlines have shifted a bit more down the road, we hope to have the publication ready to go by the end of October. I will keep updating this blog with important news along the way, and of course, on the big day of the publication release.


Group selfie at the office


innova+ specialists invitation english

Invitation to our specialists

Some reflections on the topic of my research: What is innovation anyway?

I spent a good chunk of time this summer trying to define the term “innovation.” While I didn’t come upon any answers that I felt passionate about, my search has helped me understand some of my own concerns regarding education and the role of “changemaking” in a fast-paced world, where technology is making big moves and potentials for scalability of projects are expanding exponentially.

After much deliberation, we decided to let each contributing specialist give his or her own definition of innovation when submitting their suggested projects. This way, we will also learn how people define this concept, and embrace the idea that there may simply not be an answer to this question. In my own research for this semester, I plan to reflect on my experiences, both at RISD and beyond, to understand how I have applied my own design background into projects that will make a difference in the world. Designers are at a critical point in the working world, as we are trained to navigate between spheres of communication. To me, using innovative approaches to communicate ideas, solutions or even just a thought is the best application of design toward making a difference. The key is understanding all the components, and finding the best means to pull the parts together, making everything accessible to the players involved.

Below are a few of the definitions I came upon:

Innovation is about finding a better way of doing something.[1] Innovation can be viewed as the application of better solutions that meet new requirements, in-articulated needs, or existing market needs.[2] This is accomplished through more effective products, processes, services, technologies, or ideas that are readily available to markets, governments and society. The term innovation can be defined as something original and, as a consequence, new, that “breaks into” the market or society. A definition consistent with these aspects would be the following: “An innovation is something original, new, and important in whatever field that breaks in to a market or society”.[3]

While something novel is often described as an innovation, in economics, management science, and other fields of practice and analysis it is generally considered a process that brings together various novel ideas in a way that they have an impact on society.

Innovation differs from invention in that innovation refers to the use of a better and, as a result, novel idea or method, whereas invention refers more directly to the creation of the idea or method itself.

Innovation differs from improvement in that innovation refers to the notion of doing something different rather than doing the same thing better.

I will continue to elaborate on my definition, but will allow it to happen organically. Afterall, the “lightbulb moment” is a glorious one, but the process is where the magic happens.


The danger of neonicotinoid insecticides

As I have been researching the potential causes of dwindling honeybee and wild bee populations, one name continues to rise to the top: Neonicotinoid insecticides. Neonicotinoids are a class of insecticides that affect the neuro-activity of insects. And, because of their lower toxicity to birds and mammals, have become the most popular insecticides in the world. The Neonicotinoid pesticide family is composed of acetamiprid, clothianidin, imidacloprid, nitenpyram, nithiazine, thiacloprid and thiamethoxam. Imidacloprid is currently the most widely used insecticide in the world.

IMG_1402 Imidicloprid

These insecticides can be used as a topical spray to already developed plants and can also be used as a treatment coating to seeds making the insecticide systemic. Systemic insecticides are particularly effective because the chemicals are bound up in the whole of the plant, meaning it exists in the roots, the leaves, the pollen and the nectar. Neonicotinoids are effective at killing pests right away, however, to honeybees and other pollinators, they are sub-lethal. They do not kill adult honeybees and are thus deemed “safe.” In a honeybee colony, though, these insecticides work on the superorganism as a whole, affectively sickening and ultimately killing subsequent generations. The methods used for testing efficacy and safety of these chemicals looks only at adult bees and though the evidence suggests these chemicals are harmful to bees, they are still used. These methods of testing are a huge part of the controversy around honeybees and Neonicotinoids. See this article for more.

At present, virtually all corn planted in the Midwest is treated with at least one form of Neonicotinoid insecticide. Additionally, many plants being sold at Home Depot, Lowe’s, Walmart and other big box stores have been treated with Neonicotinoids before being shipped off for sale to the public. There are currently no warning labels on plants that have been treated with these insecticides so consumers are unwittingly buying and cultivating plants that are detrimental to pollinating insects.

