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Discussion led our project

On our first face to face session with our artist, we had a discussion about nature and mainly the bog. We learned about sphagnum moss. Sphagnum moss is good for the environment as it gives us oxygen. From this discussion on our project became focused on nature

Tunde gave us a booklet which we would add to throughout the project.  In this booklet, we drew our favourite nature place or thing. Many of the children drew woods, forests, trees, rivers, campsites and waterfalls. In this session we encountered our first difficulty by not being allowed to use rubbers. This was tricky as if you made a mistake you couldn’t rub out, so you would have to draw over it or turn it into something different.

 

After we drew our nature places, we wrote 3 words to describe this nature place.

We had a discussion about nature in danger. Sadly we were able to think of lots of places and things in nature which were in danger or in trouble.

Some of our ideas were:





We drew a picture of nature in danger in our booklet. We then chose and wrote three words describing our drawings.

We made nature in danger posters. We used our persuasive writing skills to try and convince people to save our nature places and things.

We liked making our nature booklets as we got to choose what we drew. It was fun to colour and draw in the booklets.

Post by Caoimhe, Igor and Fabian

Nature in Danger Poster - Third Class Pupils, Scoil Mhichil Naofa, Co. Kildare

 

The beginning…

Our project started in March during lockdown. We met our artist Tunde for the first time online. We did two sessions on video call on Google Classroom. Tunde showed us examples of her work and we came up with some ideas of what we might like to do in our project.

We completed our first art task at home. We drew a map of a place when we were at home. Some children drew real maps and some drew imaginary maps. Some ideas include : A map of school, A fairytale map, Memory map of a holiday in Czech, Inside a house, Japan, France, A layout of a ship.


When we got back to school we continued our project in person. We looked at real maps of counties, towns, places, countries. We looked at different symbols on the maps and tried to figure out what they represented. We listed all of our findings on the board.

We drew a map showing our journeys from home to school. We taped a long strip of white paper to our desk. The paper was cash register roll normally used for receipts. We had to draw everything we saw on our way to school. We choose three colours and we only coloured the things on the map which contained those colours. We recorded the sounds that we heard on our journey to school on our map by drawing symbols. We did the same thing for our other senses, what we smelled, touched and tasted.

We enjoyed using lots and lots of long receipt paper. We loved adding our senses to the map as this was something we had not done before.  We found this tricky at the beginning because we had to try and remember what we experienced each time but we figured it out.

Post By Noelle, Megan and Linards


 

 

 

And Now….?

The unforeseen adventures that were created by being forced to re-invent, re-imagine, to find ways to re-connect with our audiences at this time of distance and disconnection had a profound impact on me.

It became clear that, for some of our audience, taking shows directly to where they are, taking the flexibility of the shows to a whole new level was what really worked for them.

So this year, inspired by that adventure and that discovery, I’m making a new show called SWEET DREAMS ARE MADE OF THIS that can play anywhere. A garden, around a hospital bed, outside a school, in a hospice – wherever makes most sense of our audience. It’ll be a tiny intimate show with just two performers, a gentle magical soundtrack and two gorgeous costumes created by leading Irish fashion designer, Rebecca Marsden who works with responsive wearable tech fashion – costumes that light up with the connection we make with our audience, costumes that transform an ordinary space into an extraordinary moment. The development is funded by Wicklow Arts Office and will happen this July and September in creative consultation with St Catherine’s School, County Wicklow families and with St Catherine’s Hospice, hopefully leading to a longer tour next year to my national Network For Extraordinary Audiences.

And right now, we’re on week 3 of an 8 week tour of GROOVE – a chilled out 70’s inspired happening for children and young people with complex needs, full of immersive video and live harmony singing. In masks of course.

It’s a wonderful co-incidence that for GROOVE (conceived in 2019 so well pre-pandemic) that there’s such an overwhelming visual element – even with one side of the tent missing in order to allow sufficient ventilation – the combination of the immersive video art and the live singing to a hypnotic soundtrack is so rich and all around that it has an energy and a presence that, whilst not replacing the usual tactile offers that we might make, has a welcome viscerality.

I’ve been describing GROOVE as a happening – I remember reading the definition of a 60’s/70’s happening – in broad terms it’s about an environment being created and then what happens is totally dependent on who comes and what they bring.  That’s the space and the adventure that I wanted to create with my audience for GROOVE.

I hardly dare hope that we’ll make it through all of the 8 weeks all over the country.  I’m grateful for each day and for the incredible welcome that the schools have given and are continuing to give us in what must be the hardest year they’ve ever had.    They truly are extraordinary audiences.

Throughout these last 18 months, the power of human connection has continued to be my lodestar and it, and my audiences, keeps me putting one foot in front of the other as we move forward as best we can.

Respond. Re-Imagine. Re-Connect.

The next chapter of my theatre adventures last summer was a re-imagining (or in fact three different re-imaginings) of my show SING ME TO THE SEA – created in 2018, SING ME TO THE SEA is a blissful watery adventure for children & young people with complex needs full of harmony singing, tiny waterfalls, shiny globes and rainbow fish that was created to be performed in hydropools with 3 performers and three audience members, each with an adult companion – with everyone in the water! [https://www.annanewell.ie/work/sing-me-to-the-sea/}

I’ve always said that the heart of my work is that it is flexible, that it is responsive, that it is nuanced moment by moment by our audience.  And in Summer 2020, I had to really walk the walk with that one and take that flexibility and responsiveness to a whole new level.

So, with huge support (and flexibility!) from our funders and venue partners, we created a dry-land at-home version of the show.  And we hired a campervan.  For three weeks in August 2020, we drove around Dublin, Meath, Carlow and Wicklow, taking the show directly to families in their own gardens and driveways.  We sang in the rain, we were stared at by milkmen, curious neighbour children gathered – and we were given the extraordinary opportunity to connect with our audiences where they were.

Later in the summer, we took this dry-land version to Baboró International Festival and performed the show in the magical setting of the gardens of the Ardilaun Hotel.  And although they were only a few weeks into what must have been the hardest term of their lives, the special schools came in their droves – not only did we sell out the schools’ performances but we had to add more!

And, then, astonishingly, the wonderful pool staff at St Gabriel’s School & Centre called us up and said they’d like to give it a go.  So, singing in masks and visors and working within AquaPhysio Guidelines, we were back in the water.

The unforseen adventures that were created by being forced to re-invent, re-imagine, to find ways to re-connect with our audiences at this time of distance and disconnection had a profound impact on me.

And it inspired a whole new show for 2021.  More of that in my final blog…

How Spiderman Inspired Me Last Summer

In 2019 (which now feels like a decade ago), I made a new show for early years audiences called BigKidLittleKid.  It’s a wordless physical theatre piece for ages 3-6 years about the complicated world of sibling rivalry.  It opened at The Ark for Dublin Theatre Festival and toured to the Mermaid, the Civic and Draiocht.

Through the summer of 2020, I grew surer and surer about my commitment to finding a way to keep a live connection with my very particular audiences.

During what had become my weekly check-in with my wee brother, he was talking about some guy somewhere in England who’d dressed up as Spiderman and spidey-ed his way through his local streets to the utter delight of the children forced to stay at home in these first shut-in weeks of the first lockdown.

I’ve always been interested in making the ordinary extraordinary and believe that if you can literally change the landscape, you make visible the possibility of change and of hope.

So I hatched a plan.

Thanks to the Ready Steady Show programme run by my main producing partner the Civic, a wee pot of money was found to create a PopUp Play version of BigKidLittleKid which we played on a tennis court outside a summer camp, in a massive hall inside another summer camp and outside a nursery.

My favourite picture of the whole summer was the picture of the one pod sitting watching the extraordinary adventure that unfolded in their tiny playground with the second pod who weren’t allowed to share the same space as them, determinedly pressing their noses against the window intently watching the entire show.

For us as artists, being out there with our audiences again, hearing that very particular laughter of children delighted with a new story, a new connection, was extraordinary.  Our hearts soared and I’d be lying if I said we didn’t shed a tear or two of hard-won joy and hope.

 

What. How. Why.

I remember really vividly where I was on 12th March 2020. I was visiting the cast at the end of their 3rd week of a 10 week tour of my show for babies ‘I AM BABA’ and our tiny gorgeous tent was set up in a rather grand hotel ballroom in Trim. We came out of the third show to the news of the announcement of lockdown. We threw the set and costumes back in my storage facility without masses of care – as we knew it was only going to be a couple of weeks.

I know.

For the next 2 months, I was lost, desperately trying to think what to do and how to do it.

And then I worked out that it wasn’t about the what or the how but rather about the why.

When creating ‘BLISS’, the first show I made specifically for audiences of children with complex needs, I was doing some creative consultation in a classroom and over the course of these few days these children revealed to me what I think theatre is – one human being connecting with another. That’s it. And that my job is to create the optimum conditions for that connection.

And for my audiences, the optimum conditions overwhelmingly are that it’s a live experience.

The work has always had at its very heart the live responsive connection and an inherent and crucial ability to nuance and change from moment to moment.  And I realised what I had to do was to take this built-in flexibility to a whole new level…

Thanks to the incredible support of funders, venues, audiences and artists and more than a little bit of luck, I managed to tour work live for 8 weeks in the summer, autumn and winter of 2020.

And in my next couple of blogs, I’ll tell you the how and the what.

 

Growing during Closing

October, falling leaves and creeping numbers. It was a month of growing in a season of closing. My colleague Ciara Heffernan led our school approach to Creative Clusters within our theme, Connecting and Reconnecting. This creative collaboration between Cluster Schools is an exciting new dimension to our arts programme. The extension of the Creative Schools programme with Associate Gabi McGrath has enabled us to develop creative partnerships with artists from a range of different disciplines. Early Years Music Specialist Nuala Kelly returned to complete a partnership with Mrs. Cushen and Ms. Heffernan, while a range of classes from Junior Infants to 2nd Class will work with multidisciplinary fine artist Francesca Hutchinson, dancer and visual artist Kate Wilson and storyteller Thomas McCarthy. It is a privilege to work with and support artists in the current climate.

Teacher Artist Partnership would like to wish all our summer course participants well as they engage in their TAP residency and we look forward to sharing in the work. Our Design Tutor Team are extremely proud of the work and achievements of our National TAP Coordinator Dr. Katie Sweeney, Tralee Education Centre Director, Terry O Sullivan and Administrator Máire Vieux in securing Erasmus + funding to develop our programme on a European level with partner countries Serbia, Austria, Netherlands and Greece. Within this initiative our Design Team have been working on a series of mini-creative moments called Take Ten with TAP which we look forward to sharing with you soon…watch this space!

Thank you, Portal, for this space to share. Thank you, reader, for reading.

It’s lovely to do something with our hands, other than sanitise.

Returning to school felt different this year and the children were wonderful. They marched down hallways leaving parents at the gate, washed hands and met the new school measures with their best efforts to work together and keep each other safe. Our school leadership did everything in their power to make children, staff and parents feel as safe and comfortable as possible in school during these uncertain times.

However, and undeniably, Covid 19 has disrupted the familiar flow of school rhythms by adding its own disjointed systems of distancing, washing and vigilance. But the primary focus of our work remains as it has always been, to meet the deepest needs of the children in our care through education and with love. From lower numbers of referrals to Tusla, to a decline in educational attainment for some children, school closures have had a detrimental effect. In my reopening, arts-based learning and the role of embodiment has been crucial to connecting mind, body, and spirit in the classroom. This is especially relevant in Infants, where the teacher’s physical proximity and comfort of touch has been severely limited.

Teaching is about listening, to the body and the words. This September, children have been communicating. From a child who needs to run at full tilt for an entire PE lesson, to a quiet daily request “Teacher, will you read us a story?”. Though I always do, the request is about reassurance and meeting a need. In the absence of a hug or handhold, I have looked to the arts to affirm the place of comfort, grounding, and reassurance. We have used music, dance, visual arts, yoga, stories and meditation, concentrating on the sensory nature of experiences, objects and materials. Twisting, cutting, playing, pasting, moving and focusing, it has been lovely to do something with our hands other than sanitise.

Image copyright: Jennifer Buggie

“I believe that two lines of poetry can save a life”, Paula Meehan 

As a teenager my wonderful English teacher Ms. Meade guided us with heart and skill through the Leaving Certificate poetry curriculum. In subsequent college years, the melancholy, timeless glory of John Keats poems gave solace, comfort, and a lexicon of poetic potential to my growing adult mind and experience. In fact, his anthology became a strange amalgam of thoughts, diary, and scrap book throughout my college years.

Just before Laois went into lockdown, I had the deep, nostalgic pleasure of returning to a house on the coast built by a dear friend’s Grandfather. While standing in his beautifully eclectic functional cobbled kitchen, I listened to a John Bowman interview with John Hume, where he spoke of influential teachers in his young adult life and their impact on the man he became. My friend’s Grandpa passed away in my 3rd year at university. On return home to Stradbally, I found my Keats anthology and there with “On the Sea” was a dedication to Mr. Rafter, a man who shared his home and life perspective with a granddaughter’s friend. It was a powerful blend of comforting memory and poetry. The power and confluence of memory and art.

It packed a punch, because in June I had a miscarriage. Denise Blake, my TAP colleague, and friend introduced me to Paula Meehan’s a most wonderful phrase; “I believe that two lines of poetry can save a life” (www.irelandchairofpoetry.org; www.deniseblake.com). I never really thought poetry was for me, I certainly never expected to write a blog about it, but in June nothing else would fit. It helped. All the learning, loving, yearning, and feeling given by the poetry of others heaved my pain on to the page. John Keats never had a miscarriage, but he knew about loss. The poetry of others gives a window to their soul and a template to the lived human experience that sustains through sharing.

When we, teachers, artists, and humans, give arts-experiences and heartfelt connections, we can never know or ever fully document the possibility and power of that exchange. So, this blog stands in defence of, and to champion the unknowable outcome of arts education to a life being lived.

Becoming and Understanding Through Partnership…Teachers, Artists, Children

“Art is a fundamental human enterprise…In making art we make ourselves. In understanding art, we understand ourselves”

(Council of National Cultural Institutions, 2006)

A few years ago, Jane O’Hanlon from Poetry Ireland shared the quote above at a Teacher-Artist Partnership planning meeting. It nestled into my soul and over years bore unexpected fruit in unanticipated times. March 2020 was both unexpected and unanticipated.

As a Primary Teacher in Holy Family Junior School, Portlaoise I had been enjoying the roll-out of our 2nd year with Creative Schools, planning a Teacher-Artist Partnership (TAP) Residency with Senior School and visual artist Caroline Conway  and asking the Arts in Education Portal if I might blog the process.

Then…global pandemic.

Teaching and learning shoved online, Dojo launched, and Teams formed. Some school relationships wound tighter while others were jettisoned into the unknown…uncontactable, yet still loved and worried about. In the connected isolation of primary teaching in a pandemic, during the seismic refocusing of the Black Lives Movement, the personal and professional values that are lived through teaching felt more important that ever. In this context our TAP Design Team began to rewrite our summer training programme for delivery online.

TAP Online 2020 was controversial for us to commit to as a concept. We strive for a deeply creative, reflective and connecting style of professional learning that hinges on face-to-face interaction. Where we lost this in-room exchange for artists and teachers, we gained a most incredible, technicolour window into the creativity, emotionality, and deep-commitment of teaching professionals to working in artistic partnership with and for the children they teach. The artist-teacher partnerships of TAP 2020/21 will be led by our community to process pain, heal hearts, and build new identities through creativity, connection and love-in-the-arts for the children of Ireland.

“School should foster an environment that allows children access to explore their identity in the sanctuary of ART – I aim to do this in my classroom.” James O’Donnell TAP Participant 2020

Online collaborations, TAP’s new online course and ‘busting the myth of the solo artist’

I have been very lucky over the past weeks to have the company of two exceptional dancers, joining me virtually as part of my ongoing research, looping embodied movement and drawing practices. I have been surprised at the level of connection that is felt in these sessions despite the lack of real physical presence and the dodgy internet connections!

Taking time with discussions and reflections along with the moving, writing and drawing are essential parts of the research and perhaps it is this multiplicity of audio and visual modes that has helped to bridge the virtual gap.

Having this research alongside the Magnetise Project, ‘A call for Home’ has been mutually beneficial, with many cross overs emerging. The shift in dynamic from group to one to one has also brought important insights for my virtual platform collaborative practice.

Now that the last of the 360 cameral equipment for the project has finally arrived it is great to be at the stage of exploring this new potential for our collected video works and live interactions.

The last couple of weeks have also been busy ones for the TAP (Teacher Artist Partnership) design team. In particular, for the two members who took the helm and within a very short timeframe have created a fantastic online version of the TAP CPD summer course. Next week we will run the course in its online format for the first time. We are looking forward to the live aspects and forums, and to interacting and assisting participants on their journey through the modules. As part of the course I will host a live dance session mid week and was delighted have the opportunity recently to create a short video with one of my long term collaborators, artist Isolde Carmody. The video is a reflection on arts and diversity and will be featured in the course. Embracing diversity in arts and education, understanding the inherent collaborative nature of practice, and in Isolde’s words ‘busting the myth of the solo artist’, all feel as vital as ever to keep to the fore, in todays wider sociopolitical context.

Art is Life by Kate Wilson and Isolde Carmody

Finding rhythm in life and work and remembering John McGahern

Whilst the Magnetise project is blossoming online with added excitement about our first order for VR equipment this week and a new online project with RYCP just beginning, I am taking the opportunity granted by a slower pace to reflect on some of the fundamental shifts in my own life and practice.

Virtual Duets - March 2020

Virtual Duets – March 2020

I find it hard to think of a colleague who has not in recent years expressed a wish for more time, and perhaps particularly those of us that are both artists and parents.

Lately busy has looked very different for many of us. For me there has been no driving kids to school and later on to classes. No traveling to schools near or far for residencies, or to arts centres or arts offices for meetings. No trips to London for MA modules, and no trips to Glasgow to look at accommodation and courses with my eldest daughter. And whilst time seemed to expand in the first couple of weeks, recently it’s quickly filled with domestic and family time. Lunch has become an event rather than a sometimes forgotten extra. Baking bread all part of the reduced shopping trips and growing vegetables has presented itself as essential. Dealing with the new shifts and at times struggling to find the time I want for my practice it’s still a case of exploring where the balance lies.

These last weeks, I have a sense of returning to a forgotten rhythm. A working life here in the north west in the late 90’s, before family and before the Celtic Tiger. The rhythm and pattern of my days relating more to the season and weather than schools and institutions. Living and working simply, and taking inspiration from the land in a way that felt not unlike the surrounding local farmers, back before the boom.
I was commissioned by the council to paint John McGahern at that time. A beautiful and generous man, who gave up the best part of a week to sit in the small cow shed that was my studio, each day insisting on taking me out to lunch. In a documentary I watched sometime later he talked about how since returning to Leitrim his days were divided between writing and farming. Four hours writing in the morning was enough and then his time was with the land and the animals. In a sense an artist never really stops working and when I think of Mcgahern’s afternoons I think about how his work lived and breathed this land. I think about time to process and his afternoons being a focus and a contemplation. A focus I was finding at that time having left the big city for a rural existence. Perhaps now there is again opportunity to reconnect with the rhythm and pace of this beautiful land and from here come closer to our own patterns in life and work and the importance of balancing activity with contemplation whilst knowing it’s not necessarily about returning and but a reimagining of a way we’ve long known.

The Magnetise Project is currently highlighted on The Creative Ireland Programme website.

www.creativeireland.gov.ie/en/news/magnetise/

Frank is an Irish designer /cultural producer with an interest in film, the arts & architecture. His professional practice includes the design of buildings, & set design for film/television production. He holds a BA in Architecture, 2008 and a Professional Diploma in Architecture, 2012 both from London Metropolitan University. Prior to this he recieved a B.Des. in Production Design for Film/Television, from IADT. This background has informed his approach to practice, which is collaborative, interdisciplinary and site specific.Interested in the critical potential of design he established Architecture at the Edge in 2017, for which he devised and curated the events programme. He produced an outdoor installation, ‘Ghost Chapel’ for Galway International Arts Festival 2018 in collaboration with the Bartlett School of Architecture.

Growing our Connections – Blog 4

Having taught the National Architects in Schools Initiative for the past three years I find it can still be quite a daunting task when faced with a new group of students.

Many of the students don’t understand the value of their built environment because they have never seen the benefits it can offer them.

It’s difficult for students to learn without experiencing connections as to the concepts we teach them. This can be achieved through providing both context and relevance. Without that connection there is no interest, and interest always precedes meaningful and authentic learning. So it’s essential that we are making strong learning connections to help them develop the thinking habits they need to succeed.

Schools are comprised of the people in the community. Coming from outside it’s important to understand the community your students are a part of. Mountbellew is a quiet rural market town 45km from Galway on the N63 to Roscommon. Once the home of the Grattan-Bellew family, famous Galway parliamentarians during the 18th and 19th centuries. The former demesne is now a delightful wooded area of forest walks and picnic areas, filled with interesting historical items.

Upon my first visit to Mountbellew, whilst seeking out a connection to the place, I was drawn down an inviting avenue of beech trees where I was immediately taken by the sight of a 7m high wall, the enclosure to an extensive eighteenth century Walled Garden which was once part of the large Bellew estate.  For a century and a half this walled garden was used in the manner of all such Victorian/Edwardian gardens, although simply because of its size, more than household fruit and vegetables were probably grown.

I learned that the long term aim of the local heritage group here is to rejuvenate, conserve and develop the 18th century walled garden. Developing this existing heritage resource will provide a new amenity for the area. It will also complement other local heritage and recreation assets helping attract visitors to the area stimulating rural tourism.

From the outset I knew it was important to set a clear and engaging agenda with the students and so by way of introduction find something in their common experiences to which the lesson can be attached. Here in the walled garden is a space to explore, walk, discover and feel inspired by all it has to offer; a reminder that as times change natures story goes on. To function as a place to grow food, for pleasure and wellbeing.

Before we launched into making any propositions it was important to give time to the students and allow them articulate their ideas. Topics were selected for the students to share in groups. Investigation into the history and functions of various types of garden generated one starting point for beginning transformational change such as should its use be as a kitchen garden distinct from a decorative one. The many ways we experience gardens were discussed. The pleasure garden, the kitchen garden, the memorial garden and/or as a place to re-connect with nature. A presentation by the local heritage group committee members was followed the following week with a guided site visit.

In speculating on its potential one of the students reminded us that the parents of Anna Kriegel had planted a white cherry blossom at her favorite spot and unveiled a bench which bears an inscription with her name. Another then talked of the seat under a tree at the Mountbellew walled garden which ladies once sat how they might propose to do the same. The sense of a connection to place and how that can relate to our own experience of the world underpinned the project. This is about learning how everything is interconnected and interdependent. Understanding the relationship between things can help people see and understand their community in different ways. That association with people and place is fundamental.

Students learn by exposure to real life examples and their experiences and observations of these examples greatly accelerates their learning. Part of this task required the students to ‘Look Locally’ i.e. Find clear links between the lessons and the things that are transpiring in the local community, and even get them actively involved with community individuals. It’s about teaching and learning that is focused on student centered inquiry.

A second field trip was organized, with a group assigned to conduct an on-site survey which would inform the task of making of a 1:100 site model.

Making the model allowed the re-imaging of the walled garden to take shape. The resulting design links a series of new public spaces/ rooms and reuses an existing building as a community hub / cafe to give purpose and a variety of gathering places to the center of garden.

The aim here was to create space for every young person to be at the center of co-designing their own future, community spaces, projects and campaigns. To give voice of the student and allow them give that voice back to their community.

In working with the students like this I hope that it will stimulate them to become actively involved and engaged in shaping their local built environments and landscapes. Place-based education promotes learning that is rooted in what is local—the unique history, environment, culture, economy, literature, and art of a particular place—and it promotes a place-specific, sustainable approach to living, working and playing in our 21st century rural communities. The main objective is to attract interest and support from the community at large and to help re-educate ourselves about the importance of sustainable and healthy living.

Young people need a space where they can be unafraid to explore. As a result, the sense of place created by a village’s cultural heritage links directly to a community’s sense of identity, which can ultimately enhance people’s overall sense of being and belonging and quality of life. The walled garden at Mountbellew offers this. They need to live it, grow with it, tend to it. For them, it can be a space of hope and promise:  if we put in the right effort and intention just about growing our connection to nature, it is essentially growing our connection to each other.

A Call for Home

Magnetise 2020 and collaborative practice in lockdown

In these unnerving times of isolation, connecting through collaborative projects will be an important life line for many artists. And although at times worries may override our ability to work at our best, the possibility to be together, to keep working, inspiring each other and reflecting together may well turn out to be even more important than pasta and toilet roll!

I have spent some time in the last few days considering the possibilities and challenges in this new climate for some of my ongoing projects. As an artist who has continued to embrace the sensorily rich materiality of charcoal and fabric and paint, has veered a little shy of technology and whose performance practice often involves contact dance forms, I find myself looking squarely at the important role online technology will now take going forward. An example is the Magnetise Project. This project, which was selected for both local and national awards last year, has to date centred around week long residencies and workshop periods where the internationally based artists and local community groups have collaborated in a combination of professional development and community based practice. We are delighted to have secured the funding to continue the work this year and build on the existing relationships and themes. The project investigates the potential of renewed attention to gravity, through somatic movement, sound and drawing practices as a means deepening our connections to landscape.

At the end of 2019 we began developing the next phase, ‘Magnetise, a call for home’. This title, (increasingly poignant in the current climate), reflects an interest to explore the connections not just between ourselves and landscape but relationships between land and identity, and the idea of being at ‘at home’; in our body, our community and environment. The six dance artists collaborate with participants from two of the community groups this year, (three adult performers who are wheelchair users and three youth dancers) towards the creation of a joint performance. For now all work will happen remotely and a final performance space may take the form of a split screen video rather than theatre. We will explore the potential of zoom for discussion and workshop facilitation and the website for sharing and reflecting. We will also explore the use of VR sets and cameras for live streamed and filmed work, combining layering and real time interaction.

For now keeping connected in meaningful and creative ways feels as important as ever, as does deepening connections with home and land. Magnetise, like other projects, will, I hope offer a frame to keep a group together and to keep collaboratively making. To read more about Magnetise visit www.undercurrentdancefilmtheatre.com/magnetise

Image copyright: Kate Wilson

Diversity and Every Duck is Different

In October last year I was invited to attend the Europe in Perspective conference in Dortmund with Dr Katie Sweeny and the TAP (Teacher Artist Partnership) design team.

Teacher-Artist Partnership CPD focuses on enabling teachers and artists to jointly develop their understanding, expertise and creativity in ‘arts in education’ work with children and young people. The initiative was developed under the Arts in Education Charter and has run since 2015 and is now delivered each year first week of July in Education Centers under the Creative Ireland Programme. To date in excess of 1,000 teachers and Artists have been trained under TAP CPD in Ireland. There is now a big interest at EU and international level on Teacher-Artist partnership as a model for enhancing Arts education in Schools.

The conference in Dortmund, ‘Every Duck is Different, Challenging our perspectives on Europe and Culture’ was the final conference/ training in the Transnational Training on Diversity and Cultural Learning.

(For more information and great resources visit their site! europe-in-perspective.eu. )

This conference was developed to explore how diversity can be addressed by arts and education practitioners. The two days were packed with thought provoking group activities and presentations from speakers including Dr Ipek Demir and Szilvia Németh. Two young activist groups, Europe Fiction and Polotics of Hope, had been invited to close the conference. The fresh perspective, intelligence and passion of their interventions added an incredible further dimension.

I’ve been thinking about how I address diversity in my own practice. Cultural diversity is increasingly part of the rich fabric of our communities and schools, and it is important to keep checking in with established frameworks and methods, being conscious of the need to be flexible in this context. Diversity is about recognising that ‘every duck is different’. That we support each other to grow through recognition of the strength of our individuality, and our ability to think critically and independently. To fully enjoy difference, finding interest and inspiration in this so that we can move towards a world where not just cultural, but also intellectual and physical difference is truly supported and celebrated.

It was great to bring some of the learning and inspiration from the conference to the TAP lead facilitators up skilling day in February. Many of the lead partners have a new residency this year which is a fantastic opportunity to keep bringing the theory in to practice.

An exciting development for TAP since the conference is the creation of international dimension to TAP, (ITAP). Building on relationships with new partners from the conference, we are in the process of developing a European programme of shared practice and exchange.

Liz Coman is an Assistant Arts Officer with Dublin City Council.  She is a certified Visual Thinking Strategies facilitator with VTS/USA and has completed training to coaching level.  She is responsible for monitoring the quality of Erasmus+ Permission to Wonder – an EU project for Dublin City Council that is testing the VTS training pathway with educators in classroom and gallery settings. Liz has a background in History of Art and Museum Studies and fifteen years experience in designing innovative projects that support arts, education and learning.  She has led trainings in enquiry led approaches to mediating artwork for visual art facilitators in The Ark, A Cultural Centre for Children, The National Gallery of Ireland, and The Turner Prize, Derry and offers ongoing mentorship for individual artists, arts educators and teachers.

“Observation is more than one thing –  we use our eyes to analyse an image, and we also use thinking, and our senses and emotions to interpret what we are seeing” – Erasmus+ Permission to Wonder  – Blog 4

A Conversation with Primary School Teacher, Jane Malone

For this fourth and final blog about Erasmus+ Permission to Wonder, it is timely for me to reflect on some of our learnings from the VTS training pathway for educators.  Over 150 educators, from classroom and museum settings, were supported to access the VTS training pathway with VTS/USA. This happened, through a partnership approach that allowed a range of partners across local, national and European to fund a unique training programme.

The research evaluation framework for Erasmus+ Permission to Wonder will capture the ‘impact’ of the VTS training pathway on educators training and practicing VTS in schools and museums across.  Findings will be presented by VTS Nederland at our Erasmus+ Permission to Wonder Conference on 21 April 2020 in Dublin Castle.

Between now and then, we are considering what is next for our work with VTS.  What are the existing mainstream teacher and artist training pathways that could offer support to the VTS training pathway?  How do we hold on to the value of  peer to peer learning across a the mixed cohort of educators – artist, art educators, secondary (art) teacher and primary school classroom teachers? How do we support mixed groupings of trainees to continue to access enjoyable and deep VTS learning experiences about art, learning, classroom and community where every individual voice is valued and heard?

The cross-disciplinary potential for VTS is striking.  Art is the starting point and the transferrable skills for the trained VTS educator and for the participating group become more and more obvious with regular practice.  For me, the most obvious win for VTS practice is within the primary school or early years classroom.  In these classrooms, multiple subject areas sit alongside each other, but objectives for building patterns of learning, thinking and communicating are overarching priorities. This is approach to learning is more and more mirrored in the modern workplace.  Artists, lawyers, farmers, employees and entrepreneurs across all disciplines must show flexibility in their thinking and their approach to running their business/getting their product out there/meeting their client needs. Problem solving and team communication skills are key in order to do that.  Teams must use their observational skills and thinking skills in tandem with a bigger picture approach which is supported by being open to differing points of view, to allow for benefit from other people’s experience along with their own.

Below, Jane Malone, a primary school teacher from St Catherine’s NS, Donore Avenue, talks about how VTS has strengthened her practice in facilitating students’ learning; how this practice is a tool for communication skills, such as deep listening and respectful discussion;  how it is a tool for opening students up to their own thinking processes to support how they learn, access knowledge and problem solve; how this practice can transfer from art, to maths, to science to SPHE, to oral language development, to project development.

What do you find VTS brings to your practice as a primary teacher?

In a primary school classroom of today, we are facilitators of learning, more so than the traditional idea of teachers. VTS definitely highlighted to me the skill of being a facilitator. You facilitate the thinking skills you want them to have or the writing skills you want them, but where they take it is theirs, as long as it’s appropriate.

I find our VTS sessions are a great tool for demonstrating and practising active listening.   When someone is making their observation, and when I’m paraphrasing back, they are all listening. Their hand isn’t up with their point, it’s a shared listening experience where they can see what the speaker is seeing. That has really helped in terms of general classroom management, but also for turn taking in terms of respectful conversation.  This is something that can’t be explicitly taught. At the same time, it permeates all the other lessons, because we all get so used to the process.

I also find our VTS sessions very inclusive, because it’s not about ability, it’s about the picture or the piece of art that you were looking at, and ‘my opinion’ is not the rightopinion, it may vary very differently to what ‘your opinion’ is. It’s accessing art on all levels for all children of all abilities, not just for the ‘arty’ children or the people who like that piece of art.  It takes how art used to be untouchable, it was in galleries, behind frames, it’s opening it up to multiple possible interpretations.

For me, VTS impacts all the curriculum areas, particularly the language elements and the social and emotional aspect of things as well. I use it with ‘Number Talks’, and with anything I’m doing in SESE where I’m facilitating project-based learning and they’re determining where they’re going to take the project. VTS fits well in particular, with the New Language Curriculum, with Irish and English, and how it describes the role of paraphrasing the students comment, that no comment is incorrect, but the paraphrase back is the teaching and learning moment. The children are becoming more aware of how I am teaching them, more familiar with the paraphrasing process, and this gives them the confidence to make the comment, in a language lesson, without worrying about being right or wrong.

What have you noticed happening in your work in the classroom with VTS?

The group I have this year is sixth class. I had them in fourth class, when I started practicing VTS in the classroom. So this year, when I do VTS with the children, I begin a session by talking with them about the broad concept of thinkingthat happens when we do VTS – ‘what is observing?’ We talk about using our eyes, and the role of listening. We go deeper with an art image and talk about how we use our senses to observe, and also how our emotional response informs our thinking.

I began this year’s science curriculum with an exercise where we took a roll of Sellotape and passed it around the room. Each child had to make an observational comment about it, as it was passed from person to person. The reason why I blended VTS with this exercise, is because in VTS with art images, you are naturally talking about story, setting, materials, bringing in previous experience and knowledge. So, in this Sellotape exercise, I was really conscious that it can push them to build more sophisticated language for what they are describing.  I keep my paraphrasing conditional and label the thinking processes so that the children can recognise that their thinking processes can transfer from the VTS exercise we do with art, to this exercise, which is more about introducing scientific language for observation. It’s a really successful exercise because you can hear them talking about texture of the Sellotape, using language to describe it based on their senses, describing it’s shape based on their knowledge of maths, making metacognitive statements that are bringing information from other bodies of knowledge.
I see that this is how I am going to bring my VTS practice forward.  In the classroom, I’m trying to create an atmosphere of STEAM versus STEM.  VTS is one of the methodologies that supports me to do this.  I use mind maps and Elklan (a process to meet the speech, language and communication needs of children) with topics where we build vocabulary and language. I find VTS coming into play more for the more technical curriculum subject areas such as the literacy skills of breaking down a language, looking at and attempting maths problem solving, and also for science.

How important do you think that silence at the beginning to observe is?

Very. But we do that in another form in our ‘number talks’ as well, so you put up your number sentence and then you literally wait. It’s very hard when you’re initially doing it as a teacher, to wait long enough, standing in silence is quite difficult. Because we had been doing it in ‘number talks’, I was then able to marry it, so I give them quite a bit of time. It does occur to me each time I do it “I wonder how long everybody else gives?” Sherry Parrish is the number talks guru, so if you watched one of her videos you’d understand the similarities. It’s “how would you do this?”, “how did you come to your conclusions?”, “now, tell the rest of the class how you got that answer or why you went that way” or “what does everybody else think of the way X did that sum?”. So again, it’s similar a similar process of supporting thinking and social learning.

Can you recall a favourite VTS Image Discussion?

One of my favourite VTS sessions was when I was practicing on the Permission to Wonder training in Helsinki.  I was looking at the image for the first time and not sure where it would go with the group.  There were many different interpretations of the image from individuals and so I had to really concentrate on my paraphrasing.  It showed me that my paraphrasing was really working well for me, I was hearing as I was speaking. It was really challenging, but there seemed to be a flow. I remember this as I learned so much from it.

Another one that sticks out in my mind, with sixth class last year, they kept on trying to identify the images as being staged. ‘Oh this has been deliberately set up as though it was in the 1960s and it was deliberately provocative because….’ – they were really cynical about the image and it felt like there was an inflexibility of their engagement with it.  They were more about creating the backstory about why the artist did it, than observing what it was in front of them. I found that really interesting.

One other one, was a picture of a woman in a subway surrounded by a lot of men. She is to the foreground, and one of the children that has anxiety identified it as her experiencing great anxiety and nobody around her knowing it. So that kind of projecting their own emotional states onto the images we are looking at, I find that really interesting.

It sounds like for you, in a VTS image discussion you are observing the ‘thinking’ going on – either your own thinking or the students thinking?

It definitely would be part of my practice as a teacher.  We are here to teach skills, in particular to understand that there are thinking processes and to help them to figure out how to support these processes for themselves in the future. So they can access the facts.  Who remembers all the rivers and mountains of Ireland, it’s more about how you going about researching that information and your thinking process around researching the question that’s important.

How did Erasmus+ Permission to Wonder support you to develop your VTS practice?

It greatly supported me to put aside my learning and experience and become open to a new way of engaging with languages. I found that really interesting as languages are ‘my thing’. I have a degree in French and Italian, English and Gaeilge are my favourite subjects to teach, and I love grammar, so it was fascinating to me how I struggled with the VTS questions at first. They felt so American and strange to me but when I saw the huge body of research behind them and experienced firsthand how effective they were in keeping a rein in on the facilitator’s natural bias, I was completely converted. It was also really comforting to work with such experienced artists and art professionals and see how my lack of experience did not impede my ability to facilitate a VTS session. Finally, it was an exhausting but really wonderful experience on a personal level. I really feel I grew as an individual and my love of learning was reignited. So thank you to all involved.

The Irish Forest School Association (IFSA) was founded in 2016 and is engaged in the promotion and development of the Forest School (FS) movement in Ireland.  We bring Forest School practitioners together to inspire inclusive, playful learning for all, in nature.  We want to build resilience and relationships, through our connection with each other, and the natural world, while inspiring creativity and supporting wellbeing. More information can be found on our website www.irishforestschoolassociation.ie.

This final blog post is from Joan Whelan, the Chairperson of the Irish Forest School Association. She  reflects on the opportunities  within Forest School for adults to reaffirm their own creativity in their approach to teaching, drawing on her experience of introducing Forest School to the primary school where she was principal and on her current PhD research on the distinctiveness of Forest School as a pedagogical approach.              

“Lie down, lie down, that way is best” – Blog 4

Participating in a Forest School (FS) session recently with a group of senior infants, I had one of those ‘light-bulb’ moments that happen every now and again and give pause for thought. Our eyes had been drawn towards the tree canopy by the fleeting sight of a grey squirrel bounding up the trunk of a scots pine.

‘Lie down, lie down,’ urged one of the children in a commanding but quiet voice. ‘That way is best’.

And we did. We lay down. Three 6-year olds and myself, flat out on the damp slightly muddy floor of a small and not very loved corner of woodland in Dublin city.  And there was quiet, as we searched the tree canopy for the elusive squirrel, for perhaps a minute. Later that same day, having made charcoals from the leftover embers of the fire, a child asked to finger paint stripes on my face…and I had no hesitation.  The experience remained with me.
I realised that in 36 years of teaching, I had never fully encountered this kind of immersive, embodied, child-initiated experience that felt very powerful and right.  And I thought myself progressive and innovative as a teacher.  What made this possible? Was it being in nature? Was it being suitably attired? Was it the small group? Was it the opportunities for child-led activity? Was it the leadership of the FS leader? Was it the safety that the session provided to explore and to ‘be’? Was it all of these?

It seems to me that a very profound opportunity exists for adults to reflect on their practice through participation in FS.  We cannot promote creativity in children without being open to making new connections for meaning as adults. FS gives us permission to take a step aside, unlocking a more playful approach to learning which in turn promotes curiosity, exploration and innovative cross curricular connections that surely comprise the possibility for deep and creative connection and meaning making across the curriculum. FS seems to enable us to move from being teachers and pupils to being learners together.

In the context of the Arts in Education, FS provides a foundational, cross curricular pedagogical approach. The woodland provides the tools to enable risks to be taken safely, curiosity to be satisfied and boundaries to be tested. The transformative nature of this kind of learning for wellbeing, creativity and innovation is not easily accessible elsewhere in formal learning contexts. In an era of increasing focus on outcomes, rather than process, FS can help re-position children and adults, not the curriculum, at the core of deeper learning in the primary school.  FS pedagogy can help to promote a deeper understanding of the relationship between the human world and the natural world, a theoretical thread that can be traced back to Rousseau, who regarded a connection to nature as fundamental to optimal human functioning.  However, FS must be approached within a theory of change perspective. In other words, the importance of school communities articulating a vision for their pedagogical approach, based on their educational purpose, is non-negotiable.

And when was the last time you placed your hands in wet mud?

Liz Coman is an Assistant Arts Officer with Dublin City Council.  She is a certified Visual Thinking Strategies facilitator with VTS/USA and has completed training to coaching level.  She is responsible for monitoring the quality of Erasmus+ Permission to Wonder – an EU project for Dublin City Council that is testing the VTS training pathway with educators in classroom and gallery settings. Liz has a background in History of Art and Museum Studies and fifteen years experience in designing innovative projects that support arts, education and learning.  She has led trainings in enquiry led approaches to mediating artwork for visual art facilitators in The Ark, A Cultural Centre for Children, The National Gallery of Ireland, and The Turner Prize, Derry and offers ongoing mentorship for individual artists, arts educators and teachers.

We Are Mirrors” – Erasmus+ Permission to Wonder  –
Blog 3

A Conversation with Visual Artist, Kathryn Maguire

Visual Thinking Strategies is a research based method, founded on the doctoral work of Abigail Housen(Co-Founder of VTS) and her research on aesthetic development. Housen’s research focused on the question – ‘What Happens Cognitively When You Look at a Work of Art?’  Her methodologydevised an ‘Aesthetic Development Interview’ to understand how a spectrum of differentviewers understand and interpret the same artwork.   With this data,and drawing on constructivist learning theories, in particular Lev Vygotsky and Jean Piaget, she designed a stage theoryfor aesthetic development.  Her stage theory tracked common features of five stages.  According to Housen, each stage is inherently important.  No stage can be rushed or bypassed. Growth occurs with repeated and regular exposure to viewing art.  In her collaboration with Philip Yenawine and MOMA, New York, Housen’sresearch identified that the majority of visitors attending the museum and its programmes were stage 1 & 2 viewers.  Stage 1 & 2 viewersjudge an artwork is based on what they know and like, their observations may appear idiosyncratic and imaginative, and they have their own sense of what is realistic and this standard is often applied to determine value.  Stage 1&2, as aesthetic learners, are  storytellers.  Storytelling is a universal means of making meaning. Meaning making requires critical thinking, personal reflection, the consideration of multiple possibilities, communication and respectful debate.

Part of the challenge for me was unlearning earlier teaching practices. I had to…learn a new paradigm, one that put people ahead of art, one that focused on enabling not just engaging people. I had to step back from what I thought people should learn, to create a teaching/learning method that would help them realize their full potential at any given moment.  – Philip Yenawine

Professional visual artists, that have trained in Visual Thinking Strategies with us, tell us that VTS can offer them a useful framework to critically appraise their own artwork in development. It is a tool that can inform their understanding of a diversity of interpretations that audiences will bring to the artwork.  This can be a valuable input into an artwork’s development before it arrives into the gallery or public space.  Visual artists that have trained with us, and been implementing VTS as part of their practice, specifically in schools,  report that the neutrality and rigour of the VTS method is their biggest challenge.  For me, this is completely understandable. When you love art and have dedicated your life to its study and practice, you want to share all your knowledge and skills with your audience.  The visual artists we work with are very generous and committed to sharing with their audiences.  However, the time and appropriate support to do this is usually very limited.

Within schools, there may only be one shot – the one class visit to a gallery in a year.  Or a school or artist might get support for a suite of sessions or a medium-term residency. Following  Housen’s theory, we can propose that more consistent and supported time for art and artists to work with students allows greater opportunity for embedding aesthetic growth and learning.  In addition to the time limitation, there are very few training opportunities for artists in understanding pedagogy, curriculum and developmental stages of children and young people according to age, ability and cultural tradition. Therefore, the skill of facilitating meaning making with visual art and children and young people, for many artists, is based on their own process of discovery and how discovery emerges in their practice.

Kathryn Maguire’s practice is inspired by science, history and the social world.  She works in the field of socially engaged art,  therefore, contrary to making an artwork in isolation, she develops artwork with a community in a way that honours both her areas of inspiration and a community’s vested interest in their neighbourhood.  Kathryn has effective collaboration skills that allow space for experts and knowledge from varied backgrounds and sources to inform the development of her work. She is a sculptor, and in particular, specialises in social sculpture.   She uses mirrors regularly in her work and understands the value of using mirrors as a reflective tool, that can work equally well in the gallery/museum and also outside, in nature.  An example of this is Kathryn’s artwork is ‘Us’ Again – a floating mirrored shed, created in 2013, in collaboration with the Men’s Shed Group based in Rialto’s St Andrew’s Community Centre as part of Maguire’s residency at 468, Common Ground.

Image of ‘Us’ Again -Kathryn Maguire

Image of ‘Us’ Again -Kathryn Maguire

The shed, made completely of mirrors, journeyed along the Grand Canal, Dublin, to celebrate the impact the waterway has had on labour and leisure in Rialto and as demonstration and reflection on community and commonality.  Kathryn’s mirrored shed informs her practice today, as she continues to investigate what is the common between us and our environment.

What do you find VTS brings to your practice as an artist?

As an artist, I feel like an investigative journalist in some ways.  I gather knowledge and information and transfer it into an artwork. VTS is a powerful tool for me, as a learner. I’m constantly learning so VTS allows for my knowledge to be fluid. It is really important to me, in my life, and as an artist, that there is more than one answer. Facilitating VTS allows me time to listen to the different ideas coming from each person, to stay neutral, and not buy into one opinion or another. It is really important to stay listening to all the different facets of the conversation.  We all come with so much ancestral knowledge. Perhaps allowing time and space for different perspectives, hopefully we can find our way to some common ground.  This is what ultimately keeps me motivated – the search for our commonality. It’s why I still work with mirrors – we are mirrors.  As an artist, I feel now is an important time.  Artists have an incredible opportunity to look more closely, then take that knowledge and make it into an artwork and then take that artwork and go to the audience – it’s a gentle, fluid, domino effect.

What have you noticed happening in your work with schools and galleries in VTS image discussions? 

I am currently Artist in Residence with Rathfarnham Educate Together National School (RETNS). I recently did a VTS facilitated discussion the school’s 5th class children at The LAB Gallery and Anita Groener’s incredible exhibition ‘The Past is a Foreign Country’. I observed that the children were highly environmentally aware and were able to articulate very clearly their understanding that if our environment is not harmonious, then that is not good for us either. They mirrored, for me, my own thinking that we are all part of the same ecosystem. This is an emotionally charged exhibition, exploring migration and the migrant crisis in Syria. I didn’t have to tell the children what the work was about.  I didn’t have to give them a script.  The script was inside them already.  It just needed a gentle prise open.  VTS allowed us time, and slowing down, deep looking, being comfortable in the silence.  There is so much chatter, phone or screen time in our lives that just listening and communicating with each other is an amazing thing.  This amazing thing happens when we communicate in a VTS session and I’m still not sure what the ‘thing’ is.  This ‘thing’ is what Permission to Wonder has given to me as a person and as an artist.

Can you recall a favourite VTS Image Discussion?

I have been testing the VTS Image Curriculum and the Permission to Wonder images for the project image bank.  I have been practicing VTS with test images in Scoil Mhuire, Marino and St Vincents BNS.

Some feedback on the VTS sessions with Kathryn from the 3rd class boys of Scoil Mhuire, Marino, gathered from teacher, Jennifer Gormley

‘It was very enjoyable and I liked that it wasn’t just based on one artist. I liked the way we got asked to say what we thought of the picture.’

‘It was really nice and I liked the way it was arranged, like the questions we were asked.’

‘It was really fun. I liked looking at the pictures and telling what I thought of them.’

‘I thought the paintings were really good and it was fun answering questions.’

Out of this image testing I find that Remedios Varo ‘Creation of the Birds’ 1957 gets a very powerful response, no matter what the age and stage.

Another memorable experience was a Wonder Club session with a Patrick Scott artwork in The Hugh Lane Gallery.  The discussion went from a very religious metaphorical discussion into a more polarised religious and political debate.  This was surprising as the beautiful abstract painting was a vehicle for adults to vocalise knowledge, and equally prejudices, that the group and I had to negotiate.  Perhaps most valuable with adults, you get to access people’s wealth of knowledge due to their lived life.

** Wonder Club is monthly VTS sessions for adults that take place in Dublin City Gallery, The Hugh Lane and The LAB Gallery

How did Erasmus+ Permission to Wonder support you to develop your VTS practice?

I would describe VTS practice like muscle that needs to be exercised.   In Permission to Wonder, the trust within the group of educators, and the care within the partner group was really special.  There was a silent strength in this support that was very nurturing for me to help me push me out of my comfort zone and become more confident in how I facilitate a VTS session. The logistical supports that were put in place for me were really important.  Financial access to the training in Europe and then also being supported to practice at home in the schools and galleries allowed me to build this confidence.  On foot of it, opportunities for me to work with galleries and schools have been increasing.  In the past year, I’ve been really lucky to work with The LAB Gallery, The Hugh Lane Gallery, IMMA, The Butler Gallery, Kilkenny and all have been very supportive of me using VTS as a strand of my sessions with school groups.  I use VTS at the beginning of my sessions almost as a way to bring students into a space where they will absorb the artists’ intentions by osmosis and then the session will evolve from there.   I usually do a VTS session, followed by an observational drawing, followed by more formal object making in the education room.  I find that the students, when they are sketching after the VTS image discussion, are not copying each other, they are more confident in how their own ideas are coming out of the artwork.

What would you like to work on next in your VTS practice?

The most important thing that I feel I need to work with most is staying neutral.  I think that art can bring up a lot of stuff for people, very strong opinions are aired, a lot of debate and also emotional responses.   I have to be careful to manage my own assumptions about why somebody might make a particular remark.  I have to remember, that it’s okay if a group member does not want to contribute or may pull back or be quiet in the discussion.  The strength of the silence may indicate that there may be a reason why somebody remains silent, something may be triggered for that person within the image or the discussion. There is learning in discomfort, but also learning to keep in mind safety and care for the group, and also keep in mind self care for me.  I will always talk to a teacher at the outset of a session to find out if I need to be mindful of a member of a group. It’s that communication that needs to happen between us as educators – between teacher and artist – in order that the viewer is allowed to be silent or to be heard, depending on their need.

I would envision that I would like to push my VTS practice further.  To move my VTS facilitation outside of art, into other areas such as science, history, mathematics.  That I can move it out of the artworld and into other areas of education. I think VTS sits in the artworld but also has the flexibility and ability to move beyond the artworld.

 

Sinéad Ní Bhrádaigh has worked in Galway Educate Together since 2002. She has a life long interest in the arts, primarily in the musical side of the arts. She plays classical piano to Senior Certificate level and has been involved with Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann as a piano and fiddle player and tutor in Dublin and Galway. In 2001, Sinéad completed a Higher Diploma in Arts Administration and gained great experience volunteering with the Town Hall Theatre and Galway Arts Centre. Sinéad established the GETNS school choir in 2004, and now collaborates with another teacher to run a choir with 100 students in the school. The GETNS choir has performed at several Peace Proms, at the Town Hall Theatre and at community events.

Reflecting on the first year of Creative Schools – Blog 4

Alongside the workshops that we held during May and June, the Creative Schools Teacher committee had come up with a Menu of Activities to accompany the workshops. The Children’s Panel also came together to add their suggestions for the Menu. This Menu was designed to be a list of easy classroom activities that the teachers could engage in at times and days of their choosing, to compliment activities that they may have been thinking of doing anyway. All of the activities were based on our theme of Food, Cooking and Nature. Some of the activities included links to Food Science websites; inviting parents into classroom to engage in cooking activities; ideas for nature based art; healthy shared lunches and forest and beach picnics. A copy of this Menu was delivered to each classroom for a four week period and all teachers were encouraged to engage with the programme.

During the last week of term, we invited our children’s panel to come and give us some feedback on the programme and how it was for them. Yvonne laid out big sheets of paper and had specific questions to provide information she was looking for. This proved a very fruitful if not a humbling experience. Each classroom and each class level had experienced varying levels of engagement with the programme, depending on each classes packed schedule. Therefore, the children all had varying feedback. As we all know children to be, the feedback was honest, and some of it wasn’t all that flattering!

As a whole jigsaw piece, the Creative Schools programme was successful in its aims and objectives for this year. But when you break the jigsaw into individual pieces, it didn’t feel that that success had filtered down to all of the children in all of the classes. This was disappointing for both myself and Yvonne, as there had been a huge investment in the programme all year. It’s all about the children at the end of the day, and if the children didn’t benefit, well then there were questions to be asked. Myself and Yvonne had a good chat about it all, and agreed that if we had decided to focus in on one class grouping for example, and showered all of our Creative Schools programme on just those children then undoubtedly the feedback may have been different, but that is not what we chose to do. Instead, we needed to focus on the whole completed jigsaw, celebrate the success and look ahead to how we can build on it next year.

We intend our focus next year to switch to teachers professional development in creative practices. We see a great opportunity next year to spend our time researching cross curricular creative practices, as we feel that in order for maximum children to benefit from the Creative Schools Programme, we need to up skill our own practices and thus all children will benefit. We feel very excited about this new aspect to the programme and we are looking forward to continuing this creative journey next year

Ciara Gallagher Profile Pic

Ciara has a PhD in English from Maynooth University. She has worked as researcher on the National Collection of Children’s Books (TCD) and “Gender Identity: Child Readers and Library Collections” at the Centre for Children’s Literature and Culture, DCU. She has taught English in various universities and currently works at Kids’ Own Publishing Partnership as Administrative and Development Officer.

Blog 4 – On Practising Creativity and Change

The second half of the Creativity and Change course focused on “application to practice” – on applying the forms and modes of creative engagement we had experienced and worked with in the first half of the course. Over numerous weekends, we practiced creativity across a variety of forms. In small teams, we co-facilitated creative workshops to critically focus on important local and global justice issues with our peers. We created a 60 foot piece of street art – participating in the entire process from beginning to end.  We planned and designed a number of creative street actions to engage the public in Cork city in support of Climate Case Ireland.

A core part of the Creativity and Change course is its focus on connecting learning that occurs through the head, hand, and heart – through reflection and critical thinking, through doing, making and taking action, and through affective learning and creating connections. Each weekend, each activity, actively engaged all three modes of learning. Not only did we practice the application of creativity and creative processes to encourage a critical reflection and action to change on global justice issues, we also built a community, a collective, however temporary, within which these experiences became all the more meaningful.

This head, hand, and heart model is not just something to apply to just certain learning experiences, but something that can inform so many areas of our lives, our learning, our teaching, our living. This too, like creativity, is something to practice each day and to continually build on.

Now, perhaps more than ever, it seems like the time to take action in our world, to resist retreating into apathy. The scale and persistence of the global justice issues that we face can make taking action seem like an impossible task. What the Creativity and Change course encourages is a sense that this continually coming back to these issues need not feel futile, or as evidence that things do not change despite our best efforts. That instead, circling back to social justice issues in new, creative, and diverse ways, is also something to live, and to make part of our lives.

 

Yvonne

Yvonne Cullivan is a visual artist and educator based in the West of Ireland. She has fifteen years experience in Fine Art practice, Arts Education, Public & Participatory Arts and Arts Management. She holds a B.A. in Fine Art from Crawford College of Art and Design, Cork, and an M.Sc. in Multimedia from Dublin City University. Yvonne is a Lecturer at the National College of Art and Design, Dublin, on the First Year Fine Art & Design Programme and in the Fine Art Media Department. She is also currently engaged as a Creative Associate with the Creative Schools Programme.


Working across a broad range of documentary-style media, including sound, video, photography, interview/conversation, drawing and writing, Yvonne’s practice is underpinned by a strong participatory and collaborative approach. She often works within communities of place, rooting the engagement in site-specific research and interdisciplinary knowledge generation. Sustained processes of observation, documentation, collaboration and experiential engagement with place, lead to the creation of new work that is reflective of, appropriate to and shaped by the process.

 

Blog 4 – Reflect and Refine

My first year working as a Creative Associate on the Creative Schools Programme with my three allocated schools has ended. Nothing feels finished however; it feels as if we are just starting. While creative activities took place in each school as a direct result of the consultation process, I view this years work as research and development and I won’t be surprised if year two feels like more R&D. The consultation process in each case was very thorough and the conversations with the coordinators and, less frequent but equally important, with management, were robust and wide-reaching. Through evaluation with a selection of children from each school, for the most part, they report having both enjoyed and learned from their participation in the programme so far.

In my mind, the role of the Creative Associate is to assist in embedding creative approaches to teaching and learning (one could say to thinking and being) within the school environment. Reflecting on this, it would be easy to be disappointed with the years work, it falls far short of achieving that aim. There were small disappointments; not all teachers participated in the organised activities, not all children made the connection between the opinions they put forward in the consultation process and the resulting activities that they participated in, some of the planned activities didn’t materialise, some people didn’t enjoy the activities. There were larger logistical issues at play too; the late commencement of the programme combined with the lengthy intensive consultation process meant that most activities took place at the very time of year when schools are most busy. This had the most impact at G.E.T.N.S. where we developed and implemented an ambitious whole school programme of activities in May and June. The whole school cohesiveness we needed to realise the holistic nature of this programme got lost in the end of year ether. I choose to reflect on all of this as learning.

My three schools and I are building relationships together, we are reaching levels of understanding, finding out what works and what doesn’t in each setting. We are journeying. As a result of this long-term attitude and shared vision for trying to go a level deeper into creativity within the school environment, we have clear pointers for 2019/20. A large part of our work together will be investing in creative professional development for teachers. This would appear to be the most necessary and sustainable use of our time together. Our main challenges will be freeing up staff time and reaching beyond the arts curriculum. G.E.T.N.S. will engage in a Per Cent for Art project that will hopefully build, in a very exciting way, on our work together this year; the boys at Athenry are leading us toward a programme around creative play and the outdoor environment; Eglish are going to further their digital skills acquisition. The process is creative and child-led and this makes sense to me.

Frank is an Irish designer /cultural producer with an interest in film, the arts & architecture. His professional practice includes the design of buildings, & set design for film/television production. He holds a BA in Architecture, 2008 and a Professional Diploma in Architecture, 2012 both from London Metropolitan University. Prior to this he recieved a B.Des. in Production Design for Film/Television, from IADT. This background has informed his approach to practice, which is collaborative, interdisciplinary and site specific.Interested in the critical potential of design he established Architecture at the Edge in 2017, for which he devised and curated the events programme. He produced an outdoor installation, ‘Ghost Chapel’ for Galway International Arts Festival 2018 in collaboration with the Bartlett School of Architecture.

 

Learning from the power of place – Blog 3

“I walk because it confers- or restores- a feeling of placeness …I walk because, somehow, it’s like reading …” 

Lauren Elkin, Flâneuse: Women Walk the City in Paris, New York, Tokyo, Venice and London

Charles Baudelaire and Walter Benjamin wrote a while ago about the modern man, who walked the city in order to explore its history, the architecture, the changing environment.

That idea of exploring and thinking is about making sense of things, the places and people we encounter, and this approach can also be applied to adolescence children in their world, by interacting, investigating, questioning, and forming, testing and refining their ideas.

Place-based education promotes learning that is rooted in what is local— the unique local history, environment, economy, culture, landscapes, and architecture of a particular place – in mapping the students’ own “place” or immediate schoolyard, neighborhood, town or community. And walking is like mapping with your feet.  It can promote a place-specific, sustainable approach to living, working and playing for all.

Following an introduction to the IAF Architects in Schools Programme to the TY students at St. Raphael’s College, Loughrea we started by asking the students a little about the town, the whereabouts of where they live and by what means had they travelled to the school that day. I wanted to find out about their lived experience and connection to the place. From this informal survey it soon became clear that the majority lived in either peripheralhousing estates or ribbon development on the towns fringes – the exception a few living on farm settlements in the environs of the county side. Not one it seemed lived within the town itself. I suggested walking the town together would allow us to stop – take a detour – and explore the form of that built environment.

Finding a historic street map from the local library and placing a glass, rim down, onto the map, we drew round its edge. We then instructed the students to pick up the map, go out into the town, and walk the circle, and keeping as close as they can to the curve, record their observations. This also helped them to get an idea of where we were in the context of the place.  Loughrea town is compact and so in short, the walk would show us all the key places in the town, and help us see some hidden gems in the process. By walking  – not only do you get great exercise –  you won’t miss details and you’re much more likely to go in different buildings, squeeze down alleyways, etc.

Loughrea lies at a number of boundaries, both historic and geographic and its pattern and form of development has been shaped by these features at the various stages of its development. The lake and medieval moate are wonderful but one could easily pass through Loughrea without noticing either. Its existing street plan closely follows that of a medieval layout. Many tall narrow properties on either side of the Main Street occupy burgage plots laid out in the 13th century.

The Temperance Hall / Barracks road complex is a palimpsest in which the layered history of Loughrea is revealed. Signs of the walled town, the original Gate House and successive military occupations are evident at even a quick glance. Behind the Temperance Hall, built c1780s as a Cavalry Barracks, we found a complex of buildings enclosed by fragments of a defensive wall. The site backed up to the lake with picturesque views out to the crannogs and surrounding landscape beyond. Student research later revealed the arrangement had once also included a hospital, infirmary and forge. Part currently provides social, cultural and educational services for the people of the town. This was the chosen site for the student’s design project. One of the first tasks we set in carrying out the survey was to photograph and to draw these buildings.

The aim, to adapt the assembly of buildings and introduce / incorporate new housing typologies into it to form a new ‘piece of town’. One that faced the lake but which also utilized the existing network of lanes which connect back from here into the town proper. The project was somehow about revitalizing this forgotten space, repopulating it and in so doing, assist in remedying the vacancy seen in the adjacent streets at the town center.

Adopting this strategy, the workshops which followed were designed to place the student at the center of this process, and resulted in propositions for a new linear public park, a café on the crannog and a new mixed residential community. All this, a clear demonstration for the potential of architecture to enhance the experience of living and working in the 21st century Irish town, coming from the students themselves.

It goes to show that if we start with small steps …. to support novice viewers become more observant and more thoughtful about what they are looking at then this can empower them to present an alternative vision for their existing built environment. It is so vital that our towns are living vibrant places, of social and cultural exchange, community and interactions and so they must be constantly maintained as adaptive changing entities.

We see that legacy of bad planning in towns like Loughrea. It’s one symptomatic of the challenges facing many small communities in Ireland – contradictory forces in the commercial landscape due to changing consumer behavior patterns, with resultant accepted sprawl of housing leading to vehicular predominance, and the changing demographics  – have pulled and shaped the town, and continue to do so resulting in increased vacancy at its core. In the context of climate change walkable and compact small towns have so much to offer us. The aim must be to shift the narrative from ‘conserving’ or ‘preserving’ small town settlements to ‘re-thinking’ and ‘championing’ them.

The students demonstrated an understanding of how these challenges faced by smaller communities can be overcome through sensitivity, creativity, collaboration and long-term stewardship. The projects demonstrate the possibilities of working in historic fabrics, re-connecting town centers to their surroundings and integrating a mix of uses into town centers. They arrived at a way of living which might suggest a more flexible approach to the town plot. It’s about creating a learning experiences that leverage the power of place. In fostering students’ connection to place, help their understanding of where they live and how taking action in their own backyards helps to take care of the world around them.

 

 

 

Sinéad Ní Bhrádaigh has worked in Galway Educate Together since 2002. She has a life long interest in the arts, primarily in the musical side of the arts. She plays classical piano to Senior Certificate level and has been involved with Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann as a piano and fiddle player and tutor in Dublin and Galway. In 2001, Sinéad completed a Higher Diploma in Arts Administration and gained great experience volunteering with the Town Hall Theatre and Galway Arts Centre. Sinéad established the GETNS school choir in 2004, and now collaborates with another teacher to run a choir with 100 students in the school. The GETNS choir has performed at several Peace Proms, at the Town Hall Theatre and at community events.

In full swing – Blog 3

School days in May and especially June are incredibly busy. It always seems to creep up unexpectedly, but yet every year is the same! This business presented our biggest challenge when it came to implementing our Creative Schools programme. Starting up a creative programme for the whole school community at the same time and at this time of the year isn’t ideal. Myself and Yvonne had made a conscious decision that every single child would have access to the creative programme, and thus we spread it over 15 classrooms and over 400 children, rather than focusing in on a smaller cohert of children, and delivering a more comprehensive, focused programme. We decided this because we felt it was in line with our ethos of equality and inclusion and we didn’t want there to be a feeling that some children were accessing the creative schools programme when others were not. The reality of this decision was that we had to try hard to fit everything in to what was an already packed end of year schedule.  There were successes, but undoubtedly there were also some disappointments.

The stand alone workshops were a great success. The infant classes had workshops with Down to Earth Forest schools, who demonstrated wonderfully creative ways to use our outdoor school environment to engage the children. First Class had workshops related to the importance of bees and pollination. Second Class went to visit an organic farm and brought back with them a box of organic vegetables that they cooked up creatively. Third Class designed nests for bees, and designed an outdoor area for sowing wildflower seeds. Fourth and Fifth classes visited woods near our schools and managed to forage over 15 different types of plants growing in our woods. Afterwards, they made some tinctures and elderflower cordial from their pickings. Sixth class had a workshop with Yvonne, discussing food production and the methods that Yvonne used to create her visual short film.


The workshops brought a great buzz to each class level and certainly opened the children’s minds to environmental issues as well as seeing how to creatively utilise the resources that we have easy access to in our immediate environment. Feedback for the workshops was universally positive from the children. We held a feedback meeting with the children’s creative committee and I will discuss the outcomes from this feedback meeting in the next blogpost.

The Irish Forest School Association (IFSA) was founded in 2016 and is engaged in the promotion and development of the Forest School (FS) movement in Ireland.  We bring Forest School practitioners together to inspire inclusive, playful learning for all, in nature.  We want to build resilience and relationships, through our connection with each other, and the natural world, while inspiring creativity and supporting wellbeing. More information can be found on our website www.irishforestschoolassociation.ie.

Angie Kinsella of Nature Way (www.naturway.ieis a passionate Forest School leader and sustainability teacher who have a firm belief in nature pedagogy. Angie feels that connecting with nature on an experiential level and encouraging learning in the outdoors is becoming ever more important in this increasingly digital age. Angie also works for Heritage in Schools.

Creative Experiences in a year at Forest School – Blog 3

Creative experiences this year at Forest School took on a slightly different feel for me and the children.  I chose to fully immerse myself into celebrating and living with and through the Celtic calendar, also known as the Celtic Wheel. The Celtic calendar is focused on the cyclical change of seasons.  Seasonal changes were very important to the Celts, who depended on the Wheel of the Year to dictate when to plough, sow, harvest, and rest.  The turning of the Wheel represents the continuing birth, death and rebirth of nature. I felt the integration of this ancient way of being was appropriate for how I wanted to work in Forest School this year. I felt it was a helpful tool to inspire us to re-member, re-claim and re-weave our ancient heritage and what better place to share this than within the holding of the forest.

September was the return to school for children and also the month where we begin a new cycle around the Celtic Wheel.  I started a long-term Forest School programme in the West of Ireland at the beginning of September. The first few weeks we entered into the woods and the children started to get to know the lay of the land. The forest floor still had plenty of flora present and the trees were full of leaves. The days were mostly warm and bright which helps, I feel, on many levels for myself, the children and their teachers.

I was met with a huge diversity of cultures within this group of children, which was such a delight; to witness the universal language of play that softly unfolds in a natural setting with the support of the Forest School principles. I witnessed children whose language skills may have been a challenge in a classroom setting blossoming in this environment. Some of these children had never been to a forest although it was only 10 minutes away from their school.

One girl joined us each week in her wheelchair with the incredible support and encouragement of her school teachers who were determined to make Forest School  all-inclusive.

She would often spend time with other students crafting, or sometimes just take time out to relax in the hammock. There was always allocated time for free play. To climb trees, build forts, whittle sticks, or simple take time to be in the forest, alone or in groups, to relax in the hammock, to enjoy the canopy of the trees.

As we moved into October, I began to share and explore through fireside stories and crafts the meaning of Samhain, more commonly known as Halloween. I shared with the children how on this land we once celebrated ‘New Year’ at this time, how we honoured our ancestors, and how it was time to prepare ourselves for the winter ahead.

We made incredible sand helters stick skeletons. We whittled wands and swords and bows and arrows. We developed our fire lighting skills. We learned about wild foods and how to prepare wild foraged teas and cook feasts on the fire. We also explored how the fauna and flora of the land are preparing themselves and responding to the changing seasons. We crafted hapa zome (eco plant printing) with autumn berries, an explosion of colour. We also made nature journals so we could take note of the changes in the woods through drawing and words.

Each week that we met I asked the children to keep a close eye out and to feel the changes they noticed. As the leaves started to change colour on the trees and drop, I could certainly sense Nature starting to drop back into the underground. As the months passed and the darkness grew, I observed a shift in all our energy.

And then through Spring and now as the wheel continues through this time of blossom where we come close to Summer solstice. I feel the calling to play more energetic games and crafts that weave in the summer flora and fauna. I have learnt and continue to grow through this creative journey in the forest, in rhythm with the Celtic Wheel.

I recently received this feedback from a teacher who attended some of these sessions with her class. “The children grew mentally, physically and emotionally. They laughed and cried and sang and screeched and splashed and pushed themselves and explored and shared and learned so much about themselves and each other.” I feel this is a wonderful summary of our time in Forest School and the possibility it offers for creative expression for children, and for adults.

Yvonne

Yvonne Cullivan is a visual artist and educator based in the West of Ireland. She has fifteen years experience in Fine Art practice, Arts Education, Public & Participatory Arts and Arts Management. She holds a B.A. in Fine Art from Crawford College of Art and Design, Cork, and an M.Sc. in Multimedia from Dublin City University. Yvonne is a Lecturer at the National College of Art and Design, Dublin, on the First Year Fine Art & Design Programme and in the Fine Art Media Department. She is also currently engaged as a Creative Associate with the Creative Schools Programme.


Working across a broad range of documentary-style media, including sound, video, photography, interview/conversation, drawing and writing, Yvonne’s practice is underpinned by a strong participatory and collaborative approach. She often works within communities of place, rooting the engagement in site-specific research and interdisciplinary knowledge generation. Sustained processes of observation, documentation, collaboration and experiential engagement with place, lead to the creation of new work that is reflective of, appropriate to and shaped by the process.

Meaningful Actions – Blog 3

At this stage in the process, my role as Creative Associate on the Creative Schools programme is one of support. Here is an outline of the activities underway at each school and the decisions that informed them.

The boys at Athenry N.S. voted for the medium of construction and vocalised a desire for greater creative autonomy within activities. Staff voted to explore environmental arts and expressed an interest in professional development around the arts curriculum and cross-curriculum creativity. Both commented on the need for greater cohesion across the school community. Tom Meskell led a willow project, involving the whole school in a large-scale collaboration, with additional CPD for staff. Creative sustainability is encapsulated within the experiential process; the school sees that a whole-school project is possible and how it might work, the staff undertake a tailored exploration of creative collaboration with cross-curricular linkage, the children collectively shape a participatory experience that brings them together as a creative community, and everyone learns a new skill. The resulting work was celebrated with a magical installation at the school for Cruinniú na nÓg. 150 native tress were also planted on the school grounds.

Everyone at Eglish N.S. voted for up-skilling in Digital Media, specifically film and animation. The school has a very creative approach to curricular delivery, but the staff wished to expand on the creative confidence of everyone at the school toward greater self-expression. Again, the children vocalised a need for more creative autonomy and decision-making. Louise Manifold has been engaging the whole school in an exploratory journey of what creativity looks like, using accessible software such as green-screen and stop-motion on the school’s i-pads, and incorporating the children’s interests in movement, performance and nature. Staff are participating in customised professional development sessions that compliment the work with the children. The aspiration is to create a digital ‘guide to creativity’ informed by the children for children, which will be shared with families and peers and used by the school into the future.

Forest School Workshop by Down to Earth at Galway Educate Together National School

A programme of activities around food and nature, considering sustainability, regeneration and wellbeing, and involving talks, events, workshops and screenings, is in flow at Galway Educate Together N.S. The children voted overwhelmingly for cooking; a category that a voluntary children’s panel added to my long list of creative media. The staff showed a preference for nature-based activities. There was a shared desire to interact with external partners and off-site activities and an overall ambition to recognise, celebrate and communicate creative activities within the school and across the school community. The fifteen classes are each engaging in specialised workshops and choosing from an additional menu of activities around the expanded theme. Examples include foraging, farm walks, herbal tincture making, pollinator workshops, documentary screenings, wildflower sewing and forest school activities. The consultation process and this devised programme are also providing valuable research for an upcoming Per Cent for Art project for the school.

Liz Coman is an Assistant Arts Officer with Dublin City Council.  She is a certified Visual Thinking Strategies facilitator with VTS/USA and has completed training to coaching level.  She is responsible for monitoring the quality of Erasmus+ Permission to Wonder – an EU project for Dublin City Council that is testing the VTS training pathway with educators in classroom and gallery settings. Liz has a background in History of Art and Museum Studies and fifteen years experience in designing innovative projects that support arts, education and learning.  She has led trainings in enquiry led approaches to mediating artwork for visual art facilitators in The Ark, A Cultural Centre for Children, The National Gallery of Ireland, and The Turner Prize, Derry and offers ongoing mentorship for individual artists, arts educators and teachers.

Stepping Back – Erasmus+ Permission to Wonder in a Post Primary School Art Room – Blog 2

A conversation with Anne Moylan, Art Teacher, Hartstown Community School, Clonsilla, Dubln15.

My experience with VTS has taught me that supporting authentic VTS practice, for our educators, our students, and myself is not a linear process.  It thrives on a spirit of collaboration, time, and some resources to access training and share understandings of the method.

In 2016, Dublin City Arts Office piloted a partnership approach with the NCCA to test the VTS training pathway with a group of Irish educators from different backgrounds –  professional educators who are from early years settings; primary school classroom teachers; secondary school (art) teachers; art educators (freelance museum and gallery educators, including teaching artists). It supported professional educators to train in Visual Thinking Strategies via Beginners and Advanced Practicums, with VTS/USA Programme Director, Yoon Kang O’Higgins. Erasmus+ Permission to Wonder extended this approach to six European partners, allowing us to deepen our understanding of the educators’ VTS practice journey through a research evaluation framework led by our partners, VTS Nederland.  The intended impact is that, through supporting educators, children and young people will have access to opportunities for critical thinking & thoughtful citizenship; will be actively encouraged to trust their own perceptions and be open to the thoughts of others; will feel their observations are valued and valuable when dealing with visual expression.

