Blog Post: On the wings of change: Carrying Wishes from the Community

May 10, 2023

By Cordelia Snowdon-Lawley


Megan Davidson, a MRU Criminal Justice student and 2022-2023 Catamount Fellow, shares her experience conveying a community's wishes on canvas. 



Although it had been years since she picked up a paintbrush, Megan Davidson was inspired to try an ambitious project to represent her learning in the Catamount Fellowship. Each fellow is asked to submit a creative work, limited solely by their imagination, that stretches them beyond the more familiar area of academic writing and research.


Megan has been working with Susan Brooke and Diane Tan, community partners from United Way of Calgary and Area, and Jocelyn Rempel, faculty mentor in Nursing, to explore how we might create space for grassroots, community-led approaches in Calgary’s larger systems of care. While Megan’s scholarly report, Outgrowing the Flowerpot, is a robust analysis into the system of care and grassroots efforts, Megan wanted to create an inspirational physical representation of wishes in her creative work. 


“The inspiration for the painting came from many stories and conversations in the community. Many folks discussed their ideas of what they wished. The concept of a wish stuck with me, and I began to explore different ways to show community wishes.”


Inspired by the Native American legend about wishing on a butterfly, Megan made delicate paper butterflies that would carry the wishes of those working to create better spaces for grassroots groups. She evoked feelings of home and carrying the wishes across the Calgary landscape through the imagery of a mountainous backdrop.


Her painting, On the wings of change, embodies her approach to changemaking: “I am defined not just through my academic work but also by the smile on my friend’s face when she conquers her thesis and the laughter I hear when my partner sees me dancing with our cats. I am distinguished as a changemaker by the little sparks of joy and goodness that are created every day in the people around me – making ripples in the world.”


OnTheWingsOfChangeCloseUp.png[image description: delicate pink and gold paper butterflies attached to a painted canvas]


Focusing on wishes and our hopes and dreams for systems of care gave those connected to Megan’s project a chance to embrace optimism, an important practice when facing colossal systems which seem so resistant to change. The process of making the painting also pushed Megan to remain resilient in the face of challenges. Without feeling empowered, she never would have had the courage to try. Then, during the sealing process, “the paint started to dissolve off the canvas. I had to recreate the painting and start again after the initial 8-hour painting session.”


When asked what she wished people knew about her research topic, Megan highlighted the immense value grassroots groups provide to our communities. “We generally see grassroots groups ‘filling the gaps,’ and yet they are integral to our society and our communities. Grassroots groups are everywhere, from community fridges to the Facebook page set up to help your elderly neighbour down the street shovel their sidewalk in the snow and everything in between. Without these groups, we would see communities suffer and individuals be lost in the system.”


A key aspect of Catamount is engaging with community, and going beyond research “brought the system to life” for Megan. Catamount Fellows are not only encouraged to meet with a range of individuals and groups connected with the systemic issue being researched, but also to host a larger community conversation to gain a deeper appreciation for the stories and experiences of the community.


“As a criminal justice student, much of the research that we focus on is about the saddest aspects of society and helping those folks who needed support long before they came into contact with the justice system. Very rarely do we get the opportunity to use the words ‘empower’ or ‘create space.’ The Catamount Fellowship was my opportunity to use the skills that I have learned through my degree and do something that empowered amazing individuals and helped society in a wholesome way while learning how to take systems thinking and changemaking into criminology and continue to create these sparks of goodness.”


Megan has just completed her final year of a Criminal Justice (Honours) degree and is working towards her master’s degree and Phd to become a university faculty member. Her goal is to expand her research skills to be able to mentor students and to exemplify the great professors and mentors she has had throughout her education and pass on the knowledge and excitement of learning to others. We wish Megan and our amazing 2022-2023 cohort of Catamount Fellows the best in the next steps on their journey!


Applications for the 2023/2024 Fellowship cohort will open in Summer 2023. Students who are interested in applying can contact Barb Davies, for more information.