The danger of using insecticides is not only that non-targeted, beneficial insects (like honeybees) are often exposed and killed, but also how these insecticides interact with the ecosystem as a whole. As exemplified in her alarming Silent Spring, Rachel Carson writes about the impact chlorinated hydrocarbons (DDT, DDD) and organic phosphorus insecticides (malathion, parathion) have had on the predators of treated insects (birds and fish). Scores of dead or dying birds, fish, amphibians and small game were found in areas treated with these insecticides.   The animals had been eating the poisoned insects and were thus becoming poisoned as well.

Biological amplification or biomagnification is an extremely interesting phenomena. It is the process by which poisons or heavy metals move up the food chain. Little fish consume a bunch of insecticide laced mosquito eggs, a larger fish then eats a bunch of these little fish, still a larger fish eats these fish, an eagle or hawk eats the big fish and so on. As the animals are being consumed, the concentration of harmful material (insecticide for instance) is being concentrated. Many insecticides are fat-soluble and become stored in the adrenals, testes, thyroid, liver and kidneys. High accumulation of poison in these organs can ultimately lead to mutations in genes, sickness and death.

Through her work, Carson was able to bring broad public awareness of the environmental impact DDT was having. DDT has since been banned from agricultural use worldwide.

It does not seem coincidental that dwindling of bee populations of the last decade has coincided with the increased use of Neonicotinoid pesticides. In fact, earlier this month two of the largest Canadian honey companies filed a lawsuit against Bayer Cropscience Inc. and Syngenta Canada Inc. claiming negligence in “their design, manufacture, sale and distribution of neonicotinoid pesticides.”  READ ABOUT THE LAWSUIT HERE.  Though Bayer continues to claim the risk to bees from these pesticides is low, mounting evidence is claiming the opposite. This issue will surely continue as long as there is profit to be made. It is high time we look for safer alternatives for dealing with problem insects.




DC goes 3D

Mariya Sitnova
The 3D community in DC, while small, is rather mighty for several reasons. First, there are a lot of sources of content. There’s the museums, monuments, and well respected institutions (like the National Institutes of Health and NASA) that have a supply of objects to be 3D scanned or modeled. They range from historical artifacts, priceless works of art, to medical scans and protein models. Second, the community here is well aware that legally and ethically the world of 3D is new territory. I can see how designers and engineers may want to shy away from these types of conversations, but being surrounded with politics, the DC crowd tends to speak more candidly about the topic. The final reason is perhaps the compilation of the first two. The DC groups have a lot of spotlight on them because of their reputation and because they will set the precedent for further work in this area. I’ve loved getting to know so many people in this community and their work in the field over the summer. They were major sources of feedback and inspiration for my own projects.

The NIH 3D Print Exchange is an open source platform for sharing medical and biological 3D models.

Something I ran into often this summer were the legal implications of my work. Though I was in the early stages of prototyping when it came to 3D scanning and altering the scans, scaling these ideas would involve many murky legal waters. For example, if I were to 3D scan a statue in DC for the purposes of a historical lesson, there would be a few issues to think about. First, technically the Park Service is in charge of the statue so what is the appropriate way to give credit to them as well as the artist? Then, if I wanted to put the 3D scan online through something like – who owns this? The fine print is not always very clear. If I forgo thingiverse and post it myself on a website for the museum, then someone downloads it and puts it on, then who owns it now? Updates in copyright policy will need to take into consideration these types of new technology.

My colleague Corey Kilbane and I were experimenting with photogrammetry to 3D scan some of the museum objects on display.