Change has been apace in secondary school curriculum re-design in Ireland in recent years. The ‘new’ Junior Cycle places an emphasis on students’ holistic development, linking subject areas, and turning a titanic history of ‘information giving’ towards scaffolding students’ life skills to equip them for a rapidly changing technological and global world.  This is a welcome change, and long awaited by us in the field that bridges arts, education and learning. It also invites challenging questions. I wonder what really happens in the classroom when we ‘step back’ and support our students to take the lead?  In my conversation with Anne Moylan, a secondary school art teacher, and educator participating in Permission to Wonder, we discuss how her training in VTS has supported a shift in her teaching practice and heightened her awareness of the value of “stepping-back” for her students.

How does VTS inform your teaching practice?

For me, the method is very much about stepping back.  It has definitely simplified down the process of looking at a painting, an object, a sculpture, piece of assemblage, for the first time.  To ask the question – what is going on in this work? – and then to actually hear what the students can see and what they are thinking about it. You always come with your own knowledge but in a VTS image discussion you have to step back out of that.  It is about allowing them to take you on any sort of a journey with their observations.

It is surprising when they point out something that you haven’t thought about or know already. You have to be prepared to go with the flow and therefore, your role completely changes with your students. You can make connections, bridge comments and themes, always developing the journey of their observation of the artwork. At the beginning, I found this difficult. Sometimes, as teenagers, you will find they are quiet or are afraid they are going to make a mistake.  That really gets easier with experience and practice as the students get used to the process over time.

We are not looking at images on the art history course. These are images from the VTS/USA website or the Permission to Wonder project, chosen specifically for use in a VTS image discussion. They are images that I am not familiar with myself. So, I am out of my comfort zone. I find this invigorating.

*Permission to Wonder partners are building and testing a European based image bank specifically for use within the project by the educators.  This will be available shortly on the project website www.permissiontowonder.com. Other images we have practiced with are drawn from the VTS/USA image curriculum for specific age groups available on https://vtshome.org/

What have you noticed happening for your students in a VTS image discussion?

Often, in a VTS session, you will find that students, who are very quiet usually, will begin to have a lot to say about a work. Some of these students would never talk, even in a practical art class. Then you show them an image, something will strike them in that image, and they really want to let you know what they see in it.

I have a number of students whose first language is not English. They have difficulty trying to say what they are looking at in their second language. Yet VTS gives them the space to do this.  The atmosphere is very calm. That is the shift for me.  Instead of giving them facts, dates and information about artwork, you are waiting to find out what they want to say about it, first and foremost.

With VTS, you really are connecting with their world. VTS allows the space for their world to connect with an artwork and indeed with me, as somebody from a different generation. You just see into their minds. Therefore, you could show them an image and the theme of mental health or family issues might come through from them. Of course you have to be careful and manage the discussion, not to flinch or be surprised.  You might be flummoxed by what might come out of them.  So holding your neutrality, and keeping the space safe for students, is important. VTS training helps you learn to do this effectively.  You sometimes think they might be talking about their own lives, and yet they are not, they are talking about an artwork.

Your role becomes very much the facilitator of the discussion. Often I would have students, saying to me ‘When can we do this again?

Have you practiced VTS with images that are on the art history course?

Yes, for example, with Jan Van Eyck’s Arnolfini Wedding. When you ask the first question – what is going on in this work?-  you get “I know all about this, we studied this in religion / we studied this in history”. This is an image that is a little bit recognisable to them. They are able to share what they have been taught. However, when you manage the discussion with conditional paraphrasing and ‘What more can we find?’ it deepens their engagement with the work. Even though they think they know as much as there is to know about it, it refocuses their attention back on the image. It deepens their concentration and gets their eyes back on the key elements of the picture.

‘The Arnolfini Wedding’ by Jan Van Eyck
https://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/paintings/jan-van-eyck-the-arnolfini-portrait

As part of teaching art history, I take the opportunity to bring the students into galleries in Dublin.  The guides tend to lead the tour with one voice- the guides voice. As an art teacher, I just want them to know you can walk into a gallery in any city, you do not have to pay, you can go in, see two pieces, and go back out again. With VTS and the three questions, it is a framework for them to use for looking at artwork, no matter where they are or what artwork they are looking at.

Can you recall a favourite VTS image discussion?

I have used VTS with all the year groups. However, I particularly remember a VTS discussion with a group of sixth years, at the end of the year, in May. We were finished the practical side of the preparation for the exam. With sixth years, you do not want to make anybody have to speak. It is fine if they don’t want to say anything.  However, in this session, there was one boy from China. He had so much to say about a particular image. He related it back to his own country. It was a painting, with a bright yellow palette and all the children depicted had these red neckerchiefs. The Irish children read them as the scouts, or being members of a group, or a club. This boy went in a completely different direction. He described that this is what it is like in China, in school. He talked about his own experience. He spoke for a few minutes and got a round of applause from the other students. A girl in the group said to him ‘in all the years that you have been in the school, that is the most, I’ve ever heard you say’.  So that is the kind of profound experience I remember coming from my VTS image discussions.

‘Mask Series No. 6’ by Zeng Fanzhi,
https://muse.union.edu/aah194-wi19/2019/01/30/zeng-fanzhi-mask-series-no-6/

How do you think VTS complements the Junior Cycle art curriculum?

In the new junior cycle art curriculum, student voice is very important.  It means stepping back and letting the student do the work, lead their learning process.  This does not mean that your job is easier. Within the structure of classroom-based assessment, a lot of reflecting, verbalizing and building the visual vocabulary for teachers and the students, is required.  The change is that you are putting the ownership for their learning and describing their learning process back on the student.  Therefore, you need to facilitate the classroom environment more in order to achieve that.

What we are all nervous about is that it this is difficult to assess. For students and parents it is difficult to understand this change in emphasis. I gave my students a VTS image discussion as a piece of homework to try out with their parents.  They took the framework and used it to look at any artwork or any piece of visual information with their family. The students were surprised with their parent’s observations and the conversations about the art work at home. I use it with my own family and it works very well!

How did Erasmus+ Permission to Wonder help you develop your VTS practice?

I really value that I have been involved in Permission to Wonder. As an art teacher in a school, you might be the only art teacher. You could be on your own, in your creative world.  You are so busy day to day with project work. It is amazing to step out of it with VTS and to have an opportunity to meet other educators-to look at artwork with them using a different format. It is really quite enlightening and refreshing. There are four of us educators from Dublin and we are all coming from completely different backgrounds – gallery, artist, primary school and secondary school. Being involved in our own Irish group was brilliant. We helped each other to explore our own context and look at theirs. I really enjoyed the collaboration and it was invigorating to explore art with others.

The training practicums were very well paced out. In the Beginners Practicum, you had the three questions. But you have to get them right, and in the right order, remember the exact wording, and that was tricky for me in the beginning.  It was also a challenge to learn to paraphrase accurately.  That requires a lot of skill. In the Advanced Practicum, I loved learning about linking and framing comments. How you, as facilitator, can connect comments and really build the learning in the group. I enjoyed the training and understand that it is also up to me to support my own practice and keep  motivated in using VTS.

What would you like to work on next in your VTS practice?

I did a VTS session with a society and politics class. None of these students were art students. We looked at images I selected specifically looking at politics and society – race, childhood issues, gender etc. VTS worked so well in this class. Students had so much to say and the images stimulated insightful conversations. I am interested in how VTS could be used in other subject areas and how I might help other teachers integrate VTS into their subjects in our school.

Fiona Lawton TeacherFiona Lawton has been teaching secondary students in Scoil Bernadette Special School for the last ten years. She graduated with a Masters in Drama and Theatre Studies in UCC in 1999. During that period Fiona has been involved in writing, directing, acting and producing plays around Cork. In 2005 she played the part of the Magistrate in the award winning film ‘The Wind that Shakes the Barley’. In 2008 Fiona returned to UCC to complete a Postgraduate Diploma in Guidance and Counselling and subsequently in 2013 completed the Higher Diploma in Primary Education with Hibernia College. In school Fiona teaches a variety of subjects but has a passion for drama. Each year she works with a group of LCA students to devise, produce and perform a play. Fiona strongly believes in the importance of educating through the arts where creativity and collaboration are central to the learning process.

 

Creative Schools: Celebration Time – Blog 4

As the end of the school year approaches we have been looking forward to celebrating all our creative work that we have engaged in throughout the year.
On the 31st May all students in Scoil Bernadette participated in our Creative Schools Celebration Day. All students arrived in the hall to participate in eight different creative stations in small groups. There was a doodle corner, a lego station, a dance station, jenga, hook a duck, incredibox and a card making station. Everyone got a chance to try out each station to create, dance and play! A lot of fun was had and we all enjoyed ourselves.

In the afternoon, we all assembled in the hall to see some creative performances. In our school this year, our first years participated in the Music Mash Up programme where they learned to play different instruments and sing in a band. Music Mash up provides access for young people of all abilities to music in a fun, relaxed and inclusive way. This project was facilitated by Eamonn Nash.  For more information see musicmashup.ie/about. We were lucky to see two performances by this group.

Our next performance we saw a dance piece that a selection of students from throughout the school were involved in. These students have been attending dance workshops every Thursday in the school with dance artist Lisa Cahill. The dance piece was part of the international movement of Global Water Dances. More information can be found on the website globalwaterdances.org/It was clear that the students had put in a lot of work and practice into their performance and it was a pleasure to see them express themselves so creatively.

We then saw a dramatic re-enactment of Johnny Cash’s song ‘A Boy Named Sue’ by the LCA 2 class. The group devised and performed the piece themselves. The play was entertaining and funny and the audience really enjoyed it.

Our main focus this year as a Creative School was to offer students additional Visual Arts Workshops for students across the school. These workshops culminated in a friendship tree which is proudly displayed outside our school. Each student coloured and drew on a series of discs which formed part of this collaborative picture. To conclude our Celebration Day we watched a photo story which documented these workshops. We saw the process of the work which involved a lot of teamwork and collaboration. These workshops were facilitated by Rosaleen Moore and Ailbhe Barrett, and led by Mairead O’Callaghan of Crawford Supported Studios. For more information see crawford.cit.ie/supported-studio-project-with-gasp-and-c_ig-artists/.

All of the participating students received a certificate from the principal for their role in the Creative Schools project this year.

This year we have developed existing relationships and also we have made new links and friendships with a lot of artists and organisations outside of our school. We were privileged to have all the artists who have worked with our school this year as guests on our Celebration Day.

The Creative Schools Project has ended for this year but creativity continues in Scoil Bernadette. Towards the end of the June we will be running an X Factor Competition where all students will again be taking to the stage to sing and dance. We are looking forward already to next year when we can get planning for our next Creative School project. Students already have an abundance of ideas of what they would like to do. We are delighted that we took part in the Creative Schools project this year and are proud of our participation and achievements.

Sinéad Ní Bhrádaigh has worked in Galway Educate Together since 2002. She has a life long interest in the arts, primarily in the musical side of the arts. She plays classical piano to Senior Certificate level and has been involved with Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann as a piano and fiddle player and tutor in Dublin and Galway. In 2001, Sinéad completed a Higher Diploma in Arts Administration and gained great experience volunteering with the Town Hall Theatre and Galway Arts Centre. Sinéad established the GETNS school choir in 2004, and now collaborates with another teacher to run a choir with 100 students in the school. The GETNS choir has performed at several Peace Proms, at the Town Hall Theatre and at community events.

Getting the Show on the Road….. – Blog 2

This second part of the process, putting together a programme of events on our theme of Food, Cooking and Nature, is a really exciting and energising process. It felt like it took such a long time to get to the point of settling on a theme that reflected the needs and wants of the children, their parents, and school staff. There was so much to choose from, the net was very wide. When we finally settled on the theme, it was really exciting to be able to brainstorm and come up with ideas that would reflect the needs of the school community in a programme of activities.

Yvonne had been busy behind the scenes putting the feelers out and getting in touch with artists and professionals working in these circles. All of the professionals that Yvonne contacted were very enthusiastic about participating in the Creative Schools Programme and delighted to link in with our primary school in a sustainable way. We have now arranged for every class level to have a workshop/trip off site, which could only have been achieved as a result of the funding we received as part of this process. We are very grateful to have had access to this funding and it’s a wonderful asset to have for our second year programme as well. Through these workshops the children will be bug hunting, foraging in our local woods, making tinctures, becoming Bee Aware and making our school grounds pollinator friendly, visiting an Organic Farm and a workshop with Yvonne on some short films she made around the butter making process.

Our Creative Schools panel of teachers and children also brainstormed together and came up with a “Menu of Activities” (pardon the pun!) that every classroom can engage with over the next few weeks. These activities range from Science experiments with food items, setting classroom up as a restaurant and having a healthy shared lunch; inviting parents in to classroom to bake with the children or to share their skills, screenings of food related programmes and documentaries. We are hoping to document the activities that the children are engaging in over the next couple of weeks so that we can celebrate this creativity when we come back after the summer holidays. It’s going to be an action packed few weeks and we are looking forward to it immensely!

Lucy Elvis is a director of CURO, a not-for-profit organisation committed to public philosophy. CURO helps communities think together more effectively by inviting them to become Communities of Philosophical Inquiry. CURO works in schools, libraries, galleries and festivals as well as organising clubs and camps that include scholarship streams for children from less privileged socio-economic backgrounds. They like to get people thinking in places where they least expect it and to listen to the ‘big ideas’ that matter to groups who often aren’t given a voice.

When Lucy isn’t engaged in public philosophy, she is completing her PhD thesis and lecturing in Philosophy at NUI Galway. She is also an independent visual art curator and a board member of the TULCA Festival of Visual Art.

Talking about thinking and thinking about Talking – Blog 2

Sometimes, our young philosophers’ work can appear deceptively low tech. Walk in on a CPI (a community of philosophical inquiry) and you’ll find children sitting in a circle, some speaking, some listening and sometimes a cuddly toy, or a ball being used to indicate who should be talking. But, in these seemingly straight-forward talking shops, mind-bending ideas are explained, exchanged, and even worlds reimagined.

So far, so not-so-different from ‘circle time,’ right? However, there’s much more happening in philosophical dialogue than ‘talking.’ Unlike conversation, where I might share some news, and then hear from someone else, content in the CPI is anchored in a philosophical question (a ‘big’ ‘tricky’ ‘contestable’ and ‘open’ question) that the community have voted on together. In the CPI our learners are trying to solve ‘big problems’ together. This requires careful critical thinking before making a contribution. In answering big questions like ‘Should we always be punished for stealing?’ I have to decide my overall position (yes/no) and the reason why I think so.

If the only goal of a CPI were sharing opinions, then the result would be a straight-forward debate. But, undertaking philosophical inquiry together, means finding the best possible answer we can to our ‘big question’- a tally of yesses and nos won’t cut it. We will have to test the consequences of any overall position we adopt, and this might mean imagining scenarios, (‘what about stealing something small from your sister?) adjusting them, (‘what about stealing something back?) or clarifying what you mean by using analogies to point at similarities and differences (‘stealing something back is like creating fairness.’*)

The creativity described here needs critical thinking too, to support the new possibilities it imagines, and to create boundaries for creative thinking to ‘go-beyond.’ Because of the ways being critical and creative work together, the CPI allows our young learners to see how thinking from radically different areas of the curriculum work together, and how, scientific discovery and creative expression are both united by care and curiosity that powers our passion to ‘find out more.’

The CPI is a place for talking through, exploring and building possible answers together. Making thinking about concepts or big questions’ share-able’ can be a challenge, and demands creativity, and a rethinking of what ‘being creative’ can be, if we can move from just sharing ideas to making and revising them together.

*The examples here are based on a workshop with Ballyroan National School, at Ballyroan Library, who asked the question: ‘Should we be punished for stealing’ after they read ‘The Whopper’ by Rebecca Ashdowne together.

Liz Coman is an Assistant Arts Officer with Dublin City Council.  She is a certified Visual Thinking Strategies facilitator with VTS/USA and has completed training to coaching level.  She is responsible for monitoring the quality of Erasmus+ Permission to Wonder – an EU project for Dublin City Council that is testing the VTS training pathway with educators in classroom and gallery settings. Liz has a background in History of Art and Museum Studies and fifteen years experience in designing innovative projects that support arts, education and learning.  She has led trainings in enquiry led approaches to mediating artwork for visual art facilitators in The Ark, A Cultural Centre for Children, The National Gallery of Ireland, and The Turner Prize, Derry and offers ongoing mentorship for individual artists, arts educators and teachers.

Setting the Scene for Erasmus+ Permission to Wonder – Blog 1

My first encounter with Visual Thinking Strategies was at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) in 2001.  I was on a public tour of the collection and the guide stood us in front of an artwork by Jackson Pollock and said ‘What is going on in this picture?’.  I was challenged by the question. I was also surprised by the long, silent pause that followed it! The group discussion began slowly.  All opinions offered by the group were considered by the guide, validated and acknowledged as a valuable contribution to the meaning of the work.  But in truth, I was disappointed that the guide did not offer any explanation about history of the artwork. Being a graduate of history of art, I had visited a lot of museums and always enjoyed the experience of being told information and stories about the artwork and the life of the artist. The Pollock work was figurative, with references to native American iconography.  I wanted to be told the ‘right answer’ about its intended meaning.

Soon after, I began an internship with SFMOMA and discovered that the discussion-based approach used on public tours was called VTS – Visual Thinking Strategies.  I began to think more about visual learning and constructivist pedagogy.  I was introduced to the basics of VTS facilitation – three questions – what’s going on in this picture? – what do you see that makes you say that? – what more can we find? –  backed up with carefully considered paraphrasing on the part of the facilitator.   I then did a piece of action-research with a group of adult learners with literacy difficulties from San Francisco Public Library which deepened my understanding of the role of the art museum as an active learning space which could  harness rich opportunities for literacy/language development.

Visual Thinking Strategies is a teaching framework and a practice. It was devised in the late 1980s by Philip Yenawine, art educator and Abigail Housen, cognitive psychologist. At the time, Yenawine was Director of Education at The Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) in New York City and was primarily concerned with making museum education programmes more effective. Yenawine and Housen’s research found that most viewers participating in museum programmes (specifically MOMA’s education programmes) were novice viewers, meaning that they had little experience looking at art, and their interpretations were relatively naïve.

VTS is based on three questions that aim to support novice viewers become more observant and more thoughtful about what they are looking at. This approach seems deceptively simple. However, with regular practice and when implemented effectively with a group, by a trained VTS facilitator, the (educational) outcomes are strong. Participants learn to acknowledge that every idea is important as they concentrate on justifying their idea with physical elements present in the work they are observing.  This improves observation skills and builds confidence in understanding works of art, giving participants a sense of ownership and empowerment over their opinions about art.   VTS involves no art-historical information and it does not require that the VTS facilitator have the answers to questions that arise in the course of discussion.  However, it does require educators to accept that they are not teaching aboutart.  Rather they are facilitating critical debate and thinking about art and indeed the bigger themes that emerge from an artworks’ powerful mirroring of the world.  I have learned from my own training with VTS/USA, that while VTS is a valuable method in my arts in education toolkit, my VTS practice requires consistency and reflection to genuinely support students’ thinking, learning and aesthetic growth.

While art museums are increasingly more open to audience centred approaches in mediating art, historically, this has not always been the case. French sociologist, Pierre Bordieu, went so far as to claim that the “true function” of the art museum was to “reinforce for some the feeling of belonging and for others the feeling of exclusion” and his research highlighted a public perception of art institutions as a type of holy shrine for artwork to be admired but not necessarily understood. [i] The opposite is the agenda for the durational work with VTS at Dublin City Council’s LAB Gallery.  As a contemporary art space for experimentation and risk taking in the visual arts in Dublin, The LAB Gallery has played a critical role in giving professional development, time and space for contemporary art, educators and local children in Dublin 1 to collaborate in a shared investigation of VTS.  Sheena Barrett, the LAB’s Curator, highlights the importance of VTS in providing a safe space to practice discussions that support our capacity to ‘wonder’ as opposed to moving too quickly to judgement about an artwork and/or complex social issue.

Fast forward to 2017, and Dublin City Council Arts Office is successful in achieving a European Union Erasmus+ KA2 Strategic Partnership Project Funding for Erasmus+ Permission to Wonder.

Artist Claire Halpin, Art Teacher Kieran Gallagher & Liz Coman at the MACA Contemporary Art Museum Alicante

Artist Claire Halpin, Art Teacher Kieran Gallagher and Liz Coman at the MACA Contemporary Art Museum Alicante

Erasmus+ Permission to Wonder aims to widen the network of VTS peers through training and sharing learning.  The project focuses on supporting ‘educators’ to develop a Visual Thinking Strategies practice over time. Over the course of this blog series, I hope to introduce you to the Irish educators who participated in Permission to Wonder. Kieran Gallagher is a secondary school art teacher based in St Oliver’s Community College, Drogheda and is a member of the visual arts Junior Cycle training team. Claire Halpin, is a professional artist and art educator and is the co-ordinator of the VTS Neighbourhood Schools Programme led by Central Model Senior School.  Anne Moylan is a secondary school art teacher based in Hartstown Community College, Dublin 15. Jane Malone is a primary school teacher based in St Catherine’s National School, Donore Avenue, Dublin 8. Sile McNulty Goodwin is Education Curator at Dublin City Gallery, The Hugh Lane. Kathryn Maguire is a professional artist and art educator.

 

Assistant Arts Officer Liz Coman, Teacher Anne Moylan, Education Curator Sile McNulty , Teacher Jane Malone and Artist Kathryn Maguire in the David Museum, Copenhagen

Assistant Arts Officer Liz Coman, Teacher Anne Moylan, Education Curator Sile McNulty , Teacher Jane Malone and Artist Kathryn Maguire in the David Museum, Copenhagen

 [i]  As quoted in Stephen E. Weil, Esq, “On a New Foundation: The American Art Museum Reconceived,” in  A Cabinet of Curiosities: Inquiries into Museums and Their Prospects (Washington, D.C. : Smithsonian Institution Press, 1995), 106.

 

Yvonne

Yvonne Cullivan is a visual artist and educator based in the West of Ireland. She has fifteen years experience in Fine Art practice, Arts Education, Public & Participatory Arts and Arts Management. She holds a B.A. in Fine Art from Crawford College of Art and Design, Cork, and an M.Sc. in Multimedia from Dublin City University. Yvonne is a Lecturer at the National College of Art and Design, Dublin, on the First Year Fine Art & Design Programme and in the Fine Art Media Department. She is also currently engaged as a Creative Associate with the Creative Schools Programme.


Working across a broad range of documentary-style media, including sound, video, photography, interview/conversation, drawing and writing, Yvonne’s practice is underpinned by a strong participatory and collaborative approach. She often works within communities of place, rooting the engagement in site-specific research and interdisciplinary knowledge generation. Sustained processes of observation, documentation, collaboration and experiential engagement with place, lead to the creation of new work that is reflective of, appropriate to and shaped by the process.

 

Collate and Prioritise – Blog 2

I collected a lot of information from the schools I have been working with as part of my role as Creative Associate on the Creative Schools Programme; written notes, visuals, statistics, survey information. The biggest school (Galway Educate Together on Newcastle Road) has over 500 pupils and 50 staff. Regardless of the size of the school, everyone was asked for their opinions. This took time and investment from myself, the coordinators, staff, voluntary Children’s Creativity Panels and, at G.E.T.N.S., a voluntary Staff Creativity Panel. Questions were asked such as: What are the challenges to being creative in the classroom? What are the opportunities for this Creative Schools Programme? If you were the principle of this school and had money to spend, what creative things would you spend it on? Age-appropriate surveys were completed with in-depth questions regarding the level of engagement with creativity in the classroom, staff planning, allocation of funding, parental awareness of creative activities etc. There were votes, by all parties, in relation to areas of interest and creative media to explore. Everywhere I went I brought colored sharpies and hundreds of colored post-its, blue-tack and masking tape, large sheets of paper and visual aids. The workshops were active and inclusive and very enjoyable.

I then worked through the valuable information, stored on sheets and post-its or documented through photographs, in the same way that I would with research for any project; by laying it all out and finding the overlaps and patterns within it. I moved post-its around, joined them with arrows and written notes. Through this process of collating and prioritising (staff were involved to a certain extent during workshops), I produced a visual mind-map for each school. I returned to present the findings and discuss suggestions as to how we might address the prioritised information. My hope in each case was to find a way to marry the medium / media of choice with a methodology through which prioritised learning could be imparted and to also encompass the larger contexts, aims and ambitions, outlined by each school. Context, method, medium, not necessarily in that order, are the three strands that merge to inform and form my own artistic practice and individual projects and are the main elements of my teaching methodology.

There followed a consultative process involving staff, staff panels, children and children’s panels, through which my suggestions were padded and shaped collectively. In each case we made decisions on ‘projects’. These projects have a beginning, middle and end, however they are not stand-alone. Rather, they have been devised as a way to carry experiential learning on a number of levels and to keep this learning open so that it can be expanded upon. They have also been devised in collaboration with specific artists; the ‘who’ is as important as the ‘how’ and the ‘why’. In each case I approached particular people and engaged them in conversations, alone and then with the schools, to further shape what might happen. We are now at that wonderful point where the work is starting to unfold.

Frank is an Irish-born designer /cultural producer with an interest in film, architecture & the arts, design and technology. An honors graduate in Production Design for Film, TV and theatre, he spent the best part of a decade in this sector. Coming from a film and set design background, he has always been passionate about the power of buildings and spaces to tell stories and he developed this interest further when he later moved into interior and architectural design work setting up practice in London in 2001. This experience led to a decision to study architecture at London Metropolitan University where he was awarded an BA Honors’ Architecture in 2008 and a Professional Diploma in Architecture 2012.


His professional practice includes the design of buildings & set design for film and television production. This has informed his approach to practice, which is collaborative, interdisciplinary and site-specific. With a long term interest in the critical potential of design he established the Architecture at the Edge Festival in 2017, for which he devised and developed the events programme through all stages: planning, development and administration, including the curation and production of an annual symposium on Placemaking  & associated workshops. He recently produced an outdoor built installation, ‘Ghost Chapel’ for Galway International Arts Festival 2018 in collaboration with Bartlett School of Architecture.

Cities Need Old Buildings – Blog 2

‘Cities need old buildings so badly it is probably impossible for vigorous streets and districts to grow without them…. for really new ideas of any kind—no matter how ultimately profitable or otherwise successful some of them might prove to be—there is no leeway for such chancy trial, error and experimentation in the high-overhead economy of new construction. Old ideas can sometimes use new buildings. New ideas must use old buildings.’

From; The Death and Life of Great American Cities , Jane Jacobs

In my last blog I described how we extended the Irish Architecture Foundation (IAF) – Architects in Schools learning programme at The Bish into engagement beyond the school gate. Incorporating urban sketching on Nuns Island and other activities within the workshop itinerary in an attempt to encourage and allow the students an opportunity to examine their city from another perspective … to be creative. To be imaginative.

With the school located on part of the under-utilized parcel of land at the edge of Galway City center, the regeneration of Nuns Island lands need careful and detailed consideration it being directly between the City and NUI Galway it easily facilitates an expansion of the University campus or an expansion of the City creating a civic space to carefully bring both City and University together. NUI Galway and Galway City Council recently launched a public consultation for this very purpose. The aim here is to transform Nuns’ Island into a new quarter that will enable the city to capitalize on its creativity, enterprise and quality of life. The masterplan is being prepared by internationally-renowned planners BDP, business strategy advisors Colliers International and quantity surveyors AECOM. It is supported by the Government’s Urban Regeneration Development Fund. Focusing on this regeneration of Nuns Island we were delighted that Gareth McGuire, Architect Director BDP agreed to lead the students on a mapping exercise.

So we took a walk through their Island, mapping the existing spaces and their functions, recording the grain of the place and also seeking out opportunities for future interventions.

Amongst the key programmatic functions identified by the students in this process a number of themes evolved;

Amongst these functions one of the activities identified by the students is the sight every July of the Big Blue Tent at Fisheries Field, erected for the duration of GIAF Arts Festival. It’s a signifier of the festival status which is core to the public life of the city and a landmark for the summer. We discussed with the students about this ‘creative arts entertainment’ intervention and the potential for other spaces on the island, such as the old derelict Persse’s Distillery Building for adaptive reuse purposes. What might those buildings and spaces become? Student accommodation? With the meeting of ‘Town and Gown’ perhaps a shared library building for the city would be useful? Or a new Distillery? A Contemporary Art Gallery? Co-working spaces to foster a creative community? The students could quite readily foresee that in the creative use of these spaces lies the key to regeneration for the entire masterplan.

GIAF Big Top

GIAF Big Top

During the process I was reminded of a famous line from the late great urbanist Jane Jacobs: “New ideas must use old buildings.” So how to interpret and translate that into a way which might allow the students to engage directly in the process of reimaging Nuns Island?

Attending the Galway International Arts Festival 2019 programme launch last Thursday, the Artistic Director Paul Fahy, referred to the lack of cultural infrastructure in the city, reaffirming the festivals need to ‘Adapt old spaces and turn them into something new … ’he announced that as in previous years having utilized the former Connacht Tribune Printworks for the Festival Gallery, and this now being is no longer available, (again its being repurposed but now as an indoor food market),  GIAF is out of necessity appropriating and re-adapting the old GPO Sorting Office for the Festival Gallery 2019. Situated just off William street this building is just one other city center site which has lain vacant and idle for many years. Out of sight and just screaming for rejuvenation!!

The GIAF festival have always been the cultural pioneers in this city whom out of necessity occupy overlooked and abandoned spaces and transform them into vibrant active places. They understood that a former printing works, or an GPO sorting office can accommodate exactly the kind of framework needed for a creative hub /district. Both examples demonstrate a pragmatic response, creating flexible public buildings that give scope for further development. That kind of loose-fit re-apportion of space does not dictate how it should be used, the potential for revival is already there in the infrastructure and Galway has the cultural riches to attract people in the first place. It’s a matter of turning it to the right purpose. To look at the seeming familiar from another perspective …

As Architects we are often challenged to respond to these kinds of circumstances by conceiving new ideas for the design or re-design of existing spaces. In this process architects can become both activist and educator, championing the cause and helping to galvanize the support of the local community.

This was the approach taken with the students at the Bish. Bringing the class out into the town to explore and experience spaces and familiar places on their door step. To invite them to contribute and make decisions on what buildings or spaces they would like to create in their own local area. You could sense the excitement among the student participants in engaging as stakeholders themselves in that process which shapes their environment, in opening up new ways of looking and engaging with the world, and just perhaps pathways to creative careers as master planners or cultural pioneers for a few.

IFSA Kerry WalkerThe Irish Forest School Association (IFSA) was founded in 2016 and is engaged in the promotion and development of the Forest School (FS) movement in Ireland.  We bring Forest School practitioners together to inspire inclusive, playful learning for all, in nature.  We want to build resilience and relationships, through our connection with each other, and the natural world, while inspiring creativity and supporting wellbeing. More information can be found on our website www.irishforestschoolassociation.ie.

In this second blog post, Kerry Walker talks about how the Forest School principles can be used to unlock creative potential in children (and adults!)

Kerry Walker is a passionate Forest School Practitioner and Art Therapist. Her appreciation for nature and art has brought her on creative journeys around the world. She has facilitated creative arts programmes with a focus on using art and nature as a tool for integration, connection and awareness. Kerry is the co-founder of Down to Earth Forest School, a nature based educational programme where children are supported to learn and create through nature. (www.downtoearthforestschool.com)

Unlocking Creativity through the Forest School Principles – Blog 2

The wider the range of possibilities we offer children, the more intense will be their motivations and the richer their experiences. – Loris Malaguzzi

The Irish Forest School Association follows six guiding principles set out by the Forest School Association in the UK in 2011. These principles form the foundation that gives the learner the freedom to choose how they approach challenges and activities in natural spaces.  Forest School, based on these principles, creates a space to encourage and support us to think critically and creatively. I am going to look at each of the principles and highlight how they are key to unlocking and supporting the creative development of children, as well as promoting resilient and independent learners.

In short, Forest School:

 

By using a woodland setting for Forest School sessions, we are providing an open-ended natural environment for the children to explore. The Forest School setting is abundant with sticks, leaves, soil, stones, and many more natural objects. They are materials that can be carried, moved, combined and redesigned – they are what Simon Nicholson (1971) referred to as loose parts. He proposed that access to loose parts encourages children’s creativity and provides a greater range of opportunities (Nicholson, 1971).The woodland setting is also providing the learner with continuous access to the natural environment where they are able to immerse themselves in the creative stimulation that nature so freely provides.

Ensuring that Forest School is a long term process of regular sessions is an important factor. As the sessions are continuous, the children are given time to return to their woodland site on a weekly basis throughout the seasons. With this time, they are afforded the opportunity to work on a certain craft or skill at their pace, and develop and share their own ideas. They are not rushed or told to have a final product; they get to experience the process of creating something over time.

By using a range of learner-centred processes, Forest School aims to create a community for development and learning.It provides a platform for all learning preferences. Play and choice are an integral part of the Forest School learning process, and play is recognised as vital to learning and development at Forest School (FSA, 2011). Child-led play is central to Forest School and play facilitates a creative response in us all.

Promoting holistic development and opportunities for supported risk taking are considered central to Forest School and also to enhancing creativity. Forest School aims to develop, where appropriate, the physical, social, cognitive, linguistic, emotional, social and spiritual aspects of the learner (FSA, 2011). It encourages children to lead activities, it can help improve fine motor skills, promotes self-awareness and gives the child ownership of the sessions. Forest School encourages children to step out of their comfort zone. In doing so, the children are able to become more aware of their physical and mental limits and are more able to assess situations. They are supported to think creatively and to trust themselves.

Qualified FS Practitioners are aware of the importance of child-led activities and so they do not teach or tell children what to do. Instead they provide ideas, activities and resources and facilitate opportunities for children to pursue their interests. Over time this supports the children’s confidence and fosters creative thinking.

By providing children a long-term learning process within a woodland setting, while supporting risk and holistic development, and by creating a community for learning with a qualified practitioner the Forest School principles are key to unlocking and supporting creativity in children.

Gill, Tim, (2007) No Fear: growing up in a risk adverse society

Nicholson, Simon (1971) The Theory of Loose Parts, An Important Principle of Design and Methodology. Open University.

 

 

Sinéad Ní Bhrádaigh has worked in Galway Educate Together since 2002. She has a life long interest in the arts, primarily in the musical side of the arts. She plays classical piano to Senior Certificate level and has been involved with Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann as a piano and fiddle player and tutor in Dublin and Galway. In 2001, Sinéad completed a Higher Diploma in Arts Administration and gained great experience volunteering with the Town Hall Theatre and Galway Arts Centre. Sinéad established the GETNS school choir in 2004, and now collaborates with another teacher to run a choir with 100 students in the school. The GETNS choir has performed at several Peace Proms, at the Town Hall Theatre and at community events.

Creative Schools:  An Exciting New Journey – Blog 1

Our school was delighted  to hear about this new Creative Schools initiative and were eager for our school to participate. Our school has traditionally been very lucky to have creative teachers and parents who have shared their talents with the children over the years. Schools have changed dramatically over the years, the advent of technology means that the wider world has become much more accessible to children, and any amount of content is now available at the other end of their fingertips. The information presented on the training day for Creative Schools was so relevant and interesting. The notion that 65% of jobs our current cohort will be doing as adults have not yet been created blew my mind. That the World Economic Forum lists Creativity third in the top ten list of skills that our young people will need to navigate their future highlights how much skills development is now required in schools into the future.

We have been working in close collaboration with Yvonne Cullivan, our Creative Associate all year and this has been a great experience for our school. Yvonne has been successfully able to help us as a school identify the relationship we have with creativity through the eyes of the teachers, the children and the parents. What emerged out of that process was that as a school, we have a lot to celebrate, much to communicate and a great roadmap for how we can develop further as a school. There was a huge amount involved in the information gathering stage of the project, due in part to our large school population – surveying, collating and analysing over 1000 opinions was a long process.  We were relieved to hear that there would be another year to engage with the project, as we felt that we would need a lot more time to embed the learning from the information gathering, and having another year next year will allow us to do that.

The outcomes for our school are that all members of the community wish to engage more with creativity and the arts, we wish to engage with each other and the wider community more, we wish to see more cross curricular creativity and we wish to communicate and celebrate the many wonderful aspects of creative work that we already engage in. The children voted to do more work around cooking, nature and horticulture, so myself, Yvonne and the other wonderful teachers on our Creative School committee are currently working to put together a programme to run over the course of May and June. I look forward to sharing how we are getting on in the next blog post!

Frank is an Irish-born designer /cultural producer with an interest in film, architecture & the arts, design and technology. An honors graduate in Production Design for Film, TV and theatre, he spent the best part of a decade in this sector. Coming from a film and set design background, he has always been passionate about the power of buildings and spaces to tell stories and he developed this interest further when he later moved into interior and architectural design work setting up practice in London in 2001. This experience led to a decision to study architecture at London Metropolitan University where he was awarded an BA Honors’ Architecture in 2008 and a Professional Diploma in Architecture 2012.


His professional practice includes the design of buildings & set design for film and television production. This has informed his approach to practice, which is collaborative, interdisciplinary and site-specific. With a long term interest in the critical potential of design he established the Architecture at the Edge Festival in 2017, for which he devised and developed the events programme through all stages: planning, development and administration, including the curation and production of an annual symposium on Placemaking  & associated workshops. He recently produced an outdoor built installation, ‘Ghost Chapel’ for Galway International Arts Festival 2018 in collaboration with Bartlett School of Architecture.

Threshold – Blog 1

TY students from schools around the country completed their IAF Architects in Schools project this month with a presentation at GMIT’s Cluain Mhuire campus to IAF, GMIT staff and Architect Dermot Bannon. Devised and delivered by the Irish Architecture Foundation, this initiative provides students with first-hand experience of the design process under the guidance of design professionals.

This was my third year participating in the programme, and alongside architect Sybil Curley returning to my alma mater at St. Josephs College, ‘the Bish’, Galway we undertook to deliver a series of workshops which might allow the students to develop their visual spatial skills. Art is not taught as part of the curriculum at the school, so it was important that we find a way to allow the students the opportunity to express their inherent creativity. The teacher was keen for us to assist the students to work on design concept development that would prepare them for Design Communication and Graphics (DCG) subject challenges. To this aim, prompting visual research was very important as it helped the students investigate that process. Taking steps to intentionally address any lack of confidence in their own creativity the students surveyed areas of the school and recorded observations on materials, light levels, circulation etc. Critical thinking and visual awareness was encouraged throughout the course.  Exploratory site visits further increased the students’ visual vocabulary and ability to convey design concepts through sketching.

In the first year we explored the idea of ‘Threshold’ in creating an aedicule, between the school institution and the city. There are plans to relocate the school away from Nuns Island and out of the city to a new site in the coming years so the idea was to think about designing a ‘gateway’ into the new institution. Starting with an exercise to create their own school motto to place above the entrance to the existing school building we brought the students out to sketch the Spanish Arch and other historical approach’s to the city. Following mapping exercises of the schools existing entrances and reception areas as well documenting the access roads/bridges onto the Island in which the school is located the students constructed a 1:100 physical model of the school upon which they could place designs of their own ‘aedicule’ interventions.

The following year we continued this exploration of that kind of creative flexibility which extended into how we can engage with the city beyond the school. Inspired by dePaor Architects refurbishment of Druid theatre, the students reimagined the adaptive reuse of their existing school building, turning it towards the river, and incorporating the adjacent Nuns Island Theatre into the schools buildings programme.  Careful consideration was made to how best retain the character of this building, a former Methodist Church repurposed as an arts venue, and how this might give greater flexibility for improvements throughout the entire schools built infrastructure.

The design brief encouraged them to practice a culture of sustainability in our built environment through adaptive reuse of existing building stock located in and around the school’s current location at Nun’s Island. This initiative has the potential not only to encourage the students to better understand their built environment and gain skills in design, sketching, photography, model making & computer graphics. But also to encourage them to explore their local history & geography, engage in environmental studies, develop knowledge of material & construction studies as well as a practical use for ICT skills. The ability to spot problems and devise smart solutions—is being recast as a prized and teachable skill.

I find that these experiences have not only reinforced my belief in the importance and benefits to be found in ‘learning from making’ for a student’s development, but it has enabled them develop their own identity/interests, skills, sense of self confidence, and the possibilities for integrating this into all aspects of their learning process.

When we think about communicating something essential about the world be it through art/drama/storytelling etc. to young people in particular, it does not help to be didactic, to focus on technical or technological skill. I would encourage an emphasis on the enjoyment and the value of the process of making more than the result or final product. What is of benefit to the youth is found in the freedom, experimentation and exploration that went into their creation. Expect to make mistakes. There is no right way or wrong way. It is in finding solutions that make the value of creative imagination most valuable. My approach would be to get something across playfully. To equip students with valuable life tools which enhance their public speaking and communication skills, social development, emotional development as well as the cognitive benefits. Actually, to get playfulness itself across.

Lucy Elvis is a director of CURO, a not-for-profit organisation committed to public philosophy. CURO helps communities think together more effectively by inviting them to become Communities of Philosophical Inquiry. CURO works in schools, libraries, galleries and festivals as well as organising clubs and camps that include scholarship streams for children from less privileged socio-economic backgrounds. They like to get people thinking in places where they least expect it and to listen to the ‘big ideas’ that matter to groups who often aren’t given a voice.

When Lucy isn’t engaged in public philosophy, she is completing her PhD thesis and lecturing in Philosophy at NUI Galway. She is also an independent visual art curator and a board member of the TULCA Festival of Visual Art.

We thought we’d never ask…. – Blog 1

Often in our haste to increase engagement in arts education, we want to get children making. This is a liberating process: they meet makers, learn about their practice and have a go at creating work in that way these experiences are exciting, motivating and arguably help to create our future artists.

But, what about our future art audiences? Visual Thinking Strategies have dominated museum and gallery education programmes, and these have value too. They focus on looking slowly and carefully, getting lost in the work itself and wondering what it’s all about by answering the questions ‘What do you think is happening in the picture?’ and ‘Why?’

What happens though, when you allow young audiences to take charge? What new understanding can emerge by allowing them to frame the questions they are really wondering about after experiencing a play, roaming an exhibition, absorbing a story, watching a film or listening to some music?

This is what CURO aims to do when we think about art with our communities of young learners. Our focus is on reconnecting the experiences of art, with our experiences in and with the world using them to think deeply about questions that matter for everyone. So, where visual thinking strategies stay within the edges of the canvas and practice-oriented art interventions are focussed on making something, we encourage our communities to run with the work by devising a common, contestable and enduring question that it sparks for them.

In this process the group votes on one such question and enters into a structured dialogue to find a collective answer. Questions we’ve explored with communities include: ‘Is everyone creative?’ (inspired by the work of Sam Basu and Liz Murray), ‘Are there more than two genders?’ (sparked by Bassam Al Sabbah’s Walking, Walking with The Sun Upon my Back) and ‘Could we exist without negative emotions?’ (prompted by the experience of Richard Profit’s The Shortcut: Don’t Follow the Black Dog).

These fascinating questions are just the start of a process of exploring possible answers, the reasons for them and the imagined worlds where ‘that’s the case.’ In our next post, we’ll talk about the ‘how’ of structured dialogue and the creative thinking skills it can foster through the context of our work in Galway County Libraries.

The Irish Forest School Association (IFSA) was founded in 2016 and is engaged in the promotion and development of the Forest School (FS) movement in Ireland.  We bring Forest School practitioners together to inspire inclusive, playful learning for all, in nature.  We want to build resilience and relationships, through our connection with each other, and the natural world, while inspiring creativity and supporting wellbeing. More information can be found on our website www.irishforestschoolassociation.ie.  Some of our members will describe their engagement in Forest School in this series of blog posts. First up is Claire Murphy:

MarieClaire (Claire) Murphy is a primary school teacher, forest school leader and a PhD researcher in Mary Immaculate College, Limerick. Thanks to funding from the Heritage in Schools scheme, Claire is currently working collaboratively with a Forest School Leader to bring a high-quality learning experience to primary school children.

Exploring the Visual Arts Curriculum in Primary School the Forest School Way – Blog 1

We know that one in six Irish parents don’t think it’s safe for their five-year-old child to play outside at home during the day (Early Childhood Ireland 2019). So opportunities to explore and to be in natural environments are increasingly limited for young children. Forest School inspires learning through interactive games, activities, songs, stories, nature crafts, foraging and sensory nature meditations. The sensory exploration deepens the children’s connections to nature as a result igniting curiosity and questioning, a fantastic gateway to learning about nature.

Forest School occurs as a weekly session in the child’s standard preschool or primary school context. The primary aim of Forest School is the development of children’s self-esteem, self-confidence and independence skills. A second aim is to encourage children to appreciate, care for and respect the natural environment (Maynard 2007). Taking risks is also an important element of this approach. The learners engage in activities such as building shelters, cooking on camp fires and identifying plant and wildlife (Harris 2017). The focus is on the whole child and their experiences developing the child’s independence and self-esteem through their engagement with the natural environment (Murray and O’Brien 2005).

The Visual Arts Primary School Curriculum presents a range of activities for the child to perceive, explore, respond to and appreciate the visual world, this involves ‘looking with awareness and understanding of the visual elements and their interplay in the environment and in art works’ (NCCA  1999, p. 2). One of the general aims of the Arts in Education includes the development of the child’s awareness of, sensitivity too and enjoyment of visual, aural, tactile and spatial qualities in the environment (NCCA 1999, p.4).

I explored the Visual Arts ‘Construction’ strand through this Forest School approach in a small-scale study. This was conducted in a 1st Class in a large, urban, DEIS status school. Overall, I found that there was a positive response as the majority of children noted that they ‘liked’ the lessons. There was evidence that children were engaged in the learning process and they displayed a development of new vocabulary associated with Forest School. I observed enthusiasm and engagement in the visual arts making process. I also found some unanticipated results of the study; I tended to structure group work in the classroom, but I found that this occurred more naturally during the Forest School sessions. Children had space to move from group to group, some enjoyed working in small groups of 2 or 3 children, while others preferred larger groups. Children had control of their social space. One child in particular tended to become frustrated with children at his group in the classroom. I observed that he moved away from the group for certain periods of time to work on his own, returning to the group when he was ready. There was a change of attitude towards the outdoors and the creatures found outdoors. One example of this is the class’ decision to protect an earthworm from the sunlight with leaves.

I am now continuing this research in a larger scale study. I am investigating the impact of the introduction of weekly Forest School sessions in an Irish Primary School setting. The Forest School sessions will take place in four mainstream classes, ensuring that there are observations of each of the curriculum levels as delivered in the Irish Primary school system. This is being conducted over the period of an academic year which ensures that each class engages in Forest School sessions for 10 weeks. The impact will be explored through the perspective of the teacher and the child to explore whether the teaching and learning methodologies used during Forest School sessions are consonant with teaching and learning methodologies advocated in the Irish Primary School Curriculum

Further reading of the integration of the Irish Visual Arts curricular objectives through the Forest School approach can be found in Claire’s paper in The Journal of Adventure Education and Outdoor Learning; https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/14729679.2018.1443481

Yvonne

Yvonne Cullivan is a visual artist and educator based in the West of Ireland. She has fifteen years experience in Fine Art practice, Arts Education, Public & Participatory Arts and Arts Management. She holds a B.A. in Fine Art from Crawford College of Art and Design, Cork, and an M.Sc. in Multimedia from Dublin City University. Yvonne is a Lecturer at the National College of Art and Design, Dublin, on the First Year Fine Art & Design Programme and in the Fine Art Media Department. She is also currently engaged as a Creative Associate with the Creative Schools Programme.


Working across a broad range of documentary-style media, including sound, video, photography, interview/conversation, drawing and writing, Yvonne’s practice is underpinned by a strong participatory and collaborative approach. She often works within communities of place, rooting the engagement in site-specific research and interdisciplinary knowledge generation. Sustained processes of observation, documentation, collaboration and experiential engagement with place, lead to the creation of new work that is reflective of, appropriate to and shaped by the process.

Creative Schools: Fresh Eyes – Blog 1

One of the aspects that I love most about working as an artist, particularly when engaging with a group or community, is the unknown. When I begin a project, nobody really knows what is going to happen, including me! This can be daunting. However, it is also a wonderful space to hold; one that allows for active listening and open response, intuitive exploration and discovery.

What I do know and trust entirely, is the creative process in which all my work is embedded. There will always be a thorough, considered and inclusive engagement. This will have a loose starting point; like a question, intention or broad theme. It will involve research, discussion, observation, documentation, and collection of information. As my sole agenda is usually to create an artwork of some description, I like to get a sense of the ‘bigger picture’ with all its nuances and particularities, whatever the situation. As the engagement unfolds, I constantly review and refine the information that comes to me, slowly shaping a response without feeling any obligation to make it fit a particular form. Eventually, as a result of this entire process, an outcome manifests. Usually it is one that is reflective and relevant, and will take a form that is both surprising and no surprise at all, because it was taking shape throughout the process. The pattern is always the same. Time and time again I doubt the process, usually when I am in the middle of it. Then, when I reach the end, I am reminded that it absolutely works. This is how I work as an artist and as an educator and this is how I am approaching my current role as Creative Associate on the Creative Schools Programme.

Schools are extremely active places. There are enormous pressures of time and workload on staff, pupils and management. The arts subjects are the easiest to squeeze out or the hardest to fit in. However, I am finding an overwhelming desire, from staff and from young people alike, to have more creativity, more freedom and experimentation and play within the curriculum and within school life. There are challenges around this of course, and there are some fears too. I have been engaging in active, visual and collaborative ways with my school coordinators and communities to unearth these challenges and fears and to also explore the opportunities and wishes around a ‘creative school’. Through workshops, surveys, activities, discussions and votes, I have been capturing all relevant voices; from those of the youngest pupils to that of the principle. We have been considering all aspects of the question of creativity in schools, from small practicalities to large visions.

The three schools that I am working with are thoroughly invested in this programme and are bringing great enthusiasm and honesty to the table and placing complete trust in the process that we are undertaking together. They are three very diverse schools, and three very different shapes are beginning to emerge…

Fiona Lawton TeacherFiona Lawton has been teaching secondary students in Scoil Bernadette Special School for the last ten years. She graduated with a Masters in Drama and Theatre Studies in UCC in 1999. During that period Fiona has been involved in writing, directing, acting and producing plays around Cork. In 2005 she played the part of the Magistrate in the award winning film ‘The Wind that Shakes the Barley’. In 2008 Fiona returned to UCC to complete a Postgraduate Diploma in Guidance and Counselling and subsequently in 2013 completed the Higher Diploma in Primary Education with Hibernia College. In school Fiona teaches a variety of subjects but has a passion for drama. Each year she works with a group of LCA students to devise, produce and perform a play. Fiona strongly believes in the importance of educating through the arts where creativity and collaboration are central to the learning process.

 

Creative Schools: Working Together – Blog 3

As Spring slowly emerges with its brighter days and new beginnings, we too are delighted to get started with our new creative project in Scoil Bernadette.

After lots of planning and negotiating with calendars, our first visual arts workshop started on the 8th March with ten enthusiastic students, one from each class group, ready to pick up their pencils and get drawing.

During our first workshop we were introduced to our facilitators, Ailbhe Barrett and Rosaleen Moore who showed us some of their work and told us about their professional careers as artists. Ailbhe and Rosaleen are two artists who work in a supported studio as part of the Gasp programme. Gasp artists meet on Tuesdays in the Crawford Art Gallery in Cork and are facilitated by Mairead O’Callaghan (More information on supported artists and this project can be found here (www.crawfordartgallery.ie/Learn-and-Explore-Crawford-Supported-studio-Artists) We were certainly impressed to see their beautiful paintings and to hear of their celebrity appearances on the Late Late show.

We played a few icebreaker games to settle the nerves and to get to know each other a little better. Soon we were ready to get down to the busy work of creating. We each chose a word that represented the feeling of being at the workshop. Some of the words chosen were ‘happy’,’ listening’,’ together’, and ‘Cork’. It was the first step in expressing ourselves within the group. We then drew our words on paper, decorating them to our liking.

We finished the workshop with another fun game where in a circle we threw a ball of string from one person to another. We ended up with a visual representation of a very connected group. As one student remarked, it was all about ‘teamwork’.

The following workshop re-enforced this theme of working together. We were divided into two groups. Each group had to build a structure as high as they could. It was challenging, stressful, but lots of fun!

On the 22nd March the group set off for the Crawford Art Gallery in Cork City to get some inspiration. Here we met with Julie who gave us an extensive tour of the gallery where we viewed and interacted with the current exhibitions. We met with Ailbhe and Rosaleen there and got to visit the studio space where they work. We were lucky enough to have time to do some drawing in the Art Gallery at the end of our tour, taking inspiration from the paintings and installations we had seen.

So far the project is going well. The students look forward each week to having extra time in the school timetable to draw, build and create, taking inspiration from each other and the work of professional artists. After three weeks of working together, I feel that the group has bonded well and there is a collegial and supportive atmosphere which adds to the enjoyment of the workshops.

We have three weeks left to continue this work of creative collaboration. We are eager to continue to develop our skills and to discover our talents.  We hope to have a day of celebration in the coming months to display the finished and unfinished work to parents, friends and the rest of the school community. We are proud to be a creative school.

Ciara Gallagher Profile PicCiara has a PhD in English from Maynooth University. She has worked as researcher on the National Collection of Children’s Books (TCD) and “Gender Identity: Child Readers and Library Collections” at the Centre for Children’s Literature and Culture, DCU. She has taught English in various universities and currently works at Kids’ Own Publishing Partnership as office administrator.

Beginnings – Blog 3

The Creativity and Change course continually pushes its participants, encouraging us to engage, act, and reflect in new and different ways. One of the most fundamental ways it stretches its participants is simply through giving students the opportunities to start something new – to begin new actions, challenges and experiences, and in the process, to unearth new confidence for future beginnings.

At each of the course weekends, we participate in intensive workshops on different creative forms. For example, one weekend focused on poetry and theatre. We moved from creating poetry as a collective to individual creative writing and finally into spoken word performances and a poetry slam. The following day, performance and action were channelled into theatre as we engaged with some of the techniques of Augusto Boal’s Theatre of the Oppressed. Throughout the course of the weekend we moved through reflection and action; from our own words to shared action and performance through poetry, and from the action and movement of the Theatre of the Oppressed to reflection again. Not only did we experience this as participants, we considered this process as facilitators – thinking through ways we could engage people through these creative forms in a manner that encourages interaction with beginning to write and enact change.

Our next task on this weekend was putting this cycle of reflection and action to use in a new context as we moved from the safe space of the Creativity and Change workshops to the public space of the city. Part of our challenge for the afternoon was to engage the public in some way, encouraging people to contribute to creating something as a group. My group set about getting people to contribute to a line poem, written in chalk on the street, beginning with the line “I know I am home when…” I was surprised at how readily and generously people got involved, moved by their openness and warmth. Individuals and small groups contributed their lines, writing on the pavement, marking the city space out as theirs a little bit more.  Groups of people contributing collectively take away some of the pressure and open up new possibilities. The same was true for our groups, as our styles of interaction with the public crossed and intersected, and we reflected on and learned from each other’s actions. Even though our engagement with the public was small and transient, we learned it is possible to bring people together to create something worthwhile, that people care and will get involved.

The willingness and want to be part of a collective is encouraging in these times when we need it most. Now to find all our different ways of starting.

Naomi Cahill works as a Creative Associate for Creative Schools and is founder and director of Bespoke Productions. She is an experienced and qualified drama teacher of primary, second level and adult education as well as children with special needs and adults with physical and intellectual disabilities. Naomi graduated with a degree in Drama & Theatre Studies from University College Cork. She further completed the Higher Diploma in Arts in Drama Education and was awarded‘Highest Academic Achievement’ from the Leinster School of Music & Drama. Through Bespoke Productions, Naomi leads drama courses in Ireland and abroad which are aimed at building confidence, self-esteem and developing communication skills. She most recently directed a modern version of ‘Romeo & Juliet’ at Teatro Re Grillo, Licata, Sicily. Having performed both on stage and in film, she enjoys sharing her experience with her students. She is delighted to be working as a Creative Associate for the Creative Schools programme.

 

Creative Schools: An Insight into the Creative Schools Project: Barryoe National School – Blog 4

My schools are at a very exciting stage of the Creative Schools Project. Plans are being brought to life in all schools. At this stage, I thought it would be interesting to give you an insight into the project so far in one of my schools: Barryroe National School. The school is located on the Ibane peninsula and is surrounded by beautiful beaches and countryside. It has 176 pupils enrolled and a speech and language unit. The school is very lucky to have a wealth of creative local people and staff who are open to new ideas and projects. Parents strive to give and provide the best all round education possible for their children and encourage involvement in the arts. The school was delighted to receive entry to the Creative Schools Project this year and are thrilled to be accepted again next year. Their enthusiasm for the project is evident and they are very much making the most of this fantastic opportunity. They have dedicated a lot of time to the project and I have had the opportunity to engage in meetings with all staff and students. There is a core team of staff within the school working on the project including: the Creative Schools Coordinator, two teaching members of staff and local artist: Eilbhe Donovan.

Puppetry:

All students in the school were lucky enough to attend ‘Dowtcha Puppets’ performance of ‘Listen Janey Mac’ in the school. They were given this opportunity to inspire them to create their own work.‘Dowtcha Puppets’ are a renowned puppet specialist company based in Cork. They came to the school and did three separate performances of their show for different class groups. It tells the tale of a character called ‘Janey Mac’ and her puppy ‘Pepper’. They make a wish in a magical stone circle in their aunty Megan’s back garden and find themselves transported back in time, trying to find each other and their way home. One aspect of the Creative Schools project is the importance of finding ways in which the arts/creativity can be linked with and used to enhance the teaching of other subjects. Along with giving the students an appreciation for puppetry, the show produced by ‘Dowtcha Puppets’ also provided students with a history of Cork and Ireland. All students really enjoyed the experience:

“It was great to see the puppet show before we did our own one”. (Student)

“The setting and the props were great and how they showed the puppets when they were far away –it was a very funny story”. (Student)

“It was strange working behind the puppet stage. The lighting made it exciting. The show was great the way the characters were going to another dimension”. (Student)

Voice of Young People:

As I mentioned previously there is an importance emphasis on ‘The Voice of Young People’ in the Creative Schools Project. At the beginning of the year, I was given the opportunity to do a workshop with a group of students (with representatives from each class). I also met with all class groups and teachers to gain a further understanding of student’s artistic/creative interests. We regularly consult with the ‘Creative Schools Student Advisory Group’ when making plans. Having gained inspiration from watching ‘Dowtcha Puppets’ performance, a group of students (from all classes) worked with their drama teacher Annemarie to write their own devised puppet show piece. Other classes had the opportunity to make stick puppets and perform in puppet shows linked to fairy tales for their fellow students. Students are also very lucky to have the opportunity to work with renowned artist: Eilbhe Donovan to create their own air dough puppets. It is evident from their feedback that the process is very much child led:

“It was great fun – we were in charge of what we wanted to do. It took a long time but it was worth it when you saw how it played out in the end. We would love more time to work on it!” (5th Class Student)

“We did all the work”. (3rd Class Student).

“We could make up our own story, make up our own characters”. (3rd Class Student)

“Our characters could talk or not e.g. our castle was the narrator. We used objects that don’t normally speak and gave them voices”. (3rd Class Student).

“We added jingles. We were free to decide everything ourselves e.g. I had a potion and it didn’t have to be a certain colour – I could choose”. (3rd Class Student)

“We could move around and work in small groups. There was no right or wrong information and it was exciting that we could add props”. (3rd Class Student)

“We were working together and we weren’t fighting – we were laughing”. (2nd Class Student)

“We could act out the characters – perform and add music”. (2nd Class Student)

“While making the puppets it was difficult to get everyone working together”. (2nd Class Student)

“We made puppets in afterschool together”. (2nd Class Student)

“We could make up our own story, make up our own characters”. (3rd Class Student)

“Our characters could talk or not e.g. our castle was the narrator. We used objects that don’t normally speak and gave them voices”. (3rd Class Student).

“We added jingles. We were free to decide everything ourselves e.g. I had a potion and it didn’t have to be a certain colour – I could choose”. (3rd Class Student)

“We could move around and work in small groups. There was no right or wrong information and it was exciting that we could add props”. (3rd Class Student)

“We were working together and we weren’t fighting – we were laughing”. (2nd Class Student)

“We could act out the characters – perform and add music”. (2nd Class Student)

“While making the puppets it was difficult to get everyone working together”. (2nd Class Student)

“We made puppets in afterschool together”. (2nd Class Student)

Sustainable Creative Teaching:

It is important for all arts and creative activities undertaken by the school to be as sustainable as possible. Teachers in Barryroe National School are learning about puppetry as a new art form which they can incorporate into their teaching into the future. Teachers have been enabled to develop experience and expertise in this new creative area and implement their acquired skills across the curriculum with confidence. Here is some feedback from teachers about the puppetry workshops.

“It really encouraged turn-taking and team work. Children had to change their voices to suit the characters”. (Teacher)

“We had less control over the output. Junior Classes needed more scaffolding to bring the story to life using the puppets. Senior pupils lead the classes”. (Teacher)

“One class was completely child lead – teacher only had to facilitate. Children took on the responsibility and worked on their stories at home”. (Teacher)

“Without a lot of effort, I worked on puppetry, which I was not comfortable with, and found once the idea was suggested to the pupils, they took ownership of it and followed through”. (Teacher)

Stop Motion Animation:

The sixth-class students are also learning about how to create their own stop motion animations. They created a fantastic animation piece called ‘Jack and Jill Cycled Down the Hill’ which was very exciting to see.

“We were so excited. We were looking forward to the lesson as it was so different to anything we had done before. I had never done anything like animation before”. (6th Class Student)

“Taking the pictures and when they were all moving having put it all together was so cool”. (6th Class Student)

“It wasn’t like being told what to do and how to do it. You could make up your own story and put it together whatever way you liked. Our stories were brought to life through animation”. (6th Class Student)

Creative Schools Continues:

I was delighted to hear a recent announcement from Creative Schools which indicated that the schools currently involved in the project will have the opportunity to continue next year. Furthermore, there will be a further one hundred and fifty schools added to the project. Things really are going from strength to strength for the Creative Schools Project. The project is having a ripple effect across Ireland as there is an increased recognition of the importance of the arts and creativity in the lives of young people.

Fiona Lawton TeacherFiona Lawton has been teaching secondary students in Scoil Bernadette Special School for the last ten years. She graduated with a Masters in Drama and Theatre Studies in UCC in 1999. During that period Fiona has been involved in writing, directing, acting and producing plays around Cork. In 2005 she played the part of the Magistrate in the award winning film ‘The Wind that Shakes the Barley’. In 2008 Fiona returned to UCC to complete a Postgraduate Diploma in Guidance and Counselling and subsequently in 2013 completed the Higher Diploma in Primary Education with Hibernia College. In school Fiona teaches a variety of subjects but has a passion for drama. Each year she works with a group of LCA students to devise, produce and perform a play. Fiona strongly believes in the importance of educating through the arts where creativity and collaboration are central to the learning process.

 

Creative Schools: Making Connections – Blog 2

Since our return to school in the New Year, we have begun the next stage of our Creative Schools journey, which is developing our school plan. In mid-January, I met with Naomi Cahill (Creative Schools Associate) to discuss our aims and objectives for the near future as a creative school. Using the framework provided, we were enabled to assess our current strengths and weaknesses in the following areas: Teaching and Learning; Leadership and Management; Children and Young People and Opportunities and Networks.

The process of writing the school plan has renewed our school’s commitment to the creative arts and also has highlighted the areas we would like to develop in the near future. We have committed to providing CPD (Continued Professional Development) for teachers in the next academic year. We will receive training on how best to use drama as a teaching methodology which can be integrated with all subjects across the curriculum.

Scoil Bernadette has a strong focus on the arts already and is involved in a number of extra-curricular creative projects including, dance, music, and theatre. In keeping with our overall objective, which is to enable all students to access a broad range of creative activities whilst in school, we have decided to organize additional visual arts workshops this year.

As Scoil Bernadette is a special school it is vital that all activities are accessible and inclusive for all students. Naomi has been invaluable in providing the school with links with a variety of organisations and practitioners that have experience in working with students with disabilities. It is important for us a school to expand our community network and provide as many opportunities as possible for our students to participate in activities that will aid their journey as lifelong learners.

We have made links with Mairead O’Callaghan in Crawford Art Gallery in Cork. Mairead facilitates visual arts workshops with a number of supported artists each week. (More information on supported artists and this project can be found here (www.crawfordartgallery.ie/Learn-and-Explore-Crawford-Supported-studio-Artists.html)

On 14th February 2019 Naomi, Mairead and I met to develop a plan where a series of six art workshops could be run in Scoil Bernadette during March and April. The workshops will be led by Mairead and co-facilitated by Rosaleen Moore and Ailbhe Barrett, two supported artists that attend the Crawford each week.

It is envisaged that this project will be collaborative and student-led. A group of ten to twelve students from Scoil Bernadette, one from each class, will attend each Friday in the school. The workshops will also involve a visit to the Crawford Art Gallery in Cork City. Together the students will decide on how the project will take shape. We hope to document the process with photographs which can be used to form part of an exhibition to be held in the school.

The workshops will begin on 8th March. We are looking forward to welcoming Mairead, Ailbhe, and Rosaleen to our school and beginning this new adventure.

We are excited to make new links with our local community which hopefully will expand both current and future possibilities for students in Scoil Bernadette.

 

Naomi Cahill works as a Creative Associate for Creative Schools and is founder and director of Bespoke Productions. She is an experienced and qualified drama teacher of primary, second level and adult education as well as children with special needs and adults with physical and intellectual disabilities. Naomi graduated with a degree in Drama & Theatre Studies from University College Cork. She further completed the Higher Diploma in Arts in Drama Education and was awarded‘Highest Academic Achievement’ from the Leinster School of Music & Drama. Through Bespoke Productions, Naomi leads drama courses in Ireland and abroad which are aimed at building confidence, self-esteem and developing communication skills. She most recently directed a modern version of ‘Romeo & Juliet’ at Teatro Re Grillo, Licata, Sicily. Having performed both on stage and in film, she enjoys sharing her experience with her students. She is delighted to be working as a Creative Associate for the Creative Schools programme.

 

Creative Schools: New Beginnings in 2019 – Blog 3

Step Two: ‘Develop’

2019 has been great so far with the continuation of the Creative Schools Project. Having completed the ‘Understand’ stage, I have moved onto the next stage: ‘Develop’. Using the planning framework, I work with schools to firstly develop a ‘Creative Schools Vision’. This is a long-term vision for placing the arts and creativity at the heart of the school. It should be aspirational but realistic. It is used to enable the school to develop aims, success criteria and activity plans. The aims state what the school ideally hopes to achieve by introducing the plan. As I previously mentioned, the voice of young people is of key importance to all stages of the project. The school must outline the role of young people in the development of their plan. The success criteria must then be detailed which states how the school will know if their plan is having the desired impact on the school and wider community.

The next step I take is to work with schools to develop a ‘Creative School Plan’. This plan is used to support the ‘Creative Schools Vision’. It includes key areas for development which should be implemented over a number of years. It is used to support the following areas for development: children and young people, teaching and learning, leadership and management & school environment, opportunities and networks. The work completed to date in the ‘Understand’ stage is used directly to the benefit of the ‘Develop’ stage.

I also work with the school to develop an activity plan. The school uses this plan to detail the exact arts and creative activities they wish to undertake this year. A series of questions must be answered which ensure schools think thoroughly about the long-term benefit of chosen activities for example: Which areas of the curriculum are involved (including the potential for collaboration/integration across subject areas)?

Linking Schools to Opportunities:
Every school is unique and they each have particular strengths and arts/creative areas which they wish to develop. I am now working to link schools to relevant opportunities according to their plans. Some activities which have come up so far include: staff undergoing CPD training in drama education to learn how process drama can be used in a cross-curricular fashion as a means to enhance learning in a practical, engaging way. Another includes: students working with a street artist over a series of weeks to create their own work. There has been a fantastic response from arts/creative organisations and artists to the project. Some of the links I have made so far include: artists (in a variety of disciplines), Arts Officers, Creative Ireland Officers, Education Officers (from arts organisations), art galleries, university drama department, music organisations and dance companies.

Student Advisory Group:
To ensure students play an active role in the implementation and evaluation of the project I work with schools to set up a ‘Student Advisory Group’. This is a cross-section of students from different class groups that I engage with on a regular basis. These students give us a valuable insight into their own artistic & creative interests. Their views must be taken on board in the development, implementation and evaluation of the project.

Arts in Education:
This project is raising the level of importance of the arts and creativity in education across the board. It is not only creating opportunities for schools but also for artists that are highly skilled and trained with vast experience. Personally speaking, my career to date has revolved around creativity. On a regular basis, I hear about the benefits creativity has to mental health and well-being. Exposure to the arts and creativity is something which needs to be made possible through the education system in order to ensure equal opportunity to young people. In a world that is constantly changing, creativity is needed more than ever.

Fiona Lawton Profile Image Fiona Lawton has been teaching secondary students in Scoil Bernadette Special School for the last ten years. She graduated with a Masters in Drama and Theatre Studies in UCC in 1999. During that period Fiona has been involved in writing, directing, acting and producing plays around Cork. In 2005 she played the part of the Magistrate in the award winning film ‘The Wind that Shakes the Barley’. In 2008 Fiona returned to UCC to complete a Postgraduate Diploma in Guidance and Counselling and subsequently in 2013 completed the Higher Diploma in Primary Education with Hibernia College. In school Fiona teaches a variety of subjects but has a passion for drama. Each year she works with a group of LCA students to devise, produce and perform a play. Fiona strongly believes in the importance of educating through the arts where creativity and collaboration are central to the learning process.

 

Creative Schools: Creative Coordinator – Blog 1

My Name is Fiona Lawton and I have been teaching in Scoil Bernadette for the last ten years. Scoil Bernadette is a special school in Cork that caters for students with mild general learning disabilities. The school aims to make each student be as independent as they can be.

We do this by providing a secure, caring and supportive environment through the provision of a broad curriculum of social, personal, academic, sporting, vocational and relevant life-skills programmes.

I teach a range of subjects in Scoil Bernadette and have a keen interest in drama, I am a graduate of the Masters in Drama and Theatre at UCC. My learning there has taught me the value of creativity in an educational setting. As teachers in Scoil Bernadette we are consistently looking for new ways to engage our students and make learning fun.

We have a strong focus on the arts in Scoil Bernadette. We have a choir that performs in school, at fundraising events and in an annual Christmas Concert each year. Our students are involved in a Samba drumming group and they participate in the Music Mash Up community arts programme where they learn instruments and singing. We have an annual visit from GMC rapper who works with our final year students in creating their own rap. We are also very involved in the dramatic arts. We are good friends with the Everyman Theatre in Cork and attend their musical theatre productions each year. We also regularly attend workshops and performances with Graffiti Theatre and Cyclone Productions. Our Fifth years create their own drama production where they devise, produce and perform their own show over a period of four months.

This is just a small selection of the creative activities that we are involved with. As you can imagine we were delighted to be chosen to participate in the Creative Schools programme. For us, it provides us with a forum to celebrate and consolidate the work we have been doing and it also gives us an opportunity to take stock, evaluate and plan how we can develop our school as a creative learning community.

Attending the in service for the Creative Schools Coordinators was an exciting and encouraging start to the year. It was great to meet all the other teachers and youth workers who are involved in the programme. The day was informative, hands on and great fun. The enthusiasm showed by the facilitators and participants was infectious. It was a great reminder of how we learn best when we are active and collaborating. This belief is one of the core teaching methodologies that we would like to promote in Scoil Bernadette as a creative school.

I did my best to recreate the days learning (albeit a condensed version) at our own staff planning day. We all did the envelope activity which required us to think ‘outside the box’ and engage with our creative sides. We don’t always have the opportunity to consider these things together so it was nice to discuss and share ideas about what creativity means to us as a staff. We also did an inventory of the creative activities that we are currently doing. It was great to acknowledge the many creative activities we are involved with already.

It was a pleasure to finally meet our Creative Schools Associate, Naomi. Naomi came up to meet with a group of our students and did a fantastic workshop with them where they were given an opportunity to consider what creative activities they are currently involved with and what they would like to do in the future. Naomi also distributed surveys to the staff so that we could give our thoughts on our current strengths, challenges and hopes for Scoil Bernadette as a creative school. Naomi’s enthusiasm for the project is evident and we are delighted we have her expertise to guide us through the planning process.

I feel that the wheels have been set in motion and we are off to a good start. I am looking forward to the next stage of the process where we can start planning and making decisions about where to go next.

It will be exciting to make links with other schools and expand our thinking and share experiences. We are delighted to be involved with this project and are looking forward to the rest of the year.

Read Naomi Cahill, Creative Schools Associate blog series at the links below:

Naomi Cahill – Guest Blog 1

Naomi Cahill – Guest Blog 2

Christopher McCambridge is a Special Educational Needs teacher at St. Colman’s Primary School, Lambeg. St. Colman’s Primary is a mainstream school of 400 pupils with two learning support unit classes. Christopher is also an active member of the Belfast art scene. He co-founded the arts organisation Belfast Platform for the Arts (Platform Arts) in 2010, which continues to provide an exhibition space and studios for artists.

In 2016 Christopher and his Primary 6/7 class were chosen to take part in the Kids’ Own Publishing Partnership ‘Virtually There’ project. ‘A virtual artist in residence project which explores the potential for creative engagement between artists working from their studio and children and teachers in the classroom using video conferencing technology’. (Orla Kenny, Creative Director of Kids’ Own Publishing Partnership). Now in their 3rd year, artist John D’Arcy has been working collaboratively with Christopher and his class at St Colman’s P.S as virtual artist-in-residence. 

Away Day – Blog 4

2018 marked the completion of my 2nd Year working as part of the Kids’ Own, Virtually There project.  The two years have flown in and I have found that the pupils throughout those years have been given an enjoyable and unique experience. This project has also helped me to develop creatively as a teacher and an individual. This development was furthered through the ‘creative away day’ that the Kids’ Own organisation offered to all the teacher – artist groupings. Each teacher-artist grouping would be able to organise their own creative away allowing us the opportunity to re-charge our creative batteries, broaden our horizons and prepare for the next project year.

After much discussion, John D’Arcy (Artist) and I decided to take a day trip to Dublin to view a number of exhibitions that we both found of interest. These exhibitions included Land / Sea / Signal at RUA RED in Tallaght and ‘Prototypes’ by Doireann O’Malley, Rachel Maclean ’Just be yourself’ in The Hugh Lane gallery. The exhibitions involved the use of digital technology, an aspect that has been integral to our project.

The journey to Dublin provided us both with an opportunity to reflect on the project from the previous year. Discussing aspects such as the pacing of the individual elements of the project, aspects of planning, pupils’ enjoyment, as well as discussing what we felt worked well or could be improved. This time, especially outside of term time, was invaluable as it allowed us to discuss the project without any other distractions.

In Year 2, the central theme of our project was Hacking.  This word was the starting point from which all other ideas would develop from. I felt this worked particularly well as it meant we could develop ideas from this central theme, allowing ideas to either develop as stand-alone lesson or develop into their own mini-project . This flexible approach, gave me more confidence in allowing each idea to develop at its own pace, with the children developing and realising their ideas across a number of weeks. Thus, allowing for a greater insight into the work. This is an aspect which I hope we further refine, allowing the children to critically reflect on their workings within each session.

