CoBrA: Community Brain Art Initiative

Co-creating brain health promotion with the Downtown Eastside community

Brain disorders are underappreciated, modifiable drivers of daily cognitive and functional challenges. Our team’s research includes the ten-year observational Hotel Study, which engages Downtown Eastside (DTES) residents affected by precarious housing, and has found high rates of traumatic brain injury, stroke, and mental illness. To engage the community during the COVID-19 pandemic, innovative knowledge dissemination activities are needed. CoBrA (Community Brain Art) is a three-part decentralized initiative co-created with residents, care providers and researchers in the DTES. The purpose of CoBrA is to share local brain health research and community resources with DTES residents and care providers.

Projects In-Progress


To convey Hotel Study research findings in written form, we are summarizing key findings into single-page infographics designed to be distributed throughout the community. Our goal is to create infographics for various audiences.

To date, we have created an infographic targeted for clinicians and other allied healthcare providers on things to keep in mind when caring for individuals experiencing homelessness (see below).

Graphic design by Fuselight Creative

Click here to download a PDF of the Hotel Study Infographic for Clinicians


Community Art Sessions

To share Hotel Study findings with community members, we host group art sessions are where residents of the DTES come together to create visual art and engage in conversations about brain health guided by prepared prompts. Art supplies and food are provided.

Our first session was on December 7th, 2021, at the Portland Hotel, and we welcomed over 20 participants throughout the course of the 3-hour drop-in session. To prepare for the session, the planning and facilitation of the session was done with a counselling psychologist, social worker, and community member with experience in the DTES.

Since then, we have returned to the Portland Hotel for a second session, as well as also held sessions at Station Street Hotel and Irving Hotel.

Permission was given to post these pictures.


Public Mural

Themes that emerged from the conversations during the community art sessions included the connection between childhood experiences and adult mental health, and challenges in getting enough sleep and nutrition. Needing a sense of safety and community were also brought up as important to wellness. In collaboration with local artist Jesse Gouchey and PHS Community Services Society staff, we co-created a public mural to convey some of these ideas.

This mural, painted by Jesse Gouchey, is currently on a wall inside the Irving Hotel of PHS. See below for a description of the design.


Title of mural: Pimohtêhon (definition: passage, travel through life)

We invite you to reflect on your own experience of brain health. How do you work to maintain your wellness? How has your life journey affected your brain health today? 

Many folks experience health challenges and circumstances that can happen all at once, making maintaining wellness even harder. In the face of brain injury such as stroke, seizures, and concussion, folks may experience difficulty thinking clearly, low mood, and doing daily activities. These brain injuries are often difficult to see or explain. You are not alone if you are experiencing these challenges. Speak with your building staff for health resources and ways to seek support. 

Maintaining brain wellness is an ongoing process across the lifespan. As part of the journey toward healing and maintaining wellness, building relationships with one’s health care team, community, and culture are important. 

From the artist:

In the Cree culture, all our lives, motions and journeys are represented in the four directions of the Medicine Wheel. These four parts for human beings are the spiritual, physical, emotional and mental aspects of the self. In order to function in good mental health, we aim to balance these four parts that were given to us. 


Our journey starts in the East, represented by the woman spirit coming from the east, where the sun rises. The spirit of women brings that warmth and life into the home.


In this part of our journey, we are young. The young are very active beings, continuously moving, changing ourselves, even their moods, as we grow and develop.


The West is the time of adulthood, of responsibility. It’s also the parenting stage of your life journey when you have that bond with the child in the eastern direction.


We finish our journeys as older people in the Northern direction – which is the mental part of our journey when we’re able to stop and think, and look at our journeys and foresee the journeys of our people. Now we are sort of the thinking part of the community, of the family. We are the ones that make decisions for families—the Elders. And in this place we pass knowledge to our youth who are looking to us from the south.


Artist: Jesse Gouchey, owner of Maskwa Murals, is an award-winning Métis Cree painter, muralist, animator and filmmaker who lives and works on the traditional, ancestral and unceded Coast Salish territories of the Sḵwx̱wú7mesh, Tsleil-Waututh and Musqueam Nations, commonly known as Vancouver. Jesse is a descendant of the Papaschase First Nation near Edmonton, Alberta.


Links to Select Resources


Three Bridges Community Health Centre – 1128 Hornby St (

Downtown Community Health Centre – 569 Powell St (

Pender Community Health Centre – 59 Pender St (

Providence Crosstown Clinic – 84 West Hastings St (

Housing and Social Support

Portland Hotel Society (

Coast Mental Health (

Lookout Housing + Health Society (

Foundry BC – for youth (

Covenant House Vancouver – for youth (

Directions Youth Services – for youth (

Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre (


Downtown Eastside Centre for the Arts (

Gallery Gachet (

Brain Health

Parachute Canada information about Concussions:

Vancouver Coastal Health information sheet on Mild Brain Injury: Click here for PDF

Vancouver Coastal Health information sheet on Drug and Alcohol Use with Traumatic Brain Injury: Click here for PDF

Fraser Health information sheet on Head Injury (Adults): Click here for PDF

Fraser Health information sheet on Concussion (Adults): Click here for PDF

Fraser Health information sheet on Understanding Acquired Brain Injury: Click here for PDF

Fraser Health information sheet on Understanding Cognition: Click here for PDF