One of the best experiences from this summer was attending a presentation by Michael Weinberg who is an advocate in the field of emerging technology. He compared the current world of 3D technology to online music sharing. After realizing that internet sharing was inevitable, the music industry created platforms like itunes where you could pay to download legally, turning a nuisance into profit. 3D scanning and printing technology were an inherently open source movement, but it has turned into something with profit potential that will likely follow a similar path. I was particularly intrigued by his advice of assuming everything you make will be 3D scanned. As a designer, I can appreciate the implicit advice to plan ahead for this, rather than retroactively trying to figure out where the laws can give me grounds for litigation.

Michael Weinberg presenting about copyright and 3D printing.

On that note, I’d like to challenge artists and designers to use this technology in their favor. I’m imagining sculptures that could take advantage of current 3D scanning limitations. The piece could have strategically placed reflective texture (which is where 3D scans usually falter) so that when you 3D scan it with your phone you get a completely new (and designed) experience from the virtual model. Digital media friends – get to it!

Today I toured the Multidisciplinary Simulation Center before I headed over to the PRC. At the Simulation Center I saw the Anatomage, which is a computer the size of a human body, where doctors can look at full body scans in different layers to identify problems. I also saw recreated patient rooms, recreated practice operating rooms, human like dummies, classrooms, and a dissection lab. It was incredible! The Simulation Center was designed to teach all hospital personnel how to handle any medical situation. Suprisingly, the arts had a rather large impact on the design of the rooms and the construction and design of the dummies. It was crucial that the patient actors, dummies, and surroundings looked just like how it looks in real life. I was shocked at how innovative the design elements were and how much creative problem solving played a part. Here is an image of a full body scan in the Anatomage-  so cool!


Afterwards, I went to the PRC for my last distraction session. Today I taught the block print project and everyone’s projects turned out really nice. Also, the patients gave me a parting gift, which was very unexpected! Everyone was very thankful and appreciative of my project, which was great to hear!

Although the testing period is over there is still so much to accomplish. I am working with the researcher to write the methodology section of the study and we hope to submit the study to be published in a medical journal. I also gave a presentation at Mayo and I am flying back to Jacksonville in April to show my work and present my project at the National Convention for the Global Alliance of Arts and Health. Although I am not completely finished, my project at Mayo Clinic Jacksonville has been an incredible opportunity and I have learned more than I ever imagined was possible in such a short time. It was truly a great experience.


I have almost completed my 9-week study! Over the past few weeks though, I ended up having to take an IRB test on the Mayo campus. I received a certificate of completion for passing the Human Subjects Protection Test. The test was required of all personnel engaged in IRB research studies. The test covered topics including the world history of human subject testing, codes and regulations involved with human testing, informed consent procedure, legalities, risk and benefits, confidentiality, Internal Review Board procedures (IRB), and the ethics in Human Subject testing. Until now, I had no idea about all of the laws and regulations governing research!

Additionally, I had a number of meetings to discuss why and how my project at Mayo Jacksonville should be shared with the public community and the logistics behind that. Not only could my research project highlight the program in the PRC as well as the Lyndra P. Daniel Center for Humanities and Medicine, but it could possibly help attract patients and increase knowledge about the Mayo Clinic. Additionally, it could help promote the overlap between art and science. The logistics behind blogging, sharing certain information, and deciding how to share it, has been quite a learning experience. For Mayo, as in other businesses, they take public relations very seriously. If told correctly, patient and hospital related stories could increase donations to fund programs, such as creative distraction therapy. It could also increase awareness of patient satisfaction, and alternative or additional care techniques. Although this sort of thing is not my forte, it was great to meet with people who wanted to share my project with the possibility of promoting the idea of arts in medicine, as well as the work of the PRC.