During our first two years working together, technology has played an important role within our projects. This year the use of apps had allowed the children to explore hacking in a variety of ways. In one of the mini-projects we focused on the ‘hacking of time’, exploring how we could speed up or slow down different movements from the mundane, the children completing work, to the more exciting, running a race. This mini-project was achieved through the app Hyper-lapse. I felt the variety and use of different apps had engaged the children. These apps were later used by the children to create a ‘coded film’ which the viewer was required to hack, using a code developed by the children during our sessions. Due to an interest in technology, I was interested in viewing these exhibitions in Dublin.

The exhibition, Land / Sea / Signal, was a group show featuring artists, Alan Butler, Gregory Chatonsky, John Gerrard, Nicolas Sassoon & Rick Silva and Santa France. The exhibition brought together these artists whose practices ‘mediated on the materiality of internet infrastructure and the complex socio-political conditions that are embedded within them.’The exhibition examined our modern day relationship with the internet, particularly how we ‘maintain, update and adjust our relationships … and reconfigure ourselves through technologies and with one another.

Image copyright artist Alan Butler - Land / Sea / Signal at Rua Red

Image copyright artist Alan Butler – Land / Sea / Signal at Rua Red

As with any exhibition, there were artworks which held my interest longer than others. In Land / Sea / Signal, the artist Alan Bulter piece was one of these. The artist documented the lives and experiences of the homeless … within the video game, Grand Theft Auto V. Upon first viewing I had initially mistaken these photographs as documenting real people in the outskirts of rundown cities. Once realising my error, I was taken aback by the uncanny resemblance to the real-life and how unfortunate circumstances can lead to these positions for people.

After exploring RUA RED, we moved on to the Hugh Lane gallery to view the exhibitions by Doireann O’Malley and Rachel Maclean.

Dorieann O’Malley’s exhibition Prototypes was a multi-screen film installation exploring ‘transgender studies, science fiction, bio politics and psychoanalysis, AI and experimental music. She skilfully ties these to phantoms of modernist utopias, epitomised by the post-war architecture of Berlin, which serves as a dreamlike scenography for the main, protagonists’ ghostly actions’ [Jury Statement, Edith Russ Haus fur Media Art Stipendium, 2016]

Some of the work of Doireann O’Malley was as a result of collaborative methodology, using a combination of CGI, film and Virtual Reality of interest. This was of interest to both John and I, as we have discussed the use of Virtual Reality as a line of enquire in Year 3 of our project.

Rachel Maclean’s exhibition ‘Just be yourself!’, also at the Hugh Lane gallery, was a series of video installations and digital artworks. Her work uses “satire to critique consumer desire, identities and power dynamics … she parodies fairy tales, children’s television programmes, advertising, internet videos and pop culture … combining her interests in role-play, costume and digital production in works of cinematic collage.

Image copyright Rachel Maclean - ‘Just be yourself!’, at the Hugh Lane gallery

Image copyright Rachel Maclean – ‘Just be yourself!’, at the Hugh Lane gallery

I would like to thank Kids’ Own and their funders for giving John and I the opportunity to organise this creative away day. It has provided us with the opportunity to discuss and critique our project work to date and allow us to view exhibitions that could influence our thinking for future ‘Virtually There’ projects.

Year 3 of our ‘Virtually There’ project is currently underway, and as documented in my previous post, we are exploring the theme of ‘Radio.’ We have developed our own radio identity, WECHO FM. Since my last post, the children have created their own DJ names, such as Smooth T, Aidan Big Shot, Jump Bam Sam and Charley KAPOW to name a few.  They have also used these names to design portraits, using a variety of different materials and techniques, which reflect their radio personalities.

As the project continues to grow and develop, the children are beginning to record talk shows, news stories, weather reports and create music and jingles, advertising WECHO FM and their own individual shows. At the end of the project, we intend to visit a local radio station, where we will have the opportunity to play our content to a live audience.

The ‘Virtually There’ project continues to allow the children the opportunity to express themselves artistically, as well as giving me the confidence to step outside my comfort zone and develop as a teacher.

Ciara Gallagher Profile PicCiara has a PhD in English from Maynooth University. She has worked as researcher on the National Collection of Children’s Books (TCD) and “Gender Identity: Child Readers and Library Collections” at the Centre for Children’s Literature and Culture, DCU. She has taught English in various universities and currently works at Kids’ Own Publishing Partnership as office administrator.

Making Connections – Blog 2

The Creativity and Change programme meets once a month for one full weekend, each weekend bringing new experiences, challenges, and connections. These full weekends allow participants a depth of experience in learning, critical thinking, and creativity. There are also spaces for pause, reflection, and making connections woven into the structure of the course, and I begin to appreciate the space for reflection that the weeks between each course weekend allow too.

The idea that creative engagement is key in facilitating transformative learning experiences that might effect change in the way we see, exist, and act in the world is at the core of the Creativity and Change programme. With this focus, new possibility is discovered within seemingly simple, everyday acts. Listening, speaking, and observing, core components of many adult education courses, are first given renewed attention. For example, as part of our learning in a day dedicated to transformative learning and the creative process, participants pair up and take turns speaking and listening without interruption. The experience of listening intently and actively, and that of speaking uninterrupted demonstrates perhaps how often we take these acts of speaking and listening for granted in teaching, in facilitation, and in learning, and in simply communicating with others.

Consideration of communication and creativity is furthered in a weekend dedicated to the exploration of visual facilitation, which broadly refers to a process of facilitating meetings, seminars and other exchanges in visual form using images, words and symbols. As someone used to working only in the written word, this was a challenge for me. We began by visually representing sounds and playfully making marks on the page in groups. Once those daunting first marks were made on our paper canvases, the temptation to overthink into inaction was removed, at least temporarily. As we gradually built toward the challenge of visually documenting the conversations of other participants, the merit of incorporating creatively challenging work into my own facilitation and my learning became clear. A completely different part of my thinking and concentration was engaged. I gained new insight into the process of how I listen as well as how I order and create meaning. Just as the exercise on speaking and listening drew attention to the dynamics of dialogue, this act of visually representing the groups’ words brought a new attention to how I interpret and document, as well as a feeling of responsibility to accurately reflect and honour the group’s conversation.

Developing new ways of seeing and interpreting continued throughout the weekend on visual facilitation, which concluded with the class working in small groups, each tasked with creatively representing different sets of data. Groups worked on visualising data relating to the deficiencies of the Housing Assistance Payment (HAP) scheme, the difficulties people with disabilities face when trying to access social housing, and on numbers of people on housing lists against the units of social housing available – important data that can become meaningless in spite of its devastating reality. From an assortment of seemingly random materials, groups created stop-motion animations, made clay models, assembled sets, and designed performances incorporating material to represent this data. What emerged from the varieties of modes and forms through which this data was visually represented was perhaps the force of that which could not be measured or visualised, the shock of what this data represented that could not be contained or incorporated numerically. Through this creative process, the groups began to find new ways to see and explore some of the most pressing justice issues in our contemporary moment.

Ciara Gallagher Profile PicCiara has a PhD in English from Maynooth University. She has worked as researcher on the National Collection of Children’s Books (TCD) and “Gender Identity: Child Readers and Library Collections” at the Centre for Children’s Literature and Culture, DCU. She has taught English in various universities and currently works at Kids’ Own Publishing Partnership as office administrator.

 

First impressions of the Creativity and Change programme, (CIT) Cork – Blog 1

I’ve always had a keen interest in the creative arts and concepts of creativity. Issues of social justice have also always been to the forefront of my concerns, very much connected with my interest in creativity and literary forms, and informing much of my research. It’s not surprising then that the Creativity and Change course, a programme aimed at “anyone who is interested how creative engagement can nurture global citizenship and empathic action around local and global justice themes”, piqued my interest. However, having spent most of my career to date firmly on the analytical and critical side of creativity, and perhaps on issues of social justice too, it took some courage and the making of some pros and cons lists before I applied. Though I’ve invested much time in thinking about how literature can help us think about, see, and shape the world in different ways — in other words, how engaging with a form of creative expression might form new pathways of understanding — I haven’t spent much time on what is perhaps the more uncomfortable side of creativity.

From the very beginning of the course, I was struck by the emphasis on doing, on movement, on activity. Introductory ice-breakers were conducted by participants physically orienting ourselves at different points in the room according to different prompts. Each new topic was prefaced by games involving movement and reflection. Instead of beginning by talking about our interests and experiences related to global justice, we explored these ideas through working with watercolours, pencils, markers — objects unfamiliar to the adult me. We worked silently in groups on numerous activities. In one instance, groups of participants were given a block of clay, to shape and mould any way the group saw fit, without speaking or communicating. Working with paint and clay in silence allowed me to experience quiet contentment in the process, with “doing” for its own sake, rather than focusing on my lack of competence or confidence in these activities. I think I also reflected more deeply on ideas of teamwork and leadership as a result of these experiences than through many of the designated courses on these topics that I’d attended as part of training for previous jobs.

One full day of our first weekend was spent at the “creative fair”. Course participants were let loose in a room with numerous stalls with various familiar and unfamiliar art materials, books, newspapers, magazines and much more. For the first part of the day, we were given no instruction — only to enjoy, play, or create something from the materials at hand. After a couple of hours of being absorbed in activity, we were tasked with making something that somehow engaged with the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals, and were given some instruction on how to use the material at each stall. This, for me, and I think for many other participants, completely and perhaps deliberately changed the earlier atmosphere of experimentation and engagement. I attempted to make a postcard based on the fourth SDG, quality education. Though it’s an issue that I feel strongly about and have given thought to, attaching the logo for the SDG of quality education made the postcard feel like a flimsy exploration, expressing an easy platitude without depth or engagement. And so, the first weekend of the course ended with numerous reflections and realisations about the relationship between creativity and issues of global justice.

 

Naomi Cahill works as a Creative Associate for Creative Schools and is founder and director of Bespoke Productions. She is an experienced and qualified drama teacher of primary, second level and adult education as well as children with special needs and adults with physical and intellectual disabilities. Naomi graduated with a degree in Drama & Theatre Studies from University College Cork. She further completed the Higher Diploma in Arts in Drama Education and was awarded‘Highest Academic Achievement’ from the Leinster School of Music & Drama. Through Bespoke Productions, Naomi leads drama courses in Ireland and abroad which are aimed at building confidence, self-esteem and developing communication skills. She most recently directed a modern version of ‘Romeo & Juliet’ at Teatro Re Grillo, Licata, Sicily. Having performed both on stage and in film, she enjoys sharing her experience with her students. She is delighted to be working as a Creative Associate for the Creative Schools programme.

Creative Schools: The Journey Continues – Blog 2

Creative Schools Coordinators:

In every Creative School there is a Creative Schools Coordinator. The coordinator is my first point of contact with each school and I liaise with them in regular meetings. I have now met all coordinators in my corresponding schools. In some schools the coordinator is a member of the teaching staff and in others it is the school principal. There has been a great response and enthusiasm from all coordinators and schools as a whole to the project and a strong belief in the positive impact it can make on putting the arts and creativity at the heart of young people’s lives.

Completion of Step One: ‘Understand’:

I am continuing to work with schools on the process of gaining an understanding of the school’sengagement with the arts and creativity. Having completed workshops and meetings with relevant parties and staff, I am liaising with Creative Schools Coordinators to complete the documentation for this section. All schools are provided with a document called ‘Understand’ complete with four sections: 1) Children & Young People 2) Teaching & Learning 3) Leadership & Management & 4) School Environment, Opportunities & Networks. In each section there are a series of statements which are rated on a scale of: 0-5 (0 means: the statement is ‘Not at all true’, 5 means: the statement is ‘Very true’). For example: “Pupils/students are involved in decision-making on existing arts opportunities and are able to shape their learning experiences in school” (Section 1: Children & Young People). Using age specific surveys designed for appropriate parties and information gathered from staff discussions I work with coordinators to rate all statements (using an average from the individual ratings). The following individuals are consulted with in this process: the school principal, deputy principal, coordinator, teachers (including resource staff & S.N.A.s), staff with a responsibility for the arts, parent’s association and board of management. These findings will support the development of the Creative Schools Plan which will be carried out in step two: ‘Develop’.

What is Creativity?

As I mentioned in my previous post the voice, opinions and views of young people is of key importance to this pilot project. Through ‘The Voice of Young People’ workshop I collected lots of useful information which I use as data for the ‘Children & Young People’ section and to influence my work with schools going forward. I go through this information, document and analyse it. I found it inspiring to read young people’s understanding of the word ‘Creativity’. From my experience, all young people have their own individual understanding of creativity. It is very interesting and uplifting read their definitions:

“I think it is about showing who you are and what you like to do”. “I think if you’re creative, you have a big imagination”.

“It’s about expressing yourself”.

“Imagination”.

“Like your dreams are what you feel & draw & do”.

“Do what your mind tells you”.

“Creativity is free! When you break rules, you are being creative”.

I believe it is important to let young people come up with their own understanding of creativity rather than provide them with a set definition. This is similar to the constructivist approach I often use in my own teaching. Using constructivism, students are actively involved in constructing their own meaning and knowledge as opposed to passively receiving information.

Through the workshop, I also gathered information on student’s individual artistic and creative interests. Students listed: the creative activities they are currently engaged with inside and outside school. They also listed the creative things they would like to do if they had the opportunity. It is very interesting to hear their responses. The answers vary greatly from school to school. The school’slocation and the cultural and artistic opportunities in close proximity of the school also have an influence on the responses given.

Meeting Teachers:

I have commenced meeting all teaching staff in my corresponding schools. It is very important that staff are fully aware of what is involved in Creative Schools and are able to contribute their ideas in order for the project to be of benefit. The staff are of key importance to ensure the sustainability and longevity of the project. In these meetings I initially provide staff with a thorough understanding of Creative Schools. I then explain the different components of the programme including the first step: ‘Understand’. I design posters listing the following questions as headings:

What are the creative strengths of the school?
What creative areas can the school develop?
What creative activities can the school implement to develop these areas?

I then facilitate a discussion with staff where they are given the opportunity to provide answers/ideas to questions listed. We pass around the posters and everyone makes a written note of their contributions. I also ask staff about their own individual areas of expertise for example: Is there a staff member that is a particularly skilled/trained musician/dancer? etc. This is very beneficial for all staff to be aware of going forward. I have found that a lot of schools are interested in working collaboratively together to share their creative skills and knowledge.

New Beginnings in 2019:

I am looking forward to a new year of opportunities for Creative Schools and excited to move on to the next stage of the project.

Naomi Cahill works as a Creative Associate for Creative Schools and is founder and director of Bespoke Productions. She is an experienced and qualified drama teacher of primary, second level and adult education as well as children with special needs and adults with physical and intellectual disabilities. Naomi graduated with a degree in Drama & Theatre Studies from University College Cork. She further completed the Higher Diploma in Arts in Drama Education and was awarded‘Highest Academic Achievement’ from the Leinster School of Music & Drama. Through Bespoke Productions, Naomi leads drama courses in Ireland and abroad which are aimed at building confidence, self-esteem and developing communication skills. She most recently directed a modern version of ‘Romeo & Juliet’ at Teatro Re Grillo, Licata, Sicily. Having performed both on stage and in film, she enjoys sharing her experience with her students. She is delighted to be working as a Creative Associate for the Creative Schools programme.

Creative Schools: The Start of the Journey – Blog 1

Creative Schools is a pilot initiative of the Creative Ireland Programme. It is led by the Arts Council in conjunction with the Department of Education and Skills and the Department of Culture Heritage and the Gaeltacht. The aim of this initiative is to put the arts and creativity at the heart of children and young people’s lives. My job as a Creative Associate is to enhance and shape the place of creativity in schools. I work to inspire, energise and drive schools forward in developing creative opportunities in the school and wider community. I enable schools to understand, develop and celebrate young people’s engagement with the arts and creativity.

Getting to Know Schools:

I work with a number of schools throughout Cork and Kerry. At the beginning of November, I began engaging in meetings with the Creative Schools Coordinators from my designated schools. There are a series of objectives I aim to achieve in these meetings. Initially, we go through the Creative Schools Planning Framework. We then begin to discuss the first step of the programme: ‘Understand’. This allows schools to understand their current engagement with the arts and creativity. It also enables them to assess the creative interests of students and the resources which are available in the school and wider community. We talk about the school’s current involvement with the arts and artistic areas which they wish to enhance. Through this meeting I develop a better, more thorough understanding of the school as a whole.

In each school I run a workshop with students on ‘The Voice of Young People’. All creative associates were lucky enough to have the opportunity to undergo training in Hub na nÓg. This is a national centre of excellence which supports us to give children and young people a voice in decision making. I use the Lundy Model to ensure the voice of young people is a priority. This model indicates that young people should be provided with a safe space and appropriate information to enable them to express their views. It is also important to make sure that their views are communicated with someone with the responsibility to listen, taken seriously and acted on where appropriate.

Workshop:

Giving young people the opportunity to actively participate in a workshop is a great way to hear their views. Let me give you a brief insight into ‘The Voice of Young People’ workshop. I use two different methods in this workshop called: ‘Open Space Method’ and ‘World Café Method’. The‘Open Space Method’ involves me asking student three questions as follows: 1) What is creativity? 2) What kind of creative things do you currently do? 3) What kind of creative things would you like to do? Students write their answers on post-its and stick them on three different parts of the wall. Students then divide these answers into sections according to what kind of arts activity they are e.g. music, dance etc. This leads to a very effective visual portrayal of student’s artistic interests. We then move on to ‘World Café Method’. Students are provided with a poster on which they are asked a series of questions containing blanks: 1) What is …..? 2) What kind of …… activities have you done/do you do? 3) What kind of ….. activities would you like to do? The young people use the arts activities they came up with in the previous exercise to fill in the blanks in these questions. Students then design the poster using a series of words and illustrations in order to answer these questions. I like using these methods as students take ownership of the kinds of arts activities they would like to explore and they are decision makers from the offset. I also give students surveys which are specific to their age and ability which allow them to express their opinion on their experience of the arts. These are important to give me concrete data to work from. If you want to know what young people want the best thing is to ask them. This workshop enables me to do that.

Further action I have taken in my role as Creative Associate is to create links between the school and local arts opportunities. So far, I have met people such as the local arts officer, programme manager from arts centre etc. These links are important to make to ensure the sustainability of the Creative Schools Programme.

The next step for my work as Creative Associate is to develop a Creative Schools Plan schools. Finally, schools will celebrate their experience with the arts and creativity by sharing their experience as a school, community and beyond.

Onwards & Upwards:

I firmly believe that providing young people with improved, sustainable arts opportunities will benefit them now and into the future. I am delighted to be working as part of this exciting new programme which allows us to make a positive difference in the lives of young people through the arts & creativity.

 

Christopher McCambridge is a Special Educational Needs teacher at St. Colman’s Primary School, Lambeg. St. Colman’s Primary is a mainstream school of 400 pupils with two learning support unit classes. Christopher is also an active member of the Belfast art scene. He co-founded the arts organisation Belfast Platform for the Arts (Platform Arts) in 2010, which continues to provide an exhibition space and studios for artists.

In 2016 Christopher and his Primary 6/7 class were chosen to take part in the Kids’ Own Publishing Partnership ‘Virtually There’ project. ‘A virtual artist in residence project which explores the potential for creative engagement between artists working from their studio and children and teachers in the classroom using video conferencing technology’. (Orla Kenny, Creative Director of Kids’ Own Publishing Partnership). Now in their 3rd year, artist John D’Arcy has been working collaboratively with Christopher and his class at St Colman’s P.S as virtual artist-in-residence. 

WECHO FM – Blog 3

A new school year, a new ‘Virtually There’ project!

The majority of the children were meeting John for the first time. They were unsure what to expect as a lot of them had never experienced or used video-conferencing technology before.

After a few technical difficulties on my end, we finally connected to John. Introductions were made by John and the children, we got straight into introducing our new project theme … RADIO!

The children discussed their knowledge of radio … Tyrell said that it was “where you could listen to things, like a music box.” Aidan said he thought of it as a “jukebox” to listen to songs. Sam stated that different types of sounds could come from it, not only music but also advertisements. Daniel, Adam and Charley thought that even though it played music there were other programmes on the radio such as the news, weather forecasts or traffic reports. Adam also said that he had listened to documentaries on the radio. The children were asked what they thought we would be creating during the project, to which they replied, “A RADIO SHOW!”

Not only were we going to create a radio show, we were going to create our own Radio Station.

We discussed the different programmes that could be on our radio station, ideas for programmes included Music, Documentaries, Cartoon or comedy shows, discussions about the news and about our interests such as gaming. With an idea of the content, we were set the task of developing our visual identity. John displayed a number of symbols that the children all were able to recognise easily, e.g. the Nike swoosh, the golden arches, the apple mac symbol.

He told us that we would begin the process of developing a visual identity through the exploration of sound. The children began this process by listening to a variety of sounds that John had created; they then had to interpret them as a drawing. They generated a lot of great ideas, which included random symbols and jagged lines that varied in sizes. John then asked us to interpret drawings that he had created as sounds. Kevin, Sam, Daniel and Kyle all had a go at trying to interpret these drawings, with lots of different and random sounds and noises being made.

In the final part of the process, the children had to name each of the sounds that John created. He explained that the name could be a made-up word or a series of letters. The children found this extremely entertaining and generated a lot of random words for the sounds, including wobe, weeoloublue, breeeeee, dweenen, dulllung, dener, dedzen, wecho, bler and weow. After a short selection and voting process, the children picked WECHO, as our radio station name. WECHO FM was born.

The children were then set the task of creating our visual identity and the background for our radio station. We had to choose two colours, one would be for our background and the other colour would be used to create our visual interpretation for the sound of WECHO.

Each child explored the sound WECHO in their own unique way. This session was great fun and challenged the children’s ideas on what art could be. As the project develops, we hope to explore different aspects of the radio station such as, DJ names and identities, jingles and radio sweepers, sound effects and different radio programmes. At the end of the process we hope to visit a local radio station to gain a better understanding of the inner workings as well as possibly playing our own jingles and songs.

Muireann Ahern is Joint Artistic Director of Theatre Lovett. For Theatre Lovett she has directed and designed multiple shows. Muireann has over twenty years’ experience working in theatre for young audiences. Previously, she was Theatre Programmer and Producer at The Ark. She programmed the Family Season of the Dublin Theatre Festival and The Dublin Dance Festival. Muireann has worked with The Abbey Theatre’s Outreach Department, TEAM, part time lecturer at St Patrick’s teacher training college, and is a regular guest speaker on theatre for children at other third level colleges. She has led several Professional Development courses and was a member of the core working group on the published Artists~Schools Guidelines: ‘Towards Best Practice in Ireland’. She has been guest speaker at national and international conference focusing on ‘quality’ in theatre for young audiences. She is a graduate of the Samuel Beckett Centre for Drama and Theatre Studies, Trinity College Dublin and also holds a HDip Education from TCD.


Louis is Joint Artistic Director of Theatre Lovett. Theatre Lovett make work for all ages and tour extensively both nationally and internationally. For Theatre Lovett he writes, composes and performs. Work includes They Called Her Vivaldi (Abbey Theatre, National tour, USA tour 2019), The True Story of Hansel and Gretel (Dublin Theatre Festival 2015). Mr. Foley, The Radio Operator (national tour), A Feast of Bones (Dublin Theatre Festival, UK tour), The House that Jack Filled (Dublin Theatre Festival, Irish tour) and The Girl who Forgot to Sing Badly (Irish, US/AUSTRALIAN tours). Louis has also worked with The Abbey Theatre, The Gate Theatre, The Corn Exchange, Siren Productions, Performance Corporation, Barabbas and others.  Louis has also performed in and directed several productions at The Ark, A Cultural Centre for Children. Television & Film includes Moone Boy, Stella Days, Anseo, Killinascully, The Tudors, Showbands, Story Lane, The Morbegs and others.

Theatre Lovett make theatre for all ages, child and adult, young and old, chicken and egg. They were nominated for a Judges Special Award at The Irish Times Theatre Awards 2017. If you seek theatre that can amuse, involve and sometimes scare, we offer you theatre as adventure www.theatrelovett.com.

 

Blog 4: FRNKNSTN

FRNKNSTN has come and gone, perhaps to return next year and tour. At Theatre Lovett, we were happy with our monstrous creation and relish the chance to play with its constituent parts again.  As with all shows, a future opportunity to remount a show will allow us to tweak and try improvements.

Most satisfying was the combination of the talents within our creative team. It was important to the project that our creative designers could meet and discuss the project on many occasions before rehearsals began with the director, writer and actor.

Preparation began a year previously with three weeks of development with director, writer, actor and lighting designer. This was followed by a further week and one public showing on the Peacock stage with the support of the Abbey Theatre.  This year, the full team had the opportunity to come together in the Mermaid Arts Centre, Bray for two weeks of development in advance of rehearsals to explore our teams’ different specialities and approaches. Thank you to Niamh O Donnell and her team there.

Pay for preparation, for preparation pays.

Cajoling, coercing and corralling the creative team’s work alongside happily wrangling and wrestling with the writer and the solo actor required director Muireann Ahern to enter the arena and persevere for months. She held her nerve with some particularly tough calls along the way as she whittled this beast down to its beautiful, bony exterior.

Playing for your audience

Theatre Lovett’s Actor Training with a focus on playing for audiences Young and Older

Following on from FRNKNSTN, and now in its eighth year, Theatre Lovett have just completed another two weeks of our Actor Training course ‘Playing for your Audience.’ Working in the Gate Theatre Studio, the participating actors also had the experience of presenting aspects of the work to students from two local primary schools from the Gate Theatre stage.

This live experience is integral to the week. Here, on the fourth day of the week, the actors have a chance to put into practise, before that young audience, techniques newly acquired. Freshly minted. Hard to grasp and not yet understood.

The only stories, stimulated by the movement of several beings in a space aware of and silently responding to one another. (Plenty of story detail is provided by the individual imaginations of audience members). No script, no story but a structure and techniques, techniques centred around connection, clarity and simplicity.

Eyes (and ears) for each other and for your audience. Breathe. Make the person next to you shine. Thrown into the real experience of having no prescribed ‘material’ and yet ‘presenting’ themselves to an audience of expectant, eager children, the eye contact between these actors who met each other for the first time four days ago undergoes a resonant transformation. “I am here for you.” “I am as lost as you are.” “What happens next?” “Not sure. Let’s find it together.” Their connection deepens.

To negotiate the space with fifteen other actors, to maintain the engagement of this active audience, to search for the next moment, find it… together, allow it to live and then the next and the next and to continue to engage this audience and together bring it to a close… this requires us to slow down with calm, focused energy. Our energy is the audience’s energy. Not the other way around. Slowly, the actors approach clarity and the audience sees the pictures we make.

Sixteen or so actors sing together a song in a language newly learned. “What’s the next line?” “When do we breathe?” “Do we start now?” “Is this right?” “I think it’s completely wrong” “Keep going.” “Together.” The actors look at each other. Watch each other’s breathing, eyes and mouths, conduct each other through these signals. Not with gestures or hand signals, no pictures of anxiety, no unnecessary movement. Keep it simple. Do the simple thing. Breathe and sing. Together. The children are there for them.

I will not go into the techniques used here. That requires a little time and an audience. Underlying the week is the credo that we are playing for our audience. Take care of our audience, young and older. Do not cause them anxiety. Allow them fully relax in order to be fully engaged. They should sense that they’re in good hands. Easier said than done.

For more information www.theatrelovett.com/training

Copyright
Louis Lovett 2018

Róisin O’Donnell is a 19 year old leaving cert survivor and writer. She was a participant in the first ever Young Playwrights’ Programme. Her play ‘Bernie’ premiered through the programme. She lives in Cork, where she spends her time writing fiction and plays, obsessing over books and her dog.

College has changed the way I write… – Blog 2

I write this blog like a stereotypical college student, with a deadline looming, on a tiny computer, in a big academic library. Eight months ago I was accepted into the Young Playwrights Programme and four months ago my first play took to life on the stage. Do I miss the programme? Short answer: Yeah.

In college, I am constantly reminded of the time I spent at Graffiti – not to jinx it. Just like then I am surrounded by people I like with my trusty keyboard only a stretch of my arm away.

A lot of things that I did not expect happened when I became a first-year student at UCC.

I can stare/glare/laugh at the ‘world’ now. And feel comfortable enough in it. John and Katie always encouraged us to say what we are- writers. An obvious title. But up until this new chapter of my life, I was waiting. Waiting for proof that I could post on Instagram and make everyone stop scrolling for a second and think- wow, Róisin… she’s not average… every negative thought gone…

I am not going to type bullshit if my time with the journalism society has taught me anything. The doors did not open present my ambitions to me.

My personal life turned into the Titanic on speed when the Leaving Cert came around. And the neat blue lines of the exam booklets had no sympathy marks to give. I didn’t get the results I wanted. The State Examinations Commission said you’re not good enough, the days, the months, the YEAR you spent was as worthless as the paper the results are printed on.

I got my dream course because I got lucky. Any other year… let’s not think of that.

My Leaving Cert is worthless now. Lecturers don’t mention it and us students squint and cringe about it, rarely.

I have learned to stop wishing and writing sloppy coming of age stories that made me sick with boredom. I write about my life now and the world around me. I send my drafts to the UCC Express or the Motley to connect with other students. So far I haven’t got a no, just edits. and ‘you can do it.’ And I am happy. The tiny achievements college has offered me have given me more than six years and two exams ever could.

Jessica O’ Brien is a 16 year old student and aspiring writer from Cork. As part of the Young Playwrights’ Programme with Graffiti Theatre, she along with eight other young people wrote and staged plays in The Everyman as part of the Midsummer Festival in 2018. She is currently writing her first book and hopes to have a career in writing novels or journalism.

Why I Write – Blog 3

I write for a reason, though I know that most of it is just instinct. Since I was a kid I would fill these hardbacks with creative writing and acrostic poems and I would fill my suitcases with my favourite books for the summer holidays – to the despair of my Mom. (my case was always overweight)  I distinctly remember the first Young Adult novel I read, ‘The Fault In Our Stars’, and immediately being hooked. I couldn’t get enough of these characters and worlds that were realistic, these people I wanted to be friends with. Within two years my room was unrecognisable, with massive shelves to facilitate my little library.

When I started studying for the Junior Cert I was taught to read and look at other forms of art critically. I am very grateful for the English class, classmates and teacher I had. Instead of just spewing out whatever Ithought was good, I took criticism from others. I listened to the other girls and realised I could be as good at writing answers as them if I tried. It was then I realised just how much I loved writing. I loved being able to start writing and forgetting about where I was and having that right word come to me. Suddenly I was in love with cinematography, the meaning behind words and I began to read and write differently. Now I couldn’t just read any YA book, I would scan the fonts and blurbs and as I read, I would add things to my mental list of what I liked or disliked. My journals became a source of comfort, and they still remain so.

But as I have gotten older and learned more about myself and the world, I realised that I had never truly been able to find myself in a book. There is such a lack of diversity, there are so many cliche stories with happy endings and straight romances and I got tired. One day I was walking home from the bookshop with my Dad and he asked me what the books I had bought were about. I explained, and I guess he was surprised because the books had strong themes in them. ‘I thought you read to escape reality,’ he said, with his bag of crime novels. ‘I guess I write to help change my reality,’ I thought.

I write because I can’t not write. I write to tell people what I can’t say or to get my feelings out on paper. My journals are almost like scrapbooks in a way. But most importantly, I now write because I have stories I need to tell. There are people in the LGBT community like me who’s story never gets told. People of colour. Different religion. Disabilities. Those love stories that don’t work out and real life teenager scenarios. We are all hot messes. It is so much nicer to read a book and relate to it rather than read a book and strive to be like it.

I write for myself, and everyone who ever deserved a voice. One day, maybe I’ll be scrutinising the YA section and I’ll see my own name there. That’s the dream I have for this reality.

Róisin O’Donnell is a 19 year old leaving cert survivor and writer. She was a participant in the first ever Young Playwrights Programme. Her play ‘Bernie’ premiered through the programme. She lives in Cork, where she spends her time writing fiction and plays, obsessing over books and her dog.

Youth, the Internet and Fiction – Blog 2

There are millions of stories on Fanfiction.net. 791K of those stories alone are listed under Harry Potter.

Meaning: Thousands of mostly young people around the world using their keyboards to enter the writing world. All because of words someone else has written.

I think that sounds amazing.

But attach the label ‘fanfiction’ and people start cringing.
Why?

Using the incorrect form of ‘your’ and ‘you’re’ shouldn’t automatically make you a joke. Writing isn’t easy. And I can relate.

On my way to becoming a writer, I went through the terrible years of primary and early secondary school feeling average. I had nothing in front of me, so much energy and nowhere to put it.

According to school there are only three categories to slot into. Athletic, brainy or social butterfly and if you aren’t a superstar at one of those things – tough shit. To the end of the pecking order, please!

One day, out of boredom, I typed 500 words on my phone and called it a first (bad) chapter. I wanted nineteen years later to be more than a just happy ending at a train station. Those 500 words turned into 230,000 words and counting. And that, I can safely say, drew me to more books, made me see things from multiple perspectives and start to question things. English class didn’t improve my editing skills, get me into the Young Playwrights Programme or give me the opportunity to write this blog. Writing something I loved did.

Yes, there are the scandalous stories but isn’t there Mills and Boons lining the shelves of every library? You just need to know where to look. The most followed stories on the site are under the genre adventure and are longer than any of the books I have on my shelf.

The readers and writers work together. They learn to improve their writing technique by editing and even beta-ing. People constructively break down each other’s work and work together to build each other up. Even the reviews are kind and supportive for the most part.

You wouldn’t believe the number of teen writers testing the waters and spreading their wings. They are trying to teach themselves. They want guidance and acknowledgement.

If you type fanfiction into any search engine late-night talk show segments will show up trying to get a cheap laugh and articles trying to teach parents what it is like in the depths of the community will appear. No one on the sites cares. That’s the outside world. The writers and readers do what they do with confidence. Confidence that would be benefitable to schools and societies in this cynical world.

And I’ll end this first blog with the lessons online writing has taught me. Lessons I should’ve learned in school:

Ability, even a magical ability like creativity takes works.
And
The only way to really succeed is to push forwards through the shitty phase every writer goes through and post that next update.

Muireann Ahern is Joint Artistic Director of Theatre Lovett. For Theatre Lovett she has directed and designed multiple shows. Muireann has over twenty years’ experience working in theatre for young audiences. Previously, she was Theatre Programmer and Producer at The Ark. She programmed the Family Season of the Dublin Theatre Festival and The Dublin Dance Festival. Muireann has worked with The Abbey Theatre’s Outreach Department, TEAM, part time lecturer at St Patrick’s teacher training college, and is a regular guest speaker on theatre for children at other third level colleges. She has led several Professional Development courses and was a member of the core working group on the published Artists~Schools Guidelines: ‘Towards Best Practice in Ireland’. She has been guest speaker at national and international conference focusing on ‘quality’ in theatre for young audiences. She is a graduate of the Samuel Beckett Centre for Drama and Theatre Studies, Trinity College Dublin and also holds a HDip Education from TCD.


Louis is Joint Artistic Director of Theatre Lovett. Theatre Lovett make work for all ages and tour extensively both nationally and internationally. For Theatre Lovett he writes, composes and performs. Work includes They Called Her Vivaldi (Abbey Theatre, National tour, USA tour 2019), The True Story of Hansel and Gretel (Dublin Theatre Festival 2015). Mr. Foley, The Radio Operator (national tour), A Feast of Bones (Dublin Theatre Festival, UK tour), The House that Jack Filled (Dublin Theatre Festival, Irish tour) and The Girl who Forgot to Sing Badly (Irish, US/AUSTRALIAN tours). Louis has also worked with The Abbey Theatre, The Gate Theatre, The Corn Exchange, Siren Productions, Performance Corporation, Barabbas and others.  Louis has also performed in and directed several productions at The Ark, A Cultural Centre for Children. Television & Film includes Moone Boy, Stella Days, Anseo, Killinascully, The Tudors, Showbands, Story Lane, The Morbegs and others.

Theatre Lovett make theatre for all ages, child and adult, young and old, chicken and egg. They were nominated for a Judges Special Award at The Irish Times Theatre Awards 2017. If you seek theatre that can amuse, involve and sometimes scare, we offer you theatre as adventure www.theatrelovett.com.

 

Blog 3: Theatre Lovett in the Rehearsal Room

Into week two proper of FRNKNSTN rehearsals. The focus in the creative space at present is on unlocking the gate way between the words of Michael West’s script and the actor’s physical, vocal and spiritual interpretation. Director Muireann Ahern, stage manager Clare Howe and actor Louis Lovett set up stall in a creative marketplace where ideas are unloaded, laid out, prodded for texture, freshness, flavour, tried out for size, weighed, assessed, refused, balked at, laughed at (in a bad way), laughed at (in good way), and once or twice a day, but usually just once, a string of ideas are spooled out in an order sufficient to please and perhaps, for a critical second, to impress. These ones are marked down for memory and promptly asked to take one more twirl around the room, and again and again. If they stand up to scrutiny and pass muster after repetition, then they are stamped for approval and requested to present for duty the next day to undergo the same drill again. Mr. Lovett accepts the challenge on their behalf. They will then be pushed for improvement. This string of ideas might comprise one short section of one scene whereby these firm, fresh ideas might be leaned upon to point the way forward and assess the way we have come so far.

These ideas are the precious gifts we intend laying at the precious feet of our fine audience. It is essential that they are the best we have to offer. Their providence is obscure in parts, clearly archived in others. Some are like midges on a summer’s evening that have become tangled in our hair for no reason but pure chance that we had decided to cycle in the park. But now we’re overdoing it…

Time hurtles towards tech week and first audiences. Our rehearsal time, our time strolling (racing!) the aisles of our ideas market is being whittled away. Always other demands pull us from the business of ideas.

Muireann Ahern directs and Louis Lovett performs in Theatre Lovett’s next production of FRNKNSTN by Michael West, a modern mutation of Mary  Shelley’s classic novel FRANKENSTEIN at The Abbey Theatre. This daring adaptation re-imagines Victor Frankenstein as a gene-splicing molecular biologist who creates human life from his own DNA with catastrophic results. Speaking from a holding cell, Frankenstein is desperate to set the record straight. A modern ghost story and psychological thriller, this version of Frankenstein aims to chill us with the darkness we hold within our DNA — and our hearts. Age Guidance: Not suitable for under 16s, www.abbeytheatre.ie/whats-on/frankenstein/

Jessica O’ Brien is a 16 year old student and aspiring writer from Cork. As part of the Young Playwrights’ Programme with Graffiti Theatre, she along with eight other young people wrote and staged plays in The Everyman as part of the Midsummer Festival in 2018. She is currently writing her first book and hopes to have a career in writing novels or journalism.

Let Creativity STEM – Blog 1

All my life I have been aware of what subjects defined me as ‘intelligent’ and what made me ‘subordinate’ by the education system.

Since I made the jump from primary school to secondary school I have become increasingly aware of the differences between myself and the students who excel in STEM subjects. It’s pretty clear what careers are portrayed as sensible, high intelligence careers, as careers in the arts are simply never discussed. STEM subjects include science, technology, engineering and mathematics- and recently I have noticed what a huge effort is being made to promote careers in these subjects, especially as my school is all female. We have been visited by countless representatives encouraging us to begin a career in a STEM subject and we have had several different weeks in school dedicated to science and maths. I believe this is hugely positive and will inspire us girls with the message that we too can hold positions of power in careers dedicated to these subjects- but I do think that those who are genuinely not interested in these subjects are being tossed aside.

Despite science being a choice in my school, I am constantly made to feel like it was never my choice to drop it. There have never been weeks dedicated to the students that excel in the arts. Yes, there are classes available, but they were hard fought for and aren’t treated as important by those who don’t participate in them. I spoke to my art teacher at an open night once, and she told me that parents would approach her, and ask her if ‘art was really that hard.’  My music teachers have only recently been given time slots for practicing for our carol service that is one of the biggest events on our school calendar. This would never happen with any other subjects. I was at a meeting being on our school’s magazine team. Our teacher didn’t show up to the meeting, which was a regular occurrence, but we decided we were going to power through on our own and show the school what we could do. But that couldn’t happen now. We were told the school didn’t have the funding for the 6 extra pages we wanted to produce. Yet our school bank gets hundreds to rent in famous guests to hype up their work. Our school has an annual run to pay for a new running track for sport. Our science labs are always stocked for experiments and our art classrooms are used as supply cabinets whenever people need to make posters. If you want to work hard in schools in a subject to do with the arts, you are pretty much on your own. I feel that the way people who work hard in these creative subjects are treated is really offensive. Music, art, and all other creatively based subjects are also fulfilling and big earning careers. The world needs them just as much as it needs scientists and engineers. Would you turn around to a world famous actor and chastise them for not becoming a mathematician?

Jessica was a participant in the Young Playwrights’ Programme with Graffiti Theatre which was a recipient of the Arts in Education Portal 2018 Documentation Award.

 

 

dan_colley_headshot_editDan Colley is a director, dramaturg and programmer from Dublin. As Director of Collapsing Horse Theatre he has directed The Water Orchard (with Eoghan Quinn, co-produced by Project Arts Centre) The Aeneid, Bears in Space, Conor: at the end of the Universe, Human Child, Distance from the Event and Monster/Clock. With Collapsing Horse, Dan is Theatre Artist in Residence in Draíocht and co-Artistic Director of Kilkenny Cat Laughs Festival.  As a dramaturg Dan has worked with Macnas, Dublin Fringe Festival, WillFredd and Sugarglass Theatre among others. Dan has a degree in English and Philosophy from NUI Galway and studied Youth Theatre Facilitation with Youth Theatre Ireland. Dan was a recipient of the Next Generation Bursary in 2016.

Blog post 4: Rights Museum

The Rights Museum is a participatory art project that attempts to allow our objects to tell our story through the medium of a museum. Its subject is the lives of students in Larkin Community College and how the rights enshrined in the UNCRC intersect with their actual lived experience. Or don’t.

In my last blog post I detailed how I worked with a group of first year CSPE students and asked them to invest in the stories behind their rights – and learn about their rights in reality.

In our next session, I presented a simple everyday object to the group – I used a shoe. I like to gather the participants around the object in a circle. First I asked them to make objective observations: what can we say for certain just by looking at it? For example; “it’s a shoe”, “it’s got white laces”, “it’s black” “there’s dirt on it”. I kept this going, correcting them if they brought in any subjective observations (eg. “They look like they’ve been used to go running” or “They’re ugly”). Keep it to the facts that you can tell just by looking.

Once I’d just about exhausted this, I asked them to make subjective observations. I prompted them; who might have owned these shoes? What might they have used them for? Did they value them? And with each answer, I asked them to support their claim with evidence that they can see.

Then I placed the shoes on a raised platform (I used a bin but asked them to imagine it was a plinth in a museum!) and I asked them if that changed the way they saw it? Did it make it seem more important? Why? What could possibly be so important about this pair of shoes that they would be in a museum? I asked them to imagine that there was a label on it that said “Plastic and canvas shoes. Shoe size 5. 2017. Syria.” and then I asked them what they thought of them then. What would they think about the story of these shoes and who wore them?

I put the shoes away and then put another object on our “plinth”. This one was of personal importance to me – a pair of cufflinks displayed in their box. But I didn’t tell the participants anything about them yet. Again I asked them to make objective observations, then subjective observations (“is this important to the owner? Why do you say that?” “Are these expensive? Why do you say that?” “When were they made?” etc.) I then told them what they were, the story behind them and why they were important to me. Then I asked them all to bring in an object that was important to them, look at their UNHCR which we’d been working on, and relate what was important to them about the object back to an article in the charter.

Now we were facing the task of putting together an exhibition in the National Museum of Ireland at Collins Barracks. Our questions for this were; how do we represent the work and the participants’ learning in that space for members of the public to see? And how do we invite the public to actively engage with the ideas within it?

We decided to keep it simple; we photographed all the participants with their chosen object and asked them why it was important to them and what right(s) it related to. We then got Sarah Moloney, a graphic designer (although this could have been done by me or someone who had time to learn Photoshop) to lay out the photographs with quotations from the students laid over the image, along with the text from the UNCRC that were relevant. Each of these was printed on A2 card and was displayed on the walls of the exhibitions space. This allowed all of the students who had taken part to be represented in the exhibition.

There were three large windows in the space; the middle one we printed the text of the UNCRC and on the two sides windows we wrote “What would be in your Rights Museum?” and invited the public to write on the windows in liquid chalk pens which we provided. This allowed the public to actively engage in the ideas that the Right Museum was provoking.

The Museum kindly lent us a display case, for which I chose eight objects that were representative of the whole group, to be displayed for the duration of the exhibition. This was the centre piece of the Rights Museum and showed the seemingly everyday objects, contributed by young citizens, enjoying the prestige and equal importance that is given to the treasured objects in the National Museum’s collection.

The power of this statement seemed to resonate with those we told about it and we had an enthusiastic response to our invitation to the opening of the exhibition. The opening was attended by the Minister for Education Richard Bruton, Director of the National Museum Raghnall Ó Floinn and the Ombudsman for Children Niall Muldoon, as well as national media including RTE news and the Irish Times. Two students from Larkin Community College, Ciarán Hayden and Isabella Anthony, spoke about their experience of the process at the podium, alongside the Minister, Director, and Ombudsman for Children. A number of students led guided interpretive tours of the exhibition for our guests.

I’d count among the Rights Museums successes; the way that it was able to facilitate learning about children’s rights in an active and personal way, that it succeeded in placing, on equal footing, the objects and stories of the young people alongside the artefacts of the National Museum, and the wide reach that the Rights Museum had to the public, through the media and from those who visited it.

The main challenges were in finding time and space with the young people to work in a way that was outside of the curriculum – although there are important curricular subjects being addressed. I am eternally grateful to the staff of Larkin, particularly Máire O’Higgins for facilitating that. Another challenge I found was a lack of understanding, of and buy-in to, the idea of human rights by the young people that I worked with. I picked up on a prevailing perception, before I started working with them, that human rights were a

My takeaways from this projects are many but the main ones that jump to mind

1. That artists have a different approach to working that the students can benefit from that perspective. The artists way is often a more circuitous, process and enquiry based approach than students are used to in mainstream education. It’s one that’s comfortable with the state of ambiguity you find yourself in while you’re working, one that allows one to say “I don’t know what this is yet” and for that not to be a bad thing. That’s not to say artists are the only people who can demonstrate that way of working, but it is something that artists can do because of the way many of us work.

2. That as an artist working in a school, it’s important that that’s what I remain – an artist. My job is to be an artist, not an Art or CSPE teacher or anything else. The job is artist and that has value.

3. That the framing of work by young people has a profound impact on how it’s perceived by people, but most importantly themselves. The way their work (whether it be a copy book, or a sculpture or a story told in class) is handled by the people in the world around them, subconsciously tells them something about it’s value. And my feeling is there is a huge artistic and social potential in subverting expectations of that value – as we did in small way by displaying “ordinary” objects in a museum.
The Ombudsman for Children’s Office has commissioned an education pack that features a guide on how to create your own rights museum in your school or community, and it will be available from their website in the autumn 2018 term.

If I may, I’d like to thank the Arts in Education portal for offering me this chance to share the process; Rebecca Mclaughlin and Niall Muldoon in the OCO for their support and vision in making this happen; Helen Beaumont and Lorraine Cormer in the National Museum’s Education Department for all that they did in hosting the exhibition, giving it a platform and providing expert facilitation on museum curation to the students; Richard Bruton for officially opening the exhibition; the students at Larkin Community College, and staff Siobhán Mckenzie, Declan Quinn, Emma O’Reilly, and Principal Thomas Usher. In particular I would like to thank Assistant Principal Máire O’Higgins, without whose drive, vision and passion for education and art, this wouldn’t have started and would have fallen at the first hurdle.

 

Muireann Ahern is Joint Artistic Director of Theatre Lovett. For Theatre Lovett she has directed and designed multiple shows. Muireann has over twenty years’ experience working in theatre for young audiences. Previously, she was Theatre Programmer and Producer at The Ark. She programmed the Family Season of the Dublin Theatre Festival and The Dublin Dance Festival. Muireann has worked with The Abbey Theatre’s Outreach Department, TEAM, part time lecturer at St Patrick’s teacher training college, and is a regular guest speaker on theatre for children at other third level colleges. She has led several Professional Development courses and was a member of the core working group on the published Artists~Schools Guidelines: ‘Towards Best Practice in Ireland’. She has been guest speaker at national and international conference focusing on ‘quality’ in theatre for young audiences. She is a graduate of the Samuel Beckett Centre for Drama and Theatre Studies, Trinity College Dublin and also holds a HDip Education from TCD.

She will next direct Theatre Lovett’s production of FRNKNSTN at the Abbey Theatre on the Peacock stage.

Theatre Lovett make theatre for all ages, child and adult, young and old, chicken and egg. They were nominated for a Judges Special Award at The Irish Times Theatre Awards 2017. If you seek theatre that can amuse, involve and sometimes scare, we offer you theatre as adventure www.theatrelovett.com

Blog 2: Muireann Ahern, Joint Artistic Director Theatre Lovett

As we hurtle towards another new production with a new creative team and endless days of rehearsing, ‘teching’, and sweating the small stuff (each and every grain of it), I ask myself again why do we do what we do? Why do we need theatre at all? Do we need to create meaning through stories? Whether a child or an adult? The oldest of societies have had theatre-like rituals where meaning has been communicated through story. I do believe theatre can give children an arena to stimulate creative paths within their growing brains, paths on which they might meet themselves coming and going, carrying new skillsets with which to enhance their understanding of the world. And perhaps change it too.

The live exchange of theatre is increasingly important as children are more and more ‘face down in screen mode’. However, let us not demand their attention. As audience members, they have the right to switch off and tune out if they so desire. Also, if they are engaged by the piece, let’s gift them the choice to be alone in their experience or to share it with fellow audience members and like wise with their connection with the onstage players.  As theatre-makers we hope our work will attract and hold their attention and win their engagement. Of course, we hope and work hard for this but again, let’s not force the issue. We concentrate on ensuring that what we create for the stage is different each time. And we hope – full of moments of wonder, skill and surprise. Our audiences might be wowed by the work asking themselves “How did they do that?” The “Why?” can come later but for now “How?” is good. It rhymes with “wow”.

Let us hope that children and young people, whether on an outing with their class or with their families, can come to think of the theatre space as a place separate from expected outcomes. Rather, let it be different to their norms. Different from the classroom or kitchen. Different possibilities emanating from the actions of the players up there on the stage. Different synapses firing in different parts of the brain. Different outlooks on a world that, once we leave the theatre, might look different.

Playing for your Audience

There are many fine theatre artists working today with a focus on children and young people. Younger theatre-makers are turning their heads towards work for children too. More people becoming involved is a good thing.  When we invite artists from the ‘adult theatre world’ to bring their craft to work for young audiences or introduce younger practitioners to this audience, we must ensure they are supported in the process. If misguided or misdirected both audience and artists can end up at sea or up the proverbial creek. Most important here is accuracy in terms of the age pitch of a theatre piece.

At Theatre Lovett, we run our actor training courses entitled Playing for your Audience. Our underpinning philosophy is to encourage actors to address where their egos are in this process. Walk hand in hand with your ego, bring it with you, leave it at the door, teach it to “Sit!”. Yes, like puppy training for the Ego. Give it a cuddle but remember who’s the boss.  In our training, we focus on ‘making the person next to you shine’ and strive to create work that will shine from the stage.

Happily, we have a healthy interest from artists, with all levels of experience, wishing to participate. There is definitely a growing desire to know more about this area. I love to see actors bridging the divide between playing for young audiences and playing for adults. It is, however, a particular joy to find actors who are at ease interacting with their audience and who are at ease with what children might offer them during performance. It concerns knowing when to engage and when not to, yet at all times with that lovely sense that every child’s offering is wholly, yet subtly, embraced. My Co-Artistic Director, Louis Lovett, is known for this kind of interaction. He has a real desire to upskill other actors in this area. He surfs his audience beautifully and his audiences are rarely left unheard or with their contribution left hanging in the air. This is a very skilful thing to be able to do effectively and as a director, this is a very satisfying component of the shows I direct (thanks to the actors’ skills). There is a whole methodology behind if or when an actor acknowledges or includes offers that come spontaneously from a young audience. To be able to do so, without putting the brakes on the momentum of the show, is what can really set theatre for children apart from the grown-up variety.

Muireann will direct Theatre Lovett’s next production of FRNKNSTN an adaptation of Mary  Shelley’s classic novel FRANKENSTEIN at The Abbey Theatre. Pitched at 16+ https://www.abbeytheatre.ie/whats-on/frankenstein/

Muireann Ahern is Joint Artistic Director of Theatre Lovett. For Theatre Lovett she has directed and designed multiple shows. Muireann has over twenty years’ experience working in theatre for young audiences. Previously, she was Theatre Programmer and Producer at The Ark. She programmed the Family Season of the Dublin Theatre Festival and The Dublin Dance Festival. Muireann has worked with The Abbey Theatre’s Outreach Department, TEAM, part time lecturer at St Patrick’s teacher training college, and is a regular guest speaker on theatre for children at other third level colleges. She has led several Professional Development courses and was a member of the core working group on the published Artists~Schools Guidelines: ‘Towards Best Practice in Ireland’. She has been guest speaker at national and international conference focusing on ‘quality’ in theatre for young audiences. She is a graduate of the Samuel Beckett Centre for Drama and Theatre Studies, Trinity College Dublin and also holds a HDip Education from TCD.

She will next direct Theatre Lovett’s production of FRNKNSTN at the Abbey Theatre on the Peacock stage.

Louis is Joint Artistic Director of Theatre Lovett. Theatre Lovett make work for all ages and tour extensively both nationally and internationally. For Theatre Lovett he writes, composes and performs. Work includes They Called Her Vivaldi (Abbey Theatre, National tour, USA tour 2019), The True Story of Hansel and Gretel (Dublin Theatre Festival 2015). Mr. Foley, The Radio Operator (national tour), A Feast of Bones (Dublin Theatre Festival, UK tour), The House that Jack Filled (Dublin Theatre Festival, Irish tour) and The Girl who Forgot to Sing Badly (Irish, US/AUSTRALIAN tours). Louis has also worked with The Abbey Theatre, The Gate Theatre, The Corn Exchange, Siren Productions, Performance Corporation, Barabbas and others.  Louis has also performed in and directed several productions at The Ark, A Cultural Centre for Children. Television & Film includes Moone BoyStella Days, Anseo, Killinascully, The Tudors, Showbands, Story Lane, The Morbegs and others.

He will next appear on the Peacock stage in Theatre Lovett’s production of FRNKNSTN.

Theatre Lovett make theatre for all ages, child and adult, young and old, chicken and egg. They were nominated for a Judges Special Award at The Irish Times Theatre Awards 2017. If you seek theatre that can amuse, involve and sometimes scare, we offer you theatre as adventure www.theatrelovett.com.re Awards 2017.  If you seek theatre that can amuse, involve and sometimes scare, we offer you theatre as adventure www.theatrelovett.com.

The Theatre Lovett Process – Blog 1

At Theatre Lovett we are acutely aware of the tone of our own shows. All too often, in our opinion, the tragedy part for children is ignored. Our menu covers comedy and tragedy. But it is a skilful expedition to take children to darker places and then bring them back again unscathed and, hopefully, exhilarated. We hope that our chosen material and staging will stretch our audiences.  It need not be a replication of what they already know and have a handle on. We hope never to underestimate a child’s capacity.

Happily, we see less and less of the default, high-octane, kiddy-theatre actor with unbridled energy bounding onto the stage in brightly coloured clothing. This often misplaced energy is a bit like giving children a sugar overload before the main meal. Deep down, let’s be honest, we know it’s not terribly good for them.

If we had a penny for every time we’ve heard: ‘Oh, they’re a tough audience, they’re very honest, and they’ll tell you exactly what they think’. Contrary to popular belief, and what we have found is that children do not always tell you what they think. They are, for the most part, quite polite. After the show, they will also tell you what they think you want to hear. Especially, if you’re waving a feedback form under their nose and stand between them and the exit/lunch/playtime/home.

What should children get from theatre, we ask ourselves? What any adults strives to get – a good day out, hopefully. Or hour. And that experience might be funny, insightful, provocative, moving or challenging. However, there is often a belief that children must learn something. Muireann is with Brecht who says “all good theatre is educational” if it opens up some new understanding. Simply because the adults in their lives have gone to the trouble of taking them to the theatre does not mean that the children have to be wowed by the piece. Heavens to Murgatroyd, Batman! it might not be any good. As with adults, children have the right to discard a theatre experience from their memory as soon as they exit the auditorium. It might be the wisest move. Let’s not doorstep them as they leave with questionnaires about their ‘favourite parts’ or ‘the best bits’. Who is this kind of questioning for, really? For Theatre Lovett, those moments after we leave the theatre are some of the most important moments in the whole experience. Give it breathing space, allow it to land or not to land. Give the children space to process.

Sometimes in the latter stages of rehearsal we will invite an audience in to see the work in progress. A Questions and Answers session afterwards helps us measure our rates of success or failure in audience engagement.  Louis will often get things underway with:

“So, there were some really boring bits in that show, weren’t there? Can you remember any of the particularly boring parts?” And off we go. Try it. It can be enlightening.

Scarily enlightening.

Kevin Gaffney is an artist filmmaker. His work is in the Irish Museum of Modern Art’s collection and has been shown internationally in exhibitions and film festivals including: European Media Art Festival (Germany, 2016); Out There, Thataway at CCA Derry~Londonderry (2015); and the 10th Imagine Science Film Festival (New York, 2017). He graduated from the Royal College of Art, London in 2011 with an MA in Photography & Moving, and was awarded the first Sky Academy Arts Scholarship for an Irish artist in 2015. He was an UNESCO-Aschberg laureate artist in residence at the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art’s Changdong Residency in South Korea (2014) and received the Kooshk Artist Residency Award to create a new film in Iran (2015).

www.kevin-gaffney.com

Primary School Links – Blog 3

School Links is a programme run by Dr. Michael Flannery which brings students from local DEIS primary schools into the Marino Institute of Education to participate in a visual arts project.

I worked with 4th class students from St Joseph’s Primary School, who came to MIE for four two-hour sessions. As the students had been exploring the use of food in art, I screened two excerpts of my films that deal with this topic. The first was a scene where a young woman eats a flower, and the students responded to this by creating their own flowers through collage and assemblage.
The second clip I screened was a scene where a performer emerges from a large fake cake with a hat of fruits on her head, and then another scene where she sifts flower onto her own head. The students responded to this by sculpting their own fruit, vegetable and other foods from memory out of modrock, which will be painted the next week. The students will decide if they wish to appropriate these materials to make their own hats and costumes, or if they would like to make another sculptural form with them.

In between these activities, students from the class interviewed me about the life and work of a contemporary artist:

Student: Why do you think art is important?
KG: For me, art is like music or literature, and I think going to the an art gallery or museum is like going to the library. We are always expected to be so productive and busy, and art allows us to be quiet and reflective…  it’s a different way of thinking. But, do you think it’s important?
Student: Yes, I think art is important because it brings so much colour to people’s lives.

Student: Do you make mistakes?
KG: Yes, all the time! On my newest film, I spent so long making one scene… the art department spent ages on the set, there were a lot of props and it actually cost a good bit of money. But, then, when editing I realised it wasn’t working. It wasn’t fitting with the rest of the film at all… so I had to cut it out, and that’s so disappointing. It wasn’t anyone’s fault except mine!

Student: How long does it take you to make a film? Do you have people helping you?
KG: Yes I have lots of people helping me! It’s impossible to be good at everything, and I’ve accepted the things I can do well and the things that I definitely can’t!

Student: How do you know if something you make is especially good?
KG: It’s hard to know… sometimes you make something you really believe in, but it doesn’t connect with people. And sometimes the opposite happens. I just try to follow me intuition and not worry about what everyone else is thinking or doing… but I know you can’t really do this in school.

Student: When you’re making a film for a gallery, do you feel very pressured?
KG: Yes, it’s a lot of pressure and it can be very distracting. On one hand, you are trying to be very sensitive and focused on what you are making, but then there is a professional pressure that seeps in. And it’s taken me ages to learn how to deal with that.

dan_colley_headshot_editDan Colley is a director, dramaturg and programmer from Dublin. As Director of Collapsing Horse Theatre he has directed The Water Orchard (with Eoghan Quinn, co-produced by Project Arts Centre) The Aeneid, Bears in Space, Conor: at the end of the Universe, Human Child, Distance from the Event and Monster/Clock. With Collapsing Horse, Dan is Theatre Artist in Residence in Draíocht and co-Artistic Director of Kilkenny Cat Laughs Festival.  As a dramaturg Dan has worked with Macnas, Dublin Fringe Festival, WillFredd and Sugarglass Theatre among others. Dan has a degree in English and Philosophy from NUI Galway and studied Youth Theatre Facilitation with Youth Theatre Ireland. Dan was a recipient of the Next Generation Bursary in 2016.

Blog post 3: Rights Museum

In my last blog post I detailed “Phase 1” of the process in which I facilitated drama and storytelling workshops with the 2nd year Art students at Larkin Community College, and the work-in-progress of the Rights Museum project which we presented in Croke Park for the OCO’s UNCRC25 Launch.

Although the presentation in Croke Park was supposed to be a “work-in-progress”, any readers who have done works-in-progress themselves will know there’s an inevitable sense of completion that sets in afterwards. Our challenge for “Phase 2” of the Rights Museum project was finding something new in executing the same idea. At the same time, the Art teachers Declan Quinn and Siobhán Mackenzie (who had been an essential energetic and creative force through the process from the beginning) started to feel the gravitational pull of the curriculum on their time, and thought that to continue with the process would be consume more time than they could afford to give. So, it was with some difficulty that we decided to draw a line under the phase 1 with the second year art students. This, I’m sure is a challenge and a decision many educators reading this will understand.

In order to continue, Máire O’Higgins, Deputy Principal and coordinator of artistic partnerships, needed to find an enthusiastic teacher and a group students who could benefit from the work. This she found in abundance in Emma O’Reilly and her first year CSPE class.

The task now was to recreate the process of phase one with a new group. This time, given that they were a CSPE class, we decided to find our way in through the UNCRC. Emma O’Reilly gave an introduction class to the United Nations Charter on the Rights of the Child, supported by me and Máire O’Higgins. Human Rights is one of the core pillar concepts of their CSPE course which they would normally cover in second year, so there was a curricular link there.

In our next session we asked the students to pick what they considered to be the most essential article in the UNCRC and to say why. We found their answers tended to cluster around the articles relating to family (and this was a theme we saw bare out in the objects they chose for the museum later). As the students told us which articles they thought were essential , my job as facilitator was to foment debate and dissent.

I used an exercise called “The Continuum” in which we cleared away the tables and chairs, nominated one end of the room to be “strongly agree” and the other side to be “strongly disagree” with “unsure” in the middle. When I said a statement, the students had to place themselves in the room, depending on how they felt about the statement. So, for example I might say “’Article 24; you have the right to healthcare’ is the most essential right” and the students would place themselves in the room depending on whether they agreed or strongly disagreed or somewhere in the middle. Then I would call on people who had taken the most extreme positions to say why. As they listened to the conversation and opposing points, students were encouraged to change their positions in the room as they changed their minds.

In this way, the students learned, from each other, the importance of their rights through the personal anecdotes they shared; they learned about their rights in reality. Choosing extreme statements to polarise opinion at the start and then allowing them to tease out the nuances among themselves.

In my next, and final, blog post I’ll describe how we applied this knowledge to museum curation; how one can tell stories and create meaning through selecting  and placing objects. I’ll describe the process of working with the National Museum of Ireland, the launch of our completed Rights Museum exhibition in the National Museum at Collins Barracks and the Education Pack being commissioned by the OCO based on the Rights Museum.

Kevin Gaffney is an artist filmmaker. His work is in the Irish Museum of Modern Art’s collection and has been shown internationally in exhibitions and film festivals including: European Media Art Festival (Germany, 2016); Out There, Thataway at CCA Derry~Londonderry (2015); and the 10th Imagine Science Film Festival (New York, 2017). He graduated from the Royal College of Art, London in 2011 with an MA in Photography & Moving, and was awarded the first Sky Academy Arts Scholarship for an Irish artist in 2015. He was an UNESCO-Aschberg laureate artist in residence at the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art’s Changdong Residency in South Korea (2014) and received the Kooshk Artist Residency Award to create a new film in Iran (2015).

www.kevin-gaffney.com

Diorama construction and collaborative filmmaking – Blog 2

In the first semester of my residency at the Marino Institute of Education, I worked with the first years on the Professional Masters in Education programme. I had previously given workshops and lectures at university level at the Dublin Institute of Technology and Kyung Hee University in Seoul, and taught art classes for children at Taipei Artist Village and at primary schools in Roscommon as part of the Art School project run by Jennie Guy. However, this was my first time working with preservice teachers and, so, was the first time I was not just teaching art but also trying to impart how to teach art from the point of view of a contemporary artist.

I devised a workshop that would introduce the class to the process of filmmaking, and that could be replicated in a classroom with few resources. Students worked in groups, collaborating to make a film concept, visualize it, and realise this through constructing a diorama which would show the set/location of their film idea, the characters and any scene changes. I wanted to focusing on the storytelling and visualisation aspects of filmmaking, and my overall aim was that, from doing the workshop, students would have learnt that filmmaking is an enjoyable and achievable process, reliant more on imagination and communication than it is on expensive equipment.

In order to contextualise this project, I showed examples of contemporary animation sets, maquettes for theatre set design, and artists whose work uses collage or photomontage (John Stezaker, Hannah Hoch, David Hockney, Peter Kennard), and contemporary Irish artists working with animation techniques (Aideen Barry, Vera Klute).

To begin the project, each group had to select four random words that designated:  (a) a genre; (b) a location; (c) a main human character; (d) an animal character. Then, together, they had to knit these into a coherent concept. After deciding on how to combine the elements, each group works on making a diorama. In a collaborative effort to realise their visualisation, decisions are made on colour palette, mood, materials and scale.

After their sets were made, students began to make their characters from armature and plasticine. We then began a simple stop-motion animation process using free apps on the students’ phones and school ipads. The result was that each group created a short silent animation using readily available materials and technology and each group created a unique project that can be appraised in relation to the concept they created and the parameters they set for themselves.

 

 


Kevin Gaffney is an artist filmmaker. His work is in the Irish Museum of Modern Art’s collection and has been shown internationally in exhibitions and film festivals including: European Media Art Festival (Germany, 2016); Out There, Thataway at CCA Derry~Londonderry (2015); and the 10th Imagine Science Film Festival (New York, 2017). He graduated from the Royal College of Art, London in 2011 with an MA in Photography & Moving, and was awarded the first Sky Academy Arts Scholarship for an Irish artist in 2015. He was an UNESCO-Aschberg laureate artist in residence at the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art’s Changdong Residency in South Korea (2014) and received the Kooshk Artist Residency Award to create a new film in Iran (2015).

www.kevin-gaffney.com

 

Art on Campus – Blog 1

In September I began my role as artist-in-residence at the Marino Institute of Education (MIE), an initiative for artists to work in institutions that provide initial teacher education funded by the Arts Council. The aims of the residency are: for the artist to develop their skills and work in a supportive education setting; for preservice teachers to have a meaningful engagement with the arts; and to support preservice teachers in developing confidence and skills in passing these meaningful experiences onto their students.

Working closely with Dr. Michael Flannery (Head of Art & Religious Education at MIE), we decided on a programme of formal inputs into courses and ways to disseminate my work to students and staff.  In the first few months of the residency, I then set about on a mission to ‘activate art’ on campus with a programme of talks, exhibitions and screenings, alongside giving formal inputs into classes.

I decided to turn the lobby and windows of the Nagle-Rice building into an exhibition space where students and staff could spend a few moments looking at my work. During October I exhibited two films here: Everything Disappears which I made in Taiwan, and is in Mandarin with English subtitles; and Our Stranded Friends in Distant Lands which I made in South Korea and is in Korean with English subtitles. Photographic prints in the window space deconstructed the films into still images and accompanying scripts in English.

I then gave a lunchtime artist talk discussing these projects, the research behind them and the process of making them. As well as making the campus aware of my work as the new artist on campus, I also wanted students to encounter the work in a way similar to when they are installed in a gallery, before we began to work together in a lecture.

In October, I brought a group of 12 students on an excursion to my studio at Fire Station Artist Studios on Buckingham St, Dublin 1, and then continued on to see an exhibition that dealt with mediating art to primary school groups at Dublin City Council’s The LAB gallery on Foley St. My aim was for students to become aware of the visual art spaces in the North city centre, and also for them to see ‘behind the scenes’ of an artists studio and sculpture workshop, and then a final installation in a gallery.

For a number of evenings in November and December, I held a series of screenings to introduce video art and experimental filmmaking. As the series spanned from the beginnings of video art (Nam June Paik) to surrealism (Luis Buñuel and  Salvador Dalí) to current practices (Hito Steyerl), I gave the context of the works and topics in art history and then led informal discussions following the screenings. I hope the series encouraged students to engage with artist film and experimental film, and to feel confident discussing such works on school trips to galleries and museums in the future.

Next year I’m looking forward to continuing this work on campus and being involved with the Masters in Education Studies (Visual Arts).

 

 

Christopher McCambridge is a Special Educational Needs teacher at St. Colman’s Primary School, Lambeg. St. Colman’s Primary is a mainstream school of 400 pupils with two learning support unit classes. Christopher is also an active member of the Belfast art scene. He co-founded the arts organisation Belfast Platform for the Arts (Platform Arts) in 2010, which continues to provide an exhibition space and studios for artists.

In 2016 Christopher and his Primary 6/7 class were chosen to take part in the Kids’ Own Publishing Partnership ‘Virtually There’ project. ‘A virtual artist in residence project which explores the potential for creative engagement between artists working from their studio and children and teachers in the classroom using video conferencing technology’. (Orla Kenny, Creative Director of Kids’ Own Publishing Partnership). Now in their 2nd year, artist John D’Arcy has been working collaboratively with Christopher and his class at St Colman’s P.S as virtual artist-in-residence. 

Art as a Gateway – Blog 2

A recent article in the Guardian newspaper, discussed the importance of prehistoric art. In particular, that of the Neanderthals and Homo sapiens. The art critic, Jonathan Jones, was examining the significance of the findings that Neanderthals had painted on cave walls in Spain 65,000 years ago, tens of thousands of years before Homo sapiens. The Neanderthal artwork in question was a stencilled red ochre handprint on rock. It wasn’t the discussion about whether or not Neanderthals were the first true artists or if this honour should belong to another early human species, Homo erectus, or because of the quality of the representational artwork by Homo sapiens, they should be considered the first ‘true’ artists, that piqued my interest, it was the significance that art had on moulding a species. That ‘art’ constituted the beginnings of intelligence, the “capacity to imagine and dream” and within our own species Homo sapiens “the birth of the complex cathedral of the modern mind … [opening] the way, in modern human history, to everything from writing to computers” (Jonathan Jones, 2018). – read the full article www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2018/feb/23/neanderthals-cave-art-spain-astounding-discovery-humbles-every-human

Within the education sector, the Northern Ireland Curriculum has been developed to cater for all subjects, allowing children access to a varied education. The reality is, that as children progress through primary school, teachers can be under pressure delivering the curriculum, often focussing on the areas of numeracy and literacy to the detriment of other curricular areas, particularly art. This can be evident in Primary 6 and the first term of Primary 7, when a substantial amount of time is spent preparing the children for the GL and AQE transfer tests. These pressures can sometimes be self-imposed, a teacher perhaps feeling that it is important for the children to develop these skills and after the tests have been completed, delivering those other areas or perhaps they can be pressures by other stake-holders within the school community. Regardless of this, the Guardian article reinforced my own view that Art should be on-a-par with those supposedly ‘key subjects or areas.’ If, works of art have been “held up as proof of the cognitive superiority of modern humans,” this should mean that art can play an important role in the curriculum.

As a Special Educational Needs teacher, teaching Primary 6/7 pupils, the pressures of the GL and AQE tests are not applicable to the children that I teach. Like all primary teachers the delivery of the Northern Ireland Curriculum is still essential. However, without these testing constraints, there is an opportunity to embed art throughout the curriculum to a greater extent. It does not need to simply be an add on or linked to a world around us topic. My project work with Kids’ Own has been successful in facilitating this. As I detailed in my last post, I am now in my second year of working within the Kids’ Own project and in-particular working with the artist John D’arcy.

At the beginning of Year 2, we set about choosing a word that would encompass everything. The word we chose was Hacking. This would be the jumping off point, from which all mini-projects or lessons would stem from. John and I found that this liberated our planning, allowing for greater flexibility. When we discussed the word with the children, it ignited their enthusiasm, prompting new avenues of learning that John and I had not previously considered.

Throughout the Hacking project, we have included aspects of numeracy and literacy. A particular favourite being a session exploring ‘codes and language’. This session included: Semaphore, Morse code, the phonetic alphabet, emoji’s and Makaton. After the session had been completed, I was amazed to see children with difficulties in sequencing the alphabet testing one another on the use of Makaton and the symbol to letter correspondence. The project has also allowed the children to develop their creativity and problem-solving skills. They have become more expressive when discussing topics, themes or their own work. This has had an impact in other avenues such as their social and emotional well-being.

I began this post, examining the importance that art had on our evolution as a species. So, I feel it is relevant to question, if it had such a bearing on our evolution, then why can it not have the same impact upon our education of young children?

 

 

 

 

dan_colley_headshot_editDan Colley is a director, dramaturg and programmer from Dublin. As Director of Collapsing Horse Theatre he has directed The Water Orchard (with Eoghan Quinn, co-produced by Project Arts Centre) The Aeneid, Bears in Space, Conor: at the end of the Universe, Human Child, Distance from the Event and Monster/Clock. With Collapsing Horse, Dan is Theatre Artist in Residence in Draíocht and co-Artistic Director of Kilkenny Cat Laughs Festival.  As a dramaturg Dan has worked with Macnas, Dublin Fringe Festival, WillFredd and Sugarglass Theatre among others. Dan has a degree in English and Philosophy from NUI Galway and studied Youth Theatre Facilitation with Youth Theatre Ireland. Dan was a recipient of the Next Generation Bursary in 2016.

Blog post 2: Rights Museum

The Rights Museum is a participatory art project that attempts to allow our objects do just that. Its subject is the lives of the second-year Art students in Larkin Community College and how the rights enshrined in the UNCRC intersect with their actual lived experience. Or don’t.

In the last post I described the beginnings of the project idea and the partners who came together to make in happen; Larkin Community College, The Ombudsman for Children’s Office and the National Museum of Ireland.

I began work on “Phase 1” of the project in September 2017 with two second-year Art classes, along with teachers Siobhán McKenzie and Declan Quinn. I facilitated four weekly hour-long workshops  on Wednesday afternoons outside of class time. I also worked with the students in their art classes with their teachers.

