Tom Dalton is an artist and arts worker at Mayfield Arts Centre, Cork. The arts centre is a unique, dedicated arts space based in the heart of Mayfield in Cork city, at Newbury House Family Centre. Mayfield Arts provides opportunities for participants to connect, learn, reflect and act through creative processes. It is an example of best practice in the fields of community arts, social inclusion, non-formal and community education. Mayfield Arts develops, manages and delivers arts programmes, training and education in consultation with the local community and provides access to art activities and processes that facilitate personal and community development to people of all abilities. A graduate of CIT Crawford College of Art and Design, Tom’s role in the arts centre is to support the artistic and creative development of the Cúig studio artists through individual and group mentoring. Cúig artists are five artists in supported studios in Mayfield Arts Centre. The Cúig project, supported by POBAL, has been running at Mayfield Arts Centre since 2008, and is the only supported studio of its kind in the country. Tom also coordinates and facilitates outreach projects to school and community groups throughout the city.
‘Parting Memories’: St. Patrick’s Girls National School Mural
Making the move from Primary to Secondary School can be a big deal. In 6th class you’re the big fish in the pond – you know the school like the back of your hand, younger kids look up to you and you have mastery of your environment. When I meet the 6th Class year group of at St. Patrick’s Girls National School, Gardiners Hill, the countdown to the end of the school year is underway. There is a buzz in the air – mostly of excitement, but with a little trepidation stirred in also. As eager the girls are to be approaching summer holidays there is an understanding that this is the last few weeks of their time within the walls of the school. The girls will surely miss this place – the colourful hallways, the sounds of the playground, the generosity of their teachers, the friendships they’ve formed. While many of the girls will continue on with their education just a short hop across the yard at St Patrick’s College, others are enrolled in other schools across the city – It’s the last few weeks they will all be together as a group.
Principal of St. Patrick’s Girls National School, Mrs Eileen Kelly, got in touch with us at Mayfield Arts to help devise an art project that would engage the 6th class girls creatively in this time of transition in their lives. There is a strong ethos of the holistic development of all children in St. Patrick’s Girls National School; ‘Our school is a happy, active, safe environment where we include, encourage and respect each other.’
Mrs Kelly wished to involve her students in something that would pay tribute to those ‘pupils and staff who have passed through our school, each making a difference.’ Mrs Kelly led me to a light filled corridor in the school and proposed it as the site of our project.
‘Parting Memories’ is a three dimensional wall mural composed of hundreds of origami butterflies individually created by the girls. A key motivation in designing the project was to provide an opportunity for reflection on time spent in the school; to recall, recount and visualize shared memories. It was hoped that this process of shared reflection on time spent together could make this time of change smoother for the girls; the process of remembering acting like a talisman for the crossing into the next phase of their lives.
Arts workers Wayne Ford and I, with support from Cuig artists Ailbhe Barrett and Bríd Heffernan made four trips to the school over the month of May, conducting workshops with Ms Dunne and Ms Conran’s classes of twenty five students. Each student was asked to design and make two little paper butterflies. Each butterfly contains a memory between its folds – this could be a story, a memory or a wish for the future.
Origami can take a bit of time to get the hang of. Some of the girls mastered the butterfly shapes quickly, while others took more time. Once one or two had gotten the hang of things it was lovely to see the girls offer help to others in the group. The learning of this new skill spread and soon the tables and floor were scattered with little paper butterflies.
Once the technique was learned, each person was handed two squares of thick paper – one lined in either blue or red, reminiscent of copy book paper, the other blank. Instructions were simple; on the lined paper the girls were asked to recount a story or memory from school. Students were encouraged to ‘write outside the lines’, incorporating the lines of the page into their designs. Some stories spiralled through the lines, others fanned out in multiple directions. Once folded into shape the lines of the paper form geometric patterns, with the stories and memories tucked up inside.
On the second sheet the girls had free reign in visualising a memory from the past six years. Some of the work represented their involvement in school activities such as sport, drama and science, others depicted the forming of friendships, the natural surrounding the school or patterned abstraction. Once completed each butterfly was coated in a hardening medium and affixed to the wall. The installation resembles butterflies taking flight, symbolising the girl’s departure from the school – flocking together, yet moving on their own path through life.
The mural was kindly opened by Micheál Martin TD during a visit to the school in June. He told the girls that the mural reminded him that art is for everybody and is a reminder that it is the individuality of each of the girls that makes the school so special.
The real magic in this project for me is in witnessing what emerges when people are provided with time and space for reflection and exploration. There was a hum of conversation throughout the workshops as the girls drew out stories from one another. The success of the mural lies in the collective; the coming together of individual parts to make a whole. Mrs Kelly tells me that ‘every time I look at the mural a new butterfly stands out’. I think that’s lovely.
This project was generously funded by St. Patrick’s Girls National School, Gardiner’s Hill.
Mayfield Arts would like to thank principal Mrs Kelly, and teachers Ms Conran and Ms Dunne for their support during this project.