I have also been working on my own body of work inspired by my project. I have mainly been thinking about and using the same techniques taught to the patients. For example, while making my own artwork, I have tried to actively focus on the present and I have tried not to worry about the result. In addition, I have incorporated many aesthetic processes to complete a single piece. With any luck my own artwork will be finished soon and I can compile the data from my research project!  Here is one piece in progress:



Hi again,

In addition to doing my research study with patients in the PRC, I have been able to participate in a variety of other arts and medicine projects initiated by the Lyndra P. Daniel Center for Humanities and Medicine. For example, I was able to participate in the Humanities for the Physician Program at The Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens. While there is a tremendous amount of training, education, and money spent on doctors, it is in the best interest of Mayo to make sure their employees are healthy, happy, and continually performing at a high level. Thus, this program was initiated to help doctors and residents not just manage stress but to increase interpersonal and communication skills, professionalism, the quality of patient care, and their own medical knowledge. This program has also proven to prevent ‘burn out ‘ in the long run. The program consists of taking small groups of residents to The Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens with an attending physician. We had lunch and then went into a gallery. The attending physician spoke about his personal experience of dealing with stress and led a meditation technique. They then were given a gallery talk of a temporary exhibit, followed by an interactive, reflective writing exercise inspired by the photos viewed in the exhibit. The program also includes viewing and discussing other exhibits. It was amazing how such a simple outing could have such a huge impact.

I was also able to participate in another Lyndra P. Daniel Center for Humanities and Medicine program, ‘Connect at The Cummer: Art for Alzheimers’ at The Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens. The program is modeled after similar programs at MoMA, the Met, Art Institute of Chicago and other major cultural institutions. It’s the only program of its kind in the region. For this program, about 10 Alzheimer’s patients and their caregivers met at the museum and discussed a few paintings for about thirty minutes each. The discussions were led by a museum staff member. This program provided relief for the caregivers in addition to the patients. It gave the caregivers, who are often the spouse of the Alzheimer’s patient, a way to interact with their significant other, without discussing the treatment plan, the illness, or any other medical issues. I found this program to be exceedingly therapeutic and everyone involved really loved it.

Another program I participated in was the Strong Box project for a stroke support group. This took place at the Clinic and we administered a project called ‘the Strong Box’ for patients and family members who have had a stroke. The ‘Strong Box’ project consists of the patient writing positive attributes about themselves in white crayon on two pieces of paper, the patients then watercolors over the crayon, and the crayon shows through. They then fold both pieces of paper to construct a box with a lid. Inside the box, patients are encouraged to place tiny pieces of papers with their personal stressors written down. Everyone really enjoyed it and it seemed like it gave some needed stress relief to families and patients.

Before coming to Mayo, I had no idea how much the arts were integrated into healthcare. On the one hand being on campus, you are constantly aware of how sick people can become and how stressful it is both for the patients, but also for family members, doctors, and other health care professionals. Patients and families are often at the Clinic day after day, all day long for weeks. As an artist, not only did I quickly realize how important the visual surroundings of the environment are, but I began to realize how therapeutic some of these simple creative exercises could be. Additionally while doing my research study, I have come to notice that not only is there a physiological impact of creative processes on the body, but I have come to believe that measuring the physiological benefits of creative distraction methods will become increasingly important. Also, as a fine artist, I see this as a possible avenue of employment that I had not previously considered.


Hi Everyone,

With the help of Chrys, Dr. Kurklinsky, and Dr. Sletten, so far we have ironed out the details of the experiment and we have administered 6 of the 9 projects. The process of figuring out which creative exercises would be most beneficial to the patients’ needs was much more difficult than I anticipated! For starters, everyone had to be able to complete each project in 45 minutes. The projects needed to be easily administered with little mess and cleanup. Additionally, we wanted to think of projects that could be financially sustainable for the long term. Lastly, and most importantly, everyone needed to be able to succeed at every project, enjoy the process, and feel that it was meaningful. So all in all, it was quite a challenge! Over the last few weeks my supervisor and I brainstormed, and performed trial projects.