The workshops used drama and storytelling techniques to three main aims; to surprise and entertain, to get them cooperating as a group, not just individuals; and to introduce new forms of self-expression. That work included a simple ball throwing and catching exercise (acknowledging the stress that it causes, allowing ourselves to drop the ball, and focussing on the thing that mattered; that we were all working together calmly to the get the ball around the circle). We also stood in a circle and played what I call “Kung Foo” (of which there’s many variations including “zip, zap, boing”) We also played a game in which 5 participants sit in a row, and then take turns standing up and saying “My name is X” followed by something that’s true. The aim is to always have someone standing and sating something, to act on the impulse to fill a gap where it occurs and to say anything that’s true, however mundane, that come into your head. This exercise allows for back-and-forth conversations to emerge, (eg. “My name is Dan and I have two brothers” followed by “My name is Stacy and I also have two brothers”) and for the participants to get to know each other better and have a way of expressing themselves through the exercise.

In two Art classes a week, I focussed more directly on the task of creating a Rights Museum. That time was devoted to introducing the concepts of the UNCRC (supported by a workshop delivered by the Ombudsman for Children’s Office) and a focus on objects and what story they can tell (supported by a “If Objects Can Talk” workshop in National Museum of Ireland).

The students were asked to pick an object that was meaningful to them and to bring it in to class.

They were asked to “free-write” about it.

They were asked to stand up and share why it was meaningful to them and what articles in the UNCRC it referred to.

This process lead the students to share among the following objects with their class:

In their other session each week, Ms McKenzie’s class divided into 4 groups. Each group took a theme of the UNCRC and created a large mind-map illustrating that theme and the rights that it represented. Mr Quinn’s class also divided into 4 groups and created interactive paper fortune tellers which illustrated the four themes.

The culmination of phase 1 was a work-in-progress presentation of the Rights Museum took place in Croke Park as part of the OCO’s launch of the UNCRC25 celebrations in September 2017. It featured :

The participants reported their surprise and delight at how their objects and artwork were displayed just like in a professional museum. They also reported experiencing a thrill at seeing other people coming to view their objects and read their writing, and a great sense of achievement in what they’d produced.

The work-in-progress was intended to mark the end of phase 1 and the beginning of another, but we were soon to discover that it had the sense of an ending in and of itself. For phase 2 of the work, we would be starting again with a new set of students and finding a way to join the work that both groups had done.
 

20180125_220635_edit2Christopher McCambridge is a Special Educational Needs teacher at St. Colman’s Primary School, Lambeg. St. Colman’s Primary is a mainstream school of 400 pupils with two learning support unit classes. Christopher is also an active member of the Belfast art scene. He co-founded the arts organisation Belfast Platform for the Arts (Platform Arts) in 2010, which continues to provide an exhibition space and studios for artists.

Virtually There Year 1 – Blog 1

In September 2016, my Primary 6/7 class were chosen to take part in the Kids’ Own Virtually there project. The Virtually there project is an innovative virtual artist in residence project … exploring the potential for creative engagement between artists working from their studio and children and teachers in the classroom using video conferencing technology (Orla Kenny, Director of Kids’ Own Publishing Partnership).

Our class were paired with artist, performer and composer, John D’Arcy. John’s work focuses on the use of sound and voice in intermedia art events. As a primary school teacher, teaching children with special education needs, the art mediums that I tend to explore within the curriculum include drawing, painting, ceramics, printing and 3-D sculpture. The use of sound as an art form or event, outside of musical lessons and choir, was an intriguing concept that I was eager to engage with.

Throughout the course of the fourteen weeks the pupils explored natural and man-made sounds in a variety of different environments and locations. Initial sound explorations focused on our school environment and ranged from birds chirping, the wind howling to high-heel shoes walking down the corridor or the buzzing of the whiteboard and the hum of the lights. These discussions concentrated on getting the children to describe the sounds they heard and attempt to recreate them using their voice. Throughout the sessions the children began to show greater confidence and clarity when describing different sounds.

“How could you tell it that the sound was high-heel shoes? Can you describe the sound?

“It went clip clop … the sound was spaced apart … the sound was short and repeated … it was getting quieter as the woman walked down the corridor … it sounded like my Mum’s shoes in the kitchen.”

As the sessions progressed, John began to ask the children to interpret the sounds we could hear as drawings. He taught the children to understand the concept that a drawing of lines, symbols or both can represent a sound, an abstract idea that the children loved because it frees them from trying to make a realistic drawing.  After a visit to the Belfast Zoo, John asked the children to interpret the animal sounds that they heard and recorded through drawings.

He discussed with the class, what might the sound of an animal or bird look like?

The parrots talking resembled a curved line to Kevin because the ‘sound went from low to high and it was a short sound’.

Daniel drew a series of circles of different sizes joined by lines for the sound of the parrots. The sounds ‘went from loud to quiet … it was like the parrots were talking to each other.’

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Caitlin – Monkey

“I was imagining the monkey making ‘oh, oh’ sounds, that is why I picked an O [to draw]. I drew a line because it was joining the sound together. I the red sound was an angry sound and the purple sound was a lower sound

Oscar – Parrots

“I drew this shape because it looked like a parrot’s beak. The triangle is getting bigger as the sound is getting louder and angrier.”

The project continued to evolve developing drawings and sounds into graphic scores, which would later be performed and recorded by the children as an abstract musical performance pieces. The children’s confidence grew as they began to interpret drawings that John had given them as sounds. The children were then able to use the sound recording app Keezy, to record eight sounds and arrange them into an abstract sound piece or follow a graphic score that John had arranged. Throughout the project it was a delight to see children that were initially reluctant to take part in the performances and recordings began to grow in confidence and express themselves through sound, drawing and performance as well as being able to articulate their thoughts and descriptions with greater clarity.

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We have now entered into the second year of working within the Kids’ own project. John and myself are continuing to explore art mediums, that as a class teacher I would have been reluctant to try without his assistance. The first year and a half has been an extremely worthwhile experience not only for myself, but more importantly for the children in my class.

dan_colley_headshot_editDan Colley is a director, dramaturg and programmer from Dublin. As Director of Collapsing Horse Theatre he has directed The Water Orchard (with Eoghan Quinn, co-produced by Project Arts Centre) The Aeneid, Bears in Space, Conor: at the end of the Universe, Human Child, Distance from the Event and Monster/Clock. With Collapsing Horse, Dan is Theatre Artist in Residence in Draíocht and co-Artistic Director of Kilkenny Cat Laughs Festival.  As a dramaturg Dan has worked with Macnas, Dublin Fringe Festival, WillFredd and Sugarglass Theatre among others. Dan has a degree in English and Philosophy from NUI Galway and studied Youth Theatre Facilitation with Youth Theatre Ireland. Dan was a recipient of the Next Generation Bursary in 2016.

Blog post 1: Rights Museum

Can our objects tell us about the state of our rights?

Can they show our rights upheld? The rights we’re denied?

The Rights Museum is a participatory art project that attempts to allow our objects do just that. Its subject is the lives of the second-year Art students in Larkin Community College and how the rights enshrined in the UNCRC intersect with their actual lived experience. Or don’t.

The project is led by me, in my capacity as Director of Collapsing Horse. I am an artist, a producer, director and writer for theatre. Collapsing Horse is a theatre and festival production company that makes work that arises out of collaboration and purposeful play. Sometimes the work we make is for and with young people.

It originated when I was approached by Máire O’Higgins, Assistant Principal at Larkin Community College and asked if I would be interested in working with the students there, if I had an idea of what I would do. She described examples of some of the remarkable work that had been created by the students with professional artists. I was familiar with Larkin from work I had done there with the Abbey Theatre’s Community and Education Department and had admired the school’s commitment to the arts as a key part of the holistic development of their students. This commitment is upheld in the face of frequent adversity. Máire made no bones about it – Larkin is a school that is on the front lines of a community that has experienced generations of lack of opportunity and neglect.

Around about the same time Rebecca McLaughlin, from the Ombudsman for Children’s Office (OCO), approached me with the idea of collaborating on something for the 25th anniversary of Ireland’s ratification of the UNCRC. It seemed serendipitous! It was obvious to put the two ideas together – I would lead the Rights Museum project in Larkin Community College, which would also serve as pilot programme that could be written about in an education pack and replicated in other schools and communities for the OCO’s 25th Anniversary celebrations. Later, the National Museum of Ireland came on board as enthusiastic supporters, making it clear they would help in whatever way we could.

The goal from the outset was clear. We would empower a group of young people to create an exhibition illustrating their experience of their rights enshrined in the UNCRC. What wasn’t clear, was how we were going to do it.

screen-shot-2016-11-30-at-14-36-32Máire O’Higgins is a teacher and an Assistant Principal at Larkin Community College Dublin 1. She also coordinates partnerships for the College and is the school Chaplain. Máire is 26 years working in the north east inner city. Before she became a teacher she worked as an actor and a Theatre Director.

Larkin Community College is a second level CDETB DEIS Band 1 school in the north east inner city of Dublin. It is a co-educational school with 430 students and a staff of 48. Students come from all over areas of socio-economic disadvantage in Dublin to attend the school. It is a mainstream school and offers Arts, Soccer, Basketball and Academic Scholarship Programmes.

Blog 4 – December 2017

It is six months since we finished the Reimagining Education showcase and exhibition with students and staff from Larkin Community College and the Gaiety School of Acting.

The showcase and exhibition were a great success. The discussions after each showcase were enlightening and exciting. It was heartening to hear what young people thought about their own education. It was poignant to hear what older adults remembered about their often limited creative engagement with education.

Did we succeed with this partnership project? Yes, on so many levels.

The work was a celebration of a year of hard work and focused engagement with the theme of reimagining education. It gave a voice to young and old and allowed them to express their opinions about education. Students developed skills in independent research, collaborative learning, planning an event, Theatre Making and curation. Students mirrored the world of work by modelling best practice in curation and theatre making.

However a lot of the good work that was done to ensure a strong aesthetic standard in performance and in curation, was done in teachers’ and facilitators’ own time. And that is not sustainable. This sad reality shines a light on what is currently the reality in our education systems at second level, in particular in second level DEIS schools (a DEIS school is a school that receives more funding from the Department of Education and Skills to deliver equality of opportunity in schools).

I hope that in naming what that reality is, we can help to reimagine a new and exciting DEIS model.

In the year of our partnership project with the Gaiety School of Acting, teachers and facilitators had two classes a week for one hour at a time, to research, devise, rehearse and produce a showcase about reimagining education. They also had two classes a week for one hour at a time to create exhibits and a catalogue for an exhibition. Outside of this time teachers met with each other and with facilitators from the Gaiety School of Acting in their own time, to plan and reflect on processes and prepare for the exhibition and showcase. We loved the experience but it took its toll.

The key to the project’s success was twofold:

We all bought into the vision for the project and we were able to check in with each other as we progressed, to make sure that we were all still clear on that vision.

This work as I have stated was done in our own time. We were happy to give of our time voluntarily but this way of working is not sustainable in a wise education system. Volunteering in a school community is important but it should not form the core work of creative engagement in education. If the core work relies on volunteerism it will quickly move to adhoc provision of best practice in education.

Sadly for this project, none of what the students did could be formally assessed in education last year. This year with the new Junior Cycle, we can thankfully now record similar processes and outcomes and formally acknowledge this type of work. That is great news.

However for us to continue to engage creatively in education with partners is challenging for a myriad reasons.

For instance, teachers are often now on year to year contracts. This makes it difficult to plan a project with a colleague until we know that they will be working with us the next year.

We cannot apply for funding until we know who may be engaging with the projects.

Funding then does not often come in to the school until the middle of the first term.

All of this means that is really hard to plan projects for the academic year.

An exciting model for education would be one where teachers and artists are supported and empowered to create a strategic direction for a school for five years. This would allow us to deepen practices and develop innovative programmes that can nurture creativity in education for stakeholders and for young people.

It is hugely time consuming trying to fundraise and plan and build experience amongst teachers so that we can best serve young people.

Working in a DEIS school, we work with young people from areas of socio-economic disadvantage. One of the factors that contribute to instability in the lives of the young people we work with is the often chaotic patters they encounter in their personal lives. These include constant changes in the home, breakdown of family relations as well as addiction outcomes such as unpredictable behaviour in the home. Change happens too frequently and causes instability for our young people.  It is a real pity then that they find that their school life mirrors this with a high turnover of staff annually due to employment structures in education. Offering five year contracts to those who work in DEIS schools would support wise planning and sustainable structures in DEIS schools and create stability for our young people. Teachers and partners could plan, fundraise, build research components and evaluations, reflect and reiterate best practices in creative engagement. I firmly believe that this would begin to address equity and equality in some of our most deprived communities in Ireland.

blue_mug2016Julie Forrester is a visual artist based in Cork City. She has been working with all kinds of people in all kinds of settings since her return to Ireland in the 1990s. Her work celebrates process and open ended enquiry into materials and context. Julie Forrester is currently in residence with Kids’ Own Publishing Partnership at Killard School, Co Down.

Blog 4

In my final blog I would like to describe my response to an invitation to lead a workshop.

I have been asked to focus on the interaction between the identities of maker and educator…

exciting!

and to begin by submitting a 50 word blurb for the workshop

– challenging! 

Settling in to task I find that I am a little ill at ease with the label, educator. Learning in arts practice comes about from the creative encounter, and the excitement of discovery, we all know that even when a ‘discovery’ has been made a thousand times before by others our own personal experience is the vital thing. So, by setting a path and then looking for traces, following these and generating some excitement about where they might lead, I feel more like a Companion tracker than ‘educator’: we find our own routes of discovery in the world about us.

The richness of arts practice means that discoveries may be found in just about anything: the way a particular material behaves, or by becoming aware of a new sensitivity to sound or colour, or in the places a mind might wander while creating a rhythm with a lump of charcoal. And in the education setting, where there is a wealth and breadth of experience, sharing these discoveries with others is a particular pleasure which doesn’t happen in the studio.

Often in the education setting a theme is superimposed onto the art process, this theme might be drawn from with the school curriculum. So for example one might begin with a broad parameter called “Ecology.” We look for a jumping off point and so we may begin by a brainstorming activity – perhaps the naming of all of the plants we know, then perhaps by making a collection of indigenous species of plants – the way one might approach the creation of this collection is diverse and this approach will often set the methodology for the project.

MAKER

When I am alone, in studio I have my radio tuned, usually to Lyric FM, it may be day or night, music and light discretely setting mood and contributing to context. The starting point for work is incidental to me, and the farther it is from any kind of reasoning, or logic, the better. The first mark in the void, needs to be unattached, innocent. Throw up a coin and watch it land. After that there is something to respond to. This initial mark is like a lodestone attracting whatever is buzzing in the air, it expands the possibilities of the moment.

Work becomes a series of acts, of making and responding of adjusting and reinterpreting, slipped in with memory and carried out with a heightened sensitivity to coincidence and connection. The work evolves, parts are discarded, parts are advanced, the whole becoming gradually orchestrated into some edited, arrived at, Thing/Series of Things. If this all sounds rather vague perhaps it is in this part, a conjuring; a cloud of energy seeking form. A theme will arise midway through a project, the beginnings are tentative, arbitrary and blind. The way is felt.

(EDUCATOR)//TRACKER

One of the  privileges of working in education settings is to be working with the curiosity of young collaborators. Collaborators, in addition to being creators in their own right, contribute much to my practice, becoming part mirror, part joker and part external eye on process. It is this working in tandem that allows flow and mutual enrichment between my practice and the project’s unfolding. Feeling my own way in the dark I am able to see more clearly what others do with the same criteria, what gets thrown up: Whatever the seekers find, and how they communicate their findings will lead us deeper into the project, and into the next phase. It is in the observation of this process that reflection becomes a driving force.

I try to encourage a commentary from participants. The voicing of observations aired during the making process are witness to a wider sensibility. When a maker becomes commentator on the work both commentator and audience are led into an observational position that opens up a reflective dimension. Process becomes foregrounded, motivations become more clear, particular sensitivities and attractions are voiced and often more subtle and unusual connections are made between image, outcome and intention.

A drawing of a dandelion might lead to a conversation about yellow, or sunshine, first experiences of the bitter sap staining hands, folkloric warnings about bed wetting or other knowledge latent within the imaginations of a group of participants. A conversation about a dandelion may begin with its name – what a strange name this flower has! We might research and find that the name is middle English and comes from French dent-de-lion, meaning ‘lion’s tooth’ that’s another image straight away. Discussions might find other routes, the gardener’s phrase that “a weed is a plant out of place” may throw up extended conversations about migration and belonging. We could think of dandelion seasons, perhaps about how a dandelion might support an ecology.  An observational drawing of a dandelion before such a discursive process will be very different from a drawing from the imagination, made after these wanderings (and this is just me thinking aloud).

By recording this commentary we deepen and extend the reflective process. The recording of those observations involves an echoing and a a translation, from an initial drawing, to spoken word to written report, photograph or other kind of document. The choice of media for documentation influences this enquiry. It’s fun to play with different recording methods. …the pressing of the flower, the crushing and collection of sap, the particular material properties and behaviours of dandelion seed heads, stories about dandelion experiences, the folklore of a dandelion, actions with a dandelion.

Translation from one media to another will involve further images, references, words, actions or sounds, and will also throw up different kinds of problems, seeking creative solutions, all of which will augment and colour the work leading it on to new places. Curiosity will drive this process along. I try to remember the voice, I scribble things down on scraps of paper, transferring them later to a notebook. I find that multiple translations help my process, a hasty scribble is wildly different from a concentrated drawing out of an idea, but each has their own qualities.  I use notebooks for ideas that I might try out in studio and I use blogging as a kind of scrapbook for documentation and references to other realms, a blog post might include a bit of research arising from the work in progress, it may be a fragment of video, a link to another artist’s work, something I am reading about, a piece of music, or a random image or connection found online.

Blogging is a perfect space for holding these observations and documenting the process. It is a shared space. Maker, student and teacher can refer to the observations held in the blog, an audio visual record of the territory, a map.

I arrive at my wording for the blurb:

WORKSHOP

The idea is a spark – the spark can be as volatile or as contained as you decide. There will be some parameters which will guide the explorations. Shared knowledge is rich, we will tap into this. The imagination is wild and we will allow this to roam. Other peoples’ ideas are always interesting. Roaming between our own perception, responses to peer work and free expression we will explore the territory together. (71 words)

Tom Dalton headshotTom Dalton is an artist and former arts worker at Mayfield Arts Centre, Cork. 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 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 was 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 was also involved in coordinating and facilitating outreach projects to school and community groups throughout the city. Tom is currently retraining in furniture design and manufacture.

A Walk In The Park: Art And Ecology

As the weather turns ice-cold on the run up to Christmas, I feel it is fitting to remember the warm days of Summer and reflect on a collaborative project between Mayfield Arts Centre and biologist and educator Darragh Murphy that took place for Summer In The Park 2017.

Summer In The Park is an programme of events, organised and supported by Cork City Council, that takes place annually at Fitzgerald’s Park. The programme, which boasts music, art, dance, performance, food and film is developed following a public call out to animate the park over the summer months. We at Mayfield Arts were keen to get involved and began to think of ways of temporarily transporting the creative energy of the arts centre to the grounds of Fitzgerald’s Park. I caught up with Darragh, Mayfield Arts arts worker Brían Crotty and Cúig artists Ailbhe Barrett and Angela Burchill to chat about their experiences of the project.

Surrounded by beautiful organic gardens, Mayfield Arts Centre has always fostered an active relationship with the natural environment. The many groups that pass through the space frequently explore the grounds for inspiration in the form of plants and leaves, looking for pattern, colour and small details often overlooked. The arts centre is also home to the Cúig artist in the studio project. Here artists are supported by two arts workers to create artworks that are wholly their own. The five artists are Bríd Heffernan, Stephen Murray, Ailbhe Barrett, Angela Burchill and John Noel Kennealy.

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Although each of the five artists’ practice is unique, nature is a frequent theme, with animals, insects, plants and flowers appearing as regular subject matter in the studio over the years. There is a natural inquisitiveness and curiosity that comes with being an artist and for Summer In The Park, Mayfield Arts were keen to explore ways of sharing this innate spirit of investigation in an inclusive way.

We at the centre were also eager to learn more about the park and its rich variety of natural diversity ourselves. We got in touch with biologist, environmental educator and photographer Darragh Murphy and invited him up to visit the Cuig artists’ studios. Darragh designs and leads nature tours & workshops to people of all abilities, combining photography, ecology & history to illustrate the beauty & value of our local wildlife. Darragh and the artists hit it off and ideas for a collaboration formed quickly.

A Walk In The Park: Art and Ecology was a series of guided ‘art walks’ through the grounds of Fitzgerald’s Park, co-facilitated by Darragh Murphy, Brían Crotty and artists from the Cuig studios. As Darragh describes, the idea for this project was a simple one; ‘exploring nature through art – exploring art through nature’. Generously supported by Cork City Council, these art walks took place over two Fridays during summer 2017, with a series of hour-long tours taking place each day. The tours were free to join and were open to participants of all ages and abilities.

Equipped with sketchbooks and a range of art materials, groups of fifteen participants set off from the park Pavilion and were guided in discovering, observing and visually recording the park’s diverse plant and wildlife through fun and accessible drawing and mark making.

Brían describes the day: ‘We choose five different locations in the park and discussed the trees, patterns, wildlife and ecology and then responded using a different artistic method in each. We learned about the patterns of trees and took rubbings of the bark and the leaves. We also did things like blind drawing and observational drawing.’ Artist, Angela Burchill, whose practice usually involves working from found imagery says she really ‘enjoyed drawing the trees and leaves’ in the outdoors.

There was a great diversity in age and background of participants on each of the walks which enriched the experience for everyone. Darragh reflects on the activity of the groups; ‘Through the tours, we found that each participant had an individual starting place and pursued our idea on their own path. As the team biologist, I tried to give the biological basis for the kinds of shapes, patterns & textures we observed around us, & the artists helped to explore these structures using chosen artistic techniques.’ Darragh also sourced attachable smartphone lenses for the tours, allowing participants to use their phone cameras to zoom right into places of interest and capture these scenes through photography. Brían remembers how participants began to investigate ‘the other little worlds that exist in the little cracks and corners of the park’.

The walks were as much a social event as an educational one. Cúig artist Ailbhe Barrett recalls how ‘people really enjoyed it, they were all chatting and drawing’. For Darragh, witnessing the wide range in output from participants on the walks was where the success of this project lay; ‘Through considering the same information & landscape before us, the innate & personal experience of each participant was revealed on the page as they sketched.’

Underpinning the art walks was also a belief that if people increase their direct experiences of being out and about in nature, they may show more interest in it’s survival. ‘As a biologist/environmental educator, it is very important for me that people engage with their natural environments under their own steam. My role is only to help highlight why the world may be interesting & worth paying attention to. I cannot tell anyone to conserve the birds or the rainforests, I can only express why I think they’re interesting. Engagement comes from within the individual.’

Darragh also commented on the inherent links between his work as an environmental educator and that of the Cúig artists; ‘We all see the world’s beauty & make attempts to highlight this beauty. We all drew the same trees but what was drawn was the personal connection to the trees.”

To find out more about Darragh’s work please visit www.dmurphynature.com.

To find out more about the Cuig artists and Mayfield Arts please visit www.mayfieldarts.ie Mayfield Arts wish to thank Cork City Council for their generous support of this project.

Milica HeadshotMilica (Mili) Atanackovic is a Practice and Training Manager with Early Childhood Ireland. Her background in the early years is rooted within a passionate interest in Creative Arts. Mili originally studied Design Communication before moving into Early Childhood Care and Education in Australia.  Considering training and mentoring as a key element of quality in the early years, Mili has worked as an Educator, Service Manager and Trainer, she also combines experience from a range of creative disciplines to her work.

The Art of Storytelling

“People think that stories are shaped by people. In fact, it’s the other way around.” Terry Pratchett

The art of storytelling allows children and adults to express themselves. A written story, an illustration and the spoken word can provoke an immediate connection. For very young children stories can have no words, a story might have clear meaning, but a story may also remain unclear – their play is the story. A teacher needs to tune in and listen to how even the youngest child is expressing their story, through for example their voice, actions, interactions, and hands-on experiences. The child needs tools to provoke a story, opportunity and time to share their thoughts. For older children exploring deeper questioning, their inquiry can be helped by the child and adult enquiring together.

Like a writer telling a story when a child can represent their ideas and words through creative processes, they can express thought and emotion. Expressing these emotions in a symbolic or abstract way. We do not have to draw, paint or photograph for children. Older children can be shown a variety of illustrative techniques that can inspire and provoke a representation of their individual ideas, but it is not a necessity.  By providing the tools, we support children to explore and contextualise their thought processes independently.  Through hands-on investigation and illustrative techniques children can develop an understanding of themselves and the world around them. Children can challenge and extend their own thinking, create new knowledge and engage individually or collaboratively in processes.

The creative child is encouraged when materials are presented for free uninterrupted exploration. By using art to tell stories, children are given the opportunity to problem solve, share, explore and communicate through the arts. Active involvement changes what they know and can do, developing creativity and storytelling concepts enables children to participate in and give voice to their thoughts, transferring and adapting what they have learned from one context to another.

One way Early Childhood Ireland encourages early childhood teachers to share children’s stories, is through our Book Club, the aim is to create a space where stories are shared with other children, teachers and families. We store them in our online Children’s Library, encouraging children as authors and illustrators. The book club is not about a product it is about seeing the beauty in what children say, think and create.  A child’s story does not need to be planned, it does not need to follow a sequence, children have an innate ability to take us on such amazing unexpected and inspiring adventures.

To be inspired by children’s stories or to submit a child’s story please visit https://www.earlychildhoodireland.ie/?s=book+club

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Claire is a visual artist, curator and arts educator based in Dublin. Over the last twenty years Claire has worked with a range of groups across many age groups from Primary School children through to Second and Third level students, teachers, community groups, intellectual disability groups and older people. These projects have taken place in a range of settings and contexts including museum gallery based, classroom, library, healthcare, local authority and community settings and over a range of timescales. Claire is represented by Olivier Cornet Gallery, Dublin and is currently curating Concerning the Other – an artist collaborative project with the gallery in September 2017. 

Blog 4: Dún Laoghaire Rathdown Creativity in the Classroom

So after my mini rant in the last Blog Post on the trials and tribulations and juggling of the life of an artist and arts educator I have decided to focus in this post on the arts in education project that I have been engaged in the longest that is Dún Laoghaire Rathdown Creativity in the Classroom working with Holy Family N.S, Monkstown.

DLR Creativity in the Classroom

DLRCIC was set up in 2010 with a steering group of artists including Liz McMahon, Maree Hensey and myself who had met through our work on the DLR Primary Arts Panel in 2010.

DLR Creativity in the Classroom uses the model of practice and ethos of Creativity in the Classroom which was set up 20 years ago with a cluster of 6 schools in Dublin’s south inner city. This project uses visual art as a means of helping children develop their sense of self and provides them with time to explore their creative energy, time to experience the process of what it is to be. This allows for the multitude of emotional responses that will unfold, both positive and negative. More importantly it gives freedom for these responses and provides a safe environment for them to be dealt with.

DLRCIC currently has two participating schools in the Dún Laoghaire Rathdown area for the last six years and is considered to be sustainable within these schools. Each artist works with four classes in total throughout the school year, facilitating nine workshops with each class. Exhibition visits are included and parents/ grandparents/ guardians are invited to participate in a hands-on workshop with their child. Funding for the programme is through the participating schools and DLR Arts Grant for Participation and Learning which is applied for annually. The programme also receives support from Blackrock Education Centre.

Current Project

As an artist working in arts in education project can have many durations of engagement from one off, year long, commissions with a particular outcome or artwork. For me the beauty and enjoyment of the DLR Creativity in the Classroom programme is the longer engagement and emphasis on the process based, exploring of materials, ideas and concepts. A slowing down. This involves the building up over time of a partnership and trust with the individual teachers, school principal, wider school community and most importantly the children themselves.

It is a long term collaborative process which the schools have invested in, engaged in and continue to recognise the benefits of both within the classroom and beyond over the last six years with the programme being adopted for each school while still keeping the model of practice and strong ethos of Creativity in the Classroom.

So this term I am working with two class groups – 5th/ 6th Class group – who are a class group whom I have worked with over the years since they were in Senior Infants! So I know the class, their personalities and watched their development as we have worked together over nine weeks each year.

I am also working with Senior Infants group who are absolutely fantastic! Their inhibitions and creative engagement are refreshing and exciting in our explorations of a range of drawing materials and processes exploring ideas around micro and macro, inside and outside. There is an emphasis on trust with the teacher in that we had discussed visiting Aideen Barry’s exhibition Slice, Vast, Deep at Muncipal Gallery, dlr LexIcon in September and using it as a starting point without knowing where the process would lead us. The class really loved the projected animations and talked about how they could make their own drawings move and mix with projected images. So we don’t know where we are going to end up! We have done some individual and collaborative drawings looking at the teeny tiny and the huge, inside and outside and also done some stop frame photo shoots of the children dressed up as super heroes. Over the next number of weeks we are going to try and bring these elements together. And that is the beauty of this creative process – the time and space is allowed just to be, to explore, to journey without knowing the destination and to trust it will be a rewarding and worthwhile journey….

2_Senior Infants_Micro Macro Drawings_edit2

For more information about DLR Creativity in the Classroom  go to  dlrcreativityintheclassroom.wordpress.com/

Or visit Claire Halpin  clairehalpin2011.wordpress.com

Tom Dalton headshotTom Dalton is an artist and former arts worker at Mayfield Arts Centre, Cork. 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 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 was 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 was also involved in coordinating and facilitating outreach projects to school and community groups throughout the city. Tom is currently retraining in furniture design and manufacture.

Collaborative Mural Project at Terrence McSwiney Community School, Cork

The Kabin Studio at Knocknaheeny is a much loved and utilized building. Tucked inside the grounds of Terrence McSwiney Community School, this little hut is home to GMC Beats, the creative initiative of Garry McCarthy. GMC Beats deliver workshops in creative songwriting, rapping, singing and music production. Working mostly with schools and youth groups, these workshops give people the confidence and skills in putting their own thoughts, words and voices into action through performing and recording their own songs. Over 600 tracks produced by various community groups have come out of this space over the last 5 years, often garnering local and national radio and media attention.

Although a hive of activity on the inside, the exterior of the building had begun to look a bit tired and was in dire need of some sprucing up. Norrie Louise Ross, Art Teacher at Terrence McSwiney Community School Art got in touch with us at Mayfield Arts Centre with the idea of working with her students to breathe new life into the building. The school was looking for a mural, created by the students and staff, that would reflect the energy and output coming from this small cabin.

Walking through the hallways of Terrence McSwiney Community School, its clear that staff and management there understand the value an engagement with art has on the life and learning of their students. Perched on an elevated site overlooking the city, light fills the building, illuminating walls filled with student work. A spirit of collaboration and partnership between the school community and various local artists and groups has produced much of these works.

The school was approaching the end of the academic year and Ms Ross was keen to introduce an element of teamwork and fun into the school’s activity in order to maintain student engagement at a time when attendance can wain. A group of seventeen 2nd year students were selected to be part of the project, many of whom Mayfield Arts Centre had gotten to know over the years through other projects. Mayfield Arts staff Wayne Ford and I were joined by Ms Ross, JCSP Librarian Anne Masterson, Garry McCarthy and SNA staff in carrying out the mural alongside the students.

Every Wednesday for three weeks our team of staff and students gathered at the cabin, donned our white painting jumpsuits and got to work. Given the short time frame for the project we devised a framework whereby the mural would be designed ‘on the go’ and carried out by our team from the moment we stepped onsite.

The first part of this plan involved geometric ‘drawing’ on the wall surfaces using masking tape. Each team member was handed a roll of masking tape and a single line of tape was ran diagonally across the cabin wall. From here the group used their rolls of tape to divide up the space into intersecting shapes of triangles, lozenges, diamonds and rectangles. Members spread out over three of the sides of the building, their design growing and changing as more tape was added.

Now and again we would all stand back and as a group, discuss how things were going; how was our design looking? Did it have balance? Did we need to add more lines? Or take some away?

Once a consensus was reached each person was handed gloves, a small tub of paint and a brush. We selected chalky greys, dusty whites and charcoal blacks to give it a graphic aesthetic, but this palette also acted as a neutral ground for other graffiti works to join the wall into the future.

The group moved around the building painting in the shapes made by the tape, swapping colours between themselves. Once all the spaces were filled and the paint had time to dry the tape was peeled back revealing the patterned surface. Over the course of the few days this processes was repeated, adding shapes over shapes, and carving the space up in different ways.

G-MC Mural 0517 (16)_edit

It was wonderful to see both students and staff at the school working shoulder to shoulder. Kitted out in our painting jumpsuits we were all equal members of the same team. The Kabin now stands out in all the right ways, and there is a renewed sense of ownership of the space among the students at the school.

To find out more about the work that goes on at The Kabin visit gmcbeats.com

Mayfield Arts Centre would like to thank Norrie Louise Ross, Anne Masterson, Principal Phil O’Flynn, Gary McCarthy and all the students for their support and commitment to the project.

For more information visit mayfieldarts.ie

 

 

Jean Tormey is Curator of the Early Years and Families programme of resources, Jean Tormeyevents and projects at Tate Modern and Tate Britain for under 5s, 8-14s and intergenerational audiences. She has worked on Families’ programming in galleries since 2008. Her practice involves working with artists, audiences and colleagues at Tate to develop content and activity through which diverse children and families can be considered as equal and valued visitors to Tate. Jean has worked in gallery learning since 2005 as an intern in New York and as a learning curator in different galleries in Liverpool, Kilkenny and London. 

Blog 4: Interview with Assistant Curator Lucy McDonald

In my final blog post I’d like to focus on the most recent addition to Tate’s Early Years and Families’ programme offer – Under 5s Explore the Gallery – an artist-led, monthly event for under 5s and their families held in the collection galleries of Tate Britain. http://www.tate.org.uk/whats-on/tate-britain/workshop/under-fives-explore-gallery.

To introduce another voice to this series of blogs, I asked Assistant Curator Lucy McDonald [1] (the lead curator on the under 5s programme strand) to reflect on her involvement in the development of this programme.

Where did the idea for ‘Under 5s Explore the Gallery’ come from?


The impetus came from an institutional objective to increase the family offer at Tate Britain – to improve attendance, but also visibility of this audience. It felt very important for the sessions to be held in the galleries – openly exploring the spaces and artworks as opposed to out of sight in a studio space. The presence of other gallery visitors in the sessions supports the building of families’ confidence to find their own individual way of being in the gallery as a family.



What are the key elements of this programme for you?


Key elements include the role of the artist, who are briefed carefully about their position in the sessions and invited to find ways of supporting families’ journeys through the galleries. Within this, children are encouraged to lead – deciding what to look at, where to go and setting the pace. The artist shares ideas they are exploring in their own practice to provide strategies that families can use to experience the spaces and artworks in their own way. These strategies can include, but are not exclusive to, ways of looking, ideas to promote discussion about art and/ or encourage physical exploration of the galleries. This is usually done with a selected range of materials that are introduced at carefully considered moments.

The structuring of the sessions is also key. Being in and moving around the galleries is core to the programme, so limiting the number of visitors that can join is important. Maximum group size is 30 including adults, ensuring the sessions do not become overwhelming for the participants or other visitors. This works towards the families being integrated into the everyday landscape of the gallery, so it doesn’t feel like a ‘special event’ as such, and families can feel empowered to return independently. The structure includes careful consideration of timing and pace, with the two hour duration allowing a relaxed, unrushed atmosphere.

Another key aspect of the programme is having a dedicated space to gather for the introduction, where the tone and some key ideas are first introduced. This space also acts as a place to return to during the sessions should families need to, as well as somewhere to re-group at the end to reflect on what has happened – encouraging families to recognise the learning that has taken place.

Reflection is core to Under 5s Explore, and it is encouraged to take place during the session and at the end, where families are invited to consider what is happening and what it means for them. Participants have access to digital cameras, where they can capture what they notice or something that happens within their family unit that they feel is of value. Images are projected at the end of the session, and families are invited to observe and chat about what they and other families notice, giving value to what they have done and learning further ways of exploring the gallery from other families.



What kind of artists’ practices are you interested in exploring, and how have artists used their practices to facilitate activity?

I am interested in practices that encourage a gentle approach to exploring new ideas, and artists that are skilled in supporting families to develop an understanding of artworks on their own terms – so that sessions are accessible to all visitors including new ones. For me, artists who have been particularly successful in facilitating the sessions in the past are those who are open to seeing them as a series of experiments or possibilities, and are confident in allowing unexpected happenings to unfold and emerge.

What has been the audience response to this event?

It has been really positive, with parents and carers reporting a real shortage of gallery/ museum programme specifically for this age group, especially ones that encourage children to lead and value the unpredictability they can bring to these environments. Through interviews with families during the first few months of the programme, I discovered that many have preconceptions about Tate Britain being less welcoming of families than Tate Modern, and less appropriate for under fives in particular. Happily, feedback gathered indicates that families greatly value the sessions, enjoy experiencing the galleries together and show an interest in returning.

How do you think this strand might develop in future?

I have been particularly struck by how families (especially young children) very intrinsically and naturally explore the space of the gallery with their whole bodies through movement. I would like to work with more artists who work with movement to experiment with this further, as I feel movement as a practice is a positive way to address the negative ideas about gallery behaviours and etiquette that many families have. This would need to be done carefully with the right artist to ensure it didn’t become too performative or intimidating in nature. 

I would love to see all families feeling like they no longer needed the support of the sessions to visit and be in the galleries, and that through the sessions a network of families could emerge, who become advocates for under 5s in galleries and museums more broadly.

[end of interview]

I think Lucy’s viewpoint in this concluding post reiterates some of the Reggio Emilia philosophy, as well as our non-negotiables discussed previously, and hope that the series as a whole have given a sense of the inspiration, thinking around and development of the early years programme at Tate.

[1] Lucy McDonald has been Assistant Curator on the Early Years and Families programme for the last 2 years with a special emphasis on early years, and has recently taken over as Curator (jointly with Jessie McLaughlin) to cover my maternity leave 2017/18. Lucy also worked as an Assistant Curator on the final year of the Big and Small programme in 2013/ 2014 and as project manager on a number of BP Family Festivals in  2014 and 2015.

Claire is a visual artist, curator and arts educator based in Dublin. Over the last twenty years Claire has worked with a range of grouOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAps across many age groups from Primary School children through to Second and Third level students, teachers, community groups, intellectual disability groups and older people. These projects have taken place in a range of settings and contexts including museum gallery based, classroom, library, healthcare, local authority and community settings and over a range of timescales. Claire is represented by Olivier Cornet Gallery, Dublin and is currently curating Concerning the Other – an artist collaborative project with the gallery in September 2017.

 

Back to School! Back to School!

I have never quite got over the mild dull back to school panicky feeling that settles in around September. Even now! As being self employed the panic around work and getting paid work hits twice a year (at least) – at the start of September and at the start of January. Accompanying the September bout is the where is the summer gone? How I did not get into the studio half enough? When am I going to get time to do my own work? Sure I’ve got no new work started and now I’m back in schools! These chronic guilt symptoms never completely abate.

Most self employed artists will appreciate and identify – maybe not sympathise – with these sentiments. So while I certainly do not want to turn this blog post into a rant – more to gently outline the reality on the ground as artist working in arts in education. Technically I have two practices – primarily as an artist with a studio practice, exhibiting consistently, represented by Olivier Cornet Gallery, curating projects and exhibitions and then also as an artist working in arts in education or maybe I am an arts educator? Do the two practices overlap, intertwine, influence each other, impact on each other? While I attempt to define the arts in education practice as paid employment to facilitate me to have a studio practice of course they do overlap – they have to – it is me in both roles so it is impossible to turn off one stream when one closes the door on the studio. And equally it is impossible not to be influenced by my arts in education work not take this back into the studio. So yes of course they are intertwined despite my better attempts to keep them distinct and separate! And no I cannot complain – I get to do work which I hugely enjoy and this does facilitate me to have a studio practice. I suppose I am highlighting the balancing act and how it takes a lot of mental and physical energy to work in arts in education and still have some space left over for ones studio practice. And also within that getting recognition for both – as in – oh you’re an artist as well as working in schools? Oh you do your own work too? And this identity crisis can sometimes impact when applying to arts bodies, local authorities, organisations etc in that one may not be “known for” the other aspect of one’s practice.

So rant over – what was I doing over the summer?

It was a different summer in that usually – well as of the last number of years – summer is the time when I get to focus on studio work and get paintings started or underway to work on through the school year. One project I was working on this summer was with Olivier Cornet and Eoin Mac Lochlainn, I was curating a collaborative project – Concerning The Other. This is a collaborative art project that took place over ten weeks during the summer of 2017. It involved ten contemporary artists working together on one hundred artworks, to promote diversity and concern for minorities in these days of mounting racism and intolerance.

Concerning The Other_Waterways Stage 1_edit2The artists involved were: James Hanley RHA, Brian Fay, Claire Halpin, Joanna Kidney, Eoin Mac Lochlainn, Gail Ritchie, Miriam McConnon, Kate Murphy, Ben Readman and Susanne Wawra. It began as a virtual project as the artists were invited to create an initial image which was then emailed on to the next artist in the group. The second artist responded by working over it and then emailing it on to the third artist who also responded and passed it on. The process continued until each of the ten artists had worked on each of the ten images. It was a creative and engaging experience for the artists involved, each gaining a lot from encountering the varied working methods and creative processes of the other artists. Each artist was also invited to exhibit an individual artwork for the exhibition – either a newly developed piece or an existing work, in any medium, responding to the theme of Concerning the Other or in response to their collaboration in the project. I developed two new paintings for the exhibition. The final ten artworks along with a selected number of in-between prints are currently on exhibition at Olivier Cornet Gallery until 6th October 2017.

A fellow artist asked me recently if I do artist residencies. I decided that I am going to give myself an artist residency in my own studio for a couple of weeks. And not just over the midterm!

Links

Claire Halpin                          clairehalpin2011.wordpress.com/

Concerning The Other         www.facebook.com/ConcerningtheOther/

Olivier Cornet Gallery          www.oliviercornetgallery.com

 

blue_mug2016 Julie Forrester is a visual artist based in Cork City. She has been working with all kinds of people in all kinds of settings since her return to Ireland in the 1990s. Her work celebrates process and open ended enquiry into materials and context. Julie Forrester is currently in residence with Kidsown Publishing Partnership at Killard School, Co Down.

Blog 3 –

As the new year unfolds into Autumn I would like to reflect on that heady time, a few short months ago, when the holidays stretched ahead and routine was being dissolved into the long days of summer.

My summer usually begins with a week of creative activity with teachers, as part of their Continuing Professional Development. This CDP Programme run by CRAFTed and the West Cork Education Centre takes place in different host primary school each year and the number of participants is 25. So teachers find themselves in a familiar setting where their roles are reversed, the tables are turned, teacher becomes pupil, and, I have found, they make this switch naturally and with gusto!

Teachers are on a giddy high at this busy time, there is a sense of release as they wind down into the summer and also sense of self evaluation and reflection as they are packing up after a year in the classroom. The CPD programme must address this ‘end of year’ dynamic and the structure and content of the programme allows for this valuable teacher time together, peer to peer, sharing ideas, catching up, meeting new friends and enjoying each other’s company. After a year of routine and responsibility, it is time to be on ‘the other side’ and a chance to allow for loosening up, and a complete freedom to adopt a “what happens?” approach. Our CPD programme allows plenty of time for interactive play while opening up opportunities for sharing, testing and evaluating individual classroom procedures and preferences. It is a place where a process of ‘discovery towards’ something is the modus operandi for all activities, where there is no such thing as a ‘here’s one I made earlier’ format to fall back on/aspire to/comply with/copy. For many teachers, who have a profound sense of responsibility, and who are expected to be in control at all times, and must who achieve measurable results across a classroom of pupils, this artist’s approach can present a daunting task and a leap into the unknown. The discovery approach involves great faith in process and requires some practice, it can meet with both enthusiasm and resistance in a classroom full of disparate personalities and performance pressures. The reward for this open ended practice is a confidence in the ability of the child to meet the challenge of the task at her own level.

So in the spirit of a new term I would like to share here one of my favourite loosening up activities for drawing. This activity comes from copying, or, more grandly put, from observation, and celebrates the capacity for invention. It is a drawing game in the spirit of an old party favourite, Chinese Whispers. In my example the source material came in the form of photographs I had collected of extinct and endangered Irish wild flowers (but the source could easily be from any other kind of ‘category’  and is ideal for focussing closely on any area of research). Each individual is invited to fold their A2 sheet into 8 sections and numbered 1 to 8 (in a room of lively teacher/pupils it quickly became evident that this was a task in itself!)

In the first section, numbered “1” they must make a drawing from their photograph. I set a time limit of 5 minutes for each drawing. Each artist then passes the sheet to the person on their right who must copy their predecessors drawing in the next section. Participants may only look at the previous drawing and must work from the information contained in that section. The drawing goes around the table and comes back to the original draughts-person.

Results are always interesting, we can see the corruption from one drawing to the next we can note changes, omissions and exaggerations and we can think about evolution, design, glitches, copying, originality, perception, imagination, preference and progression that affirm each artist’s hand in the final work. It can be the beginning for al kinds of enquiry and further artwork. This activity touches on the relationship between perfection and invention, itself a profound enquiry. There is no right or wrong and its impossible to dictate a ‘correct’ outcome. Many rules are broken. I love this activity especially because it celebrates copying – one of the cardinal sins of the child’s universe and often the bane of the teacher’s classroom! What’s more, it celebrates copying badly, turning a vice into a virtue. It celebrates collaboration and corruption and all that deviates from the original. It celebrates the original.

After this exercise drawing becomes a whole lot easier for everyone.

Jean TormeyJean Tormey is Curator of the Early Years and Families programme of resources, events and projects at Tate Modern and Tate Britain for under 5s, 8-14s and intergenerational audiences. She has worked on Families’ programming in galleries since 2008. Her practice involves working with artists, audiences and colleagues at Tate to develop content and activity through which diverse children and families can be considered as equal and valued visitors to Tate. Jean has worked in gallery learning since 2005 as an intern in New York and as a learning curator in different galleries in Liverpool, Kilkenny and London.

Blog 3 – EYF programme

In this penultimate blog post I’d like to talk about what we currently programme for early years audiences at Tate Modern and Tate Britain, reflecting on the history of the programme and its current ‘non-negotiables’ of agency, curiosity, diversity and openness – which reflect the influence of the Reggio Emilia philosophy.[1]

By designing an open programme with artists, we aim to encourage the agency of a diverse group of children and carers to use their curiosity to explore the social space of the gallery together – inclusive of art and architecture – to co-construct meaning relevant to their lives.

Children of an early years’ age come to Tate with parents or guardians if they are in a family unit or early years’ practitioners if they are with their nursery, and our programme needs to speak to these adults as much as to the children. We are keen to acknowledge the expertise and inherent knowledge these adults hold in relation to the children in their care, and for our resources and events to draw this out and build on it. We offer a range of self-led resources that can be used independently for people to use in their own time and in their own way. Through their openness, our self-led resources aim to evoke the unique interests, abilities and motivations of visitors under 5.

An example of one of these resources at Tate Britain is ‘Swatch’.[2] Swatch takes its name from a colour swatch and is a palm-sized collection of cardboard pieces with images of details of the gallery (one of which has a raised texture, another a hole through which to look), a mirror piece and an orange-coloured perspex piece. Developed by artist Abigail Hunt [3] with the Early Years and Families’ team over 5 years ago, it has a long history with the programme.

Its language-free, sensory and tactile nature means it’s accessible to children with special education needs, and it has been used succesfully as part of projects for children with speech and language development needs as a communication tool in the gallery.[4] When facilitating the resource, we try and offer it to the child rather than the adult so that they can choose the images or materials that excite them to act as a catalyst for their collective experience of the gallery.

For many families a resource is not enough. An event, where parents/ carers know that other families will be present and more guidance will be offered, is far preferable. Our artist-led and staff-led events are aimed at either parents/ carers or early years’ practitioners and aim to support people to have confidence in using their own expertise and knowledge of the early year’s children in their care to support a very individual, child-led experience.

In the last year a new monthly event was launched by the Early Years and Families team at Tate Britain entitled Under 5s Explore the Gallery.[5] Taking the learning from the aforementioned Big and Small programme as well as borrowing a format similar to our 8-14s Studio programme at Tate Modern[6], this relatively new strand works with a different artist every 3 months and explores their practice in the galleries with families through different choices of artworks or spaces, materials and processes. This strand considers the environment of the gallery as educator, capitalises on the social experience of the gallery for families, and ensures early years audiences are visible and evident to other audiences.[7]

Another strand worth mentioning is our seasonal Early Exchange event for early years’ practitioners.[8] Building on previous experiences trying to work with partners in a reciprocal, equitable way through programmes like Big and Small and the Early Years Open Studio[9], this social event invites practitioners to come together, view an exhibition with early years audiences in mind, and engage in a discussion about the benefits and challenges of working with early years in the gallery. As well as being an opportunity for practitioners to find out what we do, it’s a great way for our team to find out about the challenges facing this audience and remain relevant to the sector. We invite these practitioners to return with groups of under 5s and lead their own visit of the galleries based on our advice and the learning from this event.

My next blog will consider the artists’ practicies being explored through our early years programme.

[1]  Up to date listings of what’s on for families at Tate can be found here –

http://www.tate.org.uk/visit/tate-modern/kids-and-families/tips-for-families

http://www.tate.org.uk/context-comment/articles/10-visiting-tips-tate-britain

[2]  Swatch is listed on the Tate website here after our Title resource which is a self-led paper-based resource aimed at visitors of all ages –

http://www.tate.org.uk/visit/tate-britain/pick-up-activities-2016

[3]  Abigail Hunt is an artist who we work with again and again on our early years programme and who has been pivotal in shaping what it is today. More information about her work can be found here –

http://www.abigailhunt.co.uk/a.statement

[4]  A major example of this is when it was used as part of projects for the Big Lottery funded Big and Small programme of long-term projects, veents and resources. More information and a film explaining the aims and different facets of this programme can be viewed here – http://www.tate.org.uk/about/projects/big-and-small.

[5]  More information about this event can be found here – http://www.tate.org.uk/whats-on/tate-britain/workshop/under-fives-explore-gallery

[6]  More information about the 8-14s programme can be found here – http://www.tate.org.uk/whats-on/tate-modern/workshop/8-14s-studio-performing-bodies.

[7]  Over the summer we worked with a PhD student who is looking into this area of practice in different arts organisations across the UK. http://www.tate.org.uk/research/research-centres/learning-research/in-progress/investigating-value-experiential-creative-play

[8]  More information about this event can be found here – http://www.tate.org.uk/whats-on/tate-britain-tate-modern/courses-and-workshops/early-exchange-professional-development.

[9]  More information about this London Development Authority funded programme can be found here – http://www.tate.org.uk/whats-on/tate-modern/courses-and-workshops/early-years-studio-programme-tate-modern

Vicky Donnelly is coordinator of the Galway One World Centre, and works on the design and delivery of the Global Teachers Award CPD programme, as well as development education and antiracism workshops for schools, community groups and universities. 

Vicky Donnelly Headshot

Exploring Refuge and Migration Issues With Young Children: notes from Baboro’s Primary In-Career Course, Drama Tools for the Classroom.

You know you’re in good hands when the facilitator of a week-long course for primary teachers, can guide a roomful of strangers from the polite stiffness of a Monday morning, to improvising scenes at a horse fair, and tracking the thoughts of a young character’s deepest fears and longings, all before lunch on the first day.

For the first week in July I had the good fortune to spend a week participating in Baboro’s ‘Drama Tools for the Classroom’, facilitated by the truly remarkable Irene O’Meara, who drew effortlessly from her vast experience in theatre, music, visual arts, a Masters in Drama and Theatre Studies, and all refined through years of real life experience in the classroom.  In addition to a number of primary school teachers, our diverse group included a youth mentor, a Spanish teacher, a Community Circus coordinator, an after-schools programme animator, a couple of play therapists, and me; a development education worker with the Galway One World Centre.

GOWC’s function is to provide workshops for schools, youth and community groups addressing a range of local and global justice issues, including refuge and migration; poverty; and anti-racism perspectives. Since 2012, GOWC has been delivering the Global Teachers Award programme in Ireland, offering training around the country for teachers who wish to bring a greater global justice perspective to their work.

In that time, the issue of rights for people fleeing danger and persecution has become increasingly urgent, along with the need to create opportunities to explore it in the classroom. But how? There are real challenges involved in addressing a crisis of this scale, in the context of rising Islamophobia, racism and right-wing sentiments, and a crushing accommodation crisis at home. And even greater challenges emerge when working with young children. There are numerous teaching resources available, and some of our own materials developed in-house, but I came looking for fresh ideas and inspiration about how Drama might offer ways of engaging younger children. In particular, I was seeking an age-appropriate approaches, that would allow for deep exploration of thoughts and feelings, and build empathy, without overwhelming children, but also, without trivialising the issues.

Over the course of the week, Irene shared numerous insights, tips and practical examples from her vast knowledge and experience, taking us through a number of drama conventions and sharing ideas about books, poems, artefacts and images for prompts. For my purposes though, most useful was her reminder of the 3 prerequisites for drama in the classroom: a safe environment; appropriate content; and a fictional lens.

While these are, of course, essential for approaching any theme, they provided me with a helpful framework to guide and anchor the design of classroom activities and lesson plans on the theme of refuge and migration.

The safety of the environment, beyond the practical need to ensure that the space is free of hazards, may also include considerations about working in smaller groups, to avoid intimidating ‘high-focus’ attention, or to ensure that consent is sought in advance before ‘spotlighting’ individuals. This concern for a safe environment also spills over into the need to make sensitive choices about the content being presented: is it age appropriate? Whose perspective is being shared? Are the characters portrayed as having agency, or as helpless victims?

Then comes the fictional lens. At a time of unprecedented crisis – over 65 million people are now displaced from their homes by war, conflict and persecution – I found myself gently steered away from the stark world of statistics and terrifying news reports, to the more accessible world of fiction.

Irene’s frequent reminders of the power of the fictional lens to explore potentially ‘difficult issues’, were peppered with quotes from the likes of Emerson and Camus (“Fiction is the lie through which we tell the truth”) and were accompanied with examples from the classroom, using storybooks, such as the beautifully illustrated When Jesse Came Across the Sea (Amy Hest and PJ Lynch) and Oskar and the Eight Blessings (Tanya and Richard Simon).  Though perhaps removed, geographically and temporally, from today’s crisis, the issues raised in these stories have much in common with the contemporary crisis, and provide opportunities for children to make those connections for themselves, and to explore the values, tensions, conflicts and opportunities attached to each.  Even seemingly whimsical storybooks, such as The Lighthouse Keeper’s Rescue (Rhonda and Simon Armitage), were opened up as spaces for young children to consider how it might feel to be displaced, or to need help from the wider community, as well as celebrating the diversity within a community that makes change possible.

While the news from Syria, Sudan or Iraq may be overwhelming for children (and, frankly, for many adults), the story of one child, or one family, will contain some universally recognisable details and concerns, and may be more relatable for pupils. All children love to play. All children want to feel safe.

This was the thinking behind German author, Kirsten Boie’s decision to base her book Everything Will Be Alright, on the experiences of a young Syrian girl, Rahaf, and her family. In Kirstens’ book, the family’s luggage, containing Rahaf’s doll, is stolen by people smugglers on the journey across the Mediterranean. “She’s very unhappy about losing her doll that way. The children here always start by asking, ‘Has she got her doll back?’ I think the reason for that is that this is something that they can imagine [happening to] themselves, whereas all the bombs and fighting and nights on the Mediterranean… they can’t imagine that happening to themselves. “Stories,” she explains, “…always make it much easier for children to understand something more than theoretical knowledge. I think that’s the chance we have…”

Deirdre Sullivam HeadshotDeirdre Sullivan is a writer and SEN teacher from Galway. Her latest book, Tangleweed and Brine will be published this September.

Guest Blog CPD Course at The Ark

I signed up for a five-day CPD course in The Ark with one summer course already under my belt. I had brought my class to The Ark on a number of visits and they have always been very supportive and accommodating. I’m a special education teacher, and my students really enjoy the sensory elements of the visual arts, so I also wanted to build my skills and learn a few new tricks.

The course facilitator was Jole Bortoli, whose warmth and insight made the workshop space very welcoming. I am very aware of my limitations when it comes to the visual arts, I’m not a “good drawer”, but the emphasis was very much on the engagement and practice rather than the end result, though many of my classmates blew me away with their talent and creativity. There are some very lucky classrooms and libraries in Dublin!

We started with drawing, and spent time making a collaborative project with lines and curves, on big rolls of paper. This was displayed on the ceiling during the course, so we could take it in. It was a simple and practical exercise, and the result was lovely. We then worked to Jole’s instructions, but interpreted them in our own way, so the results were very different. I was already seeing the potential for linkage with SPHE and maths.

We then took the time and space to visit the exhibition of animal sculpture in The Ark, and used sketches we had taken to inform the final project of the day which was based on work that Jole has done with a range of children. She was incredibly passionate and enthusiastic about the young people she works with, and showed us examples of ways she adapts her activities for different age ranges and abilities. She also showed us some video footage of a project she had done with Saplings in Rathfarnham, where a team worked with children with autism.

Day two was paint and colour, and the bright shades were really welcome after (the mostly black and white) day one, and we made another collaborative project, this time a riot of shape and colour. We were introduced to a range of different materials. I was particularly taken with paint-sticks, which were like glue-sticks but with paints. We painted with our eyes closed to music and again with our eyes open. Particularly popular was making our own egg tempura paints, and exploring a range of textured paints that can be made at home or in the classroom, depending on your setting. This activity would link in well with the science curriculum, as well as being a lot of fun.

Day three was 3D! We focused on construction, and engaged in collage, work with different types of clay (on the theme of rural and urban space and the wildlife within) and most interestingly sculpture. We used soap and a knife to whittle seals (and one sparrow), and it was a really interesting activity. The knives were safe (blunt), and this activity could be done in a class. It made me think a lot about shape and space, and the clay-play seemed really easy in comparison. Again, Jole and the other facilitators were supportive and gave us inspiration and space to create, and the results were impressive.

On Day 4, we worked on Fabric and Fibre, and spent the day making hats and masks. The hats were made from cardboard, fabric, beads and natural objects such as driftwood and feathers, and Jole once again drew inspiration from the First Nations artists of northern Canada to prompt our creative activity. This drew in the “Looking and Responding” part of the visual arts curriculum really nicely. The masks were two-sided, one animal on the outside and another on the inside, and they were made with paper on cardboard. These two projects were time-consuming, and some people were so enthusiastic they worked through their coffee break to get them finished, which is a good sign.

Friday was our final day and we worked on map-making- with a range of different activities, relief-painting and ink-dripping. The results were interesting, and Jole gave us some pointers on the correct materials to use for the best results with a class.

We kept reflective journals throughout, and Jole took time to explain where each exercise was coming from, and how it could be developed. There was a lovely mix of learning and creating, and I came away full of excitement to share some of my new skills with my students over the coming year. Highly recommended.

Leanne Troy is a primary school teacher based in the Midlands. She told us that she has a great passion for art both inside and outside the classroom. ShLeanne Headshote attended Learning through Creativity educational course at the Glucksman Art Gallery this summer

I am very enthusiastic about visual art and its impact on education. I challenge myself to try and be as creative as possible in all my approaches to teaching each subject area. Thematic teaching allows me to integrate subjects more freely and use more hands on visual methods. An example of this is the Craft Ed project I recently undertook through my local education centre (a fantastic scheme that unfortunately very few teachers know about). For this project I was paired with a local artist who came to my school to complete a six week project. The wood carving artist and I team taught my class in 2 hour blocks. The children from my 1st class were delighted to be handed chisels and pieces of wood! We based the project on a trip to Lough Boora Sculpture park in Co.Offaly, where the children learned all about the local wildlife and the history of the bog . Each child chose an animal to write a report on and also drew an accompanying image. This image was then transferred onto the wood and carved out. The results were amazing. We created our very own ‘Sky Train’ which is proudly on show at the front of our school.

My experiences with Craft Ed have even further heightened my interest in art education and so I am constantly on the lookout for new ideas and ways to upskill and develop my artistic abilities. I try to attend as many local art workshops as I can in areas such as ceramics, mosaics as well as art education classes in the Glucksman Art Gallery in University College Cork. A particularly strong influence is the art classes I attend with Hazel Greene in Shinrone Co.Offaly, where we paint mostly landscapes using acrylics. We also complete silk paintings and palate knife paintings. I also gain a lot of experience and inspiration from the childrens’ summer camp I run each year.  I am the co-founder of an art and alternative sports camp, named Da Vinci’s Frisbees, with my partner Liam. Our camp is in its fourth successful summer and it is based in Offaly and Cork. The art activities focus on the process of art making and creativity.

So this week I was delighted to get the opportunity to attend my own summer camp, in the form of the Learning through Creativity educational course run by Tadhg Crowley at the Glucksman Art Gallery. The bright, airy spacious gallery is the perfect space to facilitate our week long voyage of discovery.  Even with the end of the summer holidays looming, I was very excited. Throughout the week we have looked at art and the possibilities for integration with other subject areas on the primary curriculum.  We have explored various examples of artists that could be used to facilitate the creative combination of Art with Maths, English, History, Science and SPHE. Each afternoon we were also lucky enough to work with different artists to put into practice the theory from the morning session.

Initially we started off our discussion on the impact of art on education. Just like when you read a good book, art education allows you to develop empathy, different points of view and it awakens your senses.  Tadhg introduced the concept of creativity to us as an essential part to education and a unique human factor which allows us to show case our individuality. Everybody is creative in some shape or form whether it’s through your sense of fashion or how you hang the clothes on the washing line! Creativity is even fast becoming one of the most desired characteristics for employers who are seeking to employ innovative problem solving employees. Children are the future so let us prepare them as best we can!

I particularly enjoyed the caricature depicted by Ann Bamford, the art educator, which really highlighted the importance of teachers developing creative teaching methodologies in order to differentiate for the children in their class. There is a line of zoo animals in front of a tree.  Maybe there was an elephant, a lion, a monkey, a seal and a zebra. The teacher tells the class, ‘Now climb the tree’.  We discussed how as educators, we sometimes ask all of our class to do the same thing, using the same method, when there are many different capabilities and skills present in every classroom. By making the effort to offer a variety of imaginative approaches we will have a much more beneficial impact on the education of our students. We were also told about the impressive project in Harvard Medical school, ‘Training the Eye: Improving the Art of Physical Diagnosis’. In this project a group of doctors were split into two groups. Group A received an art education course and group B didn’t.  Both groups were observed during their medical careers and it was found that group A had a much higher diagnosis rate with their patients. We discussed how art education can make you become more aware of your surroundings and awaken your senses and this was clearly evident for the doctors in group A who were demonstrating these skills.

I also thoroughly enjoyed working with Cork based artist, Cassandra Eustace, who outlined numerous invaluable creative activities linking art and language. These simple tasks included drawing simple still life objects using a blinder on the pencil. This took all of the stress out of drawing and some of the control. It really made you focus your attention and become aware of the lines and what you were looking at.  We also used a view finder and an acetate sheet to draw our hands. Both of these tasks took a lot of concentration but they were fun and you did not have to be ‘good’ at drawing. Everyone can find their artist!  Following this we then had to pick an object in the room and write a description about it without giving the name of the object away. For example, I chose a fire extinguisher and described it as a hard, cold, bright metal object with a beak that made me feel safe. These descriptions were then swapped with a partner. Based on the descriptive piece of writing that you received, you then had to create a collage of words and images, which made for some very interesting results! Another appealing activity was highlighting the use of drawing as a way of communicating and expressing ourselves. Using simple notebooks we had to respond to words that Cassandra said, firstly through non representative lines and then using symbols or images.  A series of words were used like, bored, angry, peaceful etc. All of the activities used very little materials and took very little organisation or tidying up, which will make them attractive to a lot of teachers. But also they provided a chance for children to express themselves in very creative ways.

Artists such as, Josef Albers, Sol Lewitt and Bridget Riley provided inspiration for our maths based art activities with artist, Dominic Fee. Dominic has an excellent website which links numerous artists to the world of maths and he outlined links to various strands in the curriculum, especially around the area of shapes, spatial awareness and tessellations. I enjoyed layering 2d shapes using textured wallpaper and ink. This was then passed through a printing press. For most schools, there is not the luxury of a printing press, so Dominic showed us how the taped down acetate sheet and paper can be covered in paper and a poly pocket and then a wooden/metal spoon can be rubbed vigorously on top to create the print.

We then examined the links between art and history. Tadhg outlined how art works can tell us about the clothes, politics, social situations and living conditions at different periods of time. As a cross curricular activity we had to arrange a number of paintings into a time line (which I found very challenging!)  Tadhg went on to highlight William Kentridge, Rita Duffy and Kerry James Marshall as artists who could be used to discuss themes such as conflict and human rights. This approach would be an imaginative visual way of tackling history in a classroom.

Later in the week with the guidance of artist Kevin Mooney, we studied some pictures of ancient artefacts and responded to the various images through painting. It was interesting to mix the various patterns seen in the images and collaborate African statues, the Book of Kells and New Grange into the one piece. One of my favourite activities that Kevin outlined was painting in response to a text. This simple idea could be used with any age group. We underlined the adjectives in a descriptive section about Cuchulainn and then depicted the words through painting and mark making.

As we were in the renowned architecturally designed gallery, it was only fitting that we also had a tour of the current exhibition, Now Wakes the Sea. I really feel that the pieces of art would mean little to me if I did not get the history and background of them and begin to fully appreciate the process that went in to making the piece of art. I was very impressed by the stories that went with each piece. This led to some interesting discussions for the group, for example, we discussed who decides what art is worthy of hanging in a gallery. I think that an established artist can justify his/her pieces through outlining the process of the production and the idea behind it’s creation which in most cases turns out to be fascinating, even if the end piece sometimes does not seem impressive. Without the tour and information I feel that I could have been staring mindlessly at the art wondering what I was supposed to be looking at! This experience made me become more aware of my surroundings, engaging all of my senses in the process of looking at the art. Perhaps most importantly as a teacher it further developed my sense of empathy for the art making process, as opposed to just the final piece of art. This outlook allows me to appreciate art, (and life more generally) from different viewpoints and perspectives, a skill which I feel would be hugely beneficial for the children in my classroom.

The gallery tour also made me question what is it that can be described as art, the possibilities are endless. I am starting to develop a broader concept of more non-traditional examples of art work. As a very interesting activity we had to choose a piece of art from the current exhibition, Now Wakes the Sea, and develop a set of questions that could be used with children. This process of really looking at the art, identifying how it was made, the materials used, the colours, shapes and lines present in the piece as well as the whole thought process behind the piece, made me become much more aware of what I was looking at. My list of questions for my class became longer as I thought about what the children might see and how I could broaden their perspectives when studying a piece of art. For example, what is your first impression when you look at this art, how does it make you feel, what is the mood/tone, does it remind you of anything, what is the focal point, what title would you give this piece etc.

Tadhg went on to discuss the benefits of using a 3d object like a sculpture or an artefact to initiate a lesson. An object would make for an interesting starting point for engaging the children in a lesson. A visual stimulus like this could be multi-sensory and accommodate various learning needs in the class. It would also help to develop visual literacy in children as well as their capacity for careful critical observation of their world. I think that I would have to practice this approach myself to build up my confidence before introducing it to my classroom. However, I can see how it would create a buzz of excitement in the classroom to place some strange sculpture on the table and start the journey of exploration through the senses.

A highlight of the course was working with Killian, when we were integrating Art with Science. We developed photograms! In the dark room, I arranged my jewellery on a special sheet of light treated paper and placed a lamp directly above it for about five seconds. The piece of paper was then put in a tray of water with the chemical developer until the image appeared. The paper was then lifted into the water mixed with the chemical fixer for thirty seconds, before being rinsed off. I was both shocked and amazed at how simple the process was to create such a cool piece of art. I was so delighted to realise how cheap and easy it would be to set up a dark room in a school store room.  My third class are in for a treat this year! Bring on September, I can’t wait to try out some of my new ideas!

Tom Dalton is an artist and former arts worker at Mayfield Arts Centre, Cork. Mayfield Arts provides opportunities for participTom Dalton headshotants 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 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 was 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 was also involved in coordinating and facilitating outreach projects to school and community groups throughout the city. Tom is currently retraining in furniture design and manufacture

‘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.

For more information visit mayfieldarts.ie or stpatricksgirls.net

Claire is a visual artist, curator and arts educator based in Dublin. Over the last twenty years Claire has worked with a range of grouOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAps across many age groups from Primary School children through to Second and Third level students, teachers, community groups, intellectual disability groups and older people. These projects have taken place in a range of settings and contexts including museum gallery based, classroom, library, healthcare, local authority and community settings and over a range of timescales. Claire is represented by Olivier Cornet Gallery, Dublin and is currently curating Concerning the Other – an artist collaborative project with the gallery in September 2017.

Visual Thinking Strategies with DCC Neighbourhood Schools – St.Mary’s N.S, Fairview

In my last blog post I outlined the DCC Neighbourhood Schools Visual Thinking Strategies project with which I am co-ordinator and VTS Facilitator. The aim and structure of the VTS: Neighbourhood Schools project is to continue to use Visual Thinking Strategies to add to the knowledge of the arts and build on the sense of place and experience that the children in Central Model N.S have and to share that experience with their neighbours through working in close collaboration with two schools (St. Mary’s N.S, Fairview and St. Vincent’s B.N.S, Ballybough) with trained VTS practitioners in each of the schools.

As mentioned previously I completed the VTS Beginners Practicum Training in September 2016 and was very enthusiastic about trying out VTS facilitation with a class group over a number of sessions. With the support of DCC Arts Office I approached St.Mary’s N.S, Fairview. The aim of a series of sessions was for me to practice VTS in its pure form in St Mary’s N.S., Fairview – a school where I have been working as artist in residence for 5 years practicing art making with the children. The purpose of this was to model the VTS method for the class teacher and to evaluate how VTS works for me as practicing artist in education, the children, and the classroom teacher, in order to inform the school Principal and DCC Arts Office.

Eibhlín McGarry, Principal and Evita Coyle, 4th Class teacher were hugely supportive and enthusiastic about the project and from the outset we agreed that at least half of the sessions would be exhibition visits to The LAB, Hugh Lane Gallery and exhibitions of contemporary art.

In a lot of ways this project differs to how the VTS Programme’s are run in the US. And as the project is developing we are encountering these differences and complexities. A VTS Programme in the US with a beginners group would usually comprise six sessions with a class group over 6 months – ie. once a month. The VTS facilitator would work from the “curriculum” of carefully selected images that have been “tested” for VTS facilitation with groups in the classroom and would include just one museum or gallery visit.

With St.Mary’s N.S and the VTS Neighbourhood Schools Project, the emphasis is on exhibition visits and encountering the best of contemporary art by Irish artists and using VTS to look at this work. From the initial sessions where it felt more like a guessing game of “Did we get it right?” with observation and notation of imagery, subject in the artwork and little reading of the work beyond that to sessions now with engaged discussions around content, materials, scale and artists intent. From my initial introduction to Visual Thinking Strategies it was explained that people like to tell stories, people like to tell you what they know, their experiences. With a 4th Class group you might think that they would have limited experience and reference points. But bearing in mind this is a 4th Class group from Dublin 3, mainly living in Eastwall, Summerhill, Ballybough and the inner city with a demographic of 24 nationalities in the school – the social and cultural diversity and extent of their references and experience is far reaching.

As a practicing visual artist it has been hugely enlightening and enriching to experience exhibitions with a group through facilitating these VTS sessions. It has made me reflect on my own artworks in a different light and how I view artworks and exhibitions. I am intrigued by the observations, theorising and discussions that happen in the sessions. Also seeing the development within the classgroup – their oral language, articulation, observations as well as confidence. This has quite naturally spilled over into other subjects in the classroom. Evita (class teacher) has observed that the class are now very naturally using “I agree with” and “I think that because”. More importantly they are recognising acknowledging there can be more than one meaning, and multiple perspectives on a subject.

The wider impact of the VTS Project with this class group is a work in progress. The project is twofold – it is a Visual Thinking Strategies Project but also a project where the class are visiting, experiencing and familiarising themselves with the best of contemporary Irish art in contemporary galleries. They encounter artworks with an engagement and enquiry that is refreshing and inspiring. The exhibitions and works that we are viewing and experiencing are challenging and complex – the girls are undaunted by this and comfortable and confident in discussing works and visiting galleries and meeting artists and discussing their work as recently with Aideen Barry at The LAB.

We are looking forward to meeting with the other class groups, teachers and VTS Practitioners from St. Vincent’s BNS and Central Model Senior School to share and exchange experiences in the next stage of the project commencing in September 2017.

Links:

Dublin City Arts Office

DCC Project 2020

St.Mary’s N.S, Fairview

Claire Halpin

 

Milica Headshot

Milica (Mili) Atanackovic is a Practice and Training Manager with Early Childhood Ireland. Her background in the early years is rooted within a passionate interest in Creative Arts. Mili originally studied Design Communication before moving into Early Childhood Care and Education in Australia.  Considering training and mentoring as a key element of quality in the early years, Mili has worked as an Educator, Service Manager and Trainer, she also combines experience from a range of creative disciplines to her work.

Creativity through materials, space and time 

‘There is no substitute for exploration, unconstrained by rules or expectations when it comes to generating creative solutions to our problems.’ Alison Gopnik

More and more research hints at simple, open-ended objects as ones that are most likely to be used continuously, over and over to stimulate the imagination of children regardless of their age. These are objects such as cups, tubes, fabric, natural elements including bark, sticks, stones, feathers. These are materials that can be used in multiple ways, and are activated and defined by the child’s exploration. Three settings – Creative Kids Walkinstown, Corduff Childcare and YMCA Childcare Kidsworld Creche – were selected to participate in a sensory project with ReCreate* and Early Childhood Ireland, and use open-ended materials within their existing environments. The project was based on the strategic approach of ReCreate and Early Childhood Ireland to support the arts in early childhood education, and focused on the marriage of the arts and pedagogy – the arts as a language of inquiry, a way of communicating, exploring and thinking (Aistear 2009) in early childhood.

The sensory project took reusable open-ended materials from ReCreate to engage children’s senses through play. The artist Deirdre Rogers from ReCreate set up each room with objects intended to spark curiosity, imagination and exploration. The focus was the process of exploration – allowing children to be with the materials, to create without seeking a result. It positioned the environment as the ‘third teacher’ – an ECE environment can bring hope and inspiration to the child and educator, or it can be lack lustre and leave them frustrated. Seeing the environment as a teacher reminds us that our spaces should provoke learning and stretch the mind.

Children need to be given the opportunity to realise their potential as thinkers and creators. Open-ended materials and unstructured play encourage them to devise their own challenges, problem-solve and be immersed in their thoughts. Children in the throngs of self-directed creative play are too often interrupted. Creativity is nurtured when adults master the skill of quiet observation, answering questions from children when requested to. In the sensory project, educators were positioned as observers and co-explorers, not instructors, to support each child’s creative spirit.

One goal was for children to use the materials to develop their own problem-solving abilities through trial and error. Through observation, the educators made additional sensory provocations available and incorporated these into the spaces as extensions of the children’s exploratory processes. Photography was used to document the processes children engaged in. Photographs help boost children’s memories by  revisiting their experiences and reminding them of the process. During the project, the children were confident, resembling scientists in the depths of problem solving and questioning. As Alison Gopnik has discovered, children are like ‘scientists testing theories’, expressing their intelligence through connections with the every day, with people and objects. Explicit teaching can interfere with what comes innately to young children.

By giving the children more time to exhibit their independence and engage with each provocation, and have a say in what was going on around them, they started to develop the sense that their own ideas and opinions matter. The children moved bubble wrap through the space, popping it using their hands and feet, the technique of jumping was applied and the couch was used as a prop to bring more height to the experience. They explored, for example, light and shadow using projectors, tasted the bitterness of lemons, constructed and deconstructed a wide variety of objects. The camaraderie oozed from each small group as experiences strengthened their play communities. Masterful negotiations were witnessed as the children’s play was extended.

We sometimes unintentionally limit children’s ideas and creativity by assuming they are aiming for a specific outcome or result. Our role is to offer encouragement, rather than instructions. The child’s sense of agency was encouraged by welcoming and responding thoughtfully and respectfully to their questions and ideas. One of the best aspects of inquiry-based approaches is that they often lead to unexpected surprises and extended ongoing investigations. One goal of the project was to support educators in using open-ended materials in their environments, to develop sensory spaces that extend beyond one-off activities. However, the overarching goal was to ensure each child is given the space to engage uninterrupted and unquestioned, tuned in to each precious moment in time.

*ReCreate: recreate.ie/Recreate is a thriving social enterprise making art materials and educational supplies affordable and accessible to every sector of the community.

Éadaoin Quinn headshotÉadaoin Quinn is a school librarian at Enniscorthy Vocational College. She is one of thirty librarians working as part of the JCSP Library Project. A graduate of Trinity College and UCD, Éadaoin began her career as a librarian in third level academic libraries. In 2001 she left Trinity College Library to become one of the first JCSP Librarians. She loves her role a school librarian, engaging students with reading, supporting their learning and running a full programme of arts, culture and technology. When not pushing books on students she is hanging out with her family, or escaping them trail running and cycling.

Creative Writing Summer Course in The Ark 

This course sounded like just what I was looking for: “Creative Writing in the Differentiated Classroom”, I was excited by the chance to be in Temple Bar in Dublin in the middle of Summer and better again to work from The Ark.

As a school librarian, working in a Deis school as part of the JCSP Demonstration Library Project, I have been running an after school creative writing group for the past eight years. I am always looking for new ideas to inspire my students and to develop their writing. Too often I am looking for these bright ideas at the end of a long and tiring day.

Poet Nell Regan delivered the course, as Nell has worked as a teacher and continues to teach writing to children, this was a course grounded in the reality of the day to day of school life and not high falutin theory. The course was fun and we deserved fun at the end of the school year, especially the primary school teachers who had only days before waved goodbye to their students.

Practical playful activities were described by Nell from her experience, we were invited to try each exercise ourselves and then to reflect on how we would work it in to our classrooms or libraries. This generous sharing of ideas led to wonderful discussions among us. There was a great buzz and spirit of collegiality between all of us participants. It was especially interesting to share experiences between primary and secondary level. We had a lot to learn from each other and Nell having experience of both made the course relevant to all of us.

The project room on the top floor of The Ark is a beautiful creative space, we explored it thoroughly during one exercise leading each other blind folded on a sensory exploration around the room and out onto the balcony (eek!).  We were brought on a tour of The Ark’s exhibitions and learned of the rich programme of visual and performing arts.  I found it a stimulating environment, just being there you felt creative.

By Wednesday afternoon I was exhausted and was so happy to sit back and listen to Children’s author and guest facilitator Patricia Forde. Patricia was a ball of energy, she told a hilarious and personal story of growing up on Shop Street in Galway City and how she began to write. It brought home to me the huge influence an adult, especially a teacher or librarian, can have on a child’s sense of themselves as a writer. An engaging conversation followed on children’s and young adult’s books with much scribbling down of titles and authors.

Nell organised a visit to The Chester Beatty Library on Thursday afternoon. We used the exhibits of the library as the stimulus for some writing and for ideas for Friday’s book making workshop. On Friday we were up to our oxters in glittery paper, glue and ribbon as we made our own notebooks.  Having had trouble that week folding up my paper lunch carton from a nearby trendy café this was not an easy task. Some of the results were gorgeous, I’m filing it under “student led activity”.

I’ve come away from the week with a stack of ideas, some “just hints” of ideas and some half fledged lesson plans. I have a list of online resources recommended by Nell and fellow participants and I have more confidence and enthusiasm for teaching creative writing next year.

Jean TormeyJean Tormey is Curator of the Early Years and Families programme of resources, events and projects at Tate Modern and Tate Britain for under 5s, 8-14s and intergenerational audiences. She has worked on Families’ programming in galleries since 2008. Her practice involves working with artists, audiences and colleagues at Tate to develop content and activity through which diverse children and families can be considered as equal and valued visitors to Tate. Jean has worked in gallery learning since 2005 as an intern in New York and as a learning curator in different galleries in Liverpool, Kilkenny and London.

Blog Post 2:

This post looks at some of the key parallels between the Reggio Emilia philosophy and the ‘non-negotiables’ or values of Tate Learning’s Early Years and Families’ programme. It’s worth noting just how different the conditions of each context are before launching into this. While the early years’ schools of Reggio Emilia are formal educational settings, Tate offers an informal, flexible learning setting not restricted by the demands of curricula, but inextricably linked to the Tate collection (sometimes exhibitions) and the buildings artwork is housed within. In Reggio Emilia, the pedagogistas, atelieristas and others who run the schools have an opportunity to get to know children and families well, meeting them daily and going on a journey of at least an academic year with them. At Tate, the Early Years and Families’ team are usually dealing with a transient, fleeting audience who drop in to the programme occasionally – sometimes by accident. Despite this, there are many correlations that can be made between our approaches to learning.

Agency

In the Early Years and Families’ team, we are passionate about treating children as equal gallery visitors and as an audience of the here and now rather than a developmental audience of the future. Similar to Reggio, this is about treating every child as an individual and programming in a way that recognises their unique interests, abilities and motivations.

One of our key values as a team is agency. We aim to design a programme that invites families of all ages from many different backgrounds with a range of experiences and knowledge to participate and find their own personal route through the gallery via our programme. Our resources and events should be an opportunity for families to co-construct meaning together (which also relates to the Reggio approach). In order for this to be successful, activities need to speak to and attract both adults and children in a very open-ended way.

Art and artists

The status of artists on our programme and the way we work with them can be compared to the Reggio approach. When we engage artists in the work we do, it’s about agreeing on where we would like to get to in terms of audience engagement, without knowing exactly how we’re going to get there.[1] This makes it an exciting but often complex relationship that needs to be continually managed and reflected upon.

Like in Reggio, we view artists as experts in their own practice and as having a very particular view of the world which can be very different to ours, but we do not expect them to be experts in working with children or the Tate collection – which is where our expertise comes in. At the heart of this is a discussion about their studio practice and how the materials and processes might relate to engagement with the Tate collection and our audience.

Curiosity

When working with an artist, our approach to the framing of an activity and to the use of materials we employ can be compared to the Reggio approach too. We believe in using high quality materials that relate to artists’ studio practice, ones that cannot be found in conventional educational settings. We aim to present these materials in a way that engages children and families’ curiosity (another of our non-negotiable) and imagination through introducing materials and processes in layers that unfold, rather than introducing everything all at once. This relates to the Reggio Emilia belief in ‘environment as educator’, and we would include the setting and location of our activity in this – the galleries and architectural spaces of Tate.

A social space

By its very nature the gallery environment is a public, social space. It is a space where families have the potential to view each other in a very different light, where they can encounter (and sometimes collide with!) other visitors, and where they can communicate about ideas and issues they may not have explored before. I think this aspect of our work relates to the importance Reggio places in children forming relationships with other people in order to learn. We are keen to make our programme as visible as possible in the gallery so that families and our programme can be seen and heard rather than tucked away in a studio space.

In my next blog post I’ll consider some specific examples of programming for early years audiences at Tate.

[1]   I always find a quote by artist Jeremy Deller useful when thinking about this – “A good collaboration is like going on a long journey without a map, never knowing quite where you will end up.”

http://www.tate.org.uk/about/our-work/learning-at-tate

Carmel Brennan is Head of Training and Practice with Early Childhood Ireland, with responsibility for the organisation’s work in developinDr. Carmel Brennan headshotg curriculum, improving practice and supporting services to work with the national frameworks. Their aim is to push the boundaries of our thinking and practice as we engage with the image of the competent, playful child. Carmel has also worked as an early childhood educator, mentor and researcher. Her research interests are in the areas of curriculum and particularly children’s play – the subject of her PhD thesis. More recently, she focusses on children’s co-construction of stories through play and the relationship between play and the arts in children’s lives. She edited the IPPA publication ‘Power of Play’ and has contributed chapters to ‘Early Childhood Education and Care’ (Mhic Mhathúna and Taylor (Eds), 2012), to the Pen Green publication ‘Using Evidence for Advocacy and Resistance in Early Years Services’ (McKinnon (Ed), 2014) and to two Kids Own reports on arts projects with young children, ‘Lullabies’ and ‘Being and  Belonging’. She is also author of the essay ‘Artistic Enquiry in Early childhood Education’ on this portal.

‘It is in playing, and only in playing, that the individual child or adult is able to be creative and to use the whole personality, and it is only in being creative that the individual discovers the self’

‘The strange human urge to shape and share fantasies of action and experience is with us from birth. It is innate, not acquired, but must grow in company’ (Trevarthen, 2001a, 2005, 2009a, 2011a).

The art of play is the art of living life to the full.

I’m a huge fan of Colwyn Trevarthen’s work.  I think he constantly brings us into the real world of the human drives and dynamics and reminds us just how amazing we humans are. I’ve grouped the above photo and quote together because the photo, for me, speaks to the art of sharing fantasies of action and experience. This huge tractor tyre is now the edge of a ravine and the children dare to plunge into its fearsome waters – sharing fantasies of action and experience. Their story draws on other stories, on experiences and possibilities. I’m reminded of what Alison Gopnik describes as the most uniquely human characteristic, the ability to imagine.  I’m thinking about Bruner’s contention that we imagine ourselves into being – that children are in the process of encountering and creating possible selves through the stories they create – possible mothers and fathers, possible big sisters, possible builders, astronauts, teachers, shopkeepers, doctors, dinosaurs and, here, ravine divers. And Carl Jung’s premise that the creation of something new is not achieved by the intellect but by the imagination.  And Winnicott’s (1971:54) who says that

‘It is in playing, and only in playing, that the individual child or adult is able to be creative and to use the whole personality, and it is only in being creative that the individual discovers the self’.  

Is it any wonder that play has survived evolution across all species?  Is it any wonder that humans have brought it to such a fine art? There you go – the words play and art in one sentence!  I’m interested in the relationship between play and art.

There is a recognition of this relationship in recent research in Ireland. The ESRI/Arts Council report (2016) ‘Arts and Cultural Participation among Children and Young People: Insights from the Growing Up in Ireland Study’ recognises ‘the mosaic of ways in which children and young people express themselves and interact with the world of culture’ and so their definition of art includes young children’s engagement in creative play and make believe games. There are some interesting findings.  Just as with literacy and numeracy and all forms of development, they find that make-believe play is a precursor to the development of an artistic and creative imagination. I welcome this recognition for play. I don’t like the term precursor – it belongs to that school of giving priority to adult forms of maturity. We need to remind ourselves that children do some things better than adults, among them is play and the easy shift into the imaginary and creative world. Creativity is at its peak in early childhood – not a precursor to better things. Creativity is at its peak because children need to learn so much in such a short time and the innate creative drive makes it possible.

Another interesting finding is that, according to their parents, five year olds engage in pretend play while 3 year olds don’t. How could that be?  I have no doubt that all these parents play pretend games with their children from the moment they are born.  They pretend to be surprised, shocked, overjoyed, lost, found, toe eaters, belly guzzlers.  They look for their children’s lost heads and hands as they pull on a vest or encourage them to wriggle through sleeves.  They drive buggies with engine sounds. They pretend to be dogs and cats and any animal that makes a sound. They play hide and go seek.  They feed teddy and put him to bed.  They do all these things to help children to manage, and to engage, entertain and humour them because nature tells us that the dramatic, emotional, fun filled world of play is the way to bring children into the dynamics of human communication, into the rituals and routines of life, into cooperation and competence.  These are all art-full interactions, full of drama, emotion, movement, big gestures and, of course, creative meaning making.  That’s why people like Stern and Trevarthen call it a dance. It is an art form.

Of course, children do not engage in play to create art. The primary purpose of play, according to Sutton Smith (1997), is simply to enjoy and become better at playing. The baby’s exploratory body movements, exercising vocal cords, moving backwards and forwards, rolling and swinging are all done for their own sake, for the excitement and pleasure of movement itself. And the wonderful trick of nature is that the leap from a rock not only pleases but develops the body and, at the same time, teaches about gravity and, most importantly, exercises the brain so that it stays sharp, flexible and innovative.  Body and brain are being sculpted in play.

Drawing on another art form, children add story to their play.  Adding narrative brings children together and generates companionship, adds excitement, and sustains the play. Play narratives require certain creative skills – ideas, improvisation, role enacting, imagination, plot development, dialogue in keeping with the persona – all very demanding skills.  Players need to present as authentic, convincing, trustworthy as well as innovative and challenging. Being an active participant in play stories is important if your voice is to be included in the view of the world being constructed.  Children, as Stainton Rogers (1995) says, are creating the ‘narratives through which we render ourselves and our worlds intelligible’ – a shared frame for seeing the world. I’m a collector of those narratives and I wallow in them because they speak to me of children’s empathy and kindness, of their fears and consolations, of their experiences of the adult world and its rules, rituals and power struggles.  Gussin Paley tells us that play is like theatre with universal themes such as someone is lost and finds a friend, is unloved and finds love, confronts life and death, is weak and then strong. Think of these themes as you read this play story:

 A group of 5/6 children come running up to me screaming and laughing. I kneel and ask what’s happened. They talk about the Dragon living behind the shed. We go to have a look and once again they all run away screaming. Rob’s suggestion that they get swords and shields to fight the dragon meets with agreement so off they go in search of useful material. They come back with brushes, spades, buckets and bin lids to fight the dragon. Eventually they decide that the dragon is too powerful and they must find another way to fight him. 

Katie then puts her sword down and goes behind the shed, much to the shock and resistance of the others. She returns moments later explaining that “it was a mammy dragon” who was protecting her “baby dragons”. Everything changes. The children decide to keep the dragon as a pet. They name her “Arnold the Dragon”, and have great fun taking turns to fly around with her. Once inside, the children draw pictures of Arnold and even go to the gate at home time to say goodbye to her.  

It seems to me that these children are also working on a very important moral – and that is, that perspective changes everything.  Perspective can change an invincible dragon into a pet to be cared for. And Katie demonstrates that changing perspective takes leadership and courage – and caring is comforting for everyone.  The children have co-constructed an experience, generated strong feelings and developed a story – each element in itself is an artistic experience.

So, is play art?  Does it involve a desire for meaning, curiosity, wonder, feeling, thinking, imagining, relating, expressing?  Does it involve active participation in creating something new? Is it about finding joy? These, according to people such as Ann Pelo, Vea Vecchi and Deb Curtis, are the key indicators of an art experience – and children’s make-believe play ticks every box.   Don’t be fooled by the lure of teaching young children lessons that they can repeat and show off to adults. We can train children to do routine things –say hello, please and thank you, eat with a spoon, dress themselves, recite the ABC, sound out words, count to ten, learn multiple times tables etc. but.. for children to be alert, responsive and intelligent thinkers they must engage in the art of free play. Nothing is as important as the experience of play for the sake of play – for the fun of it – for the very fact that through play we learn the skills needed for play and we get better at them – such skills as the serve and return of interaction, the mind reading, the intersubjectivity, formulating ideas, running with the ideas of others, being fun to be with, being a cooperative, giving team player, generating energy and enthusiasm, problem solving on the hoof. The most important thing that children learn through play is how to play well -they are the traits that make for a healthy and successful life across the social, economic and health spectrums.  Like all the important things in life, they generally only get assessed when they’re missing!  Play is improvisation, drama, design, creative use of materials, symbolism, dance, story-creating and telling, characterisation, fantasy, imagination and real life enquiry. The art of play is the art of living life to the full.

art of play web

Dr. Carmel Brennan headshot

Carmel Brennan is Head of Training and Practice with Early Childhood Ireland, with responsibility for the organisation’s work in developing curriculum, improving practice and supporting services to work with the national frameworks. Their aim is to push the boundaries of our thinking and practice as we engage with the image of the competent, playful child. Carmel has also worked as an early childhood educator, mentor and researcher. Her research interests are in the areas of curriculum and particularly children’s play – the subject of her PhD thesis. More recently, she focusses on children’s co-construction of stories through play and the relationship between play and the arts in children’s lives. She edited the IPPA publication ‘Power of Play’ and has contributed chapters to ‘Early Childhood Education and Care’ (Mhic Mhathúna and Taylor (Eds), 2012), to the Pen Green publication ‘Using Evidence for Advocacy and Resistance in Early Years Services’ (McKinnon (Ed), 2014) and to two Kids Own reports on arts projects with young children, ‘Lullabies’ and ‘Being and  Belonging’. She is also author of the essay ‘Artistic Enquiry in Early childhood Education’ on this portal.

The Squashed Apple 2

Living Art with Young Children

‘Accepting – or at least acknowledging all the children offer is a real key into the endless realms of imagination that are only waiting for our bravery’. Martin Brunsden, Musician

We have long known that young children are intent observers of the workings of the world and compulsive meaning makers about everything they see around them but, somehow, we are only beginning to understand their capacity to teach us about life.

The painting tells a story of first encounter. It represents the squashed and decayed apple that he saw on his way to preschool with his mother, according to the artist. It speaks to me of wonder, of beauty, and of sadness – all of which gives food for thought, for some questions. Did the painter set out to paint what he saw? Or was it something that emerged in the encounter with the art materials that subsequently surfaced the story? Maybe his painting started life as another idea or just a series of brush movements and like so many children’s paintings, layered with paint, turns into a brown circle. Maybe the circle evokes a memory of something experienced, something observed. The question is where is the art in this whole experience? Is the art in the representation or in the first encounter with the decayed apple? Is the art in his wondering, in the conversation, in the enquiry with his mother, in that moment of connection, of sharing? We can easily imagine a lovely moment when his mother looks to his wondering – and explains, as you do, something of the cycle of life – apples fall and decay.  We can imagine the questioning and the dawning understanding in the child’s eyes – something significant has landed in his consciousness and leaves an impression that lingers there – so much so that he feels the need to express it with paint. He paints the story. Is the art in what is etched in his memory? Imagine an educator who stops to listen, feels the connection, experiences the beauty and joins in the wondering. Is this an aesthetic experience? The point is that depending on our capacity to see, or the lens we use, we can see art in almost everything children do – because children’s exploits have the key ingredients of enquiry, wonder, awe and emotional connection. The product is just a small part of the art process.

Young children, by the very nature of coming to know the world, live the creative life. They are meeting the world for the first time and creating new perspectives. They bring something new to the world.  Alison Gopnik calls early childhood ‘the research department’ of life, when children, untethered by information and obligations to get it right, are free to wonder and engage with multiple possibilities – not defined by end results. Working with the early years requires us to let go of prescribed expectations and traditional norms, milestones and measurements.  Instead we think of the encounters that allow the new personhood of each child to emerge and register itself in the community. As Educators, we are called on to exercise our sense of wonder, imagination and playfulness. It requires us to be present to – to listen with our eyes and ears and hearts to children’s explorations and discoveries – and with them to see the world anew. The learning is in the listening, the being with, the co-experiencing, the conversation, in the

‘the feeling of being present with one another’ (Trevarthen, 2001:20).

Vecchi’s (2010:5) says that art is  ‘an attitude of care and attention for the things we do, a desire for meaning; it is curiosity and wonder; it is the opposite of indifference and carelessness, of conformity, of absence of participation and feeling…..’.

In the end, that is why what children do is art – they bring a new perspective to the world – a new way of seeing things.

This all came home forcefully to me on a day that I spent with the artist, Maree Hensey and musician, Martin Brunsden on the Lullaby project, an art project with babies, a few years ago. It was all so simple. The scene was set by stacking all the plastic toys in a corner and creating a space in the middle of the room where beautiful materials were introduced, sand, ribbons, boxes, feathers, musical instruments. The children were invited to play with them.  Something descended on that space – an atmosphere that held the experience of a lullaby,

a stillness… this lull…this lullaby essence..…we have achieved it several times and sometimes with such force that the room becomes tender and emotional and yet still safe and supportive’ (Martin Brunsden)

Everything slowed down. We watched with keen interest – so interested in how these babies thought and felt and responded. Nothing was more important than the present moment – the looking, touching, feeling, tasting, wondering, questioning, pulling, pushing, listening, smiling, mouth opened, eyes agog, hands and legs vibrating, and the sounds of wonder, gurgling, hands clapping – just what happens in each moment.

As Educators, we commonly use the term ‘art’ to refer to static objects such as paintings, sculptures and songs but Vea Vecchi (2010) tells us that art can simply be a way of being in the world. Art is in the experience of encounter, the movement of the body, the narratives we create, the beauty we perceive, the eye of the beholder. In the early childhood sector, we think of art as a process to be lived – a process that includes to explore, sense, action, think, feel, express, communicate, create. It’s in the moment.

Were there moments in your experience today?

going through ribbon harp 2 copy

 

Jean TormeyJean Tormey is Curator of the Early Years and Families programme of resources, events and projects at Tate Modern and Tate Britain for under 5s, 8-14s and intergenerational audiences. She has worked on Families’ programming in galleries since 2008. Her practice involves working with artists, audiences and colleagues at Tate to develop content and activity through which diverse children and families can be considered as equal and valued visitors to Tate. Jean has worked in gallery learning since 2005 as an intern in New York and as a learning curator in different galleries in Liverpool, Kilkenny and London

Inspiration for Tate’s EYF programme – the Reggio Emilia approach

“The child is not a citizen of the future; they are a citizen from the very first moment of life and also the most important citizen because they represent and bring the ‘possible’… a bearer, here and now of rights, of values, of culture… It is our historical responsibility not only to affirm this, but to create cultural, social, political and educational contexts which are able to receive children and dialogue with their potential for constructing human rights.” Carlina Rinaldi, In Dialogue with Reggio Emilia: Listening, Researching and Learning

 When I took up the post of Early Years and Families (EYF) Curator at Tate, most of my experience was with families’ programming aimed at 5-12 year olds, with under 5s included as part of an intergenerational group, or where activity was primarily aimed at parents with an understanding that early years are welcome.[i]

I was introduced to the theory influencing Tate’s EYF programme – the Reggio Emilia approach[ii] – by the Convenor of the programme, Susan Sheddan[iii], and through working on the programme have learnt about the potential of the gallery to be used as an important site of learning and communication specifically for this agegroup.

The infant and toddler schools of Reggio offer places to 0-6 year olds and consist of a mixture of municipal, state, public and private schools. The aims of the schools are to involve their community in participatory consultation in all aspects of their running, to be transparent and shared in this approach, to give substance and voice to the rights of children, parents and teachers, and to improve the quality of life of children in the city overall. Each centre has a pedagogista, teacher, atelierista and cook. Children and parents are involved in the running of each centre, which is closely connected to its context. The process of how people communicate and when is of utmost importance to the streamlined running of the centre.

The learning principles of Reggio are that children must have some control over the direction of their learning, be able to learn through experiences of touching, moving, listening, seeing and hearing; have a relationship with other children and with material items in the world that they must be allowed to explore, and have endless ways and opportunities to express themselves. I had the opportunity to visit Reggio Emilia for a study week in spring 2014 and came away with the following highlights relevant to my work at Tate. These are reflected in the EYF team’s current values or ‘non-negotiables’ of agency, curiosity, diversity and openness.

“The best we can be”: Carla Rinaldi, president of Reggio Children, talks about childhood as a quality (not just a stage of life), and about it representing ‘the best we can be’. She describes children as being in a constant state of searching for meaning and understanding in the world – interpreting their surroundings to find answers in life. The Reggio approach sees children as keen, sensitive observers with the  potential to fill flexible contexts and generative environments with meaning.

Diffused atelier: There is an atelier (studio) and atelierista (studio artist) in every Reggio school. Atelieristas are considered to have heightened awareness of contemporary culture, know how to interpret art, and have a unique perspective on learning. They work as co-constructors with teachers, students and parents to create contexts for learning a range of different subjects – the process for which can be compared to an artist developing work in their studio. The atelier, a metaphor for the Reggio approach as a whole, pervades the public space of the school so that everyone involved can influence the atelier and come together to co-construct meaning.

Co-researchers: The role of the teacher is as researcher alongside the children (with parents and artists). This might include exploring existing theories together, but also developing new theories and going to new places of learning as a result of exploration. Parents are involved as much as possible in the building of shared value.

Traces of learning: In order to research alongside children, observation (of and by children) is a key process used by Reggio teams – with drawing being used as a consistent tool for this, revealing traces of learning. Active listening, consulting with and talking to children about what they have noticed or observed develops critical thinking skills among children.

Exchange: The Reggio approach is highly influenced by Lev Vygotsky and the belief that psychological development occurs through interpersonal connections, actions and play in small groups. Children have a predisposal to creating relations and engaging in exchange. This is encouraged in Reggio schools by adults offering their point of view ready for children to offer theirs, using a range of the so called ‘100 languages’ Reggio deem children to have.

Education is political: Reggio is a political project, ultimately trying to change the status of EY schools nationally in Italy from service providers to education centres. They consistently refer to the rights of children and to some children as having ‘special rights’ (rather than special needs). In Reggio Emilia itself, the schools played an important role in welcoming and involving immigrant communities from Africa, the Middle East, Eastern Europe and China.

‘Shaped by the city but also shaping the city’: The city of Reggio plays a leading role in the school – it is referred to as a protagonist, with schools visibly present in the city/ their local areas. Bringing the school and children to the city and making the culture of children more public strengthens the school’s alliance with their context.

 In the next post I’ll explore how the Reggio Emilia approach influences the EYF programme at Tate.

[1] Examples of this activity are National Drawing Day at the Butler Gallery Kilkenny www.butlergallery.com/national-drawing-day-2016/ or Crib Notes at the Whitechapel www.whitechapelgallery.org/events/crib-notes-emma-hart-mamma-mia/.

[1] The Reggio Emilia approach emerged in the small northern Italian city of Reggio Emilia after it was badly affected by World War II. A visionary educator named Loris Malaguzzi (1920-1994) along with parents from the locality wanted  “… to bring change and create a new, more just world, free from oppression” urging people to “gather their strength and build with their own hands schools for their young children.” Influenced by early childhood psychologists and philosophers such as Dewey, Piaget, Vygotsky, Gardner and Bruner, the educators of Reggio Emilia, inspired by their already existing community-centred culture, went about setting up a new form of early years learning for the children of the city.

In 1963, with great economic and social development taking place across Italy, the first municipal preschool was opened. In the late 1960s the schools were transferred to the city government for operation and financing. There was a feminist focus to the setting up of the schools as it enabled women to go back to work and tried to garner more respect for early years educators, usually the responsibility of women (formally/ informally). By the 1980s the Malaguzzi method was known and appreciated by many educators including thanks to an exhibition at the Modern Museet in Stockholm. At this time, the National Group for Work and Study on Infant Toddler Centres was formed in Italy.

In 2003 the municipality of Reggio Emilia chose to manage the system and the network of school services and toddler centres by forming the Istituzione Scuole e Nidi d’Infanzia. Municipal schools and preschools had their own independent programs and activities, but were supported by the public sector. The political roots of the approach and its continued political engagement in campaigning for the importance of governmental support for early years education is important to acknowledge.

In February 2006, the Loris Malaguzzi International Centre opened in Reggio Emilia for professional development and research of the philosophy. The foundation was officially established in 2011 with the aim of “Education and research to improve the lives of people and communities, in Reggio Emilia and in the world”.

[1] More can be learnt in Transforming Tate Leaning about the influence of Reggio Emilia on the programme at this time – http://www.tate.org.uk/download/file/fid/30243.

 

 

 


                                                                                                                                           

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[i] Examples of this activity are National Drawing Day at the Butler Gallery Kilkenny http://www.butlergallery.com/national-drawing-day-2016/ or Crib Notes at the Whitechapel http://www.whitechapelgallery.org/events/crib-notes-emma-hart-mamma-mia/.

[ii] The Reggio Emilia approach emerged in the small northern Italian city of Reggio Emilia after it was badly affected by World War II. A visionary educator named Loris Malaguzzi (1920-1994) along with parents from the locality wanted  “… to bring change and create a new, more just world, free from oppression” urging people to “gather their strength and build with their own hands schools for their young children.” Influenced by early childhood psychologists and philosophers such as Dewey, Piaget, Vygotsky, Gardner and Bruner, the educators of Reggio Emilia, inspired by their already existing community-centred culture, went about setting up a new form of early years learning for the children of the city.

 

In 1963, with great economic and social development taking place across Italy, the first municipal preschool was opened. In the late 1960s the schools were transferred to the city government for operation and financing. There was a feminist focus to the setting up of the schools as it enabled women to go back to work and tried to garner more respect for early years educators, usually the responsibility of women (formally/ informally). By the 1980s the Malaguzzi method was known and appreciated by many educators including thanks to an exhibition at the Modern Museet in Stockholm. At this time, the National Group for Work and Study on Infant Toddler Centres was formed in Italy.

 

In 2003 the municipality of Reggio Emilia chose to manage the system and the network of school services and toddler centres by forming the Istituzione Scuole e Nidi d’Infanzia. Municipal schools and preschools had their own independent programs and activities, but were supported by the public sector. The political roots of the approach and its continued political engagement in campaigning for the importance of governmental support for early years education is important to acknowledge.

 

In February 2006, the Loris Malaguzzi International Centre opened in Reggio Emilia for professional development and research of the philosophy. The foundation was officially established in 2011 with the aim of “Education and research to improve the lives of people and communities, in Reggio Emilia and in the world”.

 

[iii] More can be learnt in Transforming Tate Leaning about the influence of Reggio Emilia on the programme at this time – http://www.tate.org.uk/download/file/fid/30243.

Are you a teacher in Primary or Post-Primary education?

Are you doing a summer course this July or August?

Then we are looking for you! We would love to hear from teachers who are taking part in a Summer Course and would like to document their learning throughout the week, as part of our Guest Blogger series.

If you are interested in being a guest blogger for the Arts in Education Portal then contact us at editor@artsineducation.ie for more information.

 

Tom Dalton

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.

“What I Do When I Feel Blue”

The teenage years and early adulthood can be particularly tricky times to navigate in life. According to the ‘My World’ National Survey of Youth Mental Health one in three young people have experienced mental health difficulties at some point (Headstrong and UCD School of Psychology, 2012).

Developing coping strategies and building self-esteem can offer a strong protection as young people move into adulthood. A secondary school setting offers an opportunity to reach young people in their formative years and provide tools for mental and emotional resilience, equipping them with skills to cope with the bumps in the road into adulthood and beyond. Funded through Creative Engagement (NAPD) and St. Patrick’s College, “What I Do When I Feel Blue” is a collaborative animation project between Mayfield Arts Centre and St. Patrick’s College in Cork.

June McCarthy, Transition Year coordinator, identified a desire on behalf of the school to engage students in areas of mental health, wellbeing, peer support, community and belonging. St. Patrick’s College has a strong history with Mayfield Arts, having engaged in many Creative Engagement Projects over the years. An introductory meeting with June allowed us to get a sense of the student group as a whole, learn about their previous experiences with art and to get an idea of what they and the school hoped to achieve through this project. Film was something previously unexplored in St. Patrick’s College and seemed particularly appropriate for a project of this kind. Video and stop-motion are communicative, accessible and fun mediums to work within. The potential to share their film through social media and Youtube also gives potency to the work of the students.

Every Friday for six weeks, a group of twelve transition year girls made the short journey up the road to Mayfield Arts. For most of the girls it was their first time inside the building. On day one students were introduced to basic principles of filming and stop-motion using slideshows, demonstrations, examples and warm-up exercises. Once the group was familiar with the process, we all sat together, drank tea and chatted about their ideas for the project. Students were invited to name and respond to important issues that impact their lives and that of their peers. I was taken by the openness of the girls in sharing their stories. Through facilitated discussions, it became clear that the group wanted to create something positive that could help their friends and others experiencing difficulties.

We went about compiling a list of things they do when they are feeling down; things that can help lift them out of difficult times. We quickly filled an entire blackboard with suggested actions; ‘go outside!’, ‘eat chocolate!’, ‘Ring your friends!‘ Through a voting system the group arrived on the six top things they do to make themselves feel better when feeling down. We then brainstormed how we might illustrate these suggestions through animation. Roles within the group formed naturally; some were eager to be in front of the camera, while others prefered ‘out of frame’ activities like setting up cameras, framing shots, controlling light and directing actors. The girls worked great as a team, generating ideas, sharing equipment, helping each other and discussing their outcomes. Footage was collected and reviewed in groups with editing carried out with support from facilitators. Regular feedback was sought from groups to access progress and offer support where needed.

The final film, a three-minute animation that acts as a ‘tool-kit’ for resilience, was launched and screened during the school’s Transition Year closing ceremony. A couple of the girls introduced the project, sharing their ideas, methods and processes with their peers, teachers and parents. Once uploaded to Youtube, the film and its message began to spread beyond the school grounds.

Feedback from the group was really positive and there was a tangible sense of pride in what had been achieved.

“I liked everything about this project but especially that we could do it all by ourselves with just a little bit of help.”

 “I wouldn’t change anything, it was very interesting and fun.”

 Take a look at the girls’ film here!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9cku_n_IJ4w

This project was funded by Creative Engagement (NAPD) and St. Patrick’s College, Gardiner’s Hill. For more information visit mayfieldarts.ie

 

 

 

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Claire is a visual artist, curator and arts educator based in Dublin. Over the last twenty years Claire has worked with a range of groups across many age groups from Primary School children through to Second and Third level students, teachers, community groups, intellectual disability groups and older people. These projects have taken place in a range of settings and contexts including museum gallery based, classroom, library, healthcare, local authority and community settings and over a range of timescales. Claire is represented by Olivier Cornet Gallery, Dublin and is currently curating Concerning the Other – an artist collaborative project with the gallery in September 2017.

As an visual artist, curator and arts educator I work on many different projects across different contexts over a range of timescales. It is a juggling act with no days or weeks being the same – something that any working artist is familiar with as their profession, way of life and the challenges, opportunities and rewards it brings. Over the next four blog posts I am going to focus on one or two arts in education projects I am working on as they develop. Since March 2017, I have been working as project co-ordinator and Visual Thinking Strategies facilitator on the DCC VTS Neighbourhood Schools project. VTS Neighbourhood Schools is a visual thinking strategies project funded by Dublin City Council Arts Grant in collaboration with The LAB Gallery, Central Model School, St. Vincent’s B.N.S, Ballybough, St. Mary’s N.S, Fairview. It is part of Project 20/20 – a visual literacy initiative with children living in Dublin 1 led by Dublin City Council, the City Arts Office and The LAB Gallery.

Visual Thinking Strategies (VTS) is an educational curriculum and teaching method which is designed to enable students to develop aesthetic and language literacy and critical thinking skills. It is a discussion based methodology for looking at art. The method is the result of more than fifteen years of collaboration between cognitive psychologist Abigail Housen, a Harvard trained educator and psychologist and veteran museum educator Philip Yenawine. The current Irish Primary School Curriculum places emphasis on developing a child’s sense of wonder and facilitating the child to be an agency in his or her own learning. VTS allows space for these aims as well as for other core ideas of the Curriculum such as creating space for the child’s own knowledge to be a base for learning- the VTS facilitator scaffolds what the child’s responses are rather than the opposite way around.

Since 2014 Central Model Senior School has worked with VTS facilitator, Lynn McGrane, funded by Dublin City Council Arts Office and The LAB Gallery using VTS to look at contemporary Irish art both through visits to The LAB Gallery and classroom sessions. IAWATST – Interesting And Weird At The Same Time was an exhibition of work from the OPW Collection and Department of Finance, Northern Ireland Collection, selected by this class group, using VTS in the selection process. The aim and structure of the VTS: Neighbourhood Schools project is to continue using Visual Thinking Strategies to add to the knowledge of the arts and build on the sense of place and experience that the children on Central Model N.S have and to share that experience with their neighbours through working in close collaboration with two schools (St. Mary’s N.S, Fairview and St. Vincent’s B.N.S, Ballybough) with trained VTS practitioners in each of the schools.

In September 2016, I completed the Visual Thinking Strategies Beginners Practicum with Yoon Kang-O’Higgins, VTS Programme Director along with teachers from Central Model School (Deirdre Gartland and Bridget Kildee) and St. Vincent’s B.N.S (Orla Doyle), funded by Dublin City Council Arts Office. In this first phase of this project (March – June) the VTS Practitioners have facilitated 6 sessions with four class groups – Junior Infants to 3rd Class. These sessions happened at The LAB Art Gallery, Hugh Lane Gallery, ArtBox Gallery and classroom based looking at contemporary Irish art. As a team we have met for peer to peer mentoring and support sessions and Liz Coman DCC Assistant Arts Officer and VTS Trainer facilitated coaching sessions with each VTS practitioner. In June we will have a Reflective Practice Session with Yoon Kang-O’Higgins – an opportunity to see where we are all at this stage of the project and where we are going with Phase 2, building capacity, modelling VTS for teachers and observing teachers, image selection, potential trainees for VTS Beginner’s Practicum in Autumn 2017. In this blog post I have only had the chance to lay out the structure and background to the project. In the next post I will relate back from the class groups themselves and their teachers, their responses, experiences and my own experience as a practicing visual artist using VTS.

Links:

Dublin City Arts Office     http://www.dublincityartsoffice.ie

DCC Project 2020             http://dublincityartsoffice.ie/project2020/

St.Mary’s N.S, Fairview   https://stmarysartproject.wordpress.com/

Claire Halpin                     https://clairehalpin2011.wordpress.com/

Julie ForresterJulie Forrester is a visual artist based in Cork City. She has been working with all kinds of people in all kinds of settings since her return to Ireland in the 1990s. Her work celebrates process and open ended enquiry into materials and context. Julie Forrester is currently in residence with Kidsown Publishing Partnership at Killard School, Co Down.

Artist Blog Post 2

Drawing Worlds

My mother describes a picture of me age 4, she shows me a photograph, there I am sitting, legs spreadeagled, on the floor in front of me is “Julie bear” (my childhood teddy bear), in the diamond of floor encompassed by me, my legs and my bear is a piece of paper and on that paper I am making a drawing. Now I look at the photograph, I see it as my mother describes, I can’t get back to that place, I see it now outside of myself – a child absorbed. But I know that feeling.

I have a drawing my daughter made, age 6, it has the date on the back of the frame, in her own writing the legend reads: “My dog Under the table 23.12.97. Annie”. Annie doesn’t remember doing the drawing, and nor do I. I do remember the events around this picture, and where we were living at the time. Our dog was Miko, a stray we homed, and Miko had puppies, nine in all. The Daddy was Bart, our housemate’s dog.

The drawing shows an inky black shape with multiple extremities which seem to be leaking out from the body. On closer look you can make out the 4 black legs and 6 elongated teats, the mother’s tail is curled backward, awkwardly echoing the arc of her body. At her back are 3 leggy blobby pup shapes, there are 2 more at her front. There are five puppy shaped blobs in all: 4 are missing.

 I look at the picture and I see the repeated arcs of dogs back, ringed over and over and framed finally within the square and capped by a border on three sides. I see the mother’s pink tongue haloed by exclamations of blue spittle, I see her ears askew, her eyes, which are barely visible, have obviously been drawn into the black silhouette at later stage, and this action has left a bleachy green rim where one marker dye acts on another. I see the mother dog held within the horse shoe form of the yellow basket bed she had, I see a turquoise ring with turquoise triangles pointing in and pointing out, this jagged, joined up ring form is contained within the orange square of ‘under the table’, a liminal floor/table space. Here the angle changes from top view to sideview and I see the table holding it all together. The table has two pink drawers. There is a large fruit bowl on top of the table, it is a bowl we still have, made by her Granny (It clearly shows the apple design of Bandon Pottery) The bowl contains stalked fruits. Beside the bowl is the most mysterious object in the picture – is it a yellow door?

 This drawing contains a concentrated world, a complex mixture of emotion, observation, invention and imagination. It is a brave drawing, it is a necessary drawing and it is a mysterious drawing. It is a drawing that describes an event long forgotten by its maker. It is a drawing that gives me a glimpse into another world and one that I know is real, even if I wasn’t there.

When children draw they bring forth worlds, turning the inside out. This way of processing of experience is something that continues to fill me with awe, it still draws me. I love the word Draw, it has so many meanings, encompassing ideas of pulling, attracting, taking in and letting out, one can “draw breath” and one can “allow tea to draw”, “draw a pistol”, or a bath, as well as a line, it has a particular tension between hiding on and letting go. One time when I was a teenager I went with my father to the mart, we brought our sketchbooks. Later an acquaintance politely asked us what we were doing there, when I said “drawing” he said, looking at my father slightly puzzled, “drawing cattle to the mart?”

In the previous blog, I spoke about some drawing we did together at the Virtually There project in Killard house. This was not exactly a collaboration, we hadn’t agreed on making a ‘work of art’ together, it was a live action conversation. The whiteboard was the testing ground where our dialogue took place. It was a space where images were placed, excavated from our archives, grabbed online, or captured from life, they were uploaded, they were drawn out and drawn upon, discarded, elements were shrunken, enlarged, obliterated and moved about by one person or another, threads were created and broken over the course of a conversation, it was often hard to keep track. The drawing happened one mark or image beside another in a space which became layered and sequenced over time. We were celebrating together the act of drawing.

Julie ForresterJulie Forrester is a visual artist based in Cork City. She has been working with all kinds of people in all kinds of settings since her return to Ireland in the 1990s. Her work celebrates process and open ended enquiry into materials and context. Julie Forrester is currently in residence with Kidsown Publishing Partnership at Killard School, Co Down.

Artist Blog Post 1:

Art enables a magical way of being in the world.

A conscious turn from routine can transform one’s approach along a spectrum from lacklustre ennui to one of tantalising attention. Objects take on significance, the ordinary becomes enriched, moments collide in fascinating ways. Sharing these ideas connects us in new and interesting conversations. We notice things that lead us to explore the nature of things and we are led on an adventure at once wild and exciting. Our senses connect to our brains our perceptions change…….but there is no need to say any of this here – suffice to say that I am motivated and captivated by a magical sense of being. Working with children expands the possibilities here. A sense of discovery leads into new territories for both myself and the child.

Working with teachers in the classroom is a very privileged place to be. The teacher is the holder of the space (s)he creates the environment for learning. (S)he is also a creative partner. The collaborative relationship between teacher and artist gives the structure to support and wings to let loose the children’s explorations.

This 3 way relationship is at the heart of the Virtually There residency project run by Kids’ Own Publishing Partnership. Here the Artist/Teacher roles are very much foregrounded by the challenges and limitations of online presence. In Virtually There the artist is not in residence in the classroom but in a virtual space that hovers between classroom and studio. Her visual presence is contained in a frame, on a screen. Aurally her presence can be heard through a speaker, often as gremlins or in delay. Like wise the artist’s experience of the classroom is on screen and remote, tiny moving ants, often backlit by classroom windows, occasional face to face conversations and a virtual whiteboard. The teacher often takes up the role of mediator between screen and room. Gremlins come and go ransacking the airwaves. It’s today’s technology but it feels archaic. Two distinct worlds form at either end, in parallel. I imagine being in a submarine at the periscope communicating by radio control, sometimes it even feels like we are feeling our way via sonar echolocation, at once remote and intimate.

One develops strategies to incorporate this technology, it becomes another collaborator, the fourth partner in the equation. Experiments often begin with instructions as jumping off points, and in the sense of a Chinese whisper, one is anticipating the return of something wild and wilful from the original.

The interactive whiteboard becomes a shared ground where ideas are thrown up and moved about. During my residency at Killard House I worked in one to one conversation with children from year 10, using the whiteboard as our ‘visual speech bubbles’. I captured this activity using screenshots. Digital capturing does not at all represent a record of the session. It creates its own truth through a punctured narrative where elisions reign, occluding vital moments, replacing them, punctuating them with knots of captured stasis, warping time and concentrating attention in offbeat places. Human fallibility has its place of honour here, turning the machine/system into poetry or farce. The children’s voices push dynamically through the images they share and the sequencing of their thoughts. For me it is the perfect medium to test the narrative capabilities of stop motion animation.

Meanwhile classroom activity continues with teacher, the dynamic Ms Davey, elaborating on our prepared activities, the children coming up to webcam at intervals to intercept the dialogue with some extraordinary observation, discovery or piece of work to share.

In Virtually There time with the teacher between sessions is invaluable, here we are able to explore and adapt our project, pushing out ideas, extending chance encounters and developing these into a mutual understanding for creative play, the collaboration is always live, as we share our differing approaches, responses and strategies to all that is thrown up. There is also a hovering of all that I have missed from my submarine.

For more on the Virtually There Killard House Blog please click here 

Kieran GallagherArt Teacher Blog Post No.Kieran Gallagher is an art teacher in St Oliver’s Community College, Drogheda. He works as head of a large art department. Since moving to St Oliver’s over three years ago he has established connections with the local art gallery, the Highlanes Gallery and has worked on a number of art projects with his students and the Director, Aoife Ruane. Kieran is also a practicing artist and is part of Ormond Studios in Dublin.

Art Teacher Blog Post No.3

How I balance work as an Artist-Teacher:

To be an art teacher in any given day or class period can be exhausting. Having over 20 students per class period, all of whom you know well; you know what step of their painting, print or sculpture that they are working on, and you have to think ahead of the possible next step, problems or solutions that might arise. We do this instinctively, without batting an eyelid. By the end of the day you can be drained, going home, cooking dinner, going for a run, how would I have time for making my own artwork?

I have to be honest, most days I don’t. But I make time weekly or monthly. I managed to find time to look at Facebook, watch Netflix, so why not for making art? In 2012 I decided to enroll in the Masters of Art in art and design education. I had been teaching for 5 years and only exhibited once since college. This masters was a distant learning course, which was stretched out over two years. The reason that I mention this course is because it is what reconnected me with my own art practice, and gave me the confidence that I needed to get back to making art work again, that I was happy with.

Luckily enough I have a studio space in the city centre, in Ormond studios. (Add us on FB or look at our blog ormondstudios.wordpress.com) Having that dedicated space makes all the difference. Being able to leave your work out and come back to it, that’s how I am able to work. I used to work in a spare room, but I found I could never leave work out or finish anything.  Now I find it easier to have a deadline to work towards. In Ormond studios we have member’s shows twice a year, this keeps me motivated.

Having a studio in the city center also allows me to frequently visit galleries and artists talks. These visits along with my art practice inform my teaching on a regular basis; if I am researching artists, visiting exhibition openings or exploring a new theme, I bring it into my classroom. It’s really important to keep up to date with the art world and bringing it into my student’s keeps them informed, but it also keeps my classroom fresh and my teaching schemes constantly change.

My art practice has shifted from printmaking to drawing, painting, mixed media and more recently installation in the form of weaving. The shift in my art practice happened naturally, I hadn’t the facilities to print outside of Art College. My current installation is a mammoth project; I had hundreds of old photographs, which I took for a project called “When we were giants”. Lots of the photographs were blurred or not worth using, so they stayed in a box for three years. I recently revisited them and decided that I wanted to give them a purpose, or use. They forest where I took the photographs was a place where I used to play and build forts as a child. Having experience with layers and weaving previously, I began to weave the photographs together based on colour flows rather than the actual image. My aim is to create a large-scale fort or tent.

My only advice for those who are looking to get back into their art practice, just start something, set aside time. I didn’t think I would have time for a masters, but I made the time, I didn’t think I would have time to continue making art after my masters, three years later I am still working.  We never have time, but you are reading this so, put your phone down, get off Facebook, stop reading this and go create

Tadhg Crowley the Curator of Education at the Glucksman

Tadhg Crowley is the Curator of Education at the Glucksman in University College Cork. The Glucksman presents a wide-ranging programme of temporary exhibitions accompanied by an extensive education programme to engage visitors of diverse interests and backgrounds. A graduate of Limerick School of Art and Design Tadhg’s role at the Glucksman is to help foster an appreciation of the visual arts among the wider public. In early 2015 Tadhg devised and delivered the first Visual Art module on the Certificate in Contemporary Living Course at UCC. Tadhg has expanded the Glucksman schools programme over the past 3 years and in 2015 over 2500 students attended workshops and tours at the gallery. Tadhg introduced the Glucksman Teachers programme in 2014 and it now includes seasonal Art Teachers Masterclasses,Preview Evenings and Summer Course. Tadhg has recently presented at the IMA Annual Education and Outreach Forum and at the inaugural Arts in Education Portal National Day at IMMA. He has lectured on the MA: Art and Process programme at Crawford College of Art & Design as well as the Futures PhD module at University College Cork.

Blog 4

The Certificate in Contemporary Living (CCL) is a two-year education programme for people with intellectual disabilities designed for delivery in a third level education setting. It focuses on helping students develop strategic skills to promote self-reliance and independence and increased participation in society. The CCL course provides structured opportunities for interaction between students with intellectual disabilities and non-disabled students. As such it is about inclusion and not just about access.

Until 2015, the Expressive Arts module on the certificate in contemporary living course at University College Cork consisted solely of a semester devoted to music. Throughout the semester the group made outings to different cultural centres and galleries and the reaction of students to visual art exhibitions prompted the course coordinators to review ways that they could offer students a more rounded experience of the arts. In late 2014 the course coordinators approached the Glucksman with a view to working together on a visual arts module. The goal was to break the arts module into three strands – Visual Arts, Music and Drama.

The visual art module was designed around three key points that we returned to again and again over the 5 sessions. They were Individualism: how we all see things differently and therefore we all create differently. Capacity to be creative: everyone has the ability to be creative, we can be creative in many different ways and different mediums allow different people to be creative. Finding your voice: through experimentation, practice and choosing methods/approaches that are rewarding.

The days were divided into three pedagogical streams – art appreciation; art interaction; and art making. These three approaches are widely used in art education with the appreciation and interaction exercises informing the art making session and an understanding of the art making process informing the art appreciation and interaction. Each week we looked at different artists and artworks and the group engaged in practical projects with artist Paul McKenna.

A common link among the artists we studied in the appreciation sessions was that as well as pointing to the three key elements of Individualism, Capacity and Finding a Voice; they all had overcome major difficulties/obstacles to pursue a life of creativity.

Two of the artists we studied were Henri Matisse and Anni Albers. Henri Matisse was a renowned painter before he fell ill in later life and was confined to his bed for long periods. His movement now restricted he had to find new ways to continue his artistic career and so he began to work with scissors and paper. The work completed during this period of his life (cut-outs) is now regarded as some of his most important. Matisse found a way to continue his creativity and these new methods led to a rebirth in his artistic career.

Anni Albers encountered many obstacles throughout her extraordinarily creative life. Despite the challenges of a prejudiced college system, the peril of Nazi Germany and the difficulties of being an immigrant arriving in the USA without the language, she established an artistic practice and legacy befitting of one of the most significant artists of the 20th century.

The art interaction sessions led students on drawing and photography walks on route to viewing artworks in the exhibition ‘Gut Instinct: Art, food and feeling’ at the Glucksman and a selection of significant works in the University College Cork Art Collection www.glucksman.org/collections.html

Under the guidance of Paul McKenna the group had the opportunity to bring the ideas and methods discussed earlier in the day to the practical projects. Working both individually and collectively, the students were presented with a diverse selection of materials and techniques in the quest to find their creative voice.

The three strands of this year’s CCL Expressive Arts module will conclude with an exhibition of the artworks created, along with sound recordings, video and live performance at the Glucksman in early May.

For more information please contact education@glucksman.org or visit glucksman.org

 

 

 

 Blog 2

Peat began as an impulse to explore a story and a history for a specific audience, and an impulse to rigorously develop my writing for young audiences.

After an initial workshop focus on story, storytelling and myth, I returned to Third Class in Sacred Heart Portlaoise to ask them to think about stories for the stage. The conversations that emerged from sharing, re-sharing and changing stories had sparked discussion around memory, history, shared stories, becoming a character, and who in society has permission to speak on behalf of another.

Here, these opened into a discussion on theatre – beginning with a discussion about the roles, responsibilities and skills of writers, directors, actors, designers. We talked: about how playwright meant playmaker; about beginnings, middles and endings; about storytelling versus drama; about dialogue versus monologue, narration versus conversation; about sets, costumes, props; about audience interaction and fourth walls.

Towards the end of that workshop, groups had debated and settled on one personal story that would become the story of their group. Focusing on collaboration, armed with script samples prepared by teacher Jennifer Buggie, groups were tasked with transforming this text into a story for the stage.

Working effectively in the classroom was a learning curve. I was finding my feet, and the support, expertise and enthusiasm of collaborating teacher Jennifer Buggie was invaluable. At the end of the series of workshops, in thinking about my practice, Jennifer and I have discussed building on this relationship, discussing future projects, interrogating the approach in order to refine and improve the quality of engagement.

Experiences in the classroom greatly informed the next stage of development – ideas around agency, voice, engagement, emotion, depth. In June 2016, with the support of The Ark A Cultural Centre for Children, I spent a week developing the text with director Maisie Lee and performers Nyree Yergainharsian and Lloyd Cooney. As development progressed and continues to progress, through working directly with young audiences, the elk itself started to take a back seat. The bigger questions about life and death that had lingered below the surface were grounded by experiences in the classroom at Sacred Heart.

The text which began to emerge is a sort of metaphysical conversation rooted in the world and perspective of two 12 year olds. On a peatland plain on the edge of an island, a boy and girl meet to bury a cat in its preserving earth. As they sit and dig the boggy grave, what follows is a conversation about life, fate, extinction, migration, mortality.

After four days, we shared a 15-minute piece with The Ark’s Children’s Council, in what was their first experience of a work-in-progress presentation. The responses of these 11-year old Council members were frank – they told us exactly what from their point of view worked and didn’t, what was engaging, what was funny, what was moving.

They responded enthusiastically to the characters use of the Would You Rather? game, answering the questions the characters posed to each other for themselves (some silently, some aloud, some later that day). From the beginning, and throughout the work in the classroom, I wanted Peat to try and equalise the relationship between stage and audience, to create in its audience the urge to enter the space, to engage in conversation with the characters, to find out more. Following the Council’s feedback, Would you Rather? remains a key structuring device.

The following month, we presented this work-in-progress showing of Peat at On the Edge World Festival of Theatre for Young Audiences in Birmingham to an audience of artists, producers and presenters.

Development continues in 2017.

Initial development was enabled by the Arts Council’s Young People Children and Education Bursary. Development in 2016 was supported by The Ark A Cultural Centre for Children. With the support of The Ark, Theatre for Young Audiences Ireland and Culture Ireland, a work-in-progress showing was presented at On the Edge Birmingham, the World Festival of Theatre for Young Audiences (directed by Maisie Lee, performed by Lloyd Cooney and Nyree Yergainharsian)

Elk skeleton at the Dead Zoo, Dublin

Elk skeleton at the Dead Zoo, Dublin

 

 

Tadhg Crowley the Curator of Education at the Glucksman

Tadhg Crowley is the Curator of Education at the Glucksman in University College Cork. The Glucksman presents a wide-ranging programme of temporary exhibitions accompanied by an extensive education programme to engage visitors of diverse interests and backgrounds. A graduate of Limerick School of Art and Design Tadhg’s role at the Glucksman is to help foster an appreciation of the visual arts among the wider public. In early 2015 Tadhg devised and delivered the first Visual Art module on the Certificate in Contemporary Living Course at UCC. Tadhg has expanded the Glucksman schools programme over the past 3 years and in 2015 over 2500 students attended workshops and tours at the gallery. Tadhg introduced the Glucksman Teachers programme in 2014 and it now includes seasonal Art Teachers Masterclasses,Preview Evenings and Summer Course. Tadhg has recently presented at the IMA Annual Education and Outreach Forum and at the inaugural Arts in Education Portal National Day at IMMA. He has lectured on the MA: Art and Process programme at Crawford College of Art & Design as well as the Futures PhD module at University College Cork.

Blog no. 2

As we enter the teenage years we begin to gain a little more freedom. This new found autonomy provides us with the opportunity to explore our local area (city, town or village) through aimless wanderings and walks or by beginning the process of ownership of our locality in the corners or streets we lay claim to. This process is crucial in the development of civic pride but also in the establishment of a sense of belonging.

For teenagers living in Direct Provision — who live in isolated and restrictive settings — they are not afforded the opportunity to get to know their local area in the same way as other young people.

Navigating the Urban Landscape was an art project that invited teenagers living in direct provision centres in Cork City and County to work with the Glucksman and practicing artists over a six week period in Autumn 2016. Throughout the weekly sessions participants engaged in projects that investigated the idea of dérive (an unplanned journey through an urban landscape) working with different mediums and artists.

The project invited 14 teenagers (ages 12-17 years) from the DP centres in Kinsale Road, Glounthaune, Clonakilty and Drishane Castle to work with practicing artists to create artworks that explored the landscape of the city and offered the group a creative and positive experience. This was an opportunity for these teenagers to interact with artistic ideas and mediums and to discover their own creative and imaginative capabilities away from their prohibitive surroundings.

Young people living in direct provision do not have access to any extra-curricular activities; any encounters with art making they would have in school. The centers are noticeably devoid of facilities.

Teenage years can be difficult for all young people, but to be dealing with the challenges of being a teenager and to also be living in a restrictive and prohibitive situation is incredibly demanding. Any opportunity for this group to engage in positive and stimulating activities can only be beneficial to their development.

From the earliest discussions I had with the artists, we all agreed that one of the primary elements of these workshops should be in providing the teenagers with the skills to continue being creative after the project had concluded. From the photography with Roseanne Lynch to drawing with Cassandra Eustace and film-making with Dervla Baker, all the sessions with the teenagers would focus on enabling the group to develop a set of skills that would allow them to share their stories. We felt it was crucial that what was learnt in the workshops could be taken and used or shared with others back at the centres.

Working with the teenagers was a very different experience than our previous work with younger children living in DP. The younger children had very high energy/excitement levels and their attention would wane quickly and so we found that short activities with immediate results worked best in keeping their focus. On the other hand, the teenagers were very calm, focused and eager to try all the tasks put before them. There was never any sense of hesitation. For the teenagers this opportunity for extra curricular activities was incredibly precious and it was notable how determined they were to make the most of their time at the Glucksman. This level of ambition and focus across the group was not only striking in comparison to the younger children in DP but to other groups of teenagers we have worked with in the past.

The project culminated with an exhibition of the group’s artwork at the Glucksman in early 2017. On what was truly one of my most memorable days working here at the Glucksman, the teenagers returned with family and friends for the exhibition launch party with music, food and good vibes. The day concluded with the inaugural screening of the teenagers short film ‘Undead Revenge

Reading some of the moving feedback from the teenagers highlights how crucial it is that these young people are cherished and nurtured and that they are provided with the opportunities that we all deserve.

I was amazed by the architectural designs and the surroundings itself. We took lots of pictures and had to draw different things. It was quite the most wonderful thing I have done.

I was a bit shy at first, but I was told, ‘Everyone has a talent, we have to show it to make it better’ and since then I have never been more proud of my art works.’

Meet some of the group here

The Navigating the Urban Landscape project was supported by the Arts Council of Ireland’s Young Ensemble Scheme.

For more information contact education@glucksman.org or visit glucksman.org

 

 

 

 

Student Kotryna Knystautaite from St Oliver’s Community College, Drogheda along with 10 other students have been working in partnership with the Highlanes Gallery in Drogheda and with the British Council as part of Student Select. The students involved have selected and curated an exhibition, which opened on 25th of November.

Blog 3

The countdown had stopped. The day had finally arrived. It was the day of the opening.

Many months of decision making, days spent in the gallery and countless meetings have all culminated in our exhibition and we were finally opening it up to the public. We invited everyone we knew- family, friends and teachers, but we also had other important guests coming to see the exhibition- the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, TD; Heather Humphreys, Sir Ciaran Devane; CE of the British Arts Council and two of the exhibiting artists; Mariele Neudecker and Graham Crowley, the pressure was on!

On the afternoon of the opening day, we had the opportunity to meet Marielle Neudecker and Graham Crowley. They told us about their lives and inspirations. It was really fascinating to hear the artist themselves reveal their thoughts, the ideas behind their creations and to hear their opinions on how their art complemented the other artworks surrounding them. It was an amazing experience, as soon we would have to be the ones giving tours of all the art that was now in the gallery.

As the opening night grew closer there was a hint of nervousness in the air between us. In a few moments we will have to give one of, if not the most, important tour of the exhibition to our special guests. In our heads we recited all of the facts, dates and names we learnt over the past few months about the art surrounding us, remembering the connections that we mapped out and why we hung certain works in certain places. Our family, friends and teachers started to filter in through the doors. The time had come!

We greeted and shook hands with Heather Humphreys and Sir Ciaran Devane as they walked into the gallery. In pairs we led them and the other guests through the gallery telling them about the art along the way. After the tour everybody who came gathered downstairs at the altar. Niamh McDonnell (St. Oliver’s) and Cáit McArdle (Our Lady’s College Greenhills) gave amazing speeches about the Student Select, how we came about to do this and the work we did up to the opening. They were followed with speeches from some of the distinguished guests and Aoife Ruane, the director of the gallery.

We were excited and proud to finally be able to fully share the exhibition with the public. We were building up to this point all the time and hearing the thoughts, praise and observations of our families, our teachers, general visitors and special guests on ‘In Sense Of Place’ definitely gave us feelings of affirmation and accomplishment. After the opening we celebrated with dinner and it was nice to socialise with all the people we worked with for so long.

During the weeks the exhibition was open we gave tours to secondary and primary school students. On most of these tours we spent time listening to the opinions of the students and discussing them, rather than just telling them the exact information. Art should always be based on your own interpretation. At the end of the tours the primary school students drew out their favourite art piece. It was great to see their enthusiasm, they were less inhibited than the older students.

We also held a workshop based on the works in our exhibition. It was set up for kids between the ages of 4 and 12. We were thrilled that 45 kids came and they brought recycled materials in primary and secondary colours. Together we assembled shapes out of the materials they brought, inspired by Tony Cragg’s ‘Canoe’. We also discussed the colour wheel and complementary colours, we put the theory to practice with pastels. Another work we took inspiration from is ‘Mean-mean’ and we made collages.

This was a once in a lifetime experience, we learnt so much about contemporary art and how a gallery works and we so happy to be involved in such a great project.

 

 

 

Blog 1

On the east coast, right on the edge of Ireland, there is a bog known as The Elk Graveyard. Here, hundreds and hundreds of ancient elk skeletons were dug from the peat.

Megaloceros Giganteus. Giant Irish Deer. The last megafauna on an island of, well, non–megafauna. Twelve feet tall from tip of toe to top of antler, the giant deer disappeared from Ireland about 10,500 years ago, the reasons uncertain: it or its antlers became too big; it was over-hunted; its food sources disappeared as the world grew colder. The Great Irish Elk lived across Europe and Asia, its continental cousins drifting eastward, sunward, in search of a better life. As the Ice Age descended, the ones who lived on this island were the first to disappear. Trapped, with nowhere to go as the snow stopped melting.

In 2015, I set out to rigorously explore and develop my writing for young audiences. After an initial year spent in solo research, exploring the real history of this elk in order to find the possibilities of story, I began a phase of research in collaboration with Third Class at Sacred Heart Portlaoise, and teacher Jennifer Buggie.

I was drawn to the subject matter of Peat for this age group for their ability to deal with complex ideas and the reality of the oftentimes dark world we live in. Peat’s spiderwebby resonances were broad and weighty: climate change, carbon footprints, death, extinction, migration: adult ideas that children of this age group encounter daily. And closer to home: what it means to belong; what it feels like to be living in a body and a world that is changing faster than you’d like.

I focused on a series of classroom workshops on writing for theatre rather than the subject matter itself, and developed the approach around a number of initial questions: in terms of story, how might a piece of theatre recognise and respect the sophisticated thought processes and complex emotions of its audience?; how might it provoke an open and frank conversation about the vast world we live in, while at the same time offering a steady and sympathetic guide to navigating that vastness?; how might the theatrical form suggest a different way to think visually – to provoke the audience to see their world not just as something which contains them, but as something that can be influenced, manipulated, created?

As a writer, I am preoccupied with the complexity of culture, society, history – in how story and history is told, recalled, contained, in how things form the deep past very often seem so close to us. I can’t help but poke holes in history to see what leaks through.

An initial workshop thus focused on the nature of stories, storytelling and myth. I began by reading a piece of theatrical storytelling to the eyes-closed class – an excerpt from Complicite’s The Encounter in which the main character remembers the moment he became completely lost in the jungle. We discussed the images it conjured and the senses it sparked. We talked about memory, about how it was a key tool in a writer’s toolbox.

Students were provoked to think of a time when something in their own world changed. In pairs, they shared this memory with their partner, and we talked about how memory is transformed when we tell it as a story to someone else. Each was then asked to share their partner’s story with their table-group, prompted to be true to the details they heard but permitted embellishment in form and content that would make it a good story for an audience. From this, we talked about how stories are changed in their retelling, and how myths are born.

The stories the students shared and re-shared grappled with life, death, loss, love, joy and sadness in ways that showed an enormous variance in emotional maturity. Their responses to being asked to take responsibility for telling the story of another ranged from sensitive respect, to mischievous joy, to indignation and protest that they would rather share their own. This itself raised interesting discussion on a table-by-table basis about collective memory, shared stories, narration, becoming a character, and who in society has permission to speak on behalf of another.

The final provocation was based on a question that emerged from these discussions: how do we choose the stories we tell? Each table thus entered into a debate, in order to choose one story that would become the story of their group.

I returned several weeks later to work with the students on transforming their story into a piece of theatre.

Initial development was enabled by the Arts Council’s Young People Children and Education Bursary. Development in 2016 was supported by The Ark A Cultural Centre for Children. With the support of The Ark, Theatre for Young Audiences Ireland and Culture Ireland, a work-in-progress showing was presented at On the Edge Birmingham, the World Festival of Theatre for Young Audiences (directed by Maisie Lee, performed by Lloyd Cooney and Nyree Yergainharsian)

Elk skeleton at the Dead Zoo, Dublin

Elk skeleton at the Dead Zoo, Dublin

Tadhg Crowley is the Curator of Education at the Glucksman in University College Cork. The Glucksman presents a wide-ranging programme of Tadhg headshot 2temporary exhibitions accompanied by an extensive education programme to engage visitors of diverse interests and backgrounds. A graduate of Limerick School of Art and Design Tadhg’s role at the Glucksman is to help foster an appreciation of the visual arts among the wider public. In early 2015 Tadhg devised and delivered the first Visual Art module on the Certificate in Contemporary Living Course at UCC. Tadhg has expanded the Glucksman schools programme over the past 3 years and in 2015 over 2500 students attended workshops and tours at the gallery. Tadhg introduced the Glucksman Teachers programme in 2014 and it now includes seasonal Art Teachers Masterclasses,Preview Evenings and Summer Course. Tadhg has recently presented at the IMA Annual Education and Outreach Forum and at the inaugural Arts in Education Portal National Day at IMMA. He has lectured on the MA: Art and Process programme at Crawford College of Art & Design as well as the Futures PhD module at University College Cork.

Blog no. 1

When as an earnest 14-year-old, I stood with my family and friends in St. Peter’s Cathedral, Cork City and admired my artwork that was on exhibit, it mattered little that what we were looking at was an oversized postage stamp that crudely depicted my sense of the most important Irish people in history (with a disproportionate number of fellow Corkonians!!). What really mattered, was at that moment I knew that my hard work and talent was being recognised, admired and shared with the public. To experience that sense of pride around my art was pivotal in the way I approached and thought about my creativity for years to come.

In April 2016, Aislinn Spillane, art teacher at Christ King Girls’ Secondary School, contacted me about the possibility of working on a project together and what immediately became clear was that we both wanted her students to have the opportunity to experience a moment like this. Another key motivation for the project was to provide the students with the conditions where they could really investigate a subject, to explore ideas and find exciting methods to create their visual responses.

Gut Instinct: Art, food and feeling’ was an exhibition at the Glucksman that drew on the cutting-edge research of Professor John Cryan, and his colleagues at the APC Microbiome Institute at UCC. Using artworks that explored the materiality of foodstuffs and that tested the boundaries of good taste and revulsion, the exhibition explored how digestion relates to our mental and emotional states.

Gut Instinct presented the ideal starting point for the project and from where the students could begin their own creative journey through ideas of the way they used and thought about food.

In December 2016, the students were introduced to the exhibition, its central themes and we looked at a number of the artworks in detail. After the guided tour, the group had the opportunity to creatively record their initial responses in a printmaking workshop with artist Killian O’Dwyer.

Back in school, the students were provided with additional information on the artists/artworks and on the research of APC. I visited them in early January to discuss the plans for the next stages, principally the film they would make. What was striking about this visit and the discussions with the group was that they had highlighted an area around food and emotions that was not explored in Gut Instinct. The students were drawn to ideas of appearance and the pressures attached, what that means to the way we feel about food and how that could develop to eating disorders. The Gut Instinct curators consciously took the decision not to venture into this field of investigation when developing the exhibition as it strays from APC’s research aims and crucially they felt it was an area that deserves considered investigation and reflection in a separate moment.

Clearly this topic had significance to the group and it was impressive to see that in the prints they created for the exhibition in March 2017, they had looked closely at how they could create images that would articulate their thoughts and concerns.

The students were presented with the challenge of developing a film script that would reflect their thoughts on the exhibition, before returning to the Glucksman in early February for filming. On a Friday morning in February, the students worked together under the guidance of filmmaker Dervla Baker to produce the short film ‘The Power of Taste

The 5th year students at Christ King Girls’ School had their exhibition moment in early March when their artworks went on display at the Glucksman. I hope they too experienced that sense of pride that I felt way back at the beginning of my life in the arts.

Sincere thanks to the art teachers from Christ King Girls’ School – Niamh Rigby, Jodie Kerins and Aislinn Spillane.

For more information on The Power of Taste or the Glucksman Schools Programme please contact education@glucksman.org or visit glucksman.org

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Carmel is a 5th class teacher in Scoil Eoin, Balloonagh, Tralee, Co. Kerry, a large school with three streams of each year group and over six hundred pupils. Carmel and her class, a mixed group of boys and girls, are currently participating in the Virtually There project.

Blog No.2

We as teachers are becoming preoccupied with generating art which looks well on a display board and has no imperfections. In my experience the children aren’t engaging with this routine and are craving more freedom to make mistakes, try things more than once and use lots of different materials. It’s difficult to unearth an exciting art lesson for every week, particularly with older classes as they have made or used many of the lessons with other teachers. When my principal suggested Virtually There to me I was intrigued, yet I was also hesitant to take on such a project due to the need to have good IT experience and how limited our technology is in the classroom.

Virtually There orientation involved an enjoyable day of artist and teacher pair work. This was a fantastic way to become acquainted before we attempted to organise the project itself. Initially, I thought the project was going to be difficult to coordinate as my artist for the project, Lucy Hill, was based in Westport, Co. Mayo while I teach in Tralee, Co.Kerry. With emails and phone numbers exchanged with set about arranging when and how we would do the art with the children in my 5th Class. I needn’t have worried. Lucy was willing and excited to visit us and work around our daily schedule. We trialed Skype a few times before our start date and it worked perfectly. However, throughout the project we had many dropped calls and in particular the last day, being a particularly windy day on the west coast of Ireland,  meant we had to resort to using our phones. In spite of this I felt the project worked brilliantly and both Lucy and I continued with the art while keeping in touch using whatever technology was available.

My class loved the project, mostly exploring new textures and materials, while being given the freedom to use them in any way possible. There was movement, freedom, learning, inventing and fun. Each week there was a novel idea to inspire the children. Lucy would firstly explain the idea, next they would give their responses and suggestions before setting to work. Throughout each element of the lesson the children would approach Lucy on the laptop screen to show their progress, ask questions and get suggestions for any design concepts. This was an effective part of Virtually There which ensured the children were thoughtful in formation and it gave them a guideline as to how they would achieve the goal in the art time. The children also looked forward to hearing Lucy’s interpretation of what they had made each time and her input inspired them further or helped them to see what they had made in a new light.

The opportunity to blog about our experience throughout Virtually There was one of the most appealing aspects of the project for me. Combining some literacy skills to the project and blogging about an important topic relevant to the children was something I had envisaged they would love. However the children weren’t as excited about the blogging process as I had hoped. This may have been due to limited time we could spend doing the blogging due to other classroom subjects and constraints. I also found Word Press time consuming to use in adjusting images etc. and I often had to spend a long time myself formatting the page layout. If we were lucky enough to be involved in Virtually There or another similar project again, I would try to give more time to the blogging and allow the children more freedom to do all the adjustments, possibly with a different group in charge of each weekly blog.

I feel Virtually There has definitely inspired me to allow children to get messy through art, to give them opportunities to use all sorts of materials, to encourage them to use their own imaginations and be creative rather than make a carbon copy of an art piece.

img_2355_editKieran Gallagher is an art teacher in St Oliver’s Community College, Drogheda. He works as head of a large art department. Since moving to St Oliver’s over three years ago he has established connections with the local art gallery, the Highlanes Gallery and has worked on a number of art projects with his students and the Director, Aoife Ruane. Kieran is also a practicing artist and is part of Ormond Studios in Dublin.

Art Teacher Blog Post No.2

Since my last post, my school took part in the ‘State of the Art’ campaign, which was organised by the (ATAI) Art teachers Association of Ireland. Schools across Ireland got involved in the action day, to draw attention to the outdated senior cycle art syllabus. Three of the local Drogheda schools got together, over 100 students met in the centre of town and marched, with black balloons and placards, accidentally scaring a few elderly shoppers along the way, to the local gallery, the Highlanes Gallery. Students, read out myths and facts about the current leaving certificate, and asked for change. It looks like, art students and teachers across the country had been heard, as the Senior Cycle Art syllabus has been recalled to the NCCA and work will begin on developing a new syllabus this year.

Again in the Highlanes Gallery, an exhibition which I was working with my students and another local school, is due to close on Saturday the 28th of January. You can read all about the project on this website, as two of our students have wrote some blog posts discussing their project and journey. ‘In Sense of Place’ was a huge success. The exhibition was opened by Minister for Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Heather Humphrey’s. The exhibition got great press coverage; students appeared on the local radio station, LMFM, rte news and in the Irish Times. At times this project was very difficult to balance class work and commitment to this once off project, but the enthusiasm from the gallery’s Director, Aoife Ruane made it seem easy. Feedback from my fellow teachers, and students who visited the exhibition has been very positive.