One project we came up with is what we called the ‘Rotation Project’. For this project, we gave each patient a piece of paper and a triangular stencil. We also gave each patient a particular tool; whether it was watercolor, pen, collage materials, pastels, etc. We then set the timer to 4 minutes and the patients then had 4 minutes to work on their paper. After the 4 minutes they passed their paper to the left and their supplies to the right. For this project there were many things to consider –

  • It was necessary to give a definite starting point, so providing a stencil seemed like a simple and easy place to start. We found that asking patients to just start on a blank piece of paper proved to be very stressful.
  • We wanted to emphasize the idea of ‘process’ rather than end product. It was important that there was no expectation of a successfully completed project, so the patient could not fail. Also, if they were focused on the process, they were more apt to be focusing on the present moment rather than the past or future.
  • We hoped the project would force patients to focus less on their own stressors, and their own pain and focus more on other people’s artwork, think about what other people are making, or how they might make things differently than they would. We wanted the project to encourage the idea of the ‘collective’ rather than an intense insular focus on their self.
  • We created a gallery in the conference room where the patients meet, so this project is something the patients left in the gallery even after they finished the 3 week program.

Overall, there was a large age range amongst the patients and additionally, everyone came from a wide range of backgrounds, so this sort of collaborative project was fun to do. Initially, everyone was very outwardly upset by the idea of passing around his or her artwork. The idea of working on someone else’s art seemed to be equally antagonizing and the process of physically passing everything left and right seemed to be challenging. Some people also complained because they found certain mediums more antagonizing than others and wanted to keep certain tools rather than passing them around. However, after about two rotations into the project, the patients began to interact with each other about their artwork. They remarked how horrible their project looked and how rushed they felt, but eventually each patient laughed about it, and teased others about their artwork. Consistently, by the end of the project, everyone’s paper looked pretty great and all of the patients were amazed and satisfied. No one felt as if they failed and they had been successfully distracted for 45 minutes. For these patients 45 minutes of relief can make a big difference. The hope is that the patients might return to some of the projects that we came up with, so I tried to emphasize how they could do this rotation project with just one other person, or with a simple doodle. Additionally, I tried to point out famous artists whose artwork is primarily processed based and how well respected their work is in the art world. One patient later told me how much they appreciated this project specifically, because it made them feel like they could really let go and relax. Here is an example:




I am in Jacksonville, FL and my project is up and running at Mayo Clinic! I am working with the Lyndra P. Daniel Center for Humanities and Medicine in Florida, to conduct an Internal Review Board (IRB) approved research study to determine whether or not there is a correlation between creative expression and pain and stress management. Typically, the center’s programs, educational activities, and research in the medical humanities serve patients, families, employees, and the larger community promoting the compassionate delivery of healthcare. However, for my project we were also hoping to have measurable data to determine whether or not administering art projects to patients in the Pain Rehabilitation Center (PRC) is beneficial.

The patients I work with are part of an intensive 3-week outpatient program in the PRC focused on providing multidisciplinary rehabilitative therapy to patients with chronic pain with the goal of improving quality of life and facilitating a return to regular daily activities. Typically, the patients admitted have tried everything and this program is their last resort. Overall, the program is focused on functional restoration. A cognitive-behavioral model serves as the basis for the treatment and incorporates physical reconditioning, biofeedback, and relaxation training, stress management, chemical health education, activity moderation, and cognitive restructuring to decrease pain catastrophizing and pain anxiety. Throughout the 3-week program, various types of treatment and therapies are presented to help each patient achieve individualized goals in returning to an active and fulfilling life. The art making session is part of the ‘distraction’ session three times a week.

In the first few weeks of June I met with my supervisor Chrys Yates, who is the program coordinator of the Lyndra P. Daniel Center of Humanities in Medicine in Florida. We first discussed possible art projects and logistics. We were also able to have a productive meeting with the director of the PRC, Dr. Christopher Sletten, and Dr. Svetlana Kurklinsky, the research fellow helping me with the study. We discussed the intricacies of our experiment and possible ways to test how visual art making can impact pain capacity and overall stress levels. Dr. Sletten and Dr. Kurklinsky thought it best that we administer a daily standardized survey to each patient before the art project and after the art project to determine a change in stress level. So far it has been a good start!