Inside of my class room I am currently trying to get my head around the changes to the senior cycle syllabus, the ‘10 week project’. The still life section is great, easy to figure out; the important introduction of a brain storm including practising object composition and experimentation with materials is a welcome change. It allows students to really think about why there are selecting their objects, the composition and the materials.  However I am finding the craft section more difficult to understand in particular the Poster. With practise I’m hoping to resolve this issue. What alarms me is the lack of clarity in terms of examination, how will the work book be examined, what percentage of marks is allocated to the workbook versus the finished piece. We need the clarification soon, as our current fifth years are due to sit this exam in January next, leaving very little time to practise a 10 week project.

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It is also a busy time of year for exam classes ‘mock exams’ are due to take place the week before midterm. Due to the nature of the current leaving certificate, we teachers have to try and timetable and correct four exams (3 practical and one written), between now and after midterm. our sixth year students are all working on their still-life exam this week, using 2.5 hours of their class time to create a finished still life, an exam which I won’t miss when the revised curriculum come into effect. It can be a challenge to cover all aspects for the mocks, but it is essential to show students how they are progressing and what needs to be improved on for May.

I am lucky to have a very energetic class of 24 second year girls, no boy to be seen in the class. They are very enthusiastic and love to work on large scale projects. We are currently building floating cities, which we will suspend from the high ceiling rafters in my room. The cities will be constructed out of recycled cardboard, the theme is open however they must explain their choice of building shapes and state their influences.  To inspire them I introduce them to the contemporary female artist Julie Mehretu and the architectural wonders of Zaha Hadid. Their energy the loudness and lively enthusiasm is a nice contrast to the serious atmosphere in the above exam classes.

 

 

FullSizeRender_editCarmel is a 5th Class teacher in Scoil Eoin, Balloonagh, Tralee, Co. Kerry. A large school with three streams of each year group and over six hundred pupils.  Carmel and her class a mixed group of boys and girls are currently participating in the Virtually There project.

 

Virtually There Project with Kids’ Own Publishing Partnership

Virtually There began with a gathering of artists, teachers and organisers in the Portlaoise Education Centre.  In advance, we, the teachers and artists, had to prepare a short presentation about ourselves and in this I gave the reasons why I wanted my class to become involved. I recall wanting my class to feel free to be creative, imaginative and explore materials and their uses. In particular I wanted my class to move away from producing carbon copies of whatever art I showed them.  I also wanted to diversify my own teaching habits and step away from the routine of painting a picture for art class. Based on the presentation given by all involved, teachers were then paired with an artist. This was a key component in the success of the Virtually There project in my opinion. I found my pairing with Castlebar based artist Lucy Hill allowed for the freedom and stimulating art classes I had wished for in my initial presentation.

As with all new projects I wondered if the class would respond well and engage with the process.  Lucy had come up with great ideas, we had decided on the times and schedules, however the art was going to be quite different to what the children had been used to and they would be the designers, architects and inventors of what they were to make.  Making our first day of Virtually There a full day of art, with Lucy present in person for it all, helped the children to understand that  creating whatever felt natural to them was all a part of Virtually There.

Day one introduced the children to some famous artists who work with a variety of materials. This was followed by stations of exploration with 2D, 3D and colour work as an option. There were no restrictions or limitations on what station the children could go to or what materials they could use. They were giddy with excitement and were amazed that they were allowed to use whatever they wanted. It was fantastic to see children who normally need a lot of guidance working independently and because we were not focused on what the finished product would be, there was no apprehension about producing something that looked perfect.

Our first virtual art lesson with Lucy was live on Skype for the duration of the lesson. What I loved about our second session was the variety in processes in a short amount of time. This will inform many an art lesson for me in the future. The children did some time drawing using markers, they focused on how materials could be combined together to form something new, they photographed their ideas using light and background and finished up by combining and photographing their creations in the outdoor environment. Working outdoors was a highlight for the children with ideas being formed using unforeseen weather, surroundings and visual stimuli.
The children became very comfortable working in this art environment, where problem solving and engineering were a factor in leading their designs and they now had the confidence to try new materials and methods for themselves. Virtually There involved individual, paired, small group and large group work within almost every session. There was at least five different art ideas in each session and as I had hoped Lucy and I were facilitating the children’s creativity rather than telling them what to do.

In a short space of time my class have been hugely inspired and have awakened their imaginations. I have a wealth of ideas to inform my future lessons in art and my goals for the class during Virtually There have been achieved. Lucy built a great relationship with the children and they looked forward to each week immensely. Although Lucy was on Skype during our art lessons the children never felt Lucy wasn’t a part of their art class, following any moments of art creation the children would present and explain their work to Lucy via Skype. Bringing skills to a classroom virtually is an inspired decision which helps us as teachers to provide children with a varied and current education.

screen-shot-2016-11-30-at-14-36-32Máire O’Higgins is a teacher and an Assistant Principal at Larkin Community College Dublin 1. She also coordinates partnerships for the College and is the school Chaplain. Máire is 26 years working in the north east inner city. Before she became a teacher she worked as an actor and a Theatre Director.

Larkin Community College is a second level CDETB DEIS Band 1 school in the north east inner city of Dublin. It is a co-educational school with 430 students and a staff of 48. Students come from all over areas of socio-economic disadvantage in Dublin to attend the school. It is a mainstream school and offers Arts, Soccer, Basketball and Academic Scholarship Programmes.

Thursday 26th January 2017

Planning is crucial when engaging with partners. However, to paraphrase the poet Robert Burns, ‘The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry!’ Flexibility is paramount.

As our project has progressed we have been mindful of how best we can deliver on our aims and objectives for the project while adapting to suit changing scenarios during the project.

To this regard, in the time that we have been working on the project a few things have happened.

We have had to say goodbye to one of the Gaiety School of Acting facilitators, Gillian Mc Carthy.

We have struggled to connect with the organisers of TED ED TALKS with whom we had hoped to record the manifestos for the project. We have decided to make our own video of manifestos. The Gaiety School of Acting have a resident photographer / videographer Tom Maher. Tom will lead the video making for the exhibition for the project.

Another development that has impacted on our project has been the announcement by the Government in December 2016 of a five-year initiative, from 2017 to 2022, which places creativity at the centre of public policy. In line with this exciting initiative, which is called Creative Ireland, we have refined the scope and the theme of our partnership project to the following:-
“Reflecting & Re-Imagining Creative Education for a Creative Ireland -One school’s perspective.      

Reflections and Blue Sky Thinking with students, staff, partners and friends of Larkin Community College in collaboration with the Gaiety School of Acting.”

Creating Manifestos

And so we are in the throes of preparing manifestos and performance pieces on this theme for presentation at the Mill Theatre in Dundrum on Thursday the 30th March.

Eighty 1st year students are working on drafts of their manifestos.

They have started by looking at what they dislike about the school system they are currently in.

Here is a flavour of their complaints:-

School furniture is bad for your back! Why can’t students spend more time outdoors during school time? Schoolbags are too heavy! Why do we do so much homework? Why is the school day so long? Why do we spend so much time at a desk writing?
The students have solutions: moveable walls that change colour to suit the lesson; green for storytelling, white for writing solutions to Maths conundrums, blue for meditation. Leather chairs on wheels. Green spaces to break out into every hour and so on…. 
Now that students have had an opportunity to voice their objections to the systems as they are in education, they are currently working on blue sky thinking to re-imagine an education that they would like for secondary students in Ireland.
The next phase of our work will be to edit, rehearse and combine their manifestos to create performances and presentations.

Devising performances

The Arts classes are working with Michelle Fallon to dramatise their perspectives on education – then, now and in future.

This is an extract from Michelle’s documentation of the process:-

In Tuesday’s classes, I asked students to create a monologue/speech around their own perception of education. To begin with I asked them to think of a hook to draw in the attention of an audience- so a funny personal anecdote/ statistic/personal opinion/rhetorical question or quotation etc..  A lot of interesting opinions about their own educational experience to this point, emanated from this discussion.                                                                                                    

Next, I asked the students to think about the education they received during their primary schooling and compare and contrast what they thought were most and least effective and what elements of primary could be easily adapted to their secondary schooling to make their experience less restricted.     

I then showed them the short video ‘I sued the school’ and this generated further discussion. One of the first years said it gave her goosebumps! 

Perhaps we could do something similar in this particular vein? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dqTTojTija8

Michelle went on to write:-
These are some of the issues that were highlighted by Tuesday’s classes:

Another new partner – the local Elderly Day Care Centre

Michelle took her 3rd year Arts class to the Lourdes Day Care Centre for the Elderly to conduct interviews around education in the past. The class will then compare and contrast the perceptions of now and then in other Arts classes.

And another new partner!

Two teachers from the Art Department in the school have now come on board with 1st year and Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) students and they are preparing artworks to respond to blue sky thinking about what an ideal education might look like.

Early February 2017

The team of teachers and partners from the Gaiety School of Acting are meeting with Kate Canning who is the Manager of the Mill Theatre, to decide on layout, structure and design for our event.

The challenge for us for the next few weeks is to find cover for teachers so that they can continue to work together on this project. This is an ongoing challenge in education. Collaboration, team teaching and cross curricular learning are central tenets of good educational practice but in reality these are hard to manage and cost a lot of money as substitution has to be provided for teachers so that they can meet to collaborate and plan ahead. Our staff members are good at working this way and teachers are kind and generous with their time and willingness to facilitate these processes.

A voice for everyone

In the video we are hoping to include the voices of teachers, students, partners and friends of the school. We would like them to articulate their ideas for an ideal education.

An invitation will be sent by email to all staff, students and partners asking them to respond in 1 minute on camera, to the statement:-
“Reflecting & Re-Imagining Creative Education for a Creative Ireland -One school’s perspective.”    – my thoughts (1 minute)

They will also be asked if they might like to create a visual response to the theme.

We will include their responses in the exhibition in the Mill Theatre as part of our project outcomes. The exhibition and the performances will showcase our school’s perspective on the potential future of education.
 Save the date…. Thursday 30th March 2017 1pm in the Mill Theatre Dundrum….

Kotryna Knystautaite from St Oliver’s Community College along with 10 other students have been working in partnership with the Highlanes Gallery in Drogheda and with the British Council as part of Student Select.

All images courtesy of student Grainne Smith

Student Blog – No. 2

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The excitement has become a constant buzzing feeling inside all of us. A lot has happened in the past two weeks, but it was when the delivery truck came, the work we had put into this exhibition became a reality.

The artwork came in precise and ingeniously engineered, sky blue crates. Seeing the magnificent shade of blue increased our impatience to open them up. We learned about the specially modified lorry that transports artwork; the temperature must be kept at a constant 19 degrees celsius, to accustom the artwork to the gallerie’s climate. We also examined the padding on the inside walls of the truck and the cables used to hold the crates. We had to let the crates sit in the gallery for a few days, to allow the artwork to climatise. The excitement was heightened  when the crates were unscrewed and the lid opened. Inside we saw the artwork comfortably and securely packaged in between specially designed foam as to avoid damage from movement. When all the artwork was opened we now could start to consider where to place the work for our exhibition.

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We had already researched themes that could link the artwork together, but seeing them before us sparked other ideas and thoughts. I think it is the unexpected contrast between seeing a photo of the art and standing before it. Some of the pieces shocked us by their size or their vibrant colour. There was a never ending list of factors which we had to consider when hanging our show, we were all so excited despite the amount of decision making as it was finally real, the work was all there in front of us. Now we had to figure out where to place the artwork; lighting, wall space, neighbouring art, the journey of the viewer… etc. Eventually, after  several days thinking and re-thinking, moving work around, having to make difficult choices came the conclusions and solutions. It wasn’t easy as we had to leave some of our work out as it didn’t seem to fit with any of the rest of the art work. This was a decision  that none of us thought we would have to make.

We linked and placed the artwork by themes, contrasting and complementing colours, ideas. Where and why we put the art, but also the art itself carried a message, provoking thoughts, ideas and questions for the viewers.

20161117_122818_editSome of the artwork that we selected for our exhibition required specific allocation. In particular the ‘Canoe’ by Tony Craig needed a large open space and therefore we made one of the easier decisions of placing it downstairs. There the wide white spacious gallery space accented the large colourful sculpture. Which lead to figuring out what would go with this sculpture. The Rachel MacLean ‘The Lion and The Unicorn’ needed a dark place with no noise pollution- luckily the Highlanes Gallery had just the right space the ‘cement room’ with the required conditions for this piece. Another artwork in our exhibition in which we had to put extra placement consideration into, was the Richard Long sculpture, ‘Stone Line’- this piece also required a large space all to itself. The upstairs of the gallery was painted a royal blue, which we thought complimented the grey in the cornish stones. We were lucky enough to search the Drogheda Municipal art collection for art that would work well with this particular piece.

Our exhibition is a walk through a landscape, a journey of someone trying to find their place.

In the next blog we will tell you all about; the exhibition opening, the tours and workshop.

lucy_hill__paint_by_alison_laredo_3Lucy Hill completed an M.F.A at Winchester School of Arts in Barcelona having previously studied painting at Crawford College of Art in Cork. She has won several awards (George Campbell Memorial Award, Thomas Dammann Award), public art commissions (Wexford & Mayo County Councils) and exhibited in solo and selected group shows (EV+A, Claremorris Open). She has been working with children through a wide variety of projects and organisations for fifteen years. She is in the second year of her practice based PhD at NCAD researching material engagement in early childhood.

Image: Artist Lucy Hill examines her Death Jars, part of her interactive Children’s art exhibition ‘paint’ at the Linenhall Arts Centre, Castlebar. Photo Alison Laredo

First virtual visit.

As part of our training before the project with the children began, Carmel (my project partner teacher in Scoil Eoin, Tralee) and I scheduled in a couple of technology ‘play dates’. This helped us work out any glitches, internet speed, how we related, communicated and looked. My studio space is in the Customs House Studios in Westport and at the moment I’m working on a research project so, it looks (to my own children at least) like I’m plotting the downfall of a small country…charts, maps, sticky notes, colour coding, a lot of chopped up text stuck on the walls…maybe not what the class expect an artist’s studio to look like……I needn’t have worried…..they were far too busy with the work in the classroom.

For our first virtual visit we had decided that we would use a selection of materials in the classroom that I had brought for the ‘actual’ visit. We had separated each material into a numbered pocket folder. We then had a lottery selection with me matching each child to a number/material. The question we asked was ‘What might materials do to each other?’ so in teams of two initially, the children devised visual sequences of possible interactions between their materials and set up a photo shoot. Then we got nicely complicated in teams of four, then eight. They drew with pencils and markers as they planned, and again once they had set up their material interactions.

 

I actually found the virtual aspect quite tricky. It’s entirely natural when you are physically in a room full of children with creative action unfolding, to be able to tune in, to listen, watch, play, interact and try to read and understand the atmosphere being generated…….but virtually, it’s a little disconcerting. I was trying to see around corners, onto desks, into hands….it was like wearing vision restricting goggles. The up-side was that when the children were at the screen talking to me, they really had to explain themselves clearly and I could see some of their ideas being solidified for them in that process. I found it very funny too as some children couldn’t help but fix their hair as they talked to me/themselves or try to surprise me by popping up out of nowhere.

The photo shoots were very exciting. They were expert at setting up clear uncluttered shots, some making sophisticated stop motion sequences. They happened at the back of the classroom so I had no control at all over how they were progressing and no idea what the images would look like. And then they took their materials outside to see how would they behave or change with the inclusion of the weather and the school yard. They waved me good bye and switched me off. I waited anxiously for half an hour. At last, they switched me back on and while taking off coats and fixing wind swept hair, they told me about how they had got on. The photos they took were fantastic. In our discussions, a question had come up about ‘pixel art’ so after the session was over, I played around with pixelating some of their photos, I hope they like the results.

In our next virtual session, we are going to ask ‘What might materials do to us?’

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screen-shot-2016-11-30-at-14-36-32Máire O’Higgins is a teacher and an Assistant Principal at Larkin Community College Dublin 1. She also coordinates partnerships for the College and is the school Chaplain. Máire is 26 years working in the north east inner city. Before she became a teacher she worked as an actor and a Theatre Director.

Larkin Community College is a second level CDETB DEIS Band 1 school in the north east inner city of Dublin. It is a co-educational school with 430 students and a staff of 48. Students come from all over areas of socio-economic disadvantage in Dublin to attend the school. We are a mainstream school. We offer Arts, Soccer, Basketball and Academic Scholarship Programmes.

Monday 7th November 2016

The project work in the classroom hadn’t started yet and I had a light bulb moment over the weekend. I whatsApped Anna and Michelle to suggest we turn the students’ Manifesto speeches into TED Talks for the final presentations in March 2017. They both loved the idea.

The beauty of working with a partner outside of the school is that the partner can sometimes have the time to research aspects of a project. Anna is going to investigate how a school can run a TED Talks. She will also talk to Kate Canning the Manager of the Mill Theatre to see if this idea sits well with her.

Gill from the Gaiety School of Acting starts her work with Michelle and the Arts classes this week.

Tuesday 8th November 

A potential new partner for our project – a writer in residence….

We have had a lot of bereavements in the local community where our school is. It has been a hard few months for students and teachers and other staff. In this sad context we have had a lovely development. Last year we set up a Youth Theatre with the help of the National Association for Youth Drama. Carol Rooney, one of our Drama Teachers, ran a small and exciting Youth Theatre group. They performed a poignant piece in the Sean O’Casey Theatre in East Wall Dublin 3. Tony Bates of Jigsaw and Phil Kingston of the Abbey Theatre came to see it and thought it was a powerful production. As did all of us who saw it. The devised piece dealt with young people and mental health. This year John Dunne, another Drama teacher, set up a second youth theatre group. Now we have two small thriving youth theatre groups. They meet after school on a Wednesday. Dublin City Council Arts Office gave us a start up grant to help us get up on our feet with the Youth Theatre. We set up a committee and an ArtsTrain graduate Ceri O’Hagan joined us to help us run the Youth Theatre. Yesterday I was speaking to the Dublin City Arts Officer Ray Yeates. He was delighted at the success and growth of the youth theatres. He suggested that our school might like to look at a residency for a writer. I thought it would be a great idea for us to welcome a writer into the school for a period so that he or she could observe how we are and who we are and then create a piece of work out of this. If we are successful in getting the funding from the Arts Office and in finding a suitable writer in residence, it will be an act of trust for staff to welcome the writer into their classes and into the staffroom. I think it would be great. I also think that if the writer was to keep in mind the Manifesto project we are doing with the Gaiety School of Acting the ideas that emerge for the writer may fit nicely into a performance piece as part of the conference on education in the Mill Theatre in March 2017. I will be meeting with Ray Yeates in the coming weeks.

Wednesday 9th November

Yesterday Gillian Mc Carthy from the GSoA had a good session with the 1st year Arts students. She did one hour with them. Michelle discovered that there was a misunderstanding around the class contact the artist would have with the class. Jill thought it was twice a week for an hour at a time. Michelle thought it was one hour a week at an hour at a time. This is why it is so important to have planning meetings as well as a liaison person to oversee the project in the school and a manager of the project externally. What I now need to do is go through the dates that Anna put on Google drive and check them and then at a senior management team meeting give these dates to the Principal for the school calendar. That way students are less likely to be taken out of class for other activities when the GSoA project is on.

Friday 18th November 

Anna has sent me a text update on the TED TALKS idea. She is waiting to hear from TED TALKS to find out how best to set up a TED TALKS EDUCATION event. Getting the text from Anna keeps me up to date on progress for the project.

Tuesday 22nd November

Gillian Mc Carthy sent an email asking Michelle Fallon and her Arts students to research the following questions and statements for the project. As requested at the start of the project all correspondence for the project goes to Michelle, Anna, the artists and myself. That way we are all aware of how things are progressing. The research questions and statements that Gillian sent are:-

1 The Irish education system from 1917 to present: the major changes that have taken place over the last hundred years.

2 The pros and cons of the current education system.

3 What is the Department of Education’s vision for the future? What would be the students’ vision of a brilliant education system? What changes would they make?

4 Questions for students who are interested in interviewing older relations and teachers about their experiences of school:-

In the same email Gillian asked if she and I could meet for a chat today. We didn’t get to do that. I have found out over the years that it is always better to agree a brief meeting to discuss the project rather than relying on ‘catching’ each other. So I will email Gillian and suggest a time to meet when she is next in the school.

screen-shot-2016-11-30-at-14-36-32Máire O’Higgins is a teacher and an Assistant Principal at Larkin Community College Dublin 1. She also coordinates partnerships for the College and is the school Chaplain. Máire is 26 years working in the north east inner city. Before she became a teacher she worked as an actor and a Theatre Director.

Larkin Community College is a second level CDETB DEIS Band 1 school in the north east inner city of Dublin. It is a co-educational school with 430 students and a staff of 48. Students come from all over areas of socio-economic disadvantage in Dublin to attend the school. We are a mainstream school. We offer Arts, Soccer, Basketball and Academic Scholarship Programmes.

In the first of her blog series Máire discusses funding, partnership and documentation as part of the Theatre Making and Citizenship Programme with the Abbey Theatre.

October 25th 2016

I have the good fortune of working in a variety of jobs within my permanent teaching post over twenty six years. I worked in theatre before I switched to teaching so I carried my love of the creative engagement with me into teaching.

The school I am currently in has excelled at creative engagement since its inception in 1999. We have done some terrific work and also made some spectacular mistakes. I am learning to call them iterations!  Isn’t that what educational entrepreneurship is all about, iterating and reiterating, planning, trying out, reflecting, trying again and on it goes. Isn’t that too what happens in the real world, the world after school ends?

From November this year to March 2017 we are working with the Gaiety School of Acting and the DLR Mill Theatre in Dundrum on a Theatre Making and Citizenship Manifesto Project. Larkin Community College has been doing Theatre Making and Citizenship programmes for three years now. The Theatre Making and Citizenship Programme model was developed with the College by Sarah Fitzgibbon and supported by Phil Kingston and his education team at the Abbey Theatre. This year we have a group doing the second part of the Theatre Making and Citizenship programme with the Abbey and a new Theatre Making Programme, which shares outcomes with the Abbey programme. This one is with the Gaiety School of Acting and the DLR Mill Theatre Dundrum.

Anna Kadzik-Bartoszewska of the Gaiety School of Acting has developed the project concept and guidelines. The project is called “The right to know”. It will look back at aspects of the education of young people from 1917. It will explore aspects of the education of young people in 2017. It will also look forward and imagine the future for education and young people in 2027. The project will focus on the creation of innovative play using the existing practice of “Manifesto”. Manifesto is an empowering style of theatre making that we hope will give our young people a voice to express their opinions and attitudes towards their own education that others have shaped for them. The project will be run by Michelle Fallon an English and History teacher in Larkin Community College. Michelle also coordinates the Arts Programmes for the College. I will support Michelle in her work and liaise with Anna and the Gaiety School of Acting, as well as other partners that may emerge as we work on the project.

The performances, developed by the students and teachers of Larkin Community College, the local community, older people from the Lourdes Day Care Centre for the Elderly in Sean Mc Dermott Street and arts professionals, will be the part of a conference on education planned for March 2017 at the DLRMill Theatre in Dundrum South Dublin. The conference hopes to feature speakers from Barnardos, Amnesty International, the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission, the Department of Children and Youth Affairs, the Department of Education and Skills, the Arts Council of Ireland, other policy makers and interested parties.  The conference will explore the theme of appropriate education for young people – looking at its different manifestations thematically and setting it within a global, national and local context.

During the conference students speakers will tell their stories through performances. Their theatre pieces will champion the contribution that young people make to society as young people in their own right and their entitlement to be heard on that basis.

This project will focus on theatre as a tool for raising awareness about issues that matter to young people, specifically around education. The project will also look at how theatre can motivate and move young people to action regarding human rights and issues in education that need to change.

Students stories will hopefully open up a dialogue between policymakers and professionals and will create an opportunity for everyone to ask questions, share experiences, and build connections.

Anna planned to hire artists through the Gaiety School of Acting, to work on the project. By the time Anna secured funding for the project, the lead artist that Anna had hoped we would work with – Liz Tyndall – was not able to commit to the project for the first month. Anna then brought in Gillian Mc Carthy to start the project. Both Liz and Gill are Drama and Theatre Teachers with the Gaiety School of Acting.

Michelle Fallon will work with the artists and 60 students. These students are on dedicated Arts programmes in the College as part of the Junior Cycle programme.

Anna’s team will work for one hour a week with three separate Arts groups. Our classes are one hour long and the project fits nicely into the hour long lessons.

The role of the Partnerships Coordinator / Liaison person for the school

My job is to check in with Michelle to see that she is happy with the way the project is going. My job is also to organise permission letters, transport and whatever timetabling needs emerge for the project, as well as to support Michelle as she works with the artists to create the Manifestos with students.

My role is to liaise with Anna too and make sure that the project aims and objectives reflect and fulfil Junior Cycle curriculum needs as well as other educational needs. In this regard my role is to source cross-curricular links that the project might connect with, particularly in English classes, Civic Social and Political Education (CSPE), Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE) classes and Religion classes.

It is also my job to check in with all participants to see that they are enjoying themselves.

I usually manage the budgets for creative engagement projects in the school with the help of our school administrator Janet Rooney. Thanks to Anna too I don’t have the usual headache of paying the artists as Croke Park Community fund have agreed to pay the grant for the project directly to the GSoA. We have also applied for and received funding from Creative Engagement for the project. Creative Engagement is a Department of Education funded body and therefore the grant we receive from them will need to go directly to the school. Janet will manage the accounts and Michelle and I will decide with Anna, how the money will be spent.

As the project grows it will be my job to manage the calendar and communicate matters with the Principal of the school and inform staff of progress on the project.

I will also help Anna to build an invitation list for the Conference in March.

The role of the Principal

Our Principal Aoife Kelly Gibson is fully supportive of the project and loves the arts and culture. She trusts us to plan and deliver the project. This is important as she allows us great freedom to do the work.

Artists Schools Guidelines

I have asked Anna to ask her team to read the artists schools guidelines to help her team to have a sense of what we expect from the partnership engagement. The Artists Schools Guidelines were initiated by Lorraine Comer during her time in the Arts Council and developed in collaboration with teachers, policy makers, artists and young people. They form the framework for our planning meetings with all partners prior to starting a project in the school.

Garda vetting

The CDETB school we work in requires that all people working with young people in the College must be Garda vetted. This takes time to process so we put the paperwork in train as early as possible once we knew we had the funding for the project. Janet manages this for us.

Funding

Last year Anna along with Michelle Fallon and myself applied for Croke Park Community funding https://crokepark.ie/stadium/community/croke-park-community-fund  and got it, for a 1916 project. The project was a great success

Julianne Savage of the Croke Park Community Fund has kindly supported us for this project too, to the tune of €3000.

Dermot Carney the Director of Creative Engagement at www.creativeengagement.ie/ also funded this project to the tune of €1000. We have been lucky.

How does a school succeed in getting this amount of money for an arts in education initative? 

For years we did creative engagement work without a budget and we built a reputation for doing good work that could be sustained. Then we applied over and over again for funding. We often didn’t succeed. We kept applying. I kept applying. I wrote the applications in my own time because I was passionate about the work I was doing. Sadly the regular school day does not allow time for teachers to spend time on the application process.

I found that by sticking with the application processes I got better at filling out forms and we eventually did succeed in getting funding.

I have learnt over the years to be careful with funding applications, to read carefully the questions that are being asked on the application and to respond appropriately. I learnt to make sure that (a) I could do and really wanted to do what I was promising that we could do (with flexibility for change built into the planning) and (b) that I had the time to manage the project or build in costs for a manager, or be as lucky as we are in Larkin on this project, to find a manager like Anna who takes care of the project as part of her brief as a partner on the project.

Partnership

I found that we need to know who our partners are when we decide to work together and to figure out what they expect from us and from the project as well as what it is we expect from them. I have learnt over the years that we need to work out what our aims and objectives and expected outcomes of the project are before applying for project funding. So often I have found that the partners on a project had different expectations to the ones we had in Larkin and it caused unease as we progressed. I have learnt to be clear and to articulate what we agree that all parties want, to check with the students that it is what they want, to build in the time to meet to discuss how things are going during the project and to address challenges as they arise. Communication is central to good partnership work and sustainable partnerships in education. We did a five year project with the education team at the National Museum of Ireland and I learnt so much about negotiating partners’ wishes, managing budgets and managing expectations. We were fortunate to work with an extraordinary team in education at the Museum, led by Lorraine Comer. The partners on the projects we engaged with over the five years were Poetry Ireland, NCAD, The Curriculum Development Unit, Macnas, Lourdes Day Care Centre for the Elderly, Localise as well as individual artists (Mikel Murfi, Helen Lane, Clare Muireann Murphy, Pete Casby), philanthropists and funders. It was a wonderful project that taught me a lot about how to develop and sustain meaningful partnerships in education for young people and teachers.

Documenting the work

Aghhh! During the planning process, we said we would look into photographing and videoing the work as we went along. We did get all students to sign a permission form to allow us to do this. For Child Protection reasons this is critical.

I forgot about the documentation process in the busy life of school. We will work on this going forward (November 23rd 2016).

Too often we have forgotten to document great work we have done. More accurately we have not had the time to do so. So much of theatre making is written in the sand. That is the nature of theatre work. It is like meditation! It is in the moment that we experience it. However documenting a project visually can provide lovely memories. It can also help with further funding applications. It has helped us in the past to explain models of good practice. It has helped us too to reflect on challenges that emerge.

Kotryna Knystautaite from St Oliver’s Community College and Niamh Woods from Our Lady’s College, Greenhills, along with 10 other students have been working in partnership with the Highlanes Gallery in Drogheda and with the British Council as part of Student Select. The students involved have selected and curated an exhibition, which opens Friday the 25th of November, at 7pm.

Student Blog – No. 1

Nearing the middle of our Transition Year, our art teachers, Kieran Gallagher (St. Oliver’s) and Áine Curran (Our Lady’s College), told us we would be collaborating in the curation of an art exhibition for the Highlanes Gallery, here in Drogheda. Before we started this project, we didn’t know much about what a curator did; how much work and research was involved in creating an exhibition. We were always the artists, but never would we have thought of being curators. To our first few meetings at the Highlanes, we came in filled with curiosity, intrigue and excitement- and these have only intensified coming closer to the final countdown. At the first few meetings, we looked at the British Council’s Collection for artwork that we liked. Then we discussed why we admired these pieces; we spoke of colours, mediums and what the imagery made us feel, think. We made lists of the art we desired and sent it out to the British Council. Unfortunately, some of the artwork was unavailable – but we kept looking until we found other works that we liked.

During the summer, we got the chance to go out to Dublin and visit a few art galleries. We collected our own research on things like how tours were given, lighting and labelling. The information we gathered would be applicable to our exhibition and it was helpful to see how these galleries were run. Dublin City Gallery The Hugh Lane was the first gallery we visited. We had a quick but informative tour as time was limited. Then our enthusiastic tour guide at The Little Museum of Dublin gave us a very interesting tour through Stephen’s Green. The Kerlin Gallery was next on our list. We all agreed on how unique and beautiful the gallery space was. We then went from the Kerlin gallery to another contemporary gallery, The Douglas Hyde Gallery. After that, we visited the RHA, which was filled with compelling works. The National Gallery was displaying the drawings of Leonardo da Vinci at this time which we had the chance to see. Lastly we were invited to the opening of an exhibition in Farmleigh. The trip gave us invaluable experience for what is to come.

When a final list of the artwork was agreed on, we had to link all this artwork to a theme. Luckily, the works we’ve chosen did in fact have numerous themes combining them. We also had the privilege of choosing works from the Drogheda Municipal Art collection. Then we moved on to the important task of naming the exhibition. There was many ingenious suggestions made, but in the end “In Sense Of Place”, we felt defined our whole perception of these artworks. We not only had to unite the artworks to a theme, but also the artists to each other. We did extensive background research on these artists, their work, their style and their art movements.

Now with less than two weeks until showtime; the work has doubled, but also our enthusiasm and passion.

Artist Lucy Hill examines her Death Jars, part of her interactive Children's art exhibition 'paint' at the Linenhall Arts Centre, Castlebar. Photo Alison Laredo

Lucy Hill completed an M.F.A at Winchester School of Arts in Barcelona having previously studied painting at Crawford College of Art in Cork. She has won several awards (George Campbell Memorial Award, Thomas Dammann Award), public art commissions (Wexford & Mayo County Councils) and exhibited in solo and selected group shows (EV+A, Claremorris Open). She has been working with children through a wide variety of projects and organisations for fifteen years. She is in the second year of her practice based PhD at NCAD researching material engagement in early childhood.

Image: Artist Lucy Hill examines her Death Jars, part of her interactive Children’s art exhibition ‘paint’ at the Linenhall Arts Centre, Castlebar. Photo Alison Laredo

Artist in Residence – Virtually There Project – Blog Post No.1

Our project began when we met on our first training day in Portlaoise. We were set a task to create something together using the available materials (markers, paper, tape, pencils). It was a gorgeous sunny day so we opted to take the materials outside. There was a breeze that kept catching the papers we had laid on the ground, so we weighted them with different found objects: sticks, stones, leaves. A woodlouse crawled across one of them and we followed its trail with a pencil line. There were linear cracks in the paving stones. We traced shadows from the strong sunlight. We ‘painted’ with the available moss. We found that the breeze, the light and the ‘wild life’ made us follow the materials. There was an equality to that process between artist, teacher, materials and environment that we both responded to. That idea of ‘Following Materials’ became a clear starting point for our project with the children.

I am very lucky to have a Creative Resource Centre in Castlebar, so I loaded up the car before travelling to Tralee with card, elastic, string, paper, cotton, hessian, plastic, tubing, test jars, tape, lids, bottles, cones, fabric, netting, black board, beads, ribbon, chalk, pestle and mortars, sieves, glues, stones, sticks, wool, felt. As is to be expected, the children responded really well to the explosion of different materials brought into their classroom. The freedom to physically move around the room also played an important part as did the decision to take the entire school day for the project. The materials generated an excitement and flow of possibility and so Carmel and I became very much secondary to the general activity. We were able to help with individual creative engineering problems as they arose and to watch as the materials led the children on a wide and varied series of routes sparked by their own passions and knowledge. When we had finished and were reflecting on the day, the children’s questions and comments were rooted in their own experiences and so we had a really insightful set of statements to think about, which will definitely spark the next sessions.

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Getting to know the children through their working methods with the materials gives a privileged insight into their unique personalities but also for me as a visitor, into their deep bonds as a class group. I usually work with children outside of school environments and so I was really struck by how close and knowing their working relationships are. Also, the introduction of materials that invite exciting ideas rather than particular skills generates an equality that is really interesting to watch. The children all seemed to be on an equal footing, with no-one being selected as ‘the best’ (which may put them under an expectant pressure or hold others in their shadow a little). Everyone got on with their own ideas unconcerned and unintimidated, thanks to the level field introduced by the new materials. Carmel and I were free to check in with each other regularly as to how it was all going, which is a lovely reassuring thing for us as adults that hugely benefits the children by really focusing on and protecting the creative flow. In terms of my relationship with the class, I gratefully accepted all their warm and generous words during our reflection but I’m very aware that the real positivity lies in the natural, exciting entanglements between the materials and the children themselves. I’m really interested to see how it translates or is transformed through the addition of the virtual element next week.

img_2355_editKieran Gallagher is an art teacher in St Oliver’s Community College, Drogheda. He works as head of a large art department. Since moving to St Oliver’s over three years ago he has established connections with the local art gallery, the Highlanes Gallery and has worked on a number of art projects with his students and the Director, Aoife Ruane. Kieran is also a practicing artist and is part of Ormond Studios in Dublin.

 

Art Teacher Blog Post No1

Like all art teachers, the past two weeks have been a productive and busy period. School is well underway; my students and I are well settled into the first term. Apart from the typical art room duties that we have been creatively working on, we had an art trip to ‘Sculpture In Context’ with 56 of our fifth year students, open night, October assessments, exhibition ‘In sense of place’ meetings and organisation of the #startoftheart campaign.

The most interesting project, which I have been working on with a group of fifth year students, is the curation project in collaboration with the Highlanes Gallery, the British Council’s Art Collection, and Our Lady’s College, Drogheda. This project came about as a result of a number of other smaller projects and visits to the Highlanes Gallery. Their Director, Aoife Ruane, approached me last year with the idea of getting students to select and curate an exhibition to coincide with their 10th birthday celebrations. Since May of last year a group of students and myself met in the gallery to start planning the exhibition. The students have been extremely dedicated to the project, meeting three times over the summer holidays and every Thursday after school, for two hours, since the start of term. We are currently in the process of selecting the artwork for the VAI, postcards and posters, so keep an eye out. The exhibition opens on Friday the 25th of November. I will speak more about this project next time.

Thanks to the above project, I have linked with another school in town. They set up a WhatsApp group and we are in the process of organising some sort of event in town to mark the #stateoftheart campaign, which is looking at the Leaving Certificate art curriculum and asking the question, why has art has been forgotten? It seems crazy, especially in a time where such buzz words as creativity and innovation are being used so widely. The main aim of this campaign is to get the attention of the Department of Education, National Council for Curriculum and Assessment and the State Examination Commission to apply gentle pressure on them to implement a new, modern Leaving Cert curriculum; one that address the disconnect between the Leaving Certificate art curriculum and exam and the entry requirements into third level Art and Design colleges. In our school we are going to cover up all the artwork that is displayed throughout the school. For the larger town collaboration project? I will discuss it next time.


!!!! Blog 2 – Third Class Pupils, Scoil Mhichil Naofa, Co. Kildare

Discussion led our project

On our first face to face session with our artist, we had a discussion about nature and mainly the bog. We learned about sphagnum moss. Sphagnum moss is good for the environment as it gives us oxygen. From this discussion on our project became focused on nature

Tunde gave us a booklet which we would add to throughout the project.  In this booklet, we drew our favourite nature place or thing. Many of the children drew woods, forests, trees, rivers, campsites and waterfalls. In this session we encountered our first difficulty by not being allowed to use rubbers. This was tricky as if you made a mistake you couldn’t rub out, so you would have to draw over it or turn it into something different.

 

After we drew our nature places, we wrote 3 words to describe this nature place.

We had a discussion about nature in danger. Sadly we were able to think of lots of places and things in nature which were in danger or in trouble.

Some of our ideas were:





We drew a picture of nature in danger in our booklet. We then chose and wrote three words describing our drawings.

We made nature in danger posters. We used our persuasive writing skills to try and convince people to save our nature places and things.

We liked making our nature booklets as we got to choose what we drew. It was fun to colour and draw in the booklets.

Post by Caoimhe, Igor and Fabian

Nature in Danger Poster - Third Class Pupils, Scoil Mhichil Naofa, Co. Kildare

 

!!!! Blog 1 – Third Class Pupils, Scoil Mhichil Naofa, Co. Kildare

The beginning…

Our project started in March during lockdown. We met our artist Tunde for the first time online. We did two sessions on video call on Google Classroom. Tunde showed us examples of her work and we came up with some ideas of what we might like to do in our project.

We completed our first art task at home. We drew a map of a place when we were at home. Some children drew real maps and some drew imaginary maps. Some ideas include : A map of school, A fairytale map, Memory map of a holiday in Czech, Inside a house, Japan, France, A layout of a ship.


When we got back to school we continued our project in person. We looked at real maps of counties, towns, places, countries. We looked at different symbols on the maps and tried to figure out what they represented. We listed all of our findings on the board.

We drew a map showing our journeys from home to school. We taped a long strip of white paper to our desk. The paper was cash register roll normally used for receipts. We had to draw everything we saw on our way to school. We choose three colours and we only coloured the things on the map which contained those colours. We recorded the sounds that we heard on our journey to school on our map by drawing symbols. We did the same thing for our other senses, what we smelled, touched and tasted.

We enjoyed using lots and lots of long receipt paper. We loved adding our senses to the map as this was something we had not done before.  We found this tricky at the beginning because we had to try and remember what we experienced each time but we figured it out.

Post By Noelle, Megan and Linards


 

 

 

!!!! Blog 4 – Anna Newell, Theatre Maker for Early Years & Children with Complex Needs

And Now….?

The unforeseen adventures that were created by being forced to re-invent, re-imagine, to find ways to re-connect with our audiences at this time of distance and disconnection had a profound impact on me.

It became clear that, for some of our audience, taking shows directly to where they are, taking the flexibility of the shows to a whole new level was what really worked for them.

So this year, inspired by that adventure and that discovery, I’m making a new show called SWEET DREAMS ARE MADE OF THIS that can play anywhere. A garden, around a hospital bed, outside a school, in a hospice – wherever makes most sense of our audience. It’ll be a tiny intimate show with just two performers, a gentle magical soundtrack and two gorgeous costumes created by leading Irish fashion designer, Rebecca Marsden who works with responsive wearable tech fashion – costumes that light up with the connection we make with our audience, costumes that transform an ordinary space into an extraordinary moment. The development is funded by Wicklow Arts Office and will happen this July and September in creative consultation with St Catherine’s School, County Wicklow families and with St Catherine’s Hospice, hopefully leading to a longer tour next year to my national Network For Extraordinary Audiences.

And right now, we’re on week 3 of an 8 week tour of GROOVE – a chilled out 70’s inspired happening for children and young people with complex needs, full of immersive video and live harmony singing. In masks of course.

It’s a wonderful co-incidence that for GROOVE (conceived in 2019 so well pre-pandemic) that there’s such an overwhelming visual element – even with one side of the tent missing in order to allow sufficient ventilation – the combination of the immersive video art and the live singing to a hypnotic soundtrack is so rich and all around that it has an energy and a presence that, whilst not replacing the usual tactile offers that we might make, has a welcome viscerality.

I’ve been describing GROOVE as a happening – I remember reading the definition of a 60’s/70’s happening – in broad terms it’s about an environment being created and then what happens is totally dependent on who comes and what they bring.  That’s the space and the adventure that I wanted to create with my audience for GROOVE.

I hardly dare hope that we’ll make it through all of the 8 weeks all over the country.  I’m grateful for each day and for the incredible welcome that the schools have given and are continuing to give us in what must be the hardest year they’ve ever had.    They truly are extraordinary audiences.

Throughout these last 18 months, the power of human connection has continued to be my lodestar and it, and my audiences, keeps me putting one foot in front of the other as we move forward as best we can.

!!!! Blog 3 – Anna Newell, Theatre Maker for Early Years & Children with Complex Needs

Respond. Re-Imagine. Re-Connect.

The next chapter of my theatre adventures last summer was a re-imagining (or in fact three different re-imaginings) of my show SING ME TO THE SEA – created in 2018, SING ME TO THE SEA is a blissful watery adventure for children & young people with complex needs full of harmony singing, tiny waterfalls, shiny globes and rainbow fish that was created to be performed in hydropools with 3 performers and three audience members, each with an adult companion – with everyone in the water! [https://www.annanewell.ie/work/sing-me-to-the-sea/}

I’ve always said that the heart of my work is that it is flexible, that it is responsive, that it is nuanced moment by moment by our audience.  And in Summer 2020, I had to really walk the walk with that one and take that flexibility and responsiveness to a whole new level.

So, with huge support (and flexibility!) from our funders and venue partners, we created a dry-land at-home version of the show.  And we hired a campervan.  For three weeks in August 2020, we drove around Dublin, Meath, Carlow and Wicklow, taking the show directly to families in their own gardens and driveways.  We sang in the rain, we were stared at by milkmen, curious neighbour children gathered – and we were given the extraordinary opportunity to connect with our audiences where they were.

Later in the summer, we took this dry-land version to Baboró International Festival and performed the show in the magical setting of the gardens of the Ardilaun Hotel.  And although they were only a few weeks into what must have been the hardest term of their lives, the special schools came in their droves – not only did we sell out the schools’ performances but we had to add more!

And, then, astonishingly, the wonderful pool staff at St Gabriel’s School & Centre called us up and said they’d like to give it a go.  So, singing in masks and visors and working within AquaPhysio Guidelines, we were back in the water.

The unforseen adventures that were created by being forced to re-invent, re-imagine, to find ways to re-connect with our audiences at this time of distance and disconnection had a profound impact on me.

And it inspired a whole new show for 2021.  More of that in my final blog…

!!!! Blog 2 – Anna Newell, Theatre Maker for Early Years & Children with Complex Needs

How Spiderman Inspired Me Last Summer

In 2019 (which now feels like a decade ago), I made a new show for early years audiences called BigKidLittleKid.  It’s a wordless physical theatre piece for ages 3-6 years about the complicated world of sibling rivalry.  It opened at The Ark for Dublin Theatre Festival and toured to the Mermaid, the Civic and Draiocht.

Through the summer of 2020, I grew surer and surer about my commitment to finding a way to keep a live connection with my very particular audiences.

During what had become my weekly check-in with my wee brother, he was talking about some guy somewhere in England who’d dressed up as Spiderman and spidey-ed his way through his local streets to the utter delight of the children forced to stay at home in these first shut-in weeks of the first lockdown.

I’ve always been interested in making the ordinary extraordinary and believe that if you can literally change the landscape, you make visible the possibility of change and of hope.

So I hatched a plan.

Thanks to the Ready Steady Show programme run by my main producing partner the Civic, a wee pot of money was found to create a PopUp Play version of BigKidLittleKid which we played on a tennis court outside a summer camp, in a massive hall inside another summer camp and outside a nursery.

My favourite picture of the whole summer was the picture of the one pod sitting watching the extraordinary adventure that unfolded in their tiny playground with the second pod who weren’t allowed to share the same space as them, determinedly pressing their noses against the window intently watching the entire show.

For us as artists, being out there with our audiences again, hearing that very particular laughter of children delighted with a new story, a new connection, was extraordinary.  Our hearts soared and I’d be lying if I said we didn’t shed a tear or two of hard-won joy and hope.

 

!!!! Blog 1 – Anna Newell, Theatre Maker for Early Years & Children with Complex Needs

What. How. Why.

I remember really vividly where I was on 12th March 2020. I was visiting the cast at the end of their 3rd week of a 10 week tour of my show for babies ‘I AM BABA’ and our tiny gorgeous tent was set up in a rather grand hotel ballroom in Trim. We came out of the third show to the news of the announcement of lockdown. We threw the set and costumes back in my storage facility without masses of care – as we knew it was only going to be a couple of weeks.

I know.

For the next 2 months, I was lost, desperately trying to think what to do and how to do it.

And then I worked out that it wasn’t about the what or the how but rather about the why.

When creating ‘BLISS’, the first show I made specifically for audiences of children with complex needs, I was doing some creative consultation in a classroom and over the course of these few days these children revealed to me what I think theatre is – one human being connecting with another. That’s it. And that my job is to create the optimum conditions for that connection.

And for my audiences, the optimum conditions overwhelmingly are that it’s a live experience.

The work has always had at its very heart the live responsive connection and an inherent and crucial ability to nuance and change from moment to moment.  And I realised what I had to do was to take this built-in flexibility to a whole new level…

Thanks to the incredible support of funders, venues, audiences and artists and more than a little bit of luck, I managed to tour work live for 8 weeks in the summer, autumn and winter of 2020.

And in my next couple of blogs, I’ll tell you the how and the what.

 

!!!! Blog 4 – Jennifer Buggie, Teacher & Lead Facilitator on the TAP Design Team

Growing during Closing

October, falling leaves and creeping numbers. It was a month of growing in a season of closing. My colleague Ciara Heffernan led our school approach to Creative Clusters within our theme, Connecting and Reconnecting. This creative collaboration between Cluster Schools is an exciting new dimension to our arts programme. The extension of the Creative Schools programme with Associate Gabi McGrath has enabled us to develop creative partnerships with artists from a range of different disciplines. Early Years Music Specialist Nuala Kelly returned to complete a partnership with Mrs. Cushen and Ms. Heffernan, while a range of classes from Junior Infants to 2nd Class will work with multidisciplinary fine artist Francesca Hutchinson, dancer and visual artist Kate Wilson and storyteller Thomas McCarthy. It is a privilege to work with and support artists in the current climate.

Teacher Artist Partnership would like to wish all our summer course participants well as they engage in their TAP residency and we look forward to sharing in the work. Our Design Tutor Team are extremely proud of the work and achievements of our National TAP Coordinator Dr. Katie Sweeney, Tralee Education Centre Director, Terry O Sullivan and Administrator Máire Vieux in securing Erasmus + funding to develop our programme on a European level with partner countries Serbia, Austria, Netherlands and Greece. Within this initiative our Design Team have been working on a series of mini-creative moments called Take Ten with TAP which we look forward to sharing with you soon…watch this space!

Thank you, Portal, for this space to share. Thank you, reader, for reading.

!!!! Blog 3 – Jennifer Buggie, Teacher & Lead Facilitator on the TAP Design Team

It’s lovely to do something with our hands, other than sanitise.

Returning to school felt different this year and the children were wonderful. They marched down hallways leaving parents at the gate, washed hands and met the new school measures with their best efforts to work together and keep each other safe. Our school leadership did everything in their power to make children, staff and parents feel as safe and comfortable as possible in school during these uncertain times.

However, and undeniably, Covid 19 has disrupted the familiar flow of school rhythms by adding its own disjointed systems of distancing, washing and vigilance. But the primary focus of our work remains as it has always been, to meet the deepest needs of the children in our care through education and with love. From lower numbers of referrals to Tusla, to a decline in educational attainment for some children, school closures have had a detrimental effect. In my reopening, arts-based learning and the role of embodiment has been crucial to connecting mind, body, and spirit in the classroom. This is especially relevant in Infants, where the teacher’s physical proximity and comfort of touch has been severely limited.

Teaching is about listening, to the body and the words. This September, children have been communicating. From a child who needs to run at full tilt for an entire PE lesson, to a quiet daily request “Teacher, will you read us a story?”. Though I always do, the request is about reassurance and meeting a need. In the absence of a hug or handhold, I have looked to the arts to affirm the place of comfort, grounding, and reassurance. We have used music, dance, visual arts, yoga, stories and meditation, concentrating on the sensory nature of experiences, objects and materials. Twisting, cutting, playing, pasting, moving and focusing, it has been lovely to do something with our hands other than sanitise.

Image copyright: Jennifer Buggie

!!!! Blog 2 – Jennifer Buggie, Teacher & Lead Facilitator on the TAP Design Team

“I believe that two lines of poetry can save a life”, Paula Meehan 

As a teenager my wonderful English teacher Ms. Meade guided us with heart and skill through the Leaving Certificate poetry curriculum. In subsequent college years, the melancholy, timeless glory of John Keats poems gave solace, comfort, and a lexicon of poetic potential to my growing adult mind and experience. In fact, his anthology became a strange amalgam of thoughts, diary, and scrap book throughout my college years.

Just before Laois went into lockdown, I had the deep, nostalgic pleasure of returning to a house on the coast built by a dear friend’s Grandfather. While standing in his beautifully eclectic functional cobbled kitchen, I listened to a John Bowman interview with John Hume, where he spoke of influential teachers in his young adult life and their impact on the man he became. My friend’s Grandpa passed away in my 3rd year at university. On return home to Stradbally, I found my Keats anthology and there with “On the Sea” was a dedication to Mr. Rafter, a man who shared his home and life perspective with a granddaughter’s friend. It was a powerful blend of comforting memory and poetry. The power and confluence of memory and art.

It packed a punch, because in June I had a miscarriage. Denise Blake, my TAP colleague, and friend introduced me to Paula Meehan’s a most wonderful phrase; “I believe that two lines of poetry can save a life” (www.irelandchairofpoetry.org; www.deniseblake.com). I never really thought poetry was for me, I certainly never expected to write a blog about it, but in June nothing else would fit. It helped. All the learning, loving, yearning, and feeling given by the poetry of others heaved my pain on to the page. John Keats never had a miscarriage, but he knew about loss. The poetry of others gives a window to their soul and a template to the lived human experience that sustains through sharing.

When we, teachers, artists, and humans, give arts-experiences and heartfelt connections, we can never know or ever fully document the possibility and power of that exchange. So, this blog stands in defence of, and to champion the unknowable outcome of arts education to a life being lived.

!!!! Blog 1 – Jennifer Buggie, Teacher & Lead Facilitator on the TAP Design Team

Becoming and Understanding Through Partnership…Teachers, Artists, Children

“Art is a fundamental human enterprise…In making art we make ourselves. In understanding art, we understand ourselves”

(Council of National Cultural Institutions, 2006)

A few years ago, Jane O’Hanlon from Poetry Ireland shared the quote above at a Teacher-Artist Partnership planning meeting. It nestled into my soul and over years bore unexpected fruit in unanticipated times. March 2020 was both unexpected and unanticipated.

As a Primary Teacher in Holy Family Junior School, Portlaoise I had been enjoying the roll-out of our 2nd year with Creative Schools, planning a Teacher-Artist Partnership (TAP) Residency with Senior School and visual artist Caroline Conway  and asking the Arts in Education Portal if I might blog the process.

Then…global pandemic.

Teaching and learning shoved online, Dojo launched, and Teams formed. Some school relationships wound tighter while others were jettisoned into the unknown…uncontactable, yet still loved and worried about. In the connected isolation of primary teaching in a pandemic, during the seismic refocusing of the Black Lives Movement, the personal and professional values that are lived through teaching felt more important that ever. In this context our TAP Design Team began to rewrite our summer training programme for delivery online.

TAP Online 2020 was controversial for us to commit to as a concept. We strive for a deeply creative, reflective and connecting style of professional learning that hinges on face-to-face interaction. Where we lost this in-room exchange for artists and teachers, we gained a most incredible, technicolour window into the creativity, emotionality, and deep-commitment of teaching professionals to working in artistic partnership with and for the children they teach. The artist-teacher partnerships of TAP 2020/21 will be led by our community to process pain, heal hearts, and build new identities through creativity, connection and love-in-the-arts for the children of Ireland.

“School should foster an environment that allows children access to explore their identity in the sanctuary of ART – I aim to do this in my classroom.” James O’Donnell TAP Participant 2020

!!!! Blog 4 – Kate Wilson, Artist & Lead Facilitator on the TAP Design Team

Online collaborations, TAP’s new online course and ‘busting the myth of the solo artist’

I have been very lucky over the past weeks to have the company of two exceptional dancers, joining me virtually as part of my ongoing research, looping embodied movement and drawing practices. I have been surprised at the level of connection that is felt in these sessions despite the lack of real physical presence and the dodgy internet connections!

Taking time with discussions and reflections along with the moving, writing and drawing are essential parts of the research and perhaps it is this multiplicity of audio and visual modes that has helped to bridge the virtual gap.

Having this research alongside the Magnetise Project, ‘A call for Home’ has been mutually beneficial, with many cross overs emerging. The shift in dynamic from group to one to one has also brought important insights for my virtual platform collaborative practice.

Now that the last of the 360 cameral equipment for the project has finally arrived it is great to be at the stage of exploring this new potential for our collected video works and live interactions.

The last couple of weeks have also been busy ones for the TAP (Teacher Artist Partnership) design team. In particular, for the two members who took the helm and within a very short timeframe have created a fantastic online version of the TAP CPD summer course. Next week we will run the course in its online format for the first time. We are looking forward to the live aspects and forums, and to interacting and assisting participants on their journey through the modules. As part of the course I will host a live dance session mid week and was delighted have the opportunity recently to create a short video with one of my long term collaborators, artist Isolde Carmody. The video is a reflection on arts and diversity and will be featured in the course. Embracing diversity in arts and education, understanding the inherent collaborative nature of practice, and in Isolde’s words ‘busting the myth of the solo artist’, all feel as vital as ever to keep to the fore, in todays wider sociopolitical context.

Art is Life by Kate Wilson and Isolde Carmody

!!!! Blog 3 – Kate Wilson, Artist & Lead Facilitator on the TAP Design Team

Finding rhythm in life and work and remembering John McGahern

Whilst the Magnetise project is blossoming online with added excitement about our first order for VR equipment this week and a new online project with RYCP just beginning, I am taking the opportunity granted by a slower pace to reflect on some of the fundamental shifts in my own life and practice.

Virtual Duets - March 2020

Virtual Duets – March 2020

I find it hard to think of a colleague who has not in recent years expressed a wish for more time, and perhaps particularly those of us that are both artists and parents.

Lately busy has looked very different for many of us. For me there has been no driving kids to school and later on to classes. No traveling to schools near or far for residencies, or to arts centres or arts offices for meetings. No trips to London for MA modules, and no trips to Glasgow to look at accommodation and courses with my eldest daughter. And whilst time seemed to expand in the first couple of weeks, recently it’s quickly filled with domestic and family time. Lunch has become an event rather than a sometimes forgotten extra. Baking bread all part of the reduced shopping trips and growing vegetables has presented itself as essential. Dealing with the new shifts and at times struggling to find the time I want for my practice it’s still a case of exploring where the balance lies.

These last weeks, I have a sense of returning to a forgotten rhythm. A working life here in the north west in the late 90’s, before family and before the Celtic Tiger. The rhythm and pattern of my days relating more to the season and weather than schools and institutions. Living and working simply, and taking inspiration from the land in a way that felt not unlike the surrounding local farmers, back before the boom.
I was commissioned by the council to paint John McGahern at that time. A beautiful and generous man, who gave up the best part of a week to sit in the small cow shed that was my studio, each day insisting on taking me out to lunch. In a documentary I watched sometime later he talked about how since returning to Leitrim his days were divided between writing and farming. Four hours writing in the morning was enough and then his time was with the land and the animals. In a sense an artist never really stops working and when I think of Mcgahern’s afternoons I think about how his work lived and breathed this land. I think about time to process and his afternoons being a focus and a contemplation. A focus I was finding at that time having left the big city for a rural existence. Perhaps now there is again opportunity to reconnect with the rhythm and pace of this beautiful land and from here come closer to our own patterns in life and work and the importance of balancing activity with contemplation whilst knowing it’s not necessarily about returning and but a reimagining of a way we’ve long known.

The Magnetise Project is currently highlighted on The Creative Ireland Programme website.

www.creativeireland.gov.ie/en/news/magnetise/

!!!! Frank Monahan Architect & Cultural Producer – Blog No. 4

Frank is an Irish designer /cultural producer with an interest in film, the arts & architecture. His professional practice includes the design of buildings, & set design for film/television production. He holds a BA in Architecture, 2008 and a Professional Diploma in Architecture, 2012 both from London Metropolitan University. Prior to this he recieved a B.Des. in Production Design for Film/Television, from IADT. This background has informed his approach to practice, which is collaborative, interdisciplinary and site specific.Interested in the critical potential of design he established Architecture at the Edge in 2017, for which he devised and curated the events programme. He produced an outdoor installation, ‘Ghost Chapel’ for Galway International Arts Festival 2018 in collaboration with the Bartlett School of Architecture.

Growing our Connections – Blog 4

Having taught the National Architects in Schools Initiative for the past three years I find it can still be quite a daunting task when faced with a new group of students.

Many of the students don’t understand the value of their built environment because they have never seen the benefits it can offer them.

It’s difficult for students to learn without experiencing connections as to the concepts we teach them. This can be achieved through providing both context and relevance. Without that connection there is no interest, and interest always precedes meaningful and authentic learning. So it’s essential that we are making strong learning connections to help them develop the thinking habits they need to succeed.

Schools are comprised of the people in the community. Coming from outside it’s important to understand the community your students are a part of. Mountbellew is a quiet rural market town 45km from Galway on the N63 to Roscommon. Once the home of the Grattan-Bellew family, famous Galway parliamentarians during the 18th and 19th centuries. The former demesne is now a delightful wooded area of forest walks and picnic areas, filled with interesting historical items.

Upon my first visit to Mountbellew, whilst seeking out a connection to the place, I was drawn down an inviting avenue of beech trees where I was immediately taken by the sight of a 7m high wall, the enclosure to an extensive eighteenth century Walled Garden which was once part of the large Bellew estate.  For a century and a half this walled garden was used in the manner of all such Victorian/Edwardian gardens, although simply because of its size, more than household fruit and vegetables were probably grown.

I learned that the long term aim of the local heritage group here is to rejuvenate, conserve and develop the 18th century walled garden. Developing this existing heritage resource will provide a new amenity for the area. It will also complement other local heritage and recreation assets helping attract visitors to the area stimulating rural tourism.

From the outset I knew it was important to set a clear and engaging agenda with the students and so by way of introduction find something in their common experiences to which the lesson can be attached. Here in the walled garden is a space to explore, walk, discover and feel inspired by all it has to offer; a reminder that as times change natures story goes on. To function as a place to grow food, for pleasure and wellbeing.

Before we launched into making any propositions it was important to give time to the students and allow them articulate their ideas. Topics were selected for the students to share in groups. Investigation into the history and functions of various types of garden generated one starting point for beginning transformational change such as should its use be as a kitchen garden distinct from a decorative one. The many ways we experience gardens were discussed. The pleasure garden, the kitchen garden, the memorial garden and/or as a place to re-connect with nature. A presentation by the local heritage group committee members was followed the following week with a guided site visit.

In speculating on its potential one of the students reminded us that the parents of Anna Kriegel had planted a white cherry blossom at her favorite spot and unveiled a bench which bears an inscription with her name. Another then talked of the seat under a tree at the Mountbellew walled garden which ladies once sat how they might propose to do the same. The sense of a connection to place and how that can relate to our own experience of the world underpinned the project. This is about learning how everything is interconnected and interdependent. Understanding the relationship between things can help people see and understand their community in different ways. That association with people and place is fundamental.

Students learn by exposure to real life examples and their experiences and observations of these examples greatly accelerates their learning. Part of this task required the students to ‘Look Locally’ i.e. Find clear links between the lessons and the things that are transpiring in the local community, and even get them actively involved with community individuals. It’s about teaching and learning that is focused on student centered inquiry.

A second field trip was organized, with a group assigned to conduct an on-site survey which would inform the task of making of a 1:100 site model.

Making the model allowed the re-imaging of the walled garden to take shape. The resulting design links a series of new public spaces/ rooms and reuses an existing building as a community hub / cafe to give purpose and a variety of gathering places to the center of garden.

The aim here was to create space for every young person to be at the center of co-designing their own future, community spaces, projects and campaigns. To give voice of the student and allow them give that voice back to their community.

In working with the students like this I hope that it will stimulate them to become actively involved and engaged in shaping their local built environments and landscapes. Place-based education promotes learning that is rooted in what is local—the unique history, environment, culture, economy, literature, and art of a particular place—and it promotes a place-specific, sustainable approach to living, working and playing in our 21st century rural communities. The main objective is to attract interest and support from the community at large and to help re-educate ourselves about the importance of sustainable and healthy living.

Young people need a space where they can be unafraid to explore. As a result, the sense of place created by a village’s cultural heritage links directly to a community’s sense of identity, which can ultimately enhance people’s overall sense of being and belonging and quality of life. The walled garden at Mountbellew offers this. They need to live it, grow with it, tend to it. For them, it can be a space of hope and promise:  if we put in the right effort and intention just about growing our connection to nature, it is essentially growing our connection to each other.

!!!! Blog 2 – Kate Wilson, Artist & Lead Facilitator on the TAP Design Team

A Call for Home

Magnetise 2020 and collaborative practice in lockdown

In these unnerving times of isolation, connecting through collaborative projects will be an important life line for many artists. And although at times worries may override our ability to work at our best, the possibility to be together, to keep working, inspiring each other and reflecting together may well turn out to be even more important than pasta and toilet roll!

I have spent some time in the last few days considering the possibilities and challenges in this new climate for some of my ongoing projects. As an artist who has continued to embrace the sensorily rich materiality of charcoal and fabric and paint, has veered a little shy of technology and whose performance practice often involves contact dance forms, I find myself looking squarely at the important role online technology will now take going forward. An example is the Magnetise Project. This project, which was selected for both local and national awards last year, has to date centred around week long residencies and workshop periods where the internationally based artists and local community groups have collaborated in a combination of professional development and community based practice. We are delighted to have secured the funding to continue the work this year and build on the existing relationships and themes. The project investigates the potential of renewed attention to gravity, through somatic movement, sound and drawing practices as a means deepening our connections to landscape.

At the end of 2019 we began developing the next phase, ‘Magnetise, a call for home’. This title, (increasingly poignant in the current climate), reflects an interest to explore the connections not just between ourselves and landscape but relationships between land and identity, and the idea of being at ‘at home’; in our body, our community and environment. The six dance artists collaborate with participants from two of the community groups this year, (three adult performers who are wheelchair users and three youth dancers) towards the creation of a joint performance. For now all work will happen remotely and a final performance space may take the form of a split screen video rather than theatre. We will explore the potential of zoom for discussion and workshop facilitation and the website for sharing and reflecting. We will also explore the use of VR sets and cameras for live streamed and filmed work, combining layering and real time interaction.

For now keeping connected in meaningful and creative ways feels as important as ever, as does deepening connections with home and land. Magnetise, like other projects, will, I hope offer a frame to keep a group together and to keep collaboratively making. To read more about Magnetise visit www.undercurrentdancefilmtheatre.com/magnetise

Image copyright: Kate Wilson

!!!! Blog 1 – Kate Wilson, Artist & Lead Facilitator on the TAP Design Team

Diversity and Every Duck is Different

In October last year I was invited to attend the Europe in Perspective conference in Dortmund with Dr Katie Sweeny and the TAP (Teacher Artist Partnership) design team.

Teacher-Artist Partnership CPD focuses on enabling teachers and artists to jointly develop their understanding, expertise and creativity in ‘arts in education’ work with children and young people. The initiative was developed under the Arts in Education Charter and has run since 2015 and is now delivered each year first week of July in Education Centers under the Creative Ireland Programme. To date in excess of 1,000 teachers and Artists have been trained under TAP CPD in Ireland. There is now a big interest at EU and international level on Teacher-Artist partnership as a model for enhancing Arts education in Schools.

The conference in Dortmund, ‘Every Duck is Different, Challenging our perspectives on Europe and Culture’ was the final conference/ training in the Transnational Training on Diversity and Cultural Learning.

(For more information and great resources visit their site! europe-in-perspective.eu. )

This conference was developed to explore how diversity can be addressed by arts and education practitioners. The two days were packed with thought provoking group activities and presentations from speakers including Dr Ipek Demir and Szilvia Németh. Two young activist groups, Europe Fiction and Polotics of Hope, had been invited to close the conference. The fresh perspective, intelligence and passion of their interventions added an incredible further dimension.

I’ve been thinking about how I address diversity in my own practice. Cultural diversity is increasingly part of the rich fabric of our communities and schools, and it is important to keep checking in with established frameworks and methods, being conscious of the need to be flexible in this context. Diversity is about recognising that ‘every duck is different’. That we support each other to grow through recognition of the strength of our individuality, and our ability to think critically and independently. To fully enjoy difference, finding interest and inspiration in this so that we can move towards a world where not just cultural, but also intellectual and physical difference is truly supported and celebrated.

It was great to bring some of the learning and inspiration from the conference to the TAP lead facilitators up skilling day in February. Many of the lead partners have a new residency this year which is a fantastic opportunity to keep bringing the theory in to practice.

An exciting development for TAP since the conference is the creation of international dimension to TAP, (ITAP). Building on relationships with new partners from the conference, we are in the process of developing a European programme of shared practice and exchange.

!!!! Guest Blogger: Liz Coman, Assistant Arts Officer Dublin City Council & VTS Facilitator – Blog No.4

Liz Coman is an Assistant Arts Officer with Dublin City Council.  She is a certified Visual Thinking Strategies facilitator with VTS/USA and has completed training to coaching level.  She is responsible for monitoring the quality of Erasmus+ Permission to Wonder – an EU project for Dublin City Council that is testing the VTS training pathway with educators in classroom and gallery settings. Liz has a background in History of Art and Museum Studies and fifteen years experience in designing innovative projects that support arts, education and learning.  She has led trainings in enquiry led approaches to mediating artwork for visual art facilitators in The Ark, A Cultural Centre for Children, The National Gallery of Ireland, and The Turner Prize, Derry and offers ongoing mentorship for individual artists, arts educators and teachers.

“Observation is more than one thing –  we use our eyes to analyse an image, and we also use thinking, and our senses and emotions to interpret what we are seeing” – Erasmus+ Permission to Wonder  – Blog 4

A Conversation with Primary School Teacher, Jane Malone

For this fourth and final blog about Erasmus+ Permission to Wonder, it is timely for me to reflect on some of our learnings from the VTS training pathway for educators.  Over 150 educators, from classroom and museum settings, were supported to access the VTS training pathway with VTS/USA. This happened, through a partnership approach that allowed a range of partners across local, national and European to fund a unique training programme.

The research evaluation framework for Erasmus+ Permission to Wonder will capture the ‘impact’ of the VTS training pathway on educators training and practicing VTS in schools and museums across.  Findings will be presented by VTS Nederland at our Erasmus+ Permission to Wonder Conference on 21 April 2020 in Dublin Castle.

Between now and then, we are considering what is next for our work with VTS.  What are the existing mainstream teacher and artist training pathways that could offer support to the VTS training pathway?  How do we hold on to the value of  peer to peer learning across a the mixed cohort of educators – artist, art educators, secondary (art) teacher and primary school classroom teachers? How do we support mixed groupings of trainees to continue to access enjoyable and deep VTS learning experiences about art, learning, classroom and community where every individual voice is valued and heard?

The cross-disciplinary potential for VTS is striking.  Art is the starting point and the transferrable skills for the trained VTS educator and for the participating group become more and more obvious with regular practice.  For me, the most obvious win for VTS practice is within the primary school or early years classroom.  In these classrooms, multiple subject areas sit alongside each other, but objectives for building patterns of learning, thinking and communicating are overarching priorities. This is approach to learning is more and more mirrored in the modern workplace.  Artists, lawyers, farmers, employees and entrepreneurs across all disciplines must show flexibility in their thinking and their approach to running their business/getting their product out there/meeting their client needs. Problem solving and team communication skills are key in order to do that.  Teams must use their observational skills and thinking skills in tandem with a bigger picture approach which is supported by being open to differing points of view, to allow for benefit from other people’s experience along with their own.

Below, Jane Malone, a primary school teacher from St Catherine’s NS, Donore Avenue, talks about how VTS has strengthened her practice in facilitating students’ learning; how this practice is a tool for communication skills, such as deep listening and respectful discussion;  how it is a tool for opening students up to their own thinking processes to support how they learn, access knowledge and problem solve; how this practice can transfer from art, to maths, to science to SPHE, to oral language development, to project development.

What do you find VTS brings to your practice as a primary teacher?

In a primary school classroom of today, we are facilitators of learning, more so than the traditional idea of teachers. VTS definitely highlighted to me the skill of being a facilitator. You facilitate the thinking skills you want them to have or the writing skills you want them, but where they take it is theirs, as long as it’s appropriate.

I find our VTS sessions are a great tool for demonstrating and practising active listening.   When someone is making their observation, and when I’m paraphrasing back, they are all listening. Their hand isn’t up with their point, it’s a shared listening experience where they can see what the speaker is seeing. That has really helped in terms of general classroom management, but also for turn taking in terms of respectful conversation.  This is something that can’t be explicitly taught. At the same time, it permeates all the other lessons, because we all get so used to the process.

I also find our VTS sessions very inclusive, because it’s not about ability, it’s about the picture or the piece of art that you were looking at, and ‘my opinion’ is not the rightopinion, it may vary very differently to what ‘your opinion’ is. It’s accessing art on all levels for all children of all abilities, not just for the ‘arty’ children or the people who like that piece of art.  It takes how art used to be untouchable, it was in galleries, behind frames, it’s opening it up to multiple possible interpretations.

For me, VTS impacts all the curriculum areas, particularly the language elements and the social and emotional aspect of things as well. I use it with ‘Number Talks’, and with anything I’m doing in SESE where I’m facilitating project-based learning and they’re determining where they’re going to take the project. VTS fits well in particular, with the New Language Curriculum, with Irish and English, and how it describes the role of paraphrasing the students comment, that no comment is incorrect, but the paraphrase back is the teaching and learning moment. The children are becoming more aware of how I am teaching them, more familiar with the paraphrasing process, and this gives them the confidence to make the comment, in a language lesson, without worrying about being right or wrong.

What have you noticed happening in your work in the classroom with VTS?

The group I have this year is sixth class. I had them in fourth class, when I started practicing VTS in the classroom. So this year, when I do VTS with the children, I begin a session by talking with them about the broad concept of thinkingthat happens when we do VTS – ‘what is observing?’ We talk about using our eyes, and the role of listening. We go deeper with an art image and talk about how we use our senses to observe, and also how our emotional response informs our thinking.

I began this year’s science curriculum with an exercise where we took a roll of Sellotape and passed it around the room. Each child had to make an observational comment about it, as it was passed from person to person. The reason why I blended VTS with this exercise, is because in VTS with art images, you are naturally talking about story, setting, materials, bringing in previous experience and knowledge. So, in this Sellotape exercise, I was really conscious that it can push them to build more sophisticated language for what they are describing.  I keep my paraphrasing conditional and label the thinking processes so that the children can recognise that their thinking processes can transfer from the VTS exercise we do with art, to this exercise, which is more about introducing scientific language for observation. It’s a really successful exercise because you can hear them talking about texture of the Sellotape, using language to describe it based on their senses, describing it’s shape based on their knowledge of maths, making metacognitive statements that are bringing information from other bodies of knowledge.
I see that this is how I am going to bring my VTS practice forward.  In the classroom, I’m trying to create an atmosphere of STEAM versus STEM.  VTS is one of the methodologies that supports me to do this.  I use mind maps and Elklan (a process to meet the speech, language and communication needs of children) with topics where we build vocabulary and language. I find VTS coming into play more for the more technical curriculum subject areas such as the literacy skills of breaking down a language, looking at and attempting maths problem solving, and also for science.

How important do you think that silence at the beginning to observe is?

Very. But we do that in another form in our ‘number talks’ as well, so you put up your number sentence and then you literally wait. It’s very hard when you’re initially doing it as a teacher, to wait long enough, standing in silence is quite difficult. Because we had been doing it in ‘number talks’, I was then able to marry it, so I give them quite a bit of time. It does occur to me each time I do it “I wonder how long everybody else gives?” Sherry Parrish is the number talks guru, so if you watched one of her videos you’d understand the similarities. It’s “how would you do this?”, “how did you come to your conclusions?”, “now, tell the rest of the class how you got that answer or why you went that way” or “what does everybody else think of the way X did that sum?”. So again, it’s similar a similar process of supporting thinking and social learning.

Can you recall a favourite VTS Image Discussion?

One of my favourite VTS sessions was when I was practicing on the Permission to Wonder training in Helsinki.  I was looking at the image for the first time and not sure where it would go with the group.  There were many different interpretations of the image from individuals and so I had to really concentrate on my paraphrasing.  It showed me that my paraphrasing was really working well for me, I was hearing as I was speaking. It was really challenging, but there seemed to be a flow. I remember this as I learned so much from it.

Another one that sticks out in my mind, with sixth class last year, they kept on trying to identify the images as being staged. ‘Oh this has been deliberately set up as though it was in the 1960s and it was deliberately provocative because….’ – they were really cynical about the image and it felt like there was an inflexibility of their engagement with it.  They were more about creating the backstory about why the artist did it, than observing what it was in front of them. I found that really interesting.

One other one, was a picture of a woman in a subway surrounded by a lot of men. She is to the foreground, and one of the children that has anxiety identified it as her experiencing great anxiety and nobody around her knowing it. So that kind of projecting their own emotional states onto the images we are looking at, I find that really interesting.

It sounds like for you, in a VTS image discussion you are observing the ‘thinking’ going on – either your own thinking or the students thinking?

It definitely would be part of my practice as a teacher.  We are here to teach skills, in particular to understand that there are thinking processes and to help them to figure out how to support these processes for themselves in the future. So they can access the facts.  Who remembers all the rivers and mountains of Ireland, it’s more about how you going about researching that information and your thinking process around researching the question that’s important.

How did Erasmus+ Permission to Wonder support you to develop your VTS practice?

It greatly supported me to put aside my learning and experience and become open to a new way of engaging with languages. I found that really interesting as languages are ‘my thing’. I have a degree in French and Italian, English and Gaeilge are my favourite subjects to teach, and I love grammar, so it was fascinating to me how I struggled with the VTS questions at first. They felt so American and strange to me but when I saw the huge body of research behind them and experienced firsthand how effective they were in keeping a rein in on the facilitator’s natural bias, I was completely converted. It was also really comforting to work with such experienced artists and art professionals and see how my lack of experience did not impede my ability to facilitate a VTS session. Finally, it was an exhausting but really wonderful experience on a personal level. I really feel I grew as an individual and my love of learning was reignited. So thank you to all involved.

!!!! Guest Blogger: Joan Whelan, Chairperson of the Irish Forest School Association – Blog No.4

The Irish Forest School Association (IFSA) was founded in 2016 and is engaged in the promotion and development of the Forest School (FS) movement in Ireland.  We bring Forest School practitioners together to inspire inclusive, playful learning for all, in nature.  We want to build resilience and relationships, through our connection with each other, and the natural world, while inspiring creativity and supporting wellbeing. More information can be found on our website www.irishforestschoolassociation.ie.

This final blog post is from Joan Whelan, the Chairperson of the Irish Forest School Association. She  reflects on the opportunities  within Forest School for adults to reaffirm their own creativity in their approach to teaching, drawing on her experience of introducing Forest School to the primary school where she was principal and on her current PhD research on the distinctiveness of Forest School as a pedagogical approach.              

“Lie down, lie down, that way is best” – Blog 4

Participating in a Forest School (FS) session recently with a group of senior infants, I had one of those ‘light-bulb’ moments that happen every now and again and give pause for thought. Our eyes had been drawn towards the tree canopy by the fleeting sight of a grey squirrel bounding up the trunk of a scots pine.

‘Lie down, lie down,’ urged one of the children in a commanding but quiet voice. ‘That way is best’.

And we did. We lay down. Three 6-year olds and myself, flat out on the damp slightly muddy floor of a small and not very loved corner of woodland in Dublin city.  And there was quiet, as we searched the tree canopy for the elusive squirrel, for perhaps a minute. Later that same day, having made charcoals from the leftover embers of the fire, a child asked to finger paint stripes on my face…and I had no hesitation.  The experience remained with me.
I realised that in 36 years of teaching, I had never fully encountered this kind of immersive, embodied, child-initiated experience that felt very powerful and right.  And I thought myself progressive and innovative as a teacher.  What made this possible? Was it being in nature? Was it being suitably attired? Was it the small group? Was it the opportunities for child-led activity? Was it the leadership of the FS leader? Was it the safety that the session provided to explore and to ‘be’? Was it all of these?

It seems to me that a very profound opportunity exists for adults to reflect on their practice through participation in FS.  We cannot promote creativity in children without being open to making new connections for meaning as adults. FS gives us permission to take a step aside, unlocking a more playful approach to learning which in turn promotes curiosity, exploration and innovative cross curricular connections that surely comprise the possibility for deep and creative connection and meaning making across the curriculum. FS seems to enable us to move from being teachers and pupils to being learners together.

In the context of the Arts in Education, FS provides a foundational, cross curricular pedagogical approach. The woodland provides the tools to enable risks to be taken safely, curiosity to be satisfied and boundaries to be tested. The transformative nature of this kind of learning for wellbeing, creativity and innovation is not easily accessible elsewhere in formal learning contexts. In an era of increasing focus on outcomes, rather than process, FS can help re-position children and adults, not the curriculum, at the core of deeper learning in the primary school.  FS pedagogy can help to promote a deeper understanding of the relationship between the human world and the natural world, a theoretical thread that can be traced back to Rousseau, who regarded a connection to nature as fundamental to optimal human functioning.  However, FS must be approached within a theory of change perspective. In other words, the importance of school communities articulating a vision for their pedagogical approach, based on their educational purpose, is non-negotiable.

And when was the last time you placed your hands in wet mud?

!!!! Guest Blogger: Liz Coman, Assistant Arts Officer Dublin City Council & VTS Facilitator – Blog No.3

Liz Coman is an Assistant Arts Officer with Dublin City Council.  She is a certified Visual Thinking Strategies facilitator with VTS/USA and has completed training to coaching level.  She is responsible for monitoring the quality of Erasmus+ Permission to Wonder – an EU project for Dublin City Council that is testing the VTS training pathway with educators in classroom and gallery settings. Liz has a background in History of Art and Museum Studies and fifteen years experience in designing innovative projects that support arts, education and learning.  She has led trainings in enquiry led approaches to mediating artwork for visual art facilitators in The Ark, A Cultural Centre for Children, The National Gallery of Ireland, and The Turner Prize, Derry and offers ongoing mentorship for individual artists, arts educators and teachers.

We Are Mirrors” – Erasmus+ Permission to Wonder  –
Blog 3

A Conversation with Visual Artist, Kathryn Maguire

Visual Thinking Strategies is a research based method, founded on the doctoral work of Abigail Housen(Co-Founder of VTS) and her research on aesthetic development. Housen’s research focused on the question – ‘What Happens Cognitively When You Look at a Work of Art?’  Her methodologydevised an ‘Aesthetic Development Interview’ to understand how a spectrum of differentviewers understand and interpret the same artwork.   With this data,and drawing on constructivist learning theories, in particular Lev Vygotsky and Jean Piaget, she designed a stage theoryfor aesthetic development.  Her stage theory tracked common features of five stages.  According to Housen, each stage is inherently important.  No stage can be rushed or bypassed. Growth occurs with repeated and regular exposure to viewing art.  In her collaboration with Philip Yenawine and MOMA, New York, Housen’sresearch identified that the majority of visitors attending the museum and its programmes were stage 1 & 2 viewers.  Stage 1 & 2 viewersjudge an artwork is based on what they know and like, their observations may appear idiosyncratic and imaginative, and they have their own sense of what is realistic and this standard is often applied to determine value.  Stage 1&2, as aesthetic learners, are  storytellers.  Storytelling is a universal means of making meaning. Meaning making requires critical thinking, personal reflection, the consideration of multiple possibilities, communication and respectful debate.

Part of the challenge for me was unlearning earlier teaching practices. I had to…learn a new paradigm, one that put people ahead of art, one that focused on enabling not just engaging people. I had to step back from what I thought people should learn, to create a teaching/learning method that would help them realize their full potential at any given moment.  – Philip Yenawine

Professional visual artists, that have trained in Visual Thinking Strategies with us, tell us that VTS can offer them a useful framework to critically appraise their own artwork in development. It is a tool that can inform their understanding of a diversity of interpretations that audiences will bring to the artwork.  This can be a valuable input into an artwork’s development before it arrives into the gallery or public space.  Visual artists that have trained with us, and been implementing VTS as part of their practice, specifically in schools,  report that the neutrality and rigour of the VTS method is their biggest challenge.  For me, this is completely understandable. When you love art and have dedicated your life to its study and practice, you want to share all your knowledge and skills with your audience.  The visual artists we work with are very generous and committed to sharing with their audiences.  However, the time and appropriate support to do this is usually very limited.

Within schools, there may only be one shot – the one class visit to a gallery in a year.  Or a school or artist might get support for a suite of sessions or a medium-term residency. Following  Housen’s theory, we can propose that more consistent and supported time for art and artists to work with students allows greater opportunity for embedding aesthetic growth and learning.  In addition to the time limitation, there are very few training opportunities for artists in understanding pedagogy, curriculum and developmental stages of children and young people according to age, ability and cultural tradition. Therefore, the skill of facilitating meaning making with visual art and children and young people, for many artists, is based on their own process of discovery and how discovery emerges in their practice.

Kathryn Maguire’s practice is inspired by science, history and the social world.  She works in the field of socially engaged art,  therefore, contrary to making an artwork in isolation, she develops artwork with a community in a way that honours both her areas of inspiration and a community’s vested interest in their neighbourhood.  Kathryn has effective collaboration skills that allow space for experts and knowledge from varied backgrounds and sources to inform the development of her work. She is a sculptor, and in particular, specialises in social sculpture.   She uses mirrors regularly in her work and understands the value of using mirrors as a reflective tool, that can work equally well in the gallery/museum and also outside, in nature.  An example of this is Kathryn’s artwork is ‘Us’ Again – a floating mirrored shed, created in 2013, in collaboration with the Men’s Shed Group based in Rialto’s St Andrew’s Community Centre as part of Maguire’s residency at 468, Common Ground.

Image of ‘Us’ Again -Kathryn Maguire

Image of ‘Us’ Again -Kathryn Maguire

The shed, made completely of mirrors, journeyed along the Grand Canal, Dublin, to celebrate the impact the waterway has had on labour and leisure in Rialto and as demonstration and reflection on community and commonality.  Kathryn’s mirrored shed informs her practice today, as she continues to investigate what is the common between us and our environment.

What do you find VTS brings to your practice as an artist?

As an artist, I feel like an investigative journalist in some ways.  I gather knowledge and information and transfer it into an artwork. VTS is a powerful tool for me, as a learner. I’m constantly learning so VTS allows for my knowledge to be fluid. It is really important to me, in my life, and as an artist, that there is more than one answer. Facilitating VTS allows me time to listen to the different ideas coming from each person, to stay neutral, and not buy into one opinion or another. It is really important to stay listening to all the different facets of the conversation.  We all come with so much ancestral knowledge. Perhaps allowing time and space for different perspectives, hopefully we can find our way to some common ground.  This is what ultimately keeps me motivated – the search for our commonality. It’s why I still work with mirrors – we are mirrors.  As an artist, I feel now is an important time.  Artists have an incredible opportunity to look more closely, then take that knowledge and make it into an artwork and then take that artwork and go to the audience – it’s a gentle, fluid, domino effect.

What have you noticed happening in your work with schools and galleries in VTS image discussions? 

I am currently Artist in Residence with Rathfarnham Educate Together National School (RETNS). I recently did a VTS facilitated discussion the school’s 5th class children at The LAB Gallery and Anita Groener’s incredible exhibition ‘The Past is a Foreign Country’. I observed that the children were highly environmentally aware and were able to articulate very clearly their understanding that if our environment is not harmonious, then that is not good for us either. They mirrored, for me, my own thinking that we are all part of the same ecosystem. This is an emotionally charged exhibition, exploring migration and the migrant crisis in Syria. I didn’t have to tell the children what the work was about.  I didn’t have to give them a script.  The script was inside them already.  It just needed a gentle prise open.  VTS allowed us time, and slowing down, deep looking, being comfortable in the silence.  There is so much chatter, phone or screen time in our lives that just listening and communicating with each other is an amazing thing.  This amazing thing happens when we communicate in a VTS session and I’m still not sure what the ‘thing’ is.  This ‘thing’ is what Permission to Wonder has given to me as a person and as an artist.

Can you recall a favourite VTS Image Discussion?

I have been testing the VTS Image Curriculum and the Permission to Wonder images for the project image bank.  I have been practicing VTS with test images in Scoil Mhuire, Marino and St Vincents BNS.

Some feedback on the VTS sessions with Kathryn from the 3rd class boys of Scoil Mhuire, Marino, gathered from teacher, Jennifer Gormley

‘It was very enjoyable and I liked that it wasn’t just based on one artist. I liked the way we got asked to say what we thought of the picture.’

‘It was really nice and I liked the way it was arranged, like the questions we were asked.’

‘It was really fun. I liked looking at the pictures and telling what I thought of them.’

‘I thought the paintings were really good and it was fun answering questions.’

Out of this image testing I find that Remedios Varo ‘Creation of the Birds’ 1957 gets a very powerful response, no matter what the age and stage.

Another memorable experience was a Wonder Club session with a Patrick Scott artwork in The Hugh Lane Gallery.  The discussion went from a very religious metaphorical discussion into a more polarised religious and political debate.  This was surprising as the beautiful abstract painting was a vehicle for adults to vocalise knowledge, and equally prejudices, that the group and I had to negotiate.  Perhaps most valuable with adults, you get to access people’s wealth of knowledge due to their lived life.

** Wonder Club is monthly VTS sessions for adults that take place in Dublin City Gallery, The Hugh Lane and The LAB Gallery

How did Erasmus+ Permission to Wonder support you to develop your VTS practice?

I would describe VTS practice like muscle that needs to be exercised.   In Permission to Wonder, the trust within the group of educators, and the care within the partner group was really special.  There was a silent strength in this support that was very nurturing for me to help me push me out of my comfort zone and become more confident in how I facilitate a VTS session. The logistical supports that were put in place for me were really important.  Financial access to the training in Europe and then also being supported to practice at home in the schools and galleries allowed me to build this confidence.  On foot of it, opportunities for me to work with galleries and schools have been increasing.  In the past year, I’ve been really lucky to work with The LAB Gallery, The Hugh Lane Gallery, IMMA, The Butler Gallery, Kilkenny and all have been very supportive of me using VTS as a strand of my sessions with school groups.  I use VTS at the beginning of my sessions almost as a way to bring students into a space where they will absorb the artists’ intentions by osmosis and then the session will evolve from there.   I usually do a VTS session, followed by an observational drawing, followed by more formal object making in the education room.  I find that the students, when they are sketching after the VTS image discussion, are not copying each other, they are more confident in how their own ideas are coming out of the artwork.

What would you like to work on next in your VTS practice?

The most important thing that I feel I need to work with most is staying neutral.  I think that art can bring up a lot of stuff for people, very strong opinions are aired, a lot of debate and also emotional responses.   I have to be careful to manage my own assumptions about why somebody might make a particular remark.  I have to remember, that it’s okay if a group member does not want to contribute or may pull back or be quiet in the discussion.  The strength of the silence may indicate that there may be a reason why somebody remains silent, something may be triggered for that person within the image or the discussion. There is learning in discomfort, but also learning to keep in mind safety and care for the group, and also keep in mind self care for me.  I will always talk to a teacher at the outset of a session to find out if I need to be mindful of a member of a group. It’s that communication that needs to happen between us as educators – between teacher and artist – in order that the viewer is allowed to be silent or to be heard, depending on their need.

I would envision that I would like to push my VTS practice further.  To move my VTS facilitation outside of art, into other areas such as science, history, mathematics.  That I can move it out of the artworld and into other areas of education. I think VTS sits in the artworld but also has the flexibility and ability to move beyond the artworld.

 

!!!! Guest Blogger: Sinéad Ní Bhrádaigh Creative Schools Coordinator & Teacher- Blog No. 4

Sinéad Ní Bhrádaigh has worked in Galway Educate Together since 2002. She has a life long interest in the arts, primarily in the musical side of the arts. She plays classical piano to Senior Certificate level and has been involved with Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann as a piano and fiddle player and tutor in Dublin and Galway. In 2001, Sinéad completed a Higher Diploma in Arts Administration and gained great experience volunteering with the Town Hall Theatre and Galway Arts Centre. Sinéad established the GETNS school choir in 2004, and now collaborates with another teacher to run a choir with 100 students in the school. The GETNS choir has performed at several Peace Proms, at the Town Hall Theatre and at community events.

Reflecting on the first year of Creative Schools – Blog 4

Alongside the workshops that we held during May and June, the Creative Schools Teacher committee had come up with a Menu of Activities to accompany the workshops. The Children’s Panel also came together to add their suggestions for the Menu. This Menu was designed to be a list of easy classroom activities that the teachers could engage in at times and days of their choosing, to compliment activities that they may have been thinking of doing anyway. All of the activities were based on our theme of Food, Cooking and Nature. Some of the activities included links to Food Science websites; inviting parents into classroom to engage in cooking activities; ideas for nature based art; healthy shared lunches and forest and beach picnics. A copy of this Menu was delivered to each classroom for a four week period and all teachers were encouraged to engage with the programme.

During the last week of term, we invited our children’s panel to come and give us some feedback on the programme and how it was for them. Yvonne laid out big sheets of paper and had specific questions to provide information she was looking for. This proved a very fruitful if not a humbling experience. Each classroom and each class level had experienced varying levels of engagement with the programme, depending on each classes packed schedule. Therefore, the children all had varying feedback. As we all know children to be, the feedback was honest, and some of it wasn’t all that flattering!

As a whole jigsaw piece, the Creative Schools programme was successful in its aims and objectives for this year. But when you break the jigsaw into individual pieces, it didn’t feel that that success had filtered down to all of the children in all of the classes. This was disappointing for both myself and Yvonne, as there had been a huge investment in the programme all year. It’s all about the children at the end of the day, and if the children didn’t benefit, well then there were questions to be asked. Myself and Yvonne had a good chat about it all, and agreed that if we had decided to focus in on one class grouping for example, and showered all of our Creative Schools programme on just those children then undoubtedly the feedback may have been different, but that is not what we chose to do. Instead, we needed to focus on the whole completed jigsaw, celebrate the success and look ahead to how we can build on it next year.

We intend our focus next year to switch to teachers professional development in creative practices. We see a great opportunity next year to spend our time researching cross curricular creative practices, as we feel that in order for maximum children to benefit from the Creative Schools Programme, we need to up skill our own practices and thus all children will benefit. We feel very excited about this new aspect to the programme and we are looking forward to continuing this creative journey next year

!!!! Guest Blogger: Ciara Gallagher Creativity & Change programme participant – Blog No. 4

Ciara Gallagher Profile Pic

Ciara has a PhD in English from Maynooth University. She has worked as researcher on the National Collection of Children’s Books (TCD) and “Gender Identity: Child Readers and Library Collections” at the Centre for Children’s Literature and Culture, DCU. She has taught English in various universities and currently works at Kids’ Own Publishing Partnership as Administrative and Development Officer.

Blog 4 – On Practising Creativity and Change

The second half of the Creativity and Change course focused on “application to practice” – on applying the forms and modes of creative engagement we had experienced and worked with in the first half of the course. Over numerous weekends, we practiced creativity across a variety of forms. In small teams, we co-facilitated creative workshops to critically focus on important local and global justice issues with our peers. We created a 60 foot piece of street art – participating in the entire process from beginning to end.  We planned and designed a number of creative street actions to engage the public in Cork city in support of Climate Case Ireland.

A core part of the Creativity and Change course is its focus on connecting learning that occurs through the head, hand, and heart – through reflection and critical thinking, through doing, making and taking action, and through affective learning and creating connections. Each weekend, each activity, actively engaged all three modes of learning. Not only did we practice the application of creativity and creative processes to encourage a critical reflection and action to change on global justice issues, we also built a community, a collective, however temporary, within which these experiences became all the more meaningful.

This head, hand, and heart model is not just something to apply to just certain learning experiences, but something that can inform so many areas of our lives, our learning, our teaching, our living. This too, like creativity, is something to practice each day and to continually build on.

Now, perhaps more than ever, it seems like the time to take action in our world, to resist retreating into apathy. The scale and persistence of the global justice issues that we face can make taking action seem like an impossible task. What the Creativity and Change course encourages is a sense that this continually coming back to these issues need not feel futile, or as evidence that things do not change despite our best efforts. That instead, circling back to social justice issues in new, creative, and diverse ways, is also something to live, and to make part of our lives.

 

!!!! Guest Blogger: Yvonne Cullivan Creative Associate for Creative Schools & Visual Artist – Blog No.4

Yvonne

Yvonne Cullivan is a visual artist and educator based in the West of Ireland. She has fifteen years experience in Fine Art practice, Arts Education, Public & Participatory Arts and Arts Management. She holds a B.A. in Fine Art from Crawford College of Art and Design, Cork, and an M.Sc. in Multimedia from Dublin City University. Yvonne is a Lecturer at the National College of Art and Design, Dublin, on the First Year Fine Art & Design Programme and in the Fine Art Media Department. She is also currently engaged as a Creative Associate with the Creative Schools Programme.


Working across a broad range of documentary-style media, including sound, video, photography, interview/conversation, drawing and writing, Yvonne’s practice is underpinned by a strong participatory and collaborative approach. She often works within communities of place, rooting the engagement in site-specific research and interdisciplinary knowledge generation. Sustained processes of observation, documentation, collaboration and experiential engagement with place, lead to the creation of new work that is reflective of, appropriate to and shaped by the process.

 

Blog 4 – Reflect and Refine

My first year working as a Creative Associate on the Creative Schools Programme with my three allocated schools has ended. Nothing feels finished however; it feels as if we are just starting. While creative activities took place in each school as a direct result of the consultation process, I view this years work as research and development and I won’t be surprised if year two feels like more R&D. The consultation process in each case was very thorough and the conversations with the coordinators and, less frequent but equally important, with management, were robust and wide-reaching. Through evaluation with a selection of children from each school, for the most part, they report having both enjoyed and learned from their participation in the programme so far.

In my mind, the role of the Creative Associate is to assist in embedding creative approaches to teaching and learning (one could say to thinking and being) within the school environment. Reflecting on this, it would be easy to be disappointed with the years work, it falls far short of achieving that aim. There were small disappointments; not all teachers participated in the organised activities, not all children made the connection between the opinions they put forward in the consultation process and the resulting activities that they participated in, some of the planned activities didn’t materialise, some people didn’t enjoy the activities. There were larger logistical issues at play too; the late commencement of the programme combined with the lengthy intensive consultation process meant that most activities took place at the very time of year when schools are most busy. This had the most impact at G.E.T.N.S. where we developed and implemented an ambitious whole school programme of activities in May and June. The whole school cohesiveness we needed to realise the holistic nature of this programme got lost in the end of year ether. I choose to reflect on all of this as learning.

My three schools and I are building relationships together, we are reaching levels of understanding, finding out what works and what doesn’t in each setting. We are journeying. As a result of this long-term attitude and shared vision for trying to go a level deeper into creativity within the school environment, we have clear pointers for 2019/20. A large part of our work together will be investing in creative professional development for teachers. This would appear to be the most necessary and sustainable use of our time together. Our main challenges will be freeing up staff time and reaching beyond the arts curriculum. G.E.T.N.S. will engage in a Per Cent for Art project that will hopefully build, in a very exciting way, on our work together this year; the boys at Athenry are leading us toward a programme around creative play and the outdoor environment; Eglish are going to further their digital skills acquisition. The process is creative and child-led and this makes sense to me.

!!!! Guest Blogger: Frank Monahan Architect & Cultural Producer – Blog No. 3

Frank is an Irish designer /cultural producer with an interest in film, the arts & architecture. His professional practice includes the design of buildings, & set design for film/television production. He holds a BA in Architecture, 2008 and a Professional Diploma in Architecture, 2012 both from London Metropolitan University. Prior to this he recieved a B.Des. in Production Design for Film/Television, from IADT. This background has informed his approach to practice, which is collaborative, interdisciplinary and site specific.Interested in the critical potential of design he established Architecture at the Edge in 2017, for which he devised and curated the events programme. He produced an outdoor installation, ‘Ghost Chapel’ for Galway International Arts Festival 2018 in collaboration with the Bartlett School of Architecture.

 

Learning from the power of place – Blog 3

“I walk because it confers- or restores- a feeling of placeness …I walk because, somehow, it’s like reading …” 

Lauren Elkin, Flâneuse: Women Walk the City in Paris, New York, Tokyo, Venice and London

Charles Baudelaire and Walter Benjamin wrote a while ago about the modern man, who walked the city in order to explore its history, the architecture, the changing environment.

That idea of exploring and thinking is about making sense of things, the places and people we encounter, and this approach can also be applied to adolescence children in their world, by interacting, investigating, questioning, and forming, testing and refining their ideas.

Place-based education promotes learning that is rooted in what is local— the unique local history, environment, economy, culture, landscapes, and architecture of a particular place – in mapping the students’ own “place” or immediate schoolyard, neighborhood, town or community. And walking is like mapping with your feet.  It can promote a place-specific, sustainable approach to living, working and playing for all.

Following an introduction to the IAF Architects in Schools Programme to the TY students at St. Raphael’s College, Loughrea we started by asking the students a little about the town, the whereabouts of where they live and by what means had they travelled to the school that day. I wanted to find out about their lived experience and connection to the place. From this informal survey it soon became clear that the majority lived in either peripheralhousing estates or ribbon development on the towns fringes – the exception a few living on farm settlements in the environs of the county side. Not one it seemed lived within the town itself. I suggested walking the town together would allow us to stop – take a detour – and explore the form of that built environment.

Finding a historic street map from the local library and placing a glass, rim down, onto the map, we drew round its edge. We then instructed the students to pick up the map, go out into the town, and walk the circle, and keeping as close as they can to the curve, record their observations. This also helped them to get an idea of where we were in the context of the place.  Loughrea town is compact and so in short, the walk would show us all the key places in the town, and help us see some hidden gems in the process. By walking  – not only do you get great exercise –  you won’t miss details and you’re much more likely to go in different buildings, squeeze down alleyways, etc.

Loughrea lies at a number of boundaries, both historic and geographic and its pattern and form of development has been shaped by these features at the various stages of its development. The lake and medieval moate are wonderful but one could easily pass through Loughrea without noticing either. Its existing street plan closely follows that of a medieval layout. Many tall narrow properties on either side of the Main Street occupy burgage plots laid out in the 13th century.

The Temperance Hall / Barracks road complex is a palimpsest in which the layered history of Loughrea is revealed. Signs of the walled town, the original Gate House and successive military occupations are evident at even a quick glance. Behind the Temperance Hall, built c1780s as a Cavalry Barracks, we found a complex of buildings enclosed by fragments of a defensive wall. The site backed up to the lake with picturesque views out to the crannogs and surrounding landscape beyond. Student research later revealed the arrangement had once also included a hospital, infirmary and forge. Part currently provides social, cultural and educational services for the people of the town. This was the chosen site for the student’s design project. One of the first tasks we set in carrying out the survey was to photograph and to draw these buildings.

The aim, to adapt the assembly of buildings and introduce / incorporate new housing typologies into it to form a new ‘piece of town’. One that faced the lake but which also utilized the existing network of lanes which connect back from here into the town proper. The project was somehow about revitalizing this forgotten space, repopulating it and in so doing, assist in remedying the vacancy seen in the adjacent streets at the town center.

Adopting this strategy, the workshops which followed were designed to place the student at the center of this process, and resulted in propositions for a new linear public park, a café on the crannog and a new mixed residential community. All this, a clear demonstration for the potential of architecture to enhance the experience of living and working in the 21st century Irish town, coming from the students themselves.

It goes to show that if we start with small steps …. to support novice viewers become more observant and more thoughtful about what they are looking at then this can empower them to present an alternative vision for their existing built environment. It is so vital that our towns are living vibrant places, of social and cultural exchange, community and interactions and so they must be constantly maintained as adaptive changing entities.

We see that legacy of bad planning in towns like Loughrea. It’s one symptomatic of the challenges facing many small communities in Ireland – contradictory forces in the commercial landscape due to changing consumer behavior patterns, with resultant accepted sprawl of housing leading to vehicular predominance, and the changing demographics  – have pulled and shaped the town, and continue to do so resulting in increased vacancy at its core. In the context of climate change walkable and compact small towns have so much to offer us. The aim must be to shift the narrative from ‘conserving’ or ‘preserving’ small town settlements to ‘re-thinking’ and ‘championing’ them.

The students demonstrated an understanding of how these challenges faced by smaller communities can be overcome through sensitivity, creativity, collaboration and long-term stewardship. The projects demonstrate the possibilities of working in historic fabrics, re-connecting town centers to their surroundings and integrating a mix of uses into town centers. They arrived at a way of living which might suggest a more flexible approach to the town plot. It’s about creating a learning experiences that leverage the power of place. In fostering students’ connection to place, help their understanding of where they live and how taking action in their own backyards helps to take care of the world around them.

 

 

 

!!!! Guest Blogger: Sinéad Ní Bhrádaigh Creative Schools Coordinator & Teacher- Blog No. 3

Sinéad Ní Bhrádaigh has worked in Galway Educate Together since 2002. She has a life long interest in the arts, primarily in the musical side of the arts. She plays classical piano to Senior Certificate level and has been involved with Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann as a piano and fiddle player and tutor in Dublin and Galway. In 2001, Sinéad completed a Higher Diploma in Arts Administration and gained great experience volunteering with the Town Hall Theatre and Galway Arts Centre. Sinéad established the GETNS school choir in 2004, and now collaborates with another teacher to run a choir with 100 students in the school. The GETNS choir has performed at several Peace Proms, at the Town Hall Theatre and at community events.

In full swing – Blog 3

School days in May and especially June are incredibly busy. It always seems to creep up unexpectedly, but yet every year is the same! This business presented our biggest challenge when it came to implementing our Creative Schools programme. Starting up a creative programme for the whole school community at the same time and at this time of the year isn’t ideal. Myself and Yvonne had made a conscious decision that every single child would have access to the creative programme, and thus we spread it over 15 classrooms and over 400 children, rather than focusing in on a smaller cohert of children, and delivering a more comprehensive, focused programme. We decided this because we felt it was in line with our ethos of equality and inclusion and we didn’t want there to be a feeling that some children were accessing the creative schools programme when others were not. The reality of this decision was that we had to try hard to fit everything in to what was an already packed end of year schedule.  There were successes, but undoubtedly there were also some disappointments.

The stand alone workshops were a great success. The infant classes had workshops with Down to Earth Forest schools, who demonstrated wonderfully creative ways to use our outdoor school environment to engage the children. First Class had workshops related to the importance of bees and pollination. Second Class went to visit an organic farm and brought back with them a box of organic vegetables that they cooked up creatively. Third Class designed nests for bees, and designed an outdoor area for sowing wildflower seeds. Fourth and Fifth classes visited woods near our schools and managed to forage over 15 different types of plants growing in our woods. Afterwards, they made some tinctures and elderflower cordial from their pickings. Sixth class had a workshop with Yvonne, discussing food production and the methods that Yvonne used to create her visual short film.


The workshops brought a great buzz to each class level and certainly opened the children’s minds to environmental issues as well as seeing how to creatively utilise the resources that we have easy access to in our immediate environment. Feedback for the workshops was universally positive from the children. We held a feedback meeting with the children’s creative committee and I will discuss the outcomes from this feedback meeting in the next blogpost.

!!!! Guest Blogger: Angie Kinsella, Irish Forest School Association – Blog No.3

The Irish Forest School Association (IFSA) was founded in 2016 and is engaged in the promotion and development of the Forest School (FS) movement in Ireland.  We bring Forest School practitioners together to inspire inclusive, playful learning for all, in nature.  We want to build resilience and relationships, through our connection with each other, and the natural world, while inspiring creativity and supporting wellbeing. More information can be found on our website www.irishforestschoolassociation.ie.

Angie Kinsella of Nature Way (www.naturway.ieis a passionate Forest School leader and sustainability teacher who have a firm belief in nature pedagogy. Angie feels that connecting with nature on an experiential level and encouraging learning in the outdoors is becoming ever more important in this increasingly digital age. Angie also works for Heritage in Schools.

Creative Experiences in a year at Forest School – Blog 3

Creative experiences this year at Forest School took on a slightly different feel for me and the children.  I chose to fully immerse myself into celebrating and living with and through the Celtic calendar, also known as the Celtic Wheel. The Celtic calendar is focused on the cyclical change of seasons.  Seasonal changes were very important to the Celts, who depended on the Wheel of the Year to dictate when to plough, sow, harvest, and rest.  The turning of the Wheel represents the continuing birth, death and rebirth of nature. I felt the integration of this ancient way of being was appropriate for how I wanted to work in Forest School this year. I felt it was a helpful tool to inspire us to re-member, re-claim and re-weave our ancient heritage and what better place to share this than within the holding of the forest.

September was the return to school for children and also the month where we begin a new cycle around the Celtic Wheel.  I started a long-term Forest School programme in the West of Ireland at the beginning of September. The first few weeks we entered into the woods and the children started to get to know the lay of the land. The forest floor still had plenty of flora present and the trees were full of leaves. The days were mostly warm and bright which helps, I feel, on many levels for myself, the children and their teachers.

I was met with a huge diversity of cultures within this group of children, which was such a delight; to witness the universal language of play that softly unfolds in a natural setting with the support of the Forest School principles. I witnessed children whose language skills may have been a challenge in a classroom setting blossoming in this environment. Some of these children had never been to a forest although it was only 10 minutes away from their school.

One girl joined us each week in her wheelchair with the incredible support and encouragement of her school teachers who were determined to make Forest School  all-inclusive.

She would often spend time with other students crafting, or sometimes just take time out to relax in the hammock. There was always allocated time for free play. To climb trees, build forts, whittle sticks, or simple take time to be in the forest, alone or in groups, to relax in the hammock, to enjoy the canopy of the trees.

As we moved into October, I began to share and explore through fireside stories and crafts the meaning of Samhain, more commonly known as Halloween. I shared with the children how on this land we once celebrated ‘New Year’ at this time, how we honoured our ancestors, and how it was time to prepare ourselves for the winter ahead.

We made incredible sand helters stick skeletons. We whittled wands and swords and bows and arrows. We developed our fire lighting skills. We learned about wild foods and how to prepare wild foraged teas and cook feasts on the fire. We also explored how the fauna and flora of the land are preparing themselves and responding to the changing seasons. We crafted hapa zome (eco plant printing) with autumn berries, an explosion of colour. We also made nature journals so we could take note of the changes in the woods through drawing and words.

Each week that we met I asked the children to keep a close eye out and to feel the changes they noticed. As the leaves started to change colour on the trees and drop, I could certainly sense Nature starting to drop back into the underground. As the months passed and the darkness grew, I observed a shift in all our energy.

And then through Spring and now as the wheel continues through this time of blossom where we come close to Summer solstice. I feel the calling to play more energetic games and crafts that weave in the summer flora and fauna. I have learnt and continue to grow through this creative journey in the forest, in rhythm with the Celtic Wheel.

I recently received this feedback from a teacher who attended some of these sessions with her class. “The children grew mentally, physically and emotionally. They laughed and cried and sang and screeched and splashed and pushed themselves and explored and shared and learned so much about themselves and each other.” I feel this is a wonderful summary of our time in Forest School and the possibility it offers for creative expression for children, and for adults.

!!!! Guest Blogger: Yvonne Cullivan Creative Associate for Creative Schools & Visual Artist – Blog No.3

Yvonne

Yvonne Cullivan is a visual artist and educator based in the West of Ireland. She has fifteen years experience in Fine Art practice, Arts Education, Public & Participatory Arts and Arts Management. She holds a B.A. in Fine Art from Crawford College of Art and Design, Cork, and an M.Sc. in Multimedia from Dublin City University. Yvonne is a Lecturer at the National College of Art and Design, Dublin, on the First Year Fine Art & Design Programme and in the Fine Art Media Department. She is also currently engaged as a Creative Associate with the Creative Schools Programme.


Working across a broad range of documentary-style media, including sound, video, photography, interview/conversation, drawing and writing, Yvonne’s practice is underpinned by a strong participatory and collaborative approach. She often works within communities of place, rooting the engagement in site-specific research and interdisciplinary knowledge generation. Sustained processes of observation, documentation, collaboration and experiential engagement with place, lead to the creation of new work that is reflective of, appropriate to and shaped by the process.

Meaningful Actions – Blog 3

At this stage in the process, my role as Creative Associate on the Creative Schools programme is one of support. Here is an outline of the activities underway at each school and the decisions that informed them.

The boys at Athenry N.S. voted for the medium of construction and vocalised a desire for greater creative autonomy within activities. Staff voted to explore environmental arts and expressed an interest in professional development around the arts curriculum and cross-curriculum creativity. Both commented on the need for greater cohesion across the school community. Tom Meskell led a willow project, involving the whole school in a large-scale collaboration, with additional CPD for staff. Creative sustainability is encapsulated within the experiential process; the school sees that a whole-school project is possible and how it might work, the staff undertake a tailored exploration of creative collaboration with cross-curricular linkage, the children collectively shape a participatory experience that brings them together as a creative community, and everyone learns a new skill. The resulting work was celebrated with a magical installation at the school for Cruinniú na nÓg. 150 native tress were also planted on the school grounds.

Everyone at Eglish N.S. voted for up-skilling in Digital Media, specifically film and animation. The school has a very creative approach to curricular delivery, but the staff wished to expand on the creative confidence of everyone at the school toward greater self-expression. Again, the children vocalised a need for more creative autonomy and decision-making. Louise Manifold has been engaging the whole school in an exploratory journey of what creativity looks like, using accessible software such as green-screen and stop-motion on the school’s i-pads, and incorporating the children’s interests in movement, performance and nature. Staff are participating in customised professional development sessions that compliment the work with the children. The aspiration is to create a digital ‘guide to creativity’ informed by the children for children, which will be shared with families and peers and used by the school into the future.

Forest School Workshop by Down to Earth at Galway Educate Together National School

A programme of activities around food and nature, considering sustainability, regeneration and wellbeing, and involving talks, events, workshops and screenings, is in flow at Galway Educate Together N.S. The children voted overwhelmingly for cooking; a category that a voluntary children’s panel added to my long list of creative media. The staff showed a preference for nature-based activities. There was a shared desire to interact with external partners and off-site activities and an overall ambition to recognise, celebrate and communicate creative activities within the school and across the school community. The fifteen classes are each engaging in specialised workshops and choosing from an additional menu of activities around the expanded theme. Examples include foraging, farm walks, herbal tincture making, pollinator workshops, documentary screenings, wildflower sewing and forest school activities. The consultation process and this devised programme are also providing valuable research for an upcoming Per Cent for Art project for the school.

!!!! Guest Blogger: Liz Coman, Assistant Arts Officer Dublin City Council & VTS Facilitator – Blog No.2

Liz Coman is an Assistant Arts Officer with Dublin City Council.  She is a certified Visual Thinking Strategies facilitator with VTS/USA and has completed training to coaching level.  She is responsible for monitoring the quality of Erasmus+ Permission to Wonder – an EU project for Dublin City Council that is testing the VTS training pathway with educators in classroom and gallery settings. Liz has a background in History of Art and Museum Studies and fifteen years experience in designing innovative projects that support arts, education and learning.  She has led trainings in enquiry led approaches to mediating artwork for visual art facilitators in The Ark, A Cultural Centre for Children, The National Gallery of Ireland, and The Turner Prize, Derry and offers ongoing mentorship for individual artists, arts educators and teachers.

Stepping Back – Erasmus+ Permission to Wonder in a Post Primary School Art Room – Blog 2

A conversation with Anne Moylan, Art Teacher, Hartstown Community School, Clonsilla, Dubln15.

My experience with VTS has taught me that supporting authentic VTS practice, for our educators, our students, and myself is not a linear process.  It thrives on a spirit of collaboration, time, and some resources to access training and share understandings of the method.

In 2016, Dublin City Arts Office piloted a partnership approach with the NCCA to test the VTS training pathway with a group of Irish educators from different backgrounds –  professional educators who are from early years settings; primary school classroom teachers; secondary school (art) teachers; art educators (freelance museum and gallery educators, including teaching artists). It supported professional educators to train in Visual Thinking Strategies via Beginners and Advanced Practicums, with VTS/USA Programme Director, Yoon Kang O’Higgins. Erasmus+ Permission to Wonder extended this approach to six European partners, allowing us to deepen our understanding of the educators’ VTS practice journey through a research evaluation framework led by our partners, VTS Nederland.  The intended impact is that, through supporting educators, children and young people will have access to opportunities for critical thinking & thoughtful citizenship; will be actively encouraged to trust their own perceptions and be open to the thoughts of others; will feel their observations are valued and valuable when dealing with visual expression.

Change has been apace in secondary school curriculum re-design in Ireland in recent years. The ‘new’ Junior Cycle places an emphasis on students’ holistic development, linking subject areas, and turning a titanic history of ‘information giving’ towards scaffolding students’ life skills to equip them for a rapidly changing technological and global world.  This is a welcome change, and long awaited by us in the field that bridges arts, education and learning. It also invites challenging questions. I wonder what really happens in the classroom when we ‘step back’ and support our students to take the lead?  In my conversation with Anne Moylan, a secondary school art teacher, and educator participating in Permission to Wonder, we discuss how her training in VTS has supported a shift in her teaching practice and heightened her awareness of the value of “stepping-back” for her students.

How does VTS inform your teaching practice?

For me, the method is very much about stepping back.  It has definitely simplified down the process of looking at a painting, an object, a sculpture, piece of assemblage, for the first time.  To ask the question – what is going on in this work? – and then to actually hear what the students can see and what they are thinking about it. You always come with your own knowledge but in a VTS image discussion you have to step back out of that.  It is about allowing them to take you on any sort of a journey with their observations.

It is surprising when they point out something that you haven’t thought about or know already. You have to be prepared to go with the flow and therefore, your role completely changes with your students. You can make connections, bridge comments and themes, always developing the journey of their observation of the artwork. At the beginning, I found this difficult. Sometimes, as teenagers, you will find they are quiet or are afraid they are going to make a mistake.  That really gets easier with experience and practice as the students get used to the process over time.

We are not looking at images on the art history course. These are images from the VTS/USA website or the Permission to Wonder project, chosen specifically for use in a VTS image discussion. They are images that I am not familiar with myself. So, I am out of my comfort zone. I find this invigorating.

*Permission to Wonder partners are building and testing a European based image bank specifically for use within the project by the educators.  This will be available shortly on the project website www.permissiontowonder.com. Other images we have practiced with are drawn from the VTS/USA image curriculum for specific age groups available on https://vtshome.org/

What have you noticed happening for your students in a VTS image discussion?

Often, in a VTS session, you will find that students, who are very quiet usually, will begin to have a lot to say about a work. Some of these students would never talk, even in a practical art class. Then you show them an image, something will strike them in that image, and they really want to let you know what they see in it.

I have a number of students whose first language is not English. They have difficulty trying to say what they are looking at in their second language. Yet VTS gives them the space to do this.  The atmosphere is very calm. That is the shift for me.  Instead of giving them facts, dates and information about artwork, you are waiting to find out what they want to say about it, first and foremost.

With VTS, you really are connecting with their world. VTS allows the space for their world to connect with an artwork and indeed with me, as somebody from a different generation. You just see into their minds. Therefore, you could show them an image and the theme of mental health or family issues might come through from them. Of course you have to be careful and manage the discussion, not to flinch or be surprised.  You might be flummoxed by what might come out of them.  So holding your neutrality, and keeping the space safe for students, is important. VTS training helps you learn to do this effectively.  You sometimes think they might be talking about their own lives, and yet they are not, they are talking about an artwork.

Your role becomes very much the facilitator of the discussion. Often I would have students, saying to me ‘When can we do this again?

Have you practiced VTS with images that are on the art history course?

Yes, for example, with Jan Van Eyck’s Arnolfini Wedding. When you ask the first question – what is going on in this work?-  you get “I know all about this, we studied this in religion / we studied this in history”. This is an image that is a little bit recognisable to them. They are able to share what they have been taught. However, when you manage the discussion with conditional paraphrasing and ‘What more can we find?’ it deepens their engagement with the work. Even though they think they know as much as there is to know about it, it refocuses their attention back on the image. It deepens their concentration and gets their eyes back on the key elements of the picture.

‘The Arnolfini Wedding’ by Jan Van Eyck
https://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/paintings/jan-van-eyck-the-arnolfini-portrait

As part of teaching art history, I take the opportunity to bring the students into galleries in Dublin.  The guides tend to lead the tour with one voice- the guides voice. As an art teacher, I just want them to know you can walk into a gallery in any city, you do not have to pay, you can go in, see two pieces, and go back out again. With VTS and the three questions, it is a framework for them to use for looking at artwork, no matter where they are or what artwork they are looking at.

Can you recall a favourite VTS image discussion?

I have used VTS with all the year groups. However, I particularly remember a VTS discussion with a group of sixth years, at the end of the year, in May. We were finished the practical side of the preparation for the exam. With sixth years, you do not want to make anybody have to speak. It is fine if they don’t want to say anything.  However, in this session, there was one boy from China. He had so much to say about a particular image. He related it back to his own country. It was a painting, with a bright yellow palette and all the children depicted had these red neckerchiefs. The Irish children read them as the scouts, or being members of a group, or a club. This boy went in a completely different direction. He described that this is what it is like in China, in school. He talked about his own experience. He spoke for a few minutes and got a round of applause from the other students. A girl in the group said to him ‘in all the years that you have been in the school, that is the most, I’ve ever heard you say’.  So that is the kind of profound experience I remember coming from my VTS image discussions.

‘Mask Series No. 6’ by Zeng Fanzhi,
https://muse.union.edu/aah194-wi19/2019/01/30/zeng-fanzhi-mask-series-no-6/

How do you think VTS complements the Junior Cycle art curriculum?

In the new junior cycle art curriculum, student voice is very important.  It means stepping back and letting the student do the work, lead their learning process.  This does not mean that your job is easier. Within the structure of classroom-based assessment, a lot of reflecting, verbalizing and building the visual vocabulary for teachers and the students, is required.  The change is that you are putting the ownership for their learning and describing their learning process back on the student.  Therefore, you need to facilitate the classroom environment more in order to achieve that.

What we are all nervous about is that it this is difficult to assess. For students and parents it is difficult to understand this change in emphasis. I gave my students a VTS image discussion as a piece of homework to try out with their parents.  They took the framework and used it to look at any artwork or any piece of visual information with their family. The students were surprised with their parent’s observations and the conversations about the art work at home. I use it with my own family and it works very well!

How did Erasmus+ Permission to Wonder help you develop your VTS practice?

I really value that I have been involved in Permission to Wonder. As an art teacher in a school, you might be the only art teacher. You could be on your own, in your creative world.  You are so busy day to day with project work. It is amazing to step out of it with VTS and to have an opportunity to meet other educators-to look at artwork with them using a different format. It is really quite enlightening and refreshing. There are four of us educators from Dublin and we are all coming from completely different backgrounds – gallery, artist, primary school and secondary school. Being involved in our own Irish group was brilliant. We helped each other to explore our own context and look at theirs. I really enjoyed the collaboration and it was invigorating to explore art with others.

The training practicums were very well paced out. In the Beginners Practicum, you had the three questions. But you have to get them right, and in the right order, remember the exact wording, and that was tricky for me in the beginning.  It was also a challenge to learn to paraphrase accurately.  That requires a lot of skill. In the Advanced Practicum, I loved learning about linking and framing comments. How you, as facilitator, can connect comments and really build the learning in the group. I enjoyed the training and understand that it is also up to me to support my own practice and keep  motivated in using VTS.

What would you like to work on next in your VTS practice?

I did a VTS session with a society and politics class. None of these students were art students. We looked at images I selected specifically looking at politics and society – race, childhood issues, gender etc. VTS worked so well in this class. Students had so much to say and the images stimulated insightful conversations. I am interested in how VTS could be used in other subject areas and how I might help other teachers integrate VTS into their subjects in our school.

!!!! Guest Blogger: Fiona Lawton Creative Schools Coordinator & Teacher – Blog No. 4

Fiona Lawton TeacherFiona Lawton has been teaching secondary students in Scoil Bernadette Special School for the last ten years. She graduated with a Masters in Drama and Theatre Studies in UCC in 1999. During that period Fiona has been involved in writing, directing, acting and producing plays around Cork. In 2005 she played the part of the Magistrate in the award winning film ‘The Wind that Shakes the Barley’. In 2008 Fiona returned to UCC to complete a Postgraduate Diploma in Guidance and Counselling and subsequently in 2013 completed the Higher Diploma in Primary Education with Hibernia College. In school Fiona teaches a variety of subjects but has a passion for drama. Each year she works with a group of LCA students to devise, produce and perform a play. Fiona strongly believes in the importance of educating through the arts where creativity and collaboration are central to the learning process.

 

Creative Schools: Celebration Time – Blog 4

As the end of the school year approaches we have been looking forward to celebrating all our creative work that we have engaged in throughout the year.
On the 31st May all students in Scoil Bernadette participated in our Creative Schools Celebration Day. All students arrived in the hall to participate in eight different creative stations in small groups. There was a doodle corner, a lego station, a dance station, jenga, hook a duck, incredibox and a card making station. Everyone got a chance to try out each station to create, dance and play! A lot of fun was had and we all enjoyed ourselves.

In the afternoon, we all assembled in the hall to see some creative performances. In our school this year, our first years participated in the Music Mash Up programme where they learned to play different instruments and sing in a band. Music Mash up provides access for young people of all abilities to music in a fun, relaxed and inclusive way. This project was facilitated by Eamonn Nash.  For more information see musicmashup.ie/about. We were lucky to see two performances by this group.

Our next performance we saw a dance piece that a selection of students from throughout the school were involved in. These students have been attending dance workshops every Thursday in the school with dance artist Lisa Cahill. The dance piece was part of the international movement of Global Water Dances. More information can be found on the website globalwaterdances.org/It was clear that the students had put in a lot of work and practice into their performance and it was a pleasure to see them express themselves so creatively.

We then saw a dramatic re-enactment of Johnny Cash’s song ‘A Boy Named Sue’ by the LCA 2 class. The group devised and performed the piece themselves. The play was entertaining and funny and the audience really enjoyed it.

Our main focus this year as a Creative School was to offer students additional Visual Arts Workshops for students across the school. These workshops culminated in a friendship tree which is proudly displayed outside our school. Each student coloured and drew on a series of discs which formed part of this collaborative picture. To conclude our Celebration Day we watched a photo story which documented these workshops. We saw the process of the work which involved a lot of teamwork and collaboration. These workshops were facilitated by Rosaleen Moore and Ailbhe Barrett, and led by Mairead O’Callaghan of Crawford Supported Studios. For more information see crawford.cit.ie/supported-studio-project-with-gasp-and-c_ig-artists/.

All of the participating students received a certificate from the principal for their role in the Creative Schools project this year.

This year we have developed existing relationships and also we have made new links and friendships with a lot of artists and organisations outside of our school. We were privileged to have all the artists who have worked with our school this year as guests on our Celebration Day.

The Creative Schools Project has ended for this year but creativity continues in Scoil Bernadette. Towards the end of the June we will be running an X Factor Competition where all students will again be taking to the stage to sing and dance. We are looking forward already to next year when we can get planning for our next Creative School project. Students already have an abundance of ideas of what they would like to do. We are delighted that we took part in the Creative Schools project this year and are proud of our participation and achievements.

!!!! Guest Blogger: Sinéad Ní Bhrádaigh Creative Schools Coordinator & Teacher- Blog No. 2

Sinéad Ní Bhrádaigh has worked in Galway Educate Together since 2002. She has a life long interest in the arts, primarily in the musical side of the arts. She plays classical piano to Senior Certificate level and has been involved with Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann as a piano and fiddle player and tutor in Dublin and Galway. In 2001, Sinéad completed a Higher Diploma in Arts Administration and gained great experience volunteering with the Town Hall Theatre and Galway Arts Centre. Sinéad established the GETNS school choir in 2004, and now collaborates with another teacher to run a choir with 100 students in the school. The GETNS choir has performed at several Peace Proms, at the Town Hall Theatre and at community events.

Getting the Show on the Road….. – Blog 2

This second part of the process, putting together a programme of events on our theme of Food, Cooking and Nature, is a really exciting and energising process. It felt like it took such a long time to get to the point of settling on a theme that reflected the needs and wants of the children, their parents, and school staff. There was so much to choose from, the net was very wide. When we finally settled on the theme, it was really exciting to be able to brainstorm and come up with ideas that would reflect the needs of the school community in a programme of activities.

Yvonne had been busy behind the scenes putting the feelers out and getting in touch with artists and professionals working in these circles. All of the professionals that Yvonne contacted were very enthusiastic about participating in the Creative Schools Programme and delighted to link in with our primary school in a sustainable way. We have now arranged for every class level to have a workshop/trip off site, which could only have been achieved as a result of the funding we received as part of this process. We are very grateful to have had access to this funding and it’s a wonderful asset to have for our second year programme as well. Through these workshops the children will be bug hunting, foraging in our local woods, making tinctures, becoming Bee Aware and making our school grounds pollinator friendly, visiting an Organic Farm and a workshop with Yvonne on some short films she made around the butter making process.

Our Creative Schools panel of teachers and children also brainstormed together and came up with a “Menu of Activities” (pardon the pun!) that every classroom can engage with over the next few weeks. These activities range from Science experiments with food items, setting classroom up as a restaurant and having a healthy shared lunch; inviting parents in to classroom to bake with the children or to share their skills, screenings of food related programmes and documentaries. We are hoping to document the activities that the children are engaging in over the next couple of weeks so that we can celebrate this creativity when we come back after the summer holidays. It’s going to be an action packed few weeks and we are looking forward to it immensely!

!!!! Guest Blogger: Lucy Elvis Director of Curo & Visual Arts Curator – Blog No. 2

Lucy Elvis is a director of CURO, a not-for-profit organisation committed to public philosophy. CURO helps communities think together more effectively by inviting them to become Communities of Philosophical Inquiry. CURO works in schools, libraries, galleries and festivals as well as organising clubs and camps that include scholarship streams for children from less privileged socio-economic backgrounds. They like to get people thinking in places where they least expect it and to listen to the ‘big ideas’ that matter to groups who often aren’t given a voice.

When Lucy isn’t engaged in public philosophy, she is completing her PhD thesis and lecturing in Philosophy at NUI Galway. She is also an independent visual art curator and a board member of the TULCA Festival of Visual Art.

Talking about thinking and thinking about Talking – Blog 2

Sometimes, our young philosophers’ work can appear deceptively low tech. Walk in on a CPI (a community of philosophical inquiry) and you’ll find children sitting in a circle, some speaking, some listening and sometimes a cuddly toy, or a ball being used to indicate who should be talking. But, in these seemingly straight-forward talking shops, mind-bending ideas are explained, exchanged, and even worlds reimagined.

So far, so not-so-different from ‘circle time,’ right? However, there’s much more happening in philosophical dialogue than ‘talking.’ Unlike conversation, where I might share some news, and then hear from someone else, content in the CPI is anchored in a philosophical question (a ‘big’ ‘tricky’ ‘contestable’ and ‘open’ question) that the community have voted on together. In the CPI our learners are trying to solve ‘big problems’ together. This requires careful critical thinking before making a contribution. In answering big questions like ‘Should we always be punished for stealing?’ I have to decide my overall position (yes/no) and the reason why I think so.

If the only goal of a CPI were sharing opinions, then the result would be a straight-forward debate. But, undertaking philosophical inquiry together, means finding the best possible answer we can to our ‘big question’- a tally of yesses and nos won’t cut it. We will have to test the consequences of any overall position we adopt, and this might mean imagining scenarios, (‘what about stealing something small from your sister?) adjusting them, (‘what about stealing something back?) or clarifying what you mean by using analogies to point at similarities and differences (‘stealing something back is like creating fairness.’*)

The creativity described here needs critical thinking too, to support the new possibilities it imagines, and to create boundaries for creative thinking to ‘go-beyond.’ Because of the ways being critical and creative work together, the CPI allows our young learners to see how thinking from radically different areas of the curriculum work together, and how, scientific discovery and creative expression are both united by care and curiosity that powers our passion to ‘find out more.’

The CPI is a place for talking through, exploring and building possible answers together. Making thinking about concepts or big questions’ share-able’ can be a challenge, and demands creativity, and a rethinking of what ‘being creative’ can be, if we can move from just sharing ideas to making and revising them together.

*The examples here are based on a workshop with Ballyroan National School, at Ballyroan Library, who asked the question: ‘Should we be punished for stealing’ after they read ‘The Whopper’ by Rebecca Ashdowne together.

!!!! Guest Blogger: Liz Coman, Assistant Arts Officer Dublin City Council & VTS Facilitator – Blog No.1

Liz Coman is an Assistant Arts Officer with Dublin City Council.  She is a certified Visual Thinking Strategies facilitator with VTS/USA and has completed training to coaching level.  She is responsible for monitoring the quality of Erasmus+ Permission to Wonder – an EU project for Dublin City Council that is testing the VTS training pathway with educators in classroom and gallery settings. Liz has a background in History of Art and Museum Studies and fifteen years experience in designing innovative projects that support arts, education and learning.  She has led trainings in enquiry led approaches to mediating artwork for visual art facilitators in The Ark, A Cultural Centre for Children, The National Gallery of Ireland, and The Turner Prize, Derry and offers ongoing mentorship for individual artists, arts educators and teachers.

Setting the Scene for Erasmus+ Permission to Wonder – Blog 1

My first encounter with Visual Thinking Strategies was at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) in 2001.  I was on a public tour of the collection and the guide stood us in front of an artwork by Jackson Pollock and said ‘What is going on in this picture?’.  I was challenged by the question. I was also surprised by the long, silent pause that followed it! The group discussion began slowly.  All opinions offered by the group were considered by the guide, validated and acknowledged as a valuable contribution to the meaning of the work.  But in truth, I was disappointed that the guide did not offer any explanation about history of the artwork. Being a graduate of history of art, I had visited a lot of museums and always enjoyed the experience of being told information and stories about the artwork and the life of the artist. The Pollock work was figurative, with references to native American iconography.  I wanted to be told the ‘right answer’ about its intended meaning.

Soon after, I began an internship with SFMOMA and discovered that the discussion-based approach used on public tours was called VTS – Visual Thinking Strategies.  I began to think more about visual learning and constructivist pedagogy.  I was introduced to the basics of VTS facilitation – three questions – what’s going on in this picture? – what do you see that makes you say that? – what more can we find? –  backed up with carefully considered paraphrasing on the part of the facilitator.   I then did a piece of action-research with a group of adult learners with literacy difficulties from San Francisco Public Library which deepened my understanding of the role of the art museum as an active learning space which could  harness rich opportunities for literacy/language development.

Visual Thinking Strategies is a teaching framework and a practice. It was devised in the late 1980s by Philip Yenawine, art educator and Abigail Housen, cognitive psychologist. At the time, Yenawine was Director of Education at The Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) in New York City and was primarily concerned with making museum education programmes more effective. Yenawine and Housen’s research found that most viewers participating in museum programmes (specifically MOMA’s education programmes) were novice viewers, meaning that they had little experience looking at art, and their interpretations were relatively naïve.

VTS is based on three questions that aim to support novice viewers become more observant and more thoughtful about what they are looking at. This approach seems deceptively simple. However, with regular practice and when implemented effectively with a group, by a trained VTS facilitator, the (educational) outcomes are strong. Participants learn to acknowledge that every idea is important as they concentrate on justifying their idea with physical elements present in the work they are observing.  This improves observation skills and builds confidence in understanding works of art, giving participants a sense of ownership and empowerment over their opinions about art.   VTS involves no art-historical information and it does not require that the VTS facilitator have the answers to questions that arise in the course of discussion.  However, it does require educators to accept that they are not teaching aboutart.  Rather they are facilitating critical debate and thinking about art and indeed the bigger themes that emerge from an artworks’ powerful mirroring of the world.  I have learned from my own training with VTS/USA, that while VTS is a valuable method in my arts in education toolkit, my VTS practice requires consistency and reflection to genuinely support students’ thinking, learning and aesthetic growth.

While art museums are increasingly more open to audience centred approaches in mediating art, historically, this has not always been the case. French sociologist, Pierre Bordieu, went so far as to claim that the “true function” of the art museum was to “reinforce for some the feeling of belonging and for others the feeling of exclusion” and his research highlighted a public perception of art institutions as a type of holy shrine for artwork to be admired but not necessarily understood. [i] The opposite is the agenda for the durational work with VTS at Dublin City Council’s LAB Gallery.  As a contemporary art space for experimentation and risk taking in the visual arts in Dublin, The LAB Gallery has played a critical role in giving professional development, time and space for contemporary art, educators and local children in Dublin 1 to collaborate in a shared investigation of VTS.  Sheena Barrett, the LAB’s Curator, highlights the importance of VTS in providing a safe space to practice discussions that support our capacity to ‘wonder’ as opposed to moving too quickly to judgement about an artwork and/or complex social issue.

Fast forward to 2017, and Dublin City Council Arts Office is successful in achieving a European Union Erasmus+ KA2 Strategic Partnership Project Funding for Erasmus+ Permission to Wonder.

Artist Claire Halpin, Art Teacher Kieran Gallagher & Liz Coman at the MACA Contemporary Art Museum Alicante

Artist Claire Halpin, Art Teacher Kieran Gallagher and Liz Coman at the MACA Contemporary Art Museum Alicante

Erasmus+ Permission to Wonder aims to widen the network of VTS peers through training and sharing learning.  The project focuses on supporting ‘educators’ to develop a Visual Thinking Strategies practice over time. Over the course of this blog series, I hope to introduce you to the Irish educators who participated in Permission to Wonder. Kieran Gallagher is a secondary school art teacher based in St Oliver’s Community College, Drogheda and is a member of the visual arts Junior Cycle training team. Claire Halpin, is a professional artist and art educator and is the co-ordinator of the VTS Neighbourhood Schools Programme led by Central Model Senior School.  Anne Moylan is a secondary school art teacher based in Hartstown Community College, Dublin 15. Jane Malone is a primary school teacher based in St Catherine’s National School, Donore Avenue, Dublin 8. Sile McNulty Goodwin is Education Curator at Dublin City Gallery, The Hugh Lane. Kathryn Maguire is a professional artist and art educator.

 

Assistant Arts Officer Liz Coman, Teacher Anne Moylan, Education Curator Sile McNulty , Teacher Jane Malone and Artist Kathryn Maguire in the David Museum, Copenhagen

Assistant Arts Officer Liz Coman, Teacher Anne Moylan, Education Curator Sile McNulty , Teacher Jane Malone and Artist Kathryn Maguire in the David Museum, Copenhagen

 [i]  As quoted in Stephen E. Weil, Esq, “On a New Foundation: The American Art Museum Reconceived,” in  A Cabinet of Curiosities: Inquiries into Museums and Their Prospects (Washington, D.C. : Smithsonian Institution Press, 1995), 106.

 

!!!! Guest Blogger: Yvonne Cullivan Creative Associate for Creative Schools & Visual Artist – Blog No.2

Yvonne

Yvonne Cullivan is a visual artist and educator based in the West of Ireland. She has fifteen years experience in Fine Art practice, Arts Education, Public & Participatory Arts and Arts Management. She holds a B.A. in Fine Art from Crawford College of Art and Design, Cork, and an M.Sc. in Multimedia from Dublin City University. Yvonne is a Lecturer at the National College of Art and Design, Dublin, on the First Year Fine Art & Design Programme and in the Fine Art Media Department. She is also currently engaged as a Creative Associate with the Creative Schools Programme.


Working across a broad range of documentary-style media, including sound, video, photography, interview/conversation, drawing and writing, Yvonne’s practice is underpinned by a strong participatory and collaborative approach. She often works within communities of place, rooting the engagement in site-specific research and interdisciplinary knowledge generation. Sustained processes of observation, documentation, collaboration and experiential engagement with place, lead to the creation of new work that is reflective of, appropriate to and shaped by the process.

 

Collate and Prioritise – Blog 2

I collected a lot of information from the schools I have been working with as part of my role as Creative Associate on the Creative Schools Programme; written notes, visuals, statistics, survey information. The biggest school (Galway Educate Together on Newcastle Road) has over 500 pupils and 50 staff. Regardless of the size of the school, everyone was asked for their opinions. This took time and investment from myself, the coordinators, staff, voluntary Children’s Creativity Panels and, at G.E.T.N.S., a voluntary Staff Creativity Panel. Questions were asked such as: What are the challenges to being creative in the classroom? What are the opportunities for this Creative Schools Programme? If you were the principle of this school and had money to spend, what creative things would you spend it on? Age-appropriate surveys were completed with in-depth questions regarding the level of engagement with creativity in the classroom, staff planning, allocation of funding, parental awareness of creative activities etc. There were votes, by all parties, in relation to areas of interest and creative media to explore. Everywhere I went I brought colored sharpies and hundreds of colored post-its, blue-tack and masking tape, large sheets of paper and visual aids. The workshops were active and inclusive and very enjoyable.

I then worked through the valuable information, stored on sheets and post-its or documented through photographs, in the same way that I would with research for any project; by laying it all out and finding the overlaps and patterns within it. I moved post-its around, joined them with arrows and written notes. Through this process of collating and prioritising (staff were involved to a certain extent during workshops), I produced a visual mind-map for each school. I returned to present the findings and discuss suggestions as to how we might address the prioritised information. My hope in each case was to find a way to marry the medium / media of choice with a methodology through which prioritised learning could be imparted and to also encompass the larger contexts, aims and ambitions, outlined by each school. Context, method, medium, not necessarily in that order, are the three strands that merge to inform and form my own artistic practice and individual projects and are the main elements of my teaching methodology.

There followed a consultative process involving staff, staff panels, children and children’s panels, through which my suggestions were padded and shaped collectively. In each case we made decisions on ‘projects’. These projects have a beginning, middle and end, however they are not stand-alone. Rather, they have been devised as a way to carry experiential learning on a number of levels and to keep this learning open so that it can be expanded upon. They have also been devised in collaboration with specific artists; the ‘who’ is as important as the ‘how’ and the ‘why’. In each case I approached particular people and engaged them in conversations, alone and then with the schools, to further shape what might happen. We are now at that wonderful point where the work is starting to unfold.

!!!! Guest Blogger: Frank Monahan Architect & Cultural Producer – Blog No. 2

Frank is an Irish-born designer /cultural producer with an interest in film, architecture & the arts, design and technology. An honors graduate in Production Design for Film, TV and theatre, he spent the best part of a decade in this sector. Coming from a film and set design background, he has always been passionate about the power of buildings and spaces to tell stories and he developed this interest further when he later moved into interior and architectural design work setting up practice in London in 2001. This experience led to a decision to study architecture at London Metropolitan University where he was awarded an BA Honors’ Architecture in 2008 and a Professional Diploma in Architecture 2012.


His professional practice includes the design of buildings & set design for film and television production. This has informed his approach to practice, which is collaborative, interdisciplinary and site-specific. With a long term interest in the critical potential of design he established the Architecture at the Edge Festival in 2017, for which he devised and developed the events programme through all stages: planning, development and administration, including the curation and production of an annual symposium on Placemaking  & associated workshops. He recently produced an outdoor built installation, ‘Ghost Chapel’ for Galway International Arts Festival 2018 in collaboration with Bartlett School of Architecture.

Cities Need Old Buildings – Blog 2

‘Cities need old buildings so badly it is probably impossible for vigorous streets and districts to grow without them…. for really new ideas of any kind—no matter how ultimately profitable or otherwise successful some of them might prove to be—there is no leeway for such chancy trial, error and experimentation in the high-overhead economy of new construction. Old ideas can sometimes use new buildings. New ideas must use old buildings.’

From; The Death and Life of Great American Cities , Jane Jacobs

In my last blog I described how we extended the Irish Architecture Foundation (IAF) – Architects in Schools learning programme at The Bish into engagement beyond the school gate. Incorporating urban sketching on Nuns Island and other activities within the workshop itinerary in an attempt to encourage and allow the students an opportunity to examine their city from another perspective … to be creative. To be imaginative.

With the school located on part of the under-utilized parcel of land at the edge of Galway City center, the regeneration of Nuns Island lands need careful and detailed consideration it being directly between the City and NUI Galway it easily facilitates an expansion of the University campus or an expansion of the City creating a civic space to carefully bring both City and University together. NUI Galway and Galway City Council recently launched a public consultation for this very purpose. The aim here is to transform Nuns’ Island into a new quarter that will enable the city to capitalize on its creativity, enterprise and quality of life. The masterplan is being prepared by internationally-renowned planners BDP, business strategy advisors Colliers International and quantity surveyors AECOM. It is supported by the Government’s Urban Regeneration Development Fund. Focusing on this regeneration of Nuns Island we were delighted that Gareth McGuire, Architect Director BDP agreed to lead the students on a mapping exercise.

So we took a walk through their Island, mapping the existing spaces and their functions, recording the grain of the place and also seeking out opportunities for future interventions.

Amongst the key programmatic functions identified by the students in this process a number of themes evolved;

Amongst these functions one of the activities identified by the students is the sight every July of the Big Blue Tent at Fisheries Field, erected for the duration of GIAF Arts Festival. It’s a signifier of the festival status which is core to the public life of the city and a landmark for the summer. We discussed with the students about this ‘creative arts entertainment’ intervention and the potential for other spaces on the island, such as the old derelict Persse’s Distillery Building for adaptive reuse purposes. What might those buildings and spaces become? Student accommodation? With the meeting of ‘Town and Gown’ perhaps a shared library building for the city would be useful? Or a new Distillery? A Contemporary Art Gallery? Co-working spaces to foster a creative community? The students could quite readily foresee that in the creative use of these spaces lies the key to regeneration for the entire masterplan.

GIAF Big Top

GIAF Big Top

During the process I was reminded of a famous line from the late great urbanist Jane Jacobs: “New ideas must use old buildings.” So how to interpret and translate that into a way which might allow the students to engage directly in the process of reimaging Nuns Island?

Attending the Galway International Arts Festival 2019 programme launch last Thursday, the Artistic Director Paul Fahy, referred to the lack of cultural infrastructure in the city, reaffirming the festivals need to ‘Adapt old spaces and turn them into something new … ’he announced that as in previous years having utilized the former Connacht Tribune Printworks for the Festival Gallery, and this now being is no longer available, (again its being repurposed but now as an indoor food market),  GIAF is out of necessity appropriating and re-adapting the old GPO Sorting Office for the Festival Gallery 2019. Situated just off William street this building is just one other city center site which has lain vacant and idle for many years. Out of sight and just screaming for rejuvenation!!

The GIAF festival have always been the cultural pioneers in this city whom out of necessity occupy overlooked and abandoned spaces and transform them into vibrant active places. They understood that a former printing works, or an GPO sorting office can accommodate exactly the kind of framework needed for a creative hub /district. Both examples demonstrate a pragmatic response, creating flexible public buildings that give scope for further development. That kind of loose-fit re-apportion of space does not dictate how it should be used, the potential for revival is already there in the infrastructure and Galway has the cultural riches to attract people in the first place. It’s a matter of turning it to the right purpose. To look at the seeming familiar from another perspective …

As Architects we are often challenged to respond to these kinds of circumstances by conceiving new ideas for the design or re-design of existing spaces. In this process architects can become both activist and educator, championing the cause and helping to galvanize the support of the local community.

This was the approach taken with the students at the Bish. Bringing the class out into the town to explore and experience spaces and familiar places on their door step. To invite them to contribute and make decisions on what buildings or spaces they would like to create in their own local area. You could sense the excitement among the student participants in engaging as stakeholders themselves in that process which shapes their environment, in opening up new ways of looking and engaging with the world, and just perhaps pathways to creative careers as master planners or cultural pioneers for a few.

!!!! Guest Blogger: Kerry Walker, Irish Forest School Association – Blog No.2

IFSA Kerry WalkerThe Irish Forest School Association (IFSA) was founded in 2016 and is engaged in the promotion and development of the Forest School (FS) movement in Ireland.  We bring Forest School practitioners together to inspire inclusive, playful learning for all, in nature.  We want to build resilience and relationships, through our connection with each other, and the natural world, while inspiring creativity and supporting wellbeing. More information can be found on our website www.irishforestschoolassociation.ie.

In this second blog post, Kerry Walker talks about how the Forest School principles can be used to unlock creative potential in children (and adults!)

Kerry Walker is a passionate Forest School Practitioner and Art Therapist. Her appreciation for nature and art has brought her on creative journeys around the world. She has facilitated creative arts programmes with a focus on using art and nature as a tool for integration, connection and awareness. Kerry is the co-founder of Down to Earth Forest School, a nature based educational programme where children are supported to learn and create through nature. (www.downtoearthforestschool.com)

Unlocking Creativity through the Forest School Principles – Blog 2

The wider the range of possibilities we offer children, the more intense will be their motivations and the richer their experiences. – Loris Malaguzzi

The Irish Forest School Association follows six guiding principles set out by the Forest School Association in the UK in 2011. These principles form the foundation that gives the learner the freedom to choose how they approach challenges and activities in natural spaces.  Forest School, based on these principles, creates a space to encourage and support us to think critically and creatively. I am going to look at each of the principles and highlight how they are key to unlocking and supporting the creative development of children, as well as promoting resilient and independent learners.

In short, Forest School:

 

By using a woodland setting for Forest School sessions, we are providing an open-ended natural environment for the children to explore. The Forest School setting is abundant with sticks, leaves, soil, stones, and many more natural objects. They are materials that can be carried, moved, combined and redesigned – they are what Simon Nicholson (1971) referred to as loose parts. He proposed that access to loose parts encourages children’s creativity and provides a greater range of opportunities (Nicholson, 1971).The woodland setting is also providing the learner with continuous access to the natural environment where they are able to immerse themselves in the creative stimulation that nature so freely provides.

Ensuring that Forest School is a long term process of regular sessions is an important factor. As the sessions are continuous, the children are given time to return to their woodland site on a weekly basis throughout the seasons. With this time, they are afforded the opportunity to work on a certain craft or skill at their pace, and develop and share their own ideas. They are not rushed or told to have a final product; they get to experience the process of creating something over time.

By using a range of learner-centred processes, Forest School aims to create a community for development and learning.It provides a platform for all learning preferences. Play and choice are an integral part of the Forest School learning process, and play is recognised as vital to learning and development at Forest School (FSA, 2011). Child-led play is central to Forest School and play facilitates a creative response in us all.

Promoting holistic development and opportunities for supported risk taking are considered central to Forest School and also to enhancing creativity. Forest School aims to develop, where appropriate, the physical, social, cognitive, linguistic, emotional, social and spiritual aspects of the learner (FSA, 2011). It encourages children to lead activities, it can help improve fine motor skills, promotes self-awareness and gives the child ownership of the sessions. Forest School encourages children to step out of their comfort zone. In doing so, the children are able to become more aware of their physical and mental limits and are more able to assess situations. They are supported to think creatively and to trust themselves.

Qualified FS Practitioners are aware of the importance of child-led activities and so they do not teach or tell children what to do. Instead they provide ideas, activities and resources and facilitate opportunities for children to pursue their interests. Over time this supports the children’s confidence and fosters creative thinking.

By providing children a long-term learning process within a woodland setting, while supporting risk and holistic development, and by creating a community for learning with a qualified practitioner the Forest School principles are key to unlocking and supporting creativity in children.

Gill, Tim, (2007) No Fear: growing up in a risk adverse society

Nicholson, Simon (1971) The Theory of Loose Parts, An Important Principle of Design and Methodology. Open University.

 

 

!!!! Guest Blogger: Sinéad Ní Bhrádaigh Creative Schools Coordinator & Teacher- Blog No. 1

Sinéad Ní Bhrádaigh has worked in Galway Educate Together since 2002. She has a life long interest in the arts, primarily in the musical side of the arts. She plays classical piano to Senior Certificate level and has been involved with Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann as a piano and fiddle player and tutor in Dublin and Galway. In 2001, Sinéad completed a Higher Diploma in Arts Administration and gained great experience volunteering with the Town Hall Theatre and Galway Arts Centre. Sinéad established the GETNS school choir in 2004, and now collaborates with another teacher to run a choir with 100 students in the school. The GETNS choir has performed at several Peace Proms, at the Town Hall Theatre and at community events.

Creative Schools:  An Exciting New Journey – Blog 1

Our school was delighted  to hear about this new Creative Schools initiative and were eager for our school to participate. Our school has traditionally been very lucky to have creative teachers and parents who have shared their talents with the children over the years. Schools have changed dramatically over the years, the advent of technology means that the wider world has become much more accessible to children, and any amount of content is now available at the other end of their fingertips. The information presented on the training day for Creative Schools was so relevant and interesting. The notion that 65% of jobs our current cohort will be doing as adults have not yet been created blew my mind. That the World Economic Forum lists Creativity third in the top ten list of skills that our young people will need to navigate their future highlights how much skills development is now required in schools into the future.

We have been working in close collaboration with Yvonne Cullivan, our Creative Associate all year and this has been a great experience for our school. Yvonne has been successfully able to help us as a school identify the relationship we have with creativity through the eyes of the teachers, the children and the parents. What emerged out of that process was that as a school, we have a lot to celebrate, much to communicate and a great roadmap for how we can develop further as a school. There was a huge amount involved in the information gathering stage of the project, due in part to our large school population – surveying, collating and analysing over 1000 opinions was a long process.  We were relieved to hear that there would be another year to engage with the project, as we felt that we would need a lot more time to embed the learning from the information gathering, and having another year next year will allow us to do that.

The outcomes for our school are that all members of the community wish to engage more with creativity and the arts, we wish to engage with each other and the wider community more, we wish to see more cross curricular creativity and we wish to communicate and celebrate the many wonderful aspects of creative work that we already engage in. The children voted to do more work around cooking, nature and horticulture, so myself, Yvonne and the other wonderful teachers on our Creative School committee are currently working to put together a programme to run over the course of May and June. I look forward to sharing how we are getting on in the next blog post!

!!!! Guest Blogger: Frank Monahan Architect & Cultural Producer – Blog No. 1

Frank is an Irish-born designer /cultural producer with an interest in film, architecture & the arts, design and technology. An honors graduate in Production Design for Film, TV and theatre, he spent the best part of a decade in this sector. Coming from a film and set design background, he has always been passionate about the power of buildings and spaces to tell stories and he developed this interest further when he later moved into interior and architectural design work setting up practice in London in 2001. This experience led to a decision to study architecture at London Metropolitan University where he was awarded an BA Honors’ Architecture in 2008 and a Professional Diploma in Architecture 2012.


His professional practice includes the design of buildings & set design for film and television production. This has informed his approach to practice, which is collaborative, interdisciplinary and site-specific. With a long term interest in the critical potential of design he established the Architecture at the Edge Festival in 2017, for which he devised and developed the events programme through all stages: planning, development and administration, including the curation and production of an annual symposium on Placemaking  & associated workshops. He recently produced an outdoor built installation, ‘Ghost Chapel’ for Galway International Arts Festival 2018 in collaboration with Bartlett School of Architecture.

Threshold – Blog 1

TY students from schools around the country completed their IAF Architects in Schools project this month with a presentation at GMIT’s Cluain Mhuire campus to IAF, GMIT staff and Architect Dermot Bannon. Devised and delivered by the Irish Architecture Foundation, this initiative provides students with first-hand experience of the design process under the guidance of design professionals.

This was my third year participating in the programme, and alongside architect Sybil Curley returning to my alma mater at St. Josephs College, ‘the Bish’, Galway we undertook to deliver a series of workshops which might allow the students to develop their visual spatial skills. Art is not taught as part of the curriculum at the school, so it was important that we find a way to allow the students the opportunity to express their inherent creativity. The teacher was keen for us to assist the students to work on design concept development that would prepare them for Design Communication and Graphics (DCG) subject challenges. To this aim, prompting visual research was very important as it helped the students investigate that process. Taking steps to intentionally address any lack of confidence in their own creativity the students surveyed areas of the school and recorded observations on materials, light levels, circulation etc. Critical thinking and visual awareness was encouraged throughout the course.  Exploratory site visits further increased the students’ visual vocabulary and ability to convey design concepts through sketching.

In the first year we explored the idea of ‘Threshold’ in creating an aedicule, between the school institution and the city. There are plans to relocate the school away from Nuns Island and out of the city to a new site in the coming years so the idea was to think about designing a ‘gateway’ into the new institution. Starting with an exercise to create their own school motto to place above the entrance to the existing school building we brought the students out to sketch the Spanish Arch and other historical approach’s to the city. Following mapping exercises of the schools existing entrances and reception areas as well documenting the access roads/bridges onto the Island in which the school is located the students constructed a 1:100 physical model of the school upon which they could place designs of their own ‘aedicule’ interventions.

The following year we continued this exploration of that kind of creative flexibility which extended into how we can engage with the city beyond the school. Inspired by dePaor Architects refurbishment of Druid theatre, the students reimagined the adaptive reuse of their existing school building, turning it towards the river, and incorporating the adjacent Nuns Island Theatre into the schools buildings programme.  Careful consideration was made to how best retain the character of this building, a former Methodist Church repurposed as an arts venue, and how this might give greater flexibility for improvements throughout the entire schools built infrastructure.

The design brief encouraged them to practice a culture of sustainability in our built environment through adaptive reuse of existing building stock located in and around the school’s current location at Nun’s Island. This initiative has the potential not only to encourage the students to better understand their built environment and gain skills in design, sketching, photography, model making & computer graphics. But also to encourage them to explore their local history & geography, engage in environmental studies, develop knowledge of material & construction studies as well as a practical use for ICT skills. The ability to spot problems and devise smart solutions—is being recast as a prized and teachable skill.

I find that these experiences have not only reinforced my belief in the importance and benefits to be found in ‘learning from making’ for a student’s development, but it has enabled them develop their own identity/interests, skills, sense of self confidence, and the possibilities for integrating this into all aspects of their learning process.

When we think about communicating something essential about the world be it through art/drama/storytelling etc. to young people in particular, it does not help to be didactic, to focus on technical or technological skill. I would encourage an emphasis on the enjoyment and the value of the process of making more than the result or final product. What is of benefit to the youth is found in the freedom, experimentation and exploration that went into their creation. Expect to make mistakes. There is no right way or wrong way. It is in finding solutions that make the value of creative imagination most valuable. My approach would be to get something across playfully. To equip students with valuable life tools which enhance their public speaking and communication skills, social development, emotional development as well as the cognitive benefits. Actually, to get playfulness itself across.

!!!! Guest Blogger: Lucy Elvis Director of Curo & Visual Arts Curator – Blog No. 1

Lucy Elvis is a director of CURO, a not-for-profit organisation committed to public philosophy. CURO helps communities think together more effectively by inviting them to become Communities of Philosophical Inquiry. CURO works in schools, libraries, galleries and festivals as well as organising clubs and camps that include scholarship streams for children from less privileged socio-economic backgrounds. They like to get people thinking in places where they least expect it and to listen to the ‘big ideas’ that matter to groups who often aren’t given a voice.

When Lucy isn’t engaged in public philosophy, she is completing her PhD thesis and lecturing in Philosophy at NUI Galway. She is also an independent visual art curator and a board member of the TULCA Festival of Visual Art.

We thought we’d never ask…. – Blog 1

Often in our haste to increase engagement in arts education, we want to get children making. This is a liberating process: they meet makers, learn about their practice and have a go at creating work in that way these experiences are exciting, motivating and arguably help to create our future artists.

But, what about our future art audiences? Visual Thinking Strategies have dominated museum and gallery education programmes, and these have value too. They focus on looking slowly and carefully, getting lost in the work itself and wondering what it’s all about by answering the questions ‘What do you think is happening in the picture?’ and ‘Why?’

What happens though, when you allow young audiences to take charge? What new understanding can emerge by allowing them to frame the questions they are really wondering about after experiencing a play, roaming an exhibition, absorbing a story, watching a film or listening to some music?

This is what CURO aims to do when we think about art with our communities of young learners. Our focus is on reconnecting the experiences of art, with our experiences in and with the world using them to think deeply about questions that matter for everyone. So, where visual thinking strategies stay within the edges of the canvas and practice-oriented art interventions are focussed on making something, we encourage our communities to run with the work by devising a common, contestable and enduring question that it sparks for them.

In this process the group votes on one such question and enters into a structured dialogue to find a collective answer. Questions we’ve explored with communities include: ‘Is everyone creative?’ (inspired by the work of Sam Basu and Liz Murray), ‘Are there more than two genders?’ (sparked by Bassam Al Sabbah’s Walking, Walking with The Sun Upon my Back) and ‘Could we exist without negative emotions?’ (prompted by the experience of Richard Profit’s The Shortcut: Don’t Follow the Black Dog).

These fascinating questions are just the start of a process of exploring possible answers, the reasons for them and the imagined worlds where ‘that’s the case.’ In our next post, we’ll talk about the ‘how’ of structured dialogue and the creative thinking skills it can foster through the context of our work in Galway County Libraries.

!!!! Guest Blogger: Claire Murphy, Irish Forest School Association – Blog No.1

The Irish Forest School Association (IFSA) was founded in 2016 and is engaged in the promotion and development of the Forest School (FS) movement in Ireland.  We bring Forest School practitioners together to inspire inclusive, playful learning for all, in nature.  We want to build resilience and relationships, through our connection with each other, and the natural world, while inspiring creativity and supporting wellbeing. More information can be found on our website www.irishforestschoolassociation.ie.  Some of our members will describe their engagement in Forest School in this series of blog posts. First up is Claire Murphy:

MarieClaire (Claire) Murphy is a primary school teacher, forest school leader and a PhD researcher in Mary Immaculate College, Limerick. Thanks to funding from the Heritage in Schools scheme, Claire is currently working collaboratively with a Forest School Leader to bring a high-quality learning experience to primary school children.

Exploring the Visual Arts Curriculum in Primary School the Forest School Way – Blog 1

We know that one in six Irish parents don’t think it’s safe for their five-year-old child to play outside at home during the day (Early Childhood Ireland 2019). So opportunities to explore and to be in natural environments are increasingly limited for young children. Forest School inspires learning through interactive games, activities, songs, stories, nature crafts, foraging and sensory nature meditations. The sensory exploration deepens the children’s connections to nature as a result igniting curiosity and questioning, a fantastic gateway to learning about nature.

Forest School occurs as a weekly session in the child’s standard preschool or primary school context. The primary aim of Forest School is the development of children’s self-esteem, self-confidence and independence skills. A second aim is to encourage children to appreciate, care for and respect the natural environment (Maynard 2007). Taking risks is also an important element of this approach. The learners engage in activities such as building shelters, cooking on camp fires and identifying plant and wildlife (Harris 2017). The focus is on the whole child and their experiences developing the child’s independence and self-esteem through their engagement with the natural environment (Murray and O’Brien 2005).

The Visual Arts Primary School Curriculum presents a range of activities for the child to perceive, explore, respond to and appreciate the visual world, this involves ‘looking with awareness and understanding of the visual elements and their interplay in the environment and in art works’ (NCCA  1999, p. 2). One of the general aims of the Arts in Education includes the development of the child’s awareness of, sensitivity too and enjoyment of visual, aural, tactile and spatial qualities in the environment (NCCA 1999, p.4).

I explored the Visual Arts ‘Construction’ strand through this Forest School approach in a small-scale study. This was conducted in a 1st Class in a large, urban, DEIS status school. Overall, I found that there was a positive response as the majority of children noted that they ‘liked’ the lessons. There was evidence that children were engaged in the learning process and they displayed a development of new vocabulary associated with Forest School. I observed enthusiasm and engagement in the visual arts making process. I also found some unanticipated results of the study; I tended to structure group work in the classroom, but I found that this occurred more naturally during the Forest School sessions. Children had space to move from group to group, some enjoyed working in small groups of 2 or 3 children, while others preferred larger groups. Children had control of their social space. One child in particular tended to become frustrated with children at his group in the classroom. I observed that he moved away from the group for certain periods of time to work on his own, returning to the group when he was ready. There was a change of attitude towards the outdoors and the creatures found outdoors. One example of this is the class’ decision to protect an earthworm from the sunlight with leaves.

I am now continuing this research in a larger scale study. I am investigating the impact of the introduction of weekly Forest School sessions in an Irish Primary School setting. The Forest School sessions will take place in four mainstream classes, ensuring that there are observations of each of the curriculum levels as delivered in the Irish Primary school system. This is being conducted over the period of an academic year which ensures that each class engages in Forest School sessions for 10 weeks. The impact will be explored through the perspective of the teacher and the child to explore whether the teaching and learning methodologies used during Forest School sessions are consonant with teaching and learning methodologies advocated in the Irish Primary School Curriculum

Further reading of the integration of the Irish Visual Arts curricular objectives through the Forest School approach can be found in Claire’s paper in The Journal of Adventure Education and Outdoor Learning; https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/14729679.2018.1443481

!!!! Guest Blogger: Yvonne Cullivan Creative Associate for Creative Schools & Visual Artist – Blog No.1

Yvonne

Yvonne Cullivan is a visual artist and educator based in the West of Ireland. She has fifteen years experience in Fine Art practice, Arts Education, Public & Participatory Arts and Arts Management. She holds a B.A. in Fine Art from Crawford College of Art and Design, Cork, and an M.Sc. in Multimedia from Dublin City University. Yvonne is a Lecturer at the National College of Art and Design, Dublin, on the First Year Fine Art & Design Programme and in the Fine Art Media Department. She is also currently engaged as a Creative Associate with the Creative Schools Programme.


Working across a broad range of documentary-style media, including sound, video, photography, interview/conversation, drawing and writing, Yvonne’s practice is underpinned by a strong participatory and collaborative approach. She often works within communities of place, rooting the engagement in site-specific research and interdisciplinary knowledge generation. Sustained processes of observation, documentation, collaboration and experiential engagement with place, lead to the creation of new work that is reflective of, appropriate to and shaped by the process.

Creative Schools: Fresh Eyes – Blog 1

One of the aspects that I love most about working as an artist, particularly when engaging with a group or community, is the unknown. When I begin a project, nobody really knows what is going to happen, including me! This can be daunting. However, it is also a wonderful space to hold; one that allows for active listening and open response, intuitive exploration and discovery.

What I do know and trust entirely, is the creative process in which all my work is embedded. There will always be a thorough, considered and inclusive engagement. This will have a loose starting point; like a question, intention or broad theme. It will involve research, discussion, observation, documentation, and collection of information. As my sole agenda is usually to create an artwork of some description, I like to get a sense of the ‘bigger picture’ with all its nuances and particularities, whatever the situation. As the engagement unfolds, I constantly review and refine the information that comes to me, slowly shaping a response without feeling any obligation to make it fit a particular form. Eventually, as a result of this entire process, an outcome manifests. Usually it is one that is reflective and relevant, and will take a form that is both surprising and no surprise at all, because it was taking shape throughout the process. The pattern is always the same. Time and time again I doubt the process, usually when I am in the middle of it. Then, when I reach the end, I am reminded that it absolutely works. This is how I work as an artist and as an educator and this is how I am approaching my current role as Creative Associate on the Creative Schools Programme.

Schools are extremely active places. There are enormous pressures of time and workload on staff, pupils and management. The arts subjects are the easiest to squeeze out or the hardest to fit in. However, I am finding an overwhelming desire, from staff and from young people alike, to have more creativity, more freedom and experimentation and play within the curriculum and within school life. There are challenges around this of course, and there are some fears too. I have been engaging in active, visual and collaborative ways with my school coordinators and communities to unearth these challenges and fears and to also explore the opportunities and wishes around a ‘creative school’. Through workshops, surveys, activities, discussions and votes, I have been capturing all relevant voices; from those of the youngest pupils to that of the principle. We have been considering all aspects of the question of creativity in schools, from small practicalities to large visions.

The three schools that I am working with are thoroughly invested in this programme and are bringing great enthusiasm and honesty to the table and placing complete trust in the process that we are undertaking together. They are three very diverse schools, and three very different shapes are beginning to emerge…

!!!! Guest Blogger: Fiona Lawton Creative Schools Coordinator & Teacher – Blog No. 3

Fiona Lawton TeacherFiona Lawton has been teaching secondary students in Scoil Bernadette Special School for the last ten years. She graduated with a Masters in Drama and Theatre Studies in UCC in 1999. During that period Fiona has been involved in writing, directing, acting and producing plays around Cork. In 2005 she played the part of the Magistrate in the award winning film ‘The Wind that Shakes the Barley’. In 2008 Fiona returned to UCC to complete a Postgraduate Diploma in Guidance and Counselling and subsequently in 2013 completed the Higher Diploma in Primary Education with Hibernia College. In school Fiona teaches a variety of subjects but has a passion for drama. Each year she works with a group of LCA students to devise, produce and perform a play. Fiona strongly believes in the importance of educating through the arts where creativity and collaboration are central to the learning process.

 

Creative Schools: Working Together – Blog 3

As Spring slowly emerges with its brighter days and new beginnings, we too are delighted to get started with our new creative project in Scoil Bernadette.

After lots of planning and negotiating with calendars, our first visual arts workshop started on the 8th March with ten enthusiastic students, one from each class group, ready to pick up their pencils and get drawing.

During our first workshop we were introduced to our facilitators, Ailbhe Barrett and Rosaleen Moore who showed us some of their work and told us about their professional careers as artists. Ailbhe and Rosaleen are two artists who work in a supported studio as part of the Gasp programme. Gasp artists meet on Tuesdays in the Crawford Art Gallery in Cork and are facilitated by Mairead O’Callaghan (More information on supported artists and this project can be found here (www.crawfordartgallery.ie/Learn-and-Explore-Crawford-Supported-studio-Artists) We were certainly impressed to see their beautiful paintings and to hear of their celebrity appearances on the Late Late show.

We played a few icebreaker games to settle the nerves and to get to know each other a little better. Soon we were ready to get down to the busy work of creating. We each chose a word that represented the feeling of being at the workshop. Some of the words chosen were ‘happy’,’ listening’,’ together’, and ‘Cork’. It was the first step in expressing ourselves within the group. We then drew our words on paper, decorating them to our liking.

We finished the workshop with another fun game where in a circle we threw a ball of string from one person to another. We ended up with a visual representation of a very connected group. As one student remarked, it was all about ‘teamwork’.

The following workshop re-enforced this theme of working together. We were divided into two groups. Each group had to build a structure as high as they could. It was challenging, stressful, but lots of fun!

On the 22nd March the group set off for the Crawford Art Gallery in Cork City to get some inspiration. Here we met with Julie who gave us an extensive tour of the gallery where we viewed and interacted with the current exhibitions. We met with Ailbhe and Rosaleen there and got to visit the studio space where they work. We were lucky enough to have time to do some drawing in the Art Gallery at the end of our tour, taking inspiration from the paintings and installations we had seen.

So far the project is going well. The students look forward each week to having extra time in the school timetable to draw, build and create, taking inspiration from each other and the work of professional artists. After three weeks of working together, I feel that the group has bonded well and there is a collegial and supportive atmosphere which adds to the enjoyment of the workshops.

We have three weeks left to continue this work of creative collaboration. We are eager to continue to develop our skills and to discover our talents.  We hope to have a day of celebration in the coming months to display the finished and unfinished work to parents, friends and the rest of the school community. We are proud to be a creative school.

!!!! Guest Blogger: Ciara Gallagher Creativity and Change programme participant – Blog No. 3

Ciara Gallagher Profile PicCiara has a PhD in English from Maynooth University. She has worked as researcher on the National Collection of Children’s Books (TCD) and “Gender Identity: Child Readers and Library Collections” at the Centre for Children’s Literature and Culture, DCU. She has taught English in various universities and currently works at Kids’ Own Publishing Partnership as office administrator.

Beginnings – Blog 3

The Creativity and Change course continually pushes its participants, encouraging us to engage, act, and reflect in new and different ways. One of the most fundamental ways it stretches its participants is simply through giving students the opportunities to start something new – to begin new actions, challenges and experiences, and in the process, to unearth new confidence for future beginnings.

At each of the course weekends, we participate in intensive workshops on different creative forms. For example, one weekend focused on poetry and theatre. We moved from creating poetry as a collective to individual creative writing and finally into spoken word performances and a poetry slam. The following day, performance and action were channelled into theatre as we engaged with some of the techniques of Augusto Boal’s Theatre of the Oppressed. Throughout the course of the weekend we moved through reflection and action; from our own words to shared action and performance through poetry, and from the action and movement of the Theatre of the Oppressed to reflection again. Not only did we experience this as participants, we considered this process as facilitators – thinking through ways we could engage people through these creative forms in a manner that encourages interaction with beginning to write and enact change.

Our next task on this weekend was putting this cycle of reflection and action to use in a new context as we moved from the safe space of the Creativity and Change workshops to the public space of the city. Part of our challenge for the afternoon was to engage the public in some way, encouraging people to contribute to creating something as a group. My group set about getting people to contribute to a line poem, written in chalk on the street, beginning with the line “I know I am home when…” I was surprised at how readily and generously people got involved, moved by their openness and warmth. Individuals and small groups contributed their lines, writing on the pavement, marking the city space out as theirs a little bit more.  Groups of people contributing collectively take away some of the pressure and open up new possibilities. The same was true for our groups, as our styles of interaction with the public crossed and intersected, and we reflected on and learned from each other’s actions. Even though our engagement with the public was small and transient, we learned it is possible to bring people together to create something worthwhile, that people care and will get involved.

The willingness and want to be part of a collective is encouraging in these times when we need it most. Now to find all our different ways of starting.

!!!! Guest Blogger: Naomi Cahill Creative Associate for Creative Schools & Director of Bespoke Productions – Blog No.4

Naomi Cahill works as a Creative Associate for Creative Schools and is founder and director of Bespoke Productions. She is an experienced and qualified drama teacher of primary, second level and adult education as well as children with special needs and adults with physical and intellectual disabilities. Naomi graduated with a degree in Drama & Theatre Studies from University College Cork. She further completed the Higher Diploma in Arts in Drama Education and was awarded‘Highest Academic Achievement’ from the Leinster School of Music & Drama. Through Bespoke Productions, Naomi leads drama courses in Ireland and abroad which are aimed at building confidence, self-esteem and developing communication skills. She most recently directed a modern version of ‘Romeo & Juliet’ at Teatro Re Grillo, Licata, Sicily. Having performed both on stage and in film, she enjoys sharing her experience with her students. She is delighted to be working as a Creative Associate for the Creative Schools programme.

 

Creative Schools: An Insight into the Creative Schools Project: Barryoe National School – Blog 4

My schools are at a very exciting stage of the Creative Schools Project. Plans are being brought to life in all schools. At this stage, I thought it would be interesting to give you an insight into the project so far in one of my schools: Barryroe National School. The school is located on the Ibane peninsula and is surrounded by beautiful beaches and countryside. It has 176 pupils enrolled and a speech and language unit. The school is very lucky to have a wealth of creative local people and staff who are open to new ideas and projects. Parents strive to give and provide the best all round education possible for their children and encourage involvement in the arts. The school was delighted to receive entry to the Creative Schools Project this year and are thrilled to be accepted again next year. Their enthusiasm for the project is evident and they are very much making the most of this fantastic opportunity. They have dedicated a lot of time to the project and I have had the opportunity to engage in meetings with all staff and students. There is a core team of staff within the school working on the project including: the Creative Schools Coordinator, two teaching members of staff and local artist: Eilbhe Donovan.

Puppetry:

All students in the school were lucky enough to attend ‘Dowtcha Puppets’ performance of ‘Listen Janey Mac’ in the school. They were given this opportunity to inspire them to create their own work.‘Dowtcha Puppets’ are a renowned puppet specialist company based in Cork. They came to the school and did three separate performances of their show for different class groups. It tells the tale of a character called ‘Janey Mac’ and her puppy ‘Pepper’. They make a wish in a magical stone circle in their aunty Megan’s back garden and find themselves transported back in time, trying to find each other and their way home. One aspect of the Creative Schools project is the importance of finding ways in which the arts/creativity can be linked with and used to enhance the teaching of other subjects. Along with giving the students an appreciation for puppetry, the show produced by ‘Dowtcha Puppets’ also provided students with a history of Cork and Ireland. All students really enjoyed the experience:

“It was great to see the puppet show before we did our own one”. (Student)

“The setting and the props were great and how they showed the puppets when they were far away –it was a very funny story”. (Student)

“It was strange working behind the puppet stage. The lighting made it exciting. The show was great the way the characters were going to another dimension”. (Student)

Voice of Young People:

As I mentioned previously there is an importance emphasis on ‘The Voice of Young People’ in the Creative Schools Project. At the beginning of the year, I was given the opportunity to do a workshop with a group of students (with representatives from each class). I also met with all class groups and teachers to gain a further understanding of student’s artistic/creative interests. We regularly consult with the ‘Creative Schools Student Advisory Group’ when making plans. Having gained inspiration from watching ‘Dowtcha Puppets’ performance, a group of students (from all classes) worked with their drama teacher Annemarie to write their own devised puppet show piece. Other classes had the opportunity to make stick puppets and perform in puppet shows linked to fairy tales for their fellow students. Students are also very lucky to have the opportunity to work with renowned artist: Eilbhe Donovan to create their own air dough puppets. It is evident from their feedback that the process is very much child led:

“It was great fun – we were in charge of what we wanted to do. It took a long time but it was worth it when you saw how it played out in the end. We would love more time to work on it!” (5th Class Student)

“We did all the work”. (3rd Class Student).

“We could make up our own story, make up our own characters”. (3rd Class Student)

“Our characters could talk or not e.g. our castle was the narrator. We used objects that don’t normally speak and gave them voices”. (3rd Class Student).

“We added jingles. We were free to decide everything ourselves e.g. I had a potion and it didn’t have to be a certain colour – I could choose”. (3rd Class Student)

“We could move around and work in small groups. There was no right or wrong information and it was exciting that we could add props”. (3rd Class Student)

“We were working together and we weren’t fighting – we were laughing”. (2nd Class Student)

“We could act out the characters – perform and add music”. (2nd Class Student)

“While making the puppets it was difficult to get everyone working together”. (2nd Class Student)

“We made puppets in afterschool together”. (2nd Class Student)

“We could make up our own story, make up our own characters”. (3rd Class Student)

“Our characters could talk or not e.g. our castle was the narrator. We used objects that don’t normally speak and gave them voices”. (3rd Class Student).

“We added jingles. We were free to decide everything ourselves e.g. I had a potion and it didn’t have to be a certain colour – I could choose”. (3rd Class Student)

“We could move around and work in small groups. There was no right or wrong information and it was exciting that we could add props”. (3rd Class Student)

“We were working together and we weren’t fighting – we were laughing”. (2nd Class Student)

“We could act out the characters – perform and add music”. (2nd Class Student)

“While making the puppets it was difficult to get everyone working together”. (2nd Class Student)

“We made puppets in afterschool together”. (2nd Class Student)

Sustainable Creative Teaching:

It is important for all arts and creative activities undertaken by the school to be as sustainable as possible. Teachers in Barryroe National School are learning about puppetry as a new art form which they can incorporate into their teaching into the future. Teachers have been enabled to develop experience and expertise in this new creative area and implement their acquired skills across the curriculum with confidence. Here is some feedback from teachers about the puppetry workshops.

“It really encouraged turn-taking and team work. Children had to change their voices to suit the characters”. (Teacher)

“We had less control over the output. Junior Classes needed more scaffolding to bring the story to life using the puppets. Senior pupils lead the classes”. (Teacher)

“One class was completely child lead – teacher only had to facilitate. Children took on the responsibility and worked on their stories at home”. (Teacher)

“Without a lot of effort, I worked on puppetry, which I was not comfortable with, and found once the idea was suggested to the pupils, they took ownership of it and followed through”. (Teacher)

Stop Motion Animation:

The sixth-class students are also learning about how to create their own stop motion animations. They created a fantastic animation piece called ‘Jack and Jill Cycled Down the Hill’ which was very exciting to see.

“We were so excited. We were looking forward to the lesson as it was so different to anything we had done before. I had never done anything like animation before”. (6th Class Student)

“Taking the pictures and when they were all moving having put it all together was so cool”. (6th Class Student)

“It wasn’t like being told what to do and how to do it. You could make up your own story and put it together whatever way you liked. Our stories were brought to life through animation”. (6th Class Student)

Creative Schools Continues:

I was delighted to hear a recent announcement from Creative Schools which indicated that the schools currently involved in the project will have the opportunity to continue next year. Furthermore, there will be a further one hundred and fifty schools added to the project. Things really are going from strength to strength for the Creative Schools Project. The project is having a ripple effect across Ireland as there is an increased recognition of the importance of the arts and creativity in the lives of young people.

!!!! Guest Blogger: Fiona Lawton Creative Schools Coordinator & Teacher – Blog No. 2

Fiona Lawton TeacherFiona Lawton has been teaching secondary students in Scoil Bernadette Special School for the last ten years. She graduated with a Masters in Drama and Theatre Studies in UCC in 1999. During that period Fiona has been involved in writing, directing, acting and producing plays around Cork. In 2005 she played the part of the Magistrate in the award winning film ‘The Wind that Shakes the Barley’. In 2008 Fiona returned to UCC to complete a Postgraduate Diploma in Guidance and Counselling and subsequently in 2013 completed the Higher Diploma in Primary Education with Hibernia College. In school Fiona teaches a variety of subjects but has a passion for drama. Each year she works with a group of LCA students to devise, produce and perform a play. Fiona strongly believes in the importance of educating through the arts where creativity and collaboration are central to the learning process.

 

Creative Schools: Making Connections – Blog 2

Since our return to school in the New Year, we have begun the next stage of our Creative Schools journey, which is developing our school plan. In mid-January, I met with Naomi Cahill (Creative Schools Associate) to discuss our aims and objectives for the near future as a creative school. Using the framework provided, we were enabled to assess our current strengths and weaknesses in the following areas: Teaching and Learning; Leadership and Management; Children and Young People and Opportunities and Networks.

The process of writing the school plan has renewed our school’s commitment to the creative arts and also has highlighted the areas we would like to develop in the near future. We have committed to providing CPD (Continued Professional Development) for teachers in the next academic year. We will receive training on how best to use drama as a teaching methodology which can be integrated with all subjects across the curriculum.

Scoil Bernadette has a strong focus on the arts already and is involved in a number of extra-curricular creative projects including, dance, music, and theatre. In keeping with our overall objective, which is to enable all students to access a broad range of creative activities whilst in school, we have decided to organize additional visual arts workshops this year.

As Scoil Bernadette is a special school it is vital that all activities are accessible and inclusive for all students. Naomi has been invaluable in providing the school with links with a variety of organisations and practitioners that have experience in working with students with disabilities. It is important for us a school to expand our community network and provide as many opportunities as possible for our students to participate in activities that will aid their journey as lifelong learners.

We have made links with Mairead O’Callaghan in Crawford Art Gallery in Cork. Mairead facilitates visual arts workshops with a number of supported artists each week. (More information on supported artists and this project can be found here (www.crawfordartgallery.ie/Learn-and-Explore-Crawford-Supported-studio-Artists.html)

On 14th February 2019 Naomi, Mairead and I met to develop a plan where a series of six art workshops could be run in Scoil Bernadette during March and April. The workshops will be led by Mairead and co-facilitated by Rosaleen Moore and Ailbhe Barrett, two supported artists that attend the Crawford each week.

It is envisaged that this project will be collaborative and student-led. A group of ten to twelve students from Scoil Bernadette, one from each class, will attend each Friday in the school. The workshops will also involve a visit to the Crawford Art Gallery in Cork City. Together the students will decide on how the project will take shape. We hope to document the process with photographs which can be used to form part of an exhibition to be held in the school.

The workshops will begin on 8th March. We are looking forward to welcoming Mairead, Ailbhe, and Rosaleen to our school and beginning this new adventure.

We are excited to make new links with our local community which hopefully will expand both current and future possibilities for students in Scoil Bernadette.

 

!!!! Guest Blogger: Naomi Cahill Creative Associate for Creative Schools & Director of Bespoke Productions – Blog No.3

Naomi Cahill works as a Creative Associate for Creative Schools and is founder and director of Bespoke Productions. She is an experienced and qualified drama teacher of primary, second level and adult education as well as children with special needs and adults with physical and intellectual disabilities. Naomi graduated with a degree in Drama & Theatre Studies from University College Cork. She further completed the Higher Diploma in Arts in Drama Education and was awarded‘Highest Academic Achievement’ from the Leinster School of Music & Drama. Through Bespoke Productions, Naomi leads drama courses in Ireland and abroad which are aimed at building confidence, self-esteem and developing communication skills. She most recently directed a modern version of ‘Romeo & Juliet’ at Teatro Re Grillo, Licata, Sicily. Having performed both on stage and in film, she enjoys sharing her experience with her students. She is delighted to be working as a Creative Associate for the Creative Schools programme.

 

Creative Schools: New Beginnings in 2019 – Blog 3

Step Two: ‘Develop’

2019 has been great so far with the continuation of the Creative Schools Project. Having completed the ‘Understand’ stage, I have moved onto the next stage: ‘Develop’. Using the planning framework, I work with schools to firstly develop a ‘Creative Schools Vision’. This is a long-term vision for placing the arts and creativity at the heart of the school. It should be aspirational but realistic. It is used to enable the school to develop aims, success criteria and activity plans. The aims state what the school ideally hopes to achieve by introducing the plan. As I previously mentioned, the voice of young people is of key importance to all stages of the project. The school must outline the role of young people in the development of their plan. The success criteria must then be detailed which states how the school will know if their plan is having the desired impact on the school and wider community.

The next step I take is to work with schools to develop a ‘Creative School Plan’. This plan is used to support the ‘Creative Schools Vision’. It includes key areas for development which should be implemented over a number of years. It is used to support the following areas for development: children and young people, teaching and learning, leadership and management & school environment, opportunities and networks. The work completed to date in the ‘Understand’ stage is used directly to the benefit of the ‘Develop’ stage.

I also work with the school to develop an activity plan. The school uses this plan to detail the exact arts and creative activities they wish to undertake this year. A series of questions must be answered which ensure schools think thoroughly about the long-term benefit of chosen activities for example: Which areas of the curriculum are involved (including the potential for collaboration/integration across subject areas)?

Linking Schools to Opportunities:
Every school is unique and they each have particular strengths and arts/creative areas which they wish to develop. I am now working to link schools to relevant opportunities according to their plans. Some activities which have come up so far include: staff undergoing CPD training in drama education to learn how process drama can be used in a cross-curricular fashion as a means to enhance learning in a practical, engaging way. Another includes: students working with a street artist over a series of weeks to create their own work. There has been a fantastic response from arts/creative organisations and artists to the project. Some of the links I have made so far include: artists (in a variety of disciplines), Arts Officers, Creative Ireland Officers, Education Officers (from arts organisations), art galleries, university drama department, music organisations and dance companies.

Student Advisory Group:
To ensure students play an active role in the implementation and evaluation of the project I work with schools to set up a ‘Student Advisory Group’. This is a cross-section of students from different class groups that I engage with on a regular basis. These students give us a valuable insight into their own artistic & creative interests. Their views must be taken on board in the development, implementation and evaluation of the project.

Arts in Education:
This project is raising the level of importance of the arts and creativity in education across the board. It is not only creating opportunities for schools but also for artists that are highly skilled and trained with vast experience. Personally speaking, my career to date has revolved around creativity. On a regular basis, I hear about the benefits creativity has to mental health and well-being. Exposure to the arts and creativity is something which needs to be made possible through the education system in order to ensure equal opportunity to young people. In a world that is constantly changing, creativity is needed more than ever.

!!!! Guest Blogger: Fiona Lawton Creative Schools Coordinator & Teacher – Blog No. 1

Fiona Lawton Profile Image Fiona Lawton has been teaching secondary students in Scoil Bernadette Special School for the last ten years. She graduated with a Masters in Drama and Theatre Studies in UCC in 1999. During that period Fiona has been involved in writing, directing, acting and producing plays around Cork. In 2005 she played the part of the Magistrate in the award winning film ‘The Wind that Shakes the Barley’. In 2008 Fiona returned to UCC to complete a Postgraduate Diploma in Guidance and Counselling and subsequently in 2013 completed the Higher Diploma in Primary Education with Hibernia College. In school Fiona teaches a variety of subjects but has a passion for drama. Each year she works with a group of LCA students to devise, produce and perform a play. Fiona strongly believes in the importance of educating through the arts where creativity and collaboration are central to the learning process.

 

Creative Schools: Creative Coordinator – Blog 1

My Name is Fiona Lawton and I have been teaching in Scoil Bernadette for the last ten years. Scoil Bernadette is a special school in Cork that caters for students with mild general learning disabilities. The school aims to make each student be as independent as they can be.

We do this by providing a secure, caring and supportive environment through the provision of a broad curriculum of social, personal, academic, sporting, vocational and relevant life-skills programmes.

I teach a range of subjects in Scoil Bernadette and have a keen interest in drama, I am a graduate of the Masters in Drama and Theatre at UCC. My learning there has taught me the value of creativity in an educational setting. As teachers in Scoil Bernadette we are consistently looking for new ways to engage our students and make learning fun.

We have a strong focus on the arts in Scoil Bernadette. We have a choir that performs in school, at fundraising events and in an annual Christmas Concert each year. Our students are involved in a Samba drumming group and they participate in the Music Mash Up community arts programme where they learn instruments and singing. We have an annual visit from GMC rapper who works with our final year students in creating their own rap. We are also very involved in the dramatic arts. We are good friends with the Everyman Theatre in Cork and attend their musical theatre productions each year. We also regularly attend workshops and performances with Graffiti Theatre and Cyclone Productions. Our Fifth years create their own drama production where they devise, produce and perform their own show over a period of four months.

This is just a small selection of the creative activities that we are involved with. As you can imagine we were delighted to be chosen to participate in the Creative Schools programme. For us, it provides us with a forum to celebrate and consolidate the work we have been doing and it also gives us an opportunity to take stock, evaluate and plan how we can develop our school as a creative learning community.

Attending the in service for the Creative Schools Coordinators was an exciting and encouraging start to the year. It was great to meet all the other teachers and youth workers who are involved in the programme. The day was informative, hands on and great fun. The enthusiasm showed by the facilitators and participants was infectious. It was a great reminder of how we learn best when we are active and collaborating. This belief is one of the core teaching methodologies that we would like to promote in Scoil Bernadette as a creative school.

I did my best to recreate the days learning (albeit a condensed version) at our own staff planning day. We all did the envelope activity which required us to think ‘outside the box’ and engage with our creative sides. We don’t always have the opportunity to consider these things together so it was nice to discuss and share ideas about what creativity means to us as a staff. We also did an inventory of the creative activities that we are currently doing. It was great to acknowledge the many creative activities we are involved with already.

It was a pleasure to finally meet our Creative Schools Associate, Naomi. Naomi came up to meet with a group of our students and did a fantastic workshop with them where they were given an opportunity to consider what creative activities they are currently involved with and what they would like to do in the future. Naomi also distributed surveys to the staff so that we could give our thoughts on our current strengths, challenges and hopes for Scoil Bernadette as a creative school. Naomi’s enthusiasm for the project is evident and we are delighted we have her expertise to guide us through the planning process.

I feel that the wheels have been set in motion and we are off to a good start. I am looking forward to the next stage of the process where we can start planning and making decisions about where to go next.

It will be exciting to make links with other schools and expand our thinking and share experiences. We are delighted to be involved with this project and are looking forward to the rest of the year.

Read Naomi Cahill, Creative Schools Associate blog series at the links below:

Naomi Cahill – Guest Blog 1

Naomi Cahill – Guest Blog 2

!!!! Guest Blogger: Chris McCambridge – Teachers Blog No. 4

Christopher McCambridge is a Special Educational Needs teacher at St. Colman’s Primary School, Lambeg. St. Colman’s Primary is a mainstream school of 400 pupils with two learning support unit classes. Christopher is also an active member of the Belfast art scene. He co-founded the arts organisation Belfast Platform for the Arts (Platform Arts) in 2010, which continues to provide an exhibition space and studios for artists.

In 2016 Christopher and his Primary 6/7 class were chosen to take part in the Kids’ Own Publishing Partnership ‘Virtually There’ project. ‘A virtual artist in residence project which explores the potential for creative engagement between artists working from their studio and children and teachers in the classroom using video conferencing technology’. (Orla Kenny, Creative Director of Kids’ Own Publishing Partnership). Now in their 3rd year, artist John D’Arcy has been working collaboratively with Christopher and his class at St Colman’s P.S as virtual artist-in-residence. 

Away Day – Blog 4

2018 marked the completion of my 2nd Year working as part of the Kids’ Own, Virtually There project.  The two years have flown in and I have found that the pupils throughout those years have been given an enjoyable and unique experience. This project has also helped me to develop creatively as a teacher and an individual. This development was furthered through the ‘creative away day’ that the Kids’ Own organisation offered to all the teacher – artist groupings. Each teacher-artist grouping would be able to organise their own creative away allowing us the opportunity to re-charge our creative batteries, broaden our horizons and prepare for the next project year.

After much discussion, John D’Arcy (Artist) and I decided to take a day trip to Dublin to view a number of exhibitions that we both found of interest. These exhibitions included Land / Sea / Signal at RUA RED in Tallaght and ‘Prototypes’ by Doireann O’Malley, Rachel Maclean ’Just be yourself’ in The Hugh Lane gallery. The exhibitions involved the use of digital technology, an aspect that has been integral to our project.

The journey to Dublin provided us both with an opportunity to reflect on the project from the previous year. Discussing aspects such as the pacing of the individual elements of the project, aspects of planning, pupils’ enjoyment, as well as discussing what we felt worked well or could be improved. This time, especially outside of term time, was invaluable as it allowed us to discuss the project without any other distractions.

In Year 2, the central theme of our project was Hacking.  This word was the starting point from which all other ideas would develop from. I felt this worked particularly well as it meant we could develop ideas from this central theme, allowing ideas to either develop as stand-alone lesson or develop into their own mini-project . This flexible approach, gave me more confidence in allowing each idea to develop at its own pace, with the children developing and realising their ideas across a number of weeks. Thus, allowing for a greater insight into the work. This is an aspect which I hope we further refine, allowing the children to critically reflect on their workings within each session.

During our first two years working together, technology has played an important role within our projects. This year the use of apps had allowed the children to explore hacking in a variety of ways. In one of the mini-projects we focused on the ‘hacking of time’, exploring how we could speed up or slow down different movements from the mundane, the children completing work, to the more exciting, running a race. This mini-project was achieved through the app Hyper-lapse. I felt the variety and use of different apps had engaged the children. These apps were later used by the children to create a ‘coded film’ which the viewer was required to hack, using a code developed by the children during our sessions. Due to an interest in technology, I was interested in viewing these exhibitions in Dublin.

The exhibition, Land / Sea / Signal, was a group show featuring artists, Alan Butler, Gregory Chatonsky, John Gerrard, Nicolas Sassoon & Rick Silva and Santa France. The exhibition brought together these artists whose practices ‘mediated on the materiality of internet infrastructure and the complex socio-political conditions that are embedded within them.’The exhibition examined our modern day relationship with the internet, particularly how we ‘maintain, update and adjust our relationships … and reconfigure ourselves through technologies and with one another.

Image copyright artist Alan Butler - Land / Sea / Signal at Rua Red

Image copyright artist Alan Butler – Land / Sea / Signal at Rua Red

As with any exhibition, there were artworks which held my interest longer than others. In Land / Sea / Signal, the artist Alan Bulter piece was one of these. The artist documented the lives and experiences of the homeless … within the video game, Grand Theft Auto V. Upon first viewing I had initially mistaken these photographs as documenting real people in the outskirts of rundown cities. Once realising my error, I was taken aback by the uncanny resemblance to the real-life and how unfortunate circumstances can lead to these positions for people.

After exploring RUA RED, we moved on to the Hugh Lane gallery to view the exhibitions by Doireann O’Malley and Rachel Maclean.

Dorieann O’Malley’s exhibition Prototypes was a multi-screen film installation exploring ‘transgender studies, science fiction, bio politics and psychoanalysis, AI and experimental music. She skilfully ties these to phantoms of modernist utopias, epitomised by the post-war architecture of Berlin, which serves as a dreamlike scenography for the main, protagonists’ ghostly actions’ [Jury Statement, Edith Russ Haus fur Media Art Stipendium, 2016]

Some of the work of Doireann O’Malley was as a result of collaborative methodology, using a combination of CGI, film and Virtual Reality of interest. This was of interest to both John and I, as we have discussed the use of Virtual Reality as a line of enquire in Year 3 of our project.

Rachel Maclean’s exhibition ‘Just be yourself!’, also at the Hugh Lane gallery, was a series of video installations and digital artworks. Her work uses “satire to critique consumer desire, identities and power dynamics … she parodies fairy tales, children’s television programmes, advertising, internet videos and pop culture … combining her interests in role-play, costume and digital production in works of cinematic collage.

Image copyright Rachel Maclean - ‘Just be yourself!’, at the Hugh Lane gallery

Image copyright Rachel Maclean – ‘Just be yourself!’, at the Hugh Lane gallery

I would like to thank Kids’ Own and their funders for giving John and I the opportunity to organise this creative away day. It has provided us with the opportunity to discuss and critique our project work to date and allow us to view exhibitions that could influence our thinking for future ‘Virtually There’ projects.

Year 3 of our ‘Virtually There’ project is currently underway, and as documented in my previous post, we are exploring the theme of ‘Radio.’ We have developed our own radio identity, WECHO FM. Since my last post, the children have created their own DJ names, such as Smooth T, Aidan Big Shot, Jump Bam Sam and Charley KAPOW to name a few.  They have also used these names to design portraits, using a variety of different materials and techniques, which reflect their radio personalities.

As the project continues to grow and develop, the children are beginning to record talk shows, news stories, weather reports and create music and jingles, advertising WECHO FM and their own individual shows. At the end of the project, we intend to visit a local radio station, where we will have the opportunity to play our content to a live audience.

The ‘Virtually There’ project continues to allow the children the opportunity to express themselves artistically, as well as giving me the confidence to step outside my comfort zone and develop as a teacher.

!!!! Guest Blogger: Ciara Gallagher Creativity and Change programme participant – Blog No. 2

Ciara Gallagher Profile PicCiara has a PhD in English from Maynooth University. She has worked as researcher on the National Collection of Children’s Books (TCD) and “Gender Identity: Child Readers and Library Collections” at the Centre for Children’s Literature and Culture, DCU. She has taught English in various universities and currently works at Kids’ Own Publishing Partnership as office administrator.

Making Connections – Blog 2

The Creativity and Change programme meets once a month for one full weekend, each weekend bringing new experiences, challenges, and connections. These full weekends allow participants a depth of experience in learning, critical thinking, and creativity. There are also spaces for pause, reflection, and making connections woven into the structure of the course, and I begin to appreciate the space for reflection that the weeks between each course weekend allow too.

The idea that creative engagement is key in facilitating transformative learning experiences that might effect change in the way we see, exist, and act in the world is at the core of the Creativity and Change programme. With this focus, new possibility is discovered within seemingly simple, everyday acts. Listening, speaking, and observing, core components of many adult education courses, are first given renewed attention. For example, as part of our learning in a day dedicated to transformative learning and the creative process, participants pair up and take turns speaking and listening without interruption. The experience of listening intently and actively, and that of speaking uninterrupted demonstrates perhaps how often we take these acts of speaking and listening for granted in teaching, in facilitation, and in learning, and in simply communicating with others.

Consideration of communication and creativity is furthered in a weekend dedicated to the exploration of visual facilitation, which broadly refers to a process of facilitating meetings, seminars and other exchanges in visual form using images, words and symbols. As someone used to working only in the written word, this was a challenge for me. We began by visually representing sounds and playfully making marks on the page in groups. Once those daunting first marks were made on our paper canvases, the temptation to overthink into inaction was removed, at least temporarily. As we gradually built toward the challenge of visually documenting the conversations of other participants, the merit of incorporating creatively challenging work into my own facilitation and my learning became clear. A completely different part of my thinking and concentration was engaged. I gained new insight into the process of how I listen as well as how I order and create meaning. Just as the exercise on speaking and listening drew attention to the dynamics of dialogue, this act of visually representing the groups’ words brought a new attention to how I interpret and document, as well as a feeling of responsibility to accurately reflect and honour the group’s conversation.

Developing new ways of seeing and interpreting continued throughout the weekend on visual facilitation, which concluded with the class working in small groups, each tasked with creatively representing different sets of data. Groups worked on visualising data relating to the deficiencies of the Housing Assistance Payment (HAP) scheme, the difficulties people with disabilities face when trying to access social housing, and on numbers of people on housing lists against the units of social housing available – important data that can become meaningless in spite of its devastating reality. From an assortment of seemingly random materials, groups created stop-motion animations, made clay models, assembled sets, and designed performances incorporating material to represent this data. What emerged from the varieties of modes and forms through which this data was visually represented was perhaps the force of that which could not be measured or visualised, the shock of what this data represented that could not be contained or incorporated numerically. Through this creative process, the groups began to find new ways to see and explore some of the most pressing justice issues in our contemporary moment.

!!!! Guest Blogger: Ciara Gallagher Creativity and Change programme participant – Blog No. 1

Ciara Gallagher Profile PicCiara has a PhD in English from Maynooth University. She has worked as researcher on the National Collection of Children’s Books (TCD) and “Gender Identity: Child Readers and Library Collections” at the Centre for Children’s Literature and Culture, DCU. She has taught English in various universities and currently works at Kids’ Own Publishing Partnership as office administrator.

 

First impressions of the Creativity and Change programme, (CIT) Cork – Blog 1

I’ve always had a keen interest in the creative arts and concepts of creativity. Issues of social justice have also always been to the forefront of my concerns, very much connected with my interest in creativity and literary forms, and informing much of my research. It’s not surprising then that the Creativity and Change course, a programme aimed at “anyone who is interested how creative engagement can nurture global citizenship and empathic action around local and global justice themes”, piqued my interest. However, having spent most of my career to date firmly on the analytical and critical side of creativity, and perhaps on issues of social justice too, it took some courage and the making of some pros and cons lists before I applied. Though I’ve invested much time in thinking about how literature can help us think about, see, and shape the world in different ways — in other words, how engaging with a form of creative expression might form new pathways of understanding — I haven’t spent much time on what is perhaps the more uncomfortable side of creativity.

From the very beginning of the course, I was struck by the emphasis on doing, on movement, on activity. Introductory ice-breakers were conducted by participants physically orienting ourselves at different points in the room according to different prompts. Each new topic was prefaced by games involving movement and reflection. Instead of beginning by talking about our interests and experiences related to global justice, we explored these ideas through working with watercolours, pencils, markers — objects unfamiliar to the adult me. We worked silently in groups on numerous activities. In one instance, groups of participants were given a block of clay, to shape and mould any way the group saw fit, without speaking or communicating. Working with paint and clay in silence allowed me to experience quiet contentment in the process, with “doing” for its own sake, rather than focusing on my lack of competence or confidence in these activities. I think I also reflected more deeply on ideas of teamwork and leadership as a result of these experiences than through many of the designated courses on these topics that I’d attended as part of training for previous jobs.

One full day of our first weekend was spent at the “creative fair”. Course participants were let loose in a room with numerous stalls with various familiar and unfamiliar art materials, books, newspapers, magazines and much more. For the first part of the day, we were given no instruction — only to enjoy, play, or create something from the materials at hand. After a couple of hours of being absorbed in activity, we were tasked with making something that somehow engaged with the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals, and were given some instruction on how to use the material at each stall. This, for me, and I think for many other participants, completely and perhaps deliberately changed the earlier atmosphere of experimentation and engagement. I attempted to make a postcard based on the fourth SDG, quality education. Though it’s an issue that I feel strongly about and have given thought to, attaching the logo for the SDG of quality education made the postcard feel like a flimsy exploration, expressing an easy platitude without depth or engagement. And so, the first weekend of the course ended with numerous reflections and realisations about the relationship between creativity and issues of global justice.

 

!!!! Guest Blogger: Naomi Cahill Creative Associate for Creative Schools & Director of Bespoke Productions – Blog No. 2

Naomi Cahill works as a Creative Associate for Creative Schools and is founder and director of Bespoke Productions. She is an experienced and qualified drama teacher of primary, second level and adult education as well as children with special needs and adults with physical and intellectual disabilities. Naomi graduated with a degree in Drama & Theatre Studies from University College Cork. She further completed the Higher Diploma in Arts in Drama Education and was awarded‘Highest Academic Achievement’ from the Leinster School of Music & Drama. Through Bespoke Productions, Naomi leads drama courses in Ireland and abroad which are aimed at building confidence, self-esteem and developing communication skills. She most recently directed a modern version of ‘Romeo & Juliet’ at Teatro Re Grillo, Licata, Sicily. Having performed both on stage and in film, she enjoys sharing her experience with her students. She is delighted to be working as a Creative Associate for the Creative Schools programme.

Creative Schools: The Journey Continues – Blog 2

Creative Schools Coordinators:

In every Creative School there is a Creative Schools Coordinator. The coordinator is my first point of contact with each school and I liaise with them in regular meetings. I have now met all coordinators in my corresponding schools. In some schools the coordinator is a member of the teaching staff and in others it is the school principal. There has been a great response and enthusiasm from all coordinators and schools as a whole to the project and a strong belief in the positive impact it can make on putting the arts and creativity at the heart of young people’s lives.

Completion of Step One: ‘Understand’:

I am continuing to work with schools on the process of gaining an understanding of the school’sengagement with the arts and creativity. Having completed workshops and meetings with relevant parties and staff, I am liaising with Creative Schools Coordinators to complete the documentation for this section. All schools are provided with a document called ‘Understand’ complete with four sections: 1) Children & Young People 2) Teaching & Learning 3) Leadership & Management & 4) School Environment, Opportunities & Networks. In each section there are a series of statements which are rated on a scale of: 0-5 (0 means: the statement is ‘Not at all true’, 5 means: the statement is ‘Very true’). For example: “Pupils/students are involved in decision-making on existing arts opportunities and are able to shape their learning experiences in school” (Section 1: Children & Young People). Using age specific surveys designed for appropriate parties and information gathered from staff discussions I work with coordinators to rate all statements (using an average from the individual ratings). The following individuals are consulted with in this process: the school principal, deputy principal, coordinator, teachers (including resource staff & S.N.A.s), staff with a responsibility for the arts, parent’s association and board of management. These findings will support the development of the Creative Schools Plan which will be carried out in step two: ‘Develop’.

What is Creativity?

As I mentioned in my previous post the voice, opinions and views of young people is of key importance to this pilot project. Through ‘The Voice of Young People’ workshop I collected lots of useful information which I use as data for the ‘Children & Young People’ section and to influence my work with schools going forward. I go through this information, document and analyse it. I found it inspiring to read young people’s understanding of the word ‘Creativity’. From my experience, all young people have their own individual understanding of creativity. It is very interesting and uplifting read their definitions:

“I think it is about showing who you are and what you like to do”. “I think if you’re creative, you have a big imagination”.

“It’s about expressing yourself”.

“Imagination”.

“Like your dreams are what you feel & draw & do”.

“Do what your mind tells you”.

“Creativity is free! When you break rules, you are being creative”.

I believe it is important to let young people come up with their own understanding of creativity rather than provide them with a set definition. This is similar to the constructivist approach I often use in my own teaching. Using constructivism, students are actively involved in constructing their own meaning and knowledge as opposed to passively receiving information.

Through the workshop, I also gathered information on student’s individual artistic and creative interests. Students listed: the creative activities they are currently engaged with inside and outside school. They also listed the creative things they would like to do if they had the opportunity. It is very interesting to hear their responses. The answers vary greatly from school to school. The school’slocation and the cultural and artistic opportunities in close proximity of the school also have an influence on the responses given.

Meeting Teachers:

I have commenced meeting all teaching staff in my corresponding schools. It is very important that staff are fully aware of what is involved in Creative Schools and are able to contribute their ideas in order for the project to be of benefit. The staff are of key importance to ensure the sustainability and longevity of the project. In these meetings I initially provide staff with a thorough understanding of Creative Schools. I then explain the different components of the programme including the first step: ‘Understand’. I design posters listing the following questions as headings:

What are the creative strengths of the school?
What creative areas can the school develop?
What creative activities can the school implement to develop these areas?

I then facilitate a discussion with staff where they are given the opportunity to provide answers/ideas to questions listed. We pass around the posters and everyone makes a written note of their contributions. I also ask staff about their own individual areas of expertise for example: Is there a staff member that is a particularly skilled/trained musician/dancer? etc. This is very beneficial for all staff to be aware of going forward. I have found that a lot of schools are interested in working collaboratively together to share their creative skills and knowledge.

New Beginnings in 2019:

I am looking forward to a new year of opportunities for Creative Schools and excited to move on to the next stage of the project.

!!!! Guest Blogger: Naomi Cahill Creative Associate for Creative Schools & Director of Bespoke Productions – Blog No. 1

Naomi Cahill works as a Creative Associate for Creative Schools and is founder and director of Bespoke Productions. She is an experienced and qualified drama teacher of primary, second level and adult education as well as children with special needs and adults with physical and intellectual disabilities. Naomi graduated with a degree in Drama & Theatre Studies from University College Cork. She further completed the Higher Diploma in Arts in Drama Education and was awarded‘Highest Academic Achievement’ from the Leinster School of Music & Drama. Through Bespoke Productions, Naomi leads drama courses in Ireland and abroad which are aimed at building confidence, self-esteem and developing communication skills. She most recently directed a modern version of ‘Romeo & Juliet’ at Teatro Re Grillo, Licata, Sicily. Having performed both on stage and in film, she enjoys sharing her experience with her students. She is delighted to be working as a Creative Associate for the Creative Schools programme.

Creative Schools: The Start of the Journey – Blog 1

Creative Schools is a pilot initiative of the Creative Ireland Programme. It is led by the Arts Council in conjunction with the Department of Education and Skills and the Department of Culture Heritage and the Gaeltacht. The aim of this initiative is to put the arts and creativity at the heart of children and young people’s lives. My job as a Creative Associate is to enhance and shape the place of creativity in schools. I work to inspire, energise and drive schools forward in developing creative opportunities in the school and wider community. I enable schools to understand, develop and celebrate young people’s engagement with the arts and creativity.

Getting to Know Schools:

I work with a number of schools throughout Cork and Kerry. At the beginning of November, I began engaging in meetings with the Creative Schools Coordinators from my designated schools. There are a series of objectives I aim to achieve in these meetings. Initially, we go through the Creative Schools Planning Framework. We then begin to discuss the first step of the programme: ‘Understand’. This allows schools to understand their current engagement with the arts and creativity. It also enables them to assess the creative interests of students and the resources which are available in the school and wider community. We talk about the school’s current involvement with the arts and artistic areas which they wish to enhance. Through this meeting I develop a better, more thorough understanding of the school as a whole.

In each school I run a workshop with students on ‘The Voice of Young People’. All creative associates were lucky enough to have the opportunity to undergo training in Hub na nÓg. This is a national centre of excellence which supports us to give children and young people a voice in decision making. I use the Lundy Model to ensure the voice of young people is a priority. This model indicates that young people should be provided with a safe space and appropriate information to enable them to express their views. It is also important to make sure that their views are communicated with someone with the responsibility to listen, taken seriously and acted on where appropriate.

Workshop:

Giving young people the opportunity to actively participate in a workshop is a great way to hear their views. Let me give you a brief insight into ‘The Voice of Young People’ workshop. I use two different methods in this workshop called: ‘Open Space Method’ and ‘World Café Method’. The‘Open Space Method’ involves me asking student three questions as follows: 1) What is creativity? 2) What kind of creative things do you currently do? 3) What kind of creative things would you like to do? Students write their answers on post-its and stick them on three different parts of the wall. Students then divide these answers into sections according to what kind of arts activity they are e.g. music, dance etc. This leads to a very effective visual portrayal of student’s artistic interests. We then move on to ‘World Café Method’. Students are provided with a poster on which they are asked a series of questions containing blanks: 1) What is …..? 2) What kind of …… activities have you done/do you do? 3) What kind of ….. activities would you like to do? The young people use the arts activities they came up with in the previous exercise to fill in the blanks in these questions. Students then design the poster using a series of words and illustrations in order to answer these questions. I like using these methods as students take ownership of the kinds of arts activities they would like to explore and they are decision makers from the offset. I also give students surveys which are specific to their age and ability which allow them to express their opinion on their experience of the arts. These are important to give me concrete data to work from. If you want to know what young people want the best thing is to ask them. This workshop enables me to do that.

Further action I have taken in my role as Creative Associate is to create links between the school and local arts opportunities. So far, I have met people such as the local arts officer, programme manager from arts centre etc. These links are important to make to ensure the sustainability of the Creative Schools Programme.

The next step for my work as Creative Associate is to develop a Creative Schools Plan schools. Finally, schools will celebrate their experience with the arts and creativity by sharing their experience as a school, community and beyond.

Onwards & Upwards:

I firmly believe that providing young people with improved, sustainable arts opportunities will benefit them now and into the future. I am delighted to be working as part of this exciting new programme which allows us to make a positive difference in the lives of young people through the arts & creativity.

 

!!!! Guest Blogger: Chris McCambridge – Teachers Blog No. 3

Christopher McCambridge is a Special Educational Needs teacher at St. Colman’s Primary School, Lambeg. St. Colman’s Primary is a mainstream school of 400 pupils with two learning support unit classes. Christopher is also an active member of the Belfast art scene. He co-founded the arts organisation Belfast Platform for the Arts (Platform Arts) in 2010, which continues to provide an exhibition space and studios for artists.

In 2016 Christopher and his Primary 6/7 class were chosen to take part in the Kids’ Own Publishing Partnership ‘Virtually There’ project. ‘A virtual artist in residence project which explores the potential for creative engagement between artists working from their studio and children and teachers in the classroom using video conferencing technology’. (Orla Kenny, Creative Director of Kids’ Own Publishing Partnership). Now in their 3rd year, artist John D’Arcy has been working collaboratively with Christopher and his class at St Colman’s P.S as virtual artist-in-residence. 

WECHO FM – Blog 3

A new school year, a new ‘Virtually There’ project!

The majority of the children were meeting John for the first time. They were unsure what to expect as a lot of them had never experienced or used video-conferencing technology before.

After a few technical difficulties on my end, we finally connected to John. Introductions were made by John and the children, we got straight into introducing our new project theme … RADIO!

The children discussed their knowledge of radio … Tyrell said that it was “where you could listen to things, like a music box.” Aidan said he thought of it as a “jukebox” to listen to songs. Sam stated that different types of sounds could come from it, not only music but also advertisements. Daniel, Adam and Charley thought that even though it played music there were other programmes on the radio such as the news, weather forecasts or traffic reports. Adam also said that he had listened to documentaries on the radio. The children were asked what they thought we would be creating during the project, to which they replied, “A RADIO SHOW!”

Not only were we going to create a radio show, we were going to create our own Radio Station.

We discussed the different programmes that could be on our radio station, ideas for programmes included Music, Documentaries, Cartoon or comedy shows, discussions about the news and about our interests such as gaming. With an idea of the content, we were set the task of developing our visual identity. John displayed a number of symbols that the children all were able to recognise easily, e.g. the Nike swoosh, the golden arches, the apple mac symbol.

He told us that we would begin the process of developing a visual identity through the exploration of sound. The children began this process by listening to a variety of sounds that John had created; they then had to interpret them as a drawing. They generated a lot of great ideas, which included random symbols and jagged lines that varied in sizes. John then asked us to interpret drawings that he had created as sounds. Kevin, Sam, Daniel and Kyle all had a go at trying to interpret these drawings, with lots of different and random sounds and noises being made.

In the final part of the process, the children had to name each of the sounds that John created. He explained that the name could be a made-up word or a series of letters. The children found this extremely entertaining and generated a lot of random words for the sounds, including wobe, weeoloublue, breeeeee, dweenen, dulllung, dener, dedzen, wecho, bler and weow. After a short selection and voting process, the children picked WECHO, as our radio station name. WECHO FM was born.

The children were then set the task of creating our visual identity and the background for our radio station. We had to choose two colours, one would be for our background and the other colour would be used to create our visual interpretation for the sound of WECHO.

Each child explored the sound WECHO in their own unique way. This session was great fun and challenged the children’s ideas on what art could be. As the project develops, we hope to explore different aspects of the radio station such as, DJ names and identities, jingles and radio sweepers, sound effects and different radio programmes. At the end of the process we hope to visit a local radio station to gain a better understanding of the inner workings as well as possibly playing our own jingles and songs.

!!!! Guest Blogger: Muireann Ahern & Louis Lovett, Theatre Lovett – Blog No. 4

Muireann Ahern is Joint Artistic Director of Theatre Lovett. For Theatre Lovett she has directed and designed multiple shows. Muireann has over twenty years’ experience working in theatre for young audiences. Previously, she was Theatre Programmer and Producer at The Ark. She programmed the Family Season of the Dublin Theatre Festival and The Dublin Dance Festival. Muireann has worked with The Abbey Theatre’s Outreach Department, TEAM, part time lecturer at St Patrick’s teacher training college, and is a regular guest speaker on theatre for children at other third level colleges. She has led several Professional Development courses and was a member of the core working group on the published Artists~Schools Guidelines: ‘Towards Best Practice in Ireland’. She has been guest speaker at national and international conference focusing on ‘quality’ in theatre for young audiences. She is a graduate of the Samuel Beckett Centre for Drama and Theatre Studies, Trinity College Dublin and also holds a HDip Education from TCD.


Louis is Joint Artistic Director of Theatre Lovett. Theatre Lovett make work for all ages and tour extensively both nationally and internationally. For Theatre Lovett he writes, composes and performs. Work includes They Called Her Vivaldi (Abbey Theatre, National tour, USA tour 2019), The True Story of Hansel and Gretel (Dublin Theatre Festival 2015). Mr. Foley, The Radio Operator (national tour), A Feast of Bones (Dublin Theatre Festival, UK tour), The House that Jack Filled (Dublin Theatre Festival, Irish tour) and The Girl who Forgot to Sing Badly (Irish, US/AUSTRALIAN tours). Louis has also worked with The Abbey Theatre, The Gate Theatre, The Corn Exchange, Siren Productions, Performance Corporation, Barabbas and others.  Louis has also performed in and directed several productions at The Ark, A Cultural Centre for Children. Television & Film includes Moone Boy, Stella Days, Anseo, Killinascully, The Tudors, Showbands, Story Lane, The Morbegs and others.

Theatre Lovett make theatre for all ages, child and adult, young and old, chicken and egg. They were nominated for a Judges Special Award at The Irish Times Theatre Awards 2017. If you seek theatre that can amuse, involve and sometimes scare, we offer you theatre as adventure www.theatrelovett.com.

 

Blog 4: FRNKNSTN

FRNKNSTN has come and gone, perhaps to return next year and tour. At Theatre Lovett, we were happy with our monstrous creation and relish the chance to play with its constituent parts again.  As with all shows, a future opportunity to remount a show will allow us to tweak and try improvements.

Most satisfying was the combination of the talents within our creative team. It was important to the project that our creative designers could meet and discuss the project on many occasions before rehearsals began with the director, writer and actor.

Preparation began a year previously with three weeks of development with director, writer, actor and lighting designer. This was followed by a further week and one public showing on the Peacock stage with the support of the Abbey Theatre.  This year, the full team had the opportunity to come together in the Mermaid Arts Centre, Bray for two weeks of development in advance of rehearsals to explore our teams’ different specialities and approaches. Thank you to Niamh O Donnell and her team there.

Pay for preparation, for preparation pays.

Cajoling, coercing and corralling the creative team’s work alongside happily wrangling and wrestling with the writer and the solo actor required director Muireann Ahern to enter the arena and persevere for months. She held her nerve with some particularly tough calls along the way as she whittled this beast down to its beautiful, bony exterior.

Playing for your audience

Theatre Lovett’s Actor Training with a focus on playing for audiences Young and Older

Following on from FRNKNSTN, and now in its eighth year, Theatre Lovett have just completed another two weeks of our Actor Training course ‘Playing for your Audience.’ Working in the Gate Theatre Studio, the participating actors also had the experience of presenting aspects of the work to students from two local primary schools from the Gate Theatre stage.

This live experience is integral to the week. Here, on the fourth day of the week, the actors have a chance to put into practise, before that young audience, techniques newly acquired. Freshly minted. Hard to grasp and not yet understood.

The only stories, stimulated by the movement of several beings in a space aware of and silently responding to one another. (Plenty of story detail is provided by the individual imaginations of audience members). No script, no story but a structure and techniques, techniques centred around connection, clarity and simplicity.

Eyes (and ears) for each other and for your audience. Breathe. Make the person next to you shine. Thrown into the real experience of having no prescribed ‘material’ and yet ‘presenting’ themselves to an audience of expectant, eager children, the eye contact between these actors who met each other for the first time four days ago undergoes a resonant transformation. “I am here for you.” “I am as lost as you are.” “What happens next?” “Not sure. Let’s find it together.” Their connection deepens.

To negotiate the space with fifteen other actors, to maintain the engagement of this active audience, to search for the next moment, find it… together, allow it to live and then the next and the next and to continue to engage this audience and together bring it to a close… this requires us to slow down with calm, focused energy. Our energy is the audience’s energy. Not the other way around. Slowly, the actors approach clarity and the audience sees the pictures we make.

Sixteen or so actors sing together a song in a language newly learned. “What’s the next line?” “When do we breathe?” “Do we start now?” “Is this right?” “I think it’s completely wrong” “Keep going.” “Together.” The actors look at each other. Watch each other’s breathing, eyes and mouths, conduct each other through these signals. Not with gestures or hand signals, no pictures of anxiety, no unnecessary movement. Keep it simple. Do the simple thing. Breathe and sing. Together. The children are there for them.

I will not go into the techniques used here. That requires a little time and an audience. Underlying the week is the credo that we are playing for our audience. Take care of our audience, young and older. Do not cause them anxiety. Allow them fully relax in order to be fully engaged. They should sense that they’re in good hands. Easier said than done.

For more information www.theatrelovett.com/training

Copyright
Louis Lovett 2018

!!!! Guest Blogger: Róisin O’Donnell Young Playwrights’ Programme – Blog No. 4

Róisin O’Donnell is a 19 year old leaving cert survivor and writer. She was a participant in the first ever Young Playwrights’ Programme. Her play ‘Bernie’ premiered through the programme. She lives in Cork, where she spends her time writing fiction and plays, obsessing over books and her dog.

College has changed the way I write… – Blog 2

I write this blog like a stereotypical college student, with a deadline looming, on a tiny computer, in a big academic library. Eight months ago I was accepted into the Young Playwrights Programme and four months ago my first play took to life on the stage. Do I miss the programme? Short answer: Yeah.

In college, I am constantly reminded of the time I spent at Graffiti – not to jinx it. Just like then I am surrounded by people I like with my trusty keyboard only a stretch of my arm away.

A lot of things that I did not expect happened when I became a first-year student at UCC.

I can stare/glare/laugh at the ‘world’ now. And feel comfortable enough in it. John and Katie always encouraged us to say what we are- writers. An obvious title. But up until this new chapter of my life, I was waiting. Waiting for proof that I could post on Instagram and make everyone stop scrolling for a second and think- wow, Róisin… she’s not average… every negative thought gone…

I am not going to type bullshit if my time with the journalism society has taught me anything. The doors did not open present my ambitions to me.

My personal life turned into the Titanic on speed when the Leaving Cert came around. And the neat blue lines of the exam booklets had no sympathy marks to give. I didn’t get the results I wanted. The State Examinations Commission said you’re not good enough, the days, the months, the YEAR you spent was as worthless as the paper the results are printed on.

I got my dream course because I got lucky. Any other year… let’s not think of that.

My Leaving Cert is worthless now. Lecturers don’t mention it and us students squint and cringe about it, rarely.

I have learned to stop wishing and writing sloppy coming of age stories that made me sick with boredom. I write about my life now and the world around me. I send my drafts to the UCC Express or the Motley to connect with other students. So far I haven’t got a no, just edits. and ‘you can do it.’ And I am happy. The tiny achievements college has offered me have given me more than six years and two exams ever could.

!!!! Guest Blogger: Jessica O’Brien, Young Playwright Programme – Blog No. 3

Jessica O’ Brien is a 16 year old student and aspiring writer from Cork. As part of the Young Playwrights’ Programme with Graffiti Theatre, she along with eight other young people wrote and staged plays in The Everyman as part of the Midsummer Festival in 2018. She is currently writing her first book and hopes to have a career in writing novels or journalism.

Why I Write – Blog 3

I write for a reason, though I know that most of it is just instinct. Since I was a kid I would fill these hardbacks with creative writing and acrostic poems and I would fill my suitcases with my favourite books for the summer holidays – to the despair of my Mom. (my case was always overweight)  I distinctly remember the first Young Adult novel I read, ‘The Fault In Our Stars’, and immediately being hooked. I couldn’t get enough of these characters and worlds that were realistic, these people I wanted to be friends with. Within two years my room was unrecognisable, with massive shelves to facilitate my little library.

When I started studying for the Junior Cert I was taught to read and look at other forms of art critically. I am very grateful for the English class, classmates and teacher I had. Instead of just spewing out whatever Ithought was good, I took criticism from others. I listened to the other girls and realised I could be as good at writing answers as them if I tried. It was then I realised just how much I loved writing. I loved being able to start writing and forgetting about where I was and having that right word come to me. Suddenly I was in love with cinematography, the meaning behind words and I began to read and write differently. Now I couldn’t just read any YA book, I would scan the fonts and blurbs and as I read, I would add things to my mental list of what I liked or disliked. My journals became a source of comfort, and they still remain so.

But as I have gotten older and learned more about myself and the world, I realised that I had never truly been able to find myself in a book. There is such a lack of diversity, there are so many cliche stories with happy endings and straight romances and I got tired. One day I was walking home from the bookshop with my Dad and he asked me what the books I had bought were about. I explained, and I guess he was surprised because the books had strong themes in them. ‘I thought you read to escape reality,’ he said, with his bag of crime novels. ‘I guess I write to help change my reality,’ I thought.

I write because I can’t not write. I write to tell people what I can’t say or to get my feelings out on paper. My journals are almost like scrapbooks in a way. But most importantly, I now write because I have stories I need to tell. There are people in the LGBT community like me who’s story never gets told. People of colour. Different religion. Disabilities. Those love stories that don’t work out and real life teenager scenarios. We are all hot messes. It is so much nicer to read a book and relate to it rather than read a book and strive to be like it.

I write for myself, and everyone who ever deserved a voice. One day, maybe I’ll be scrutinising the YA section and I’ll see my own name there. That’s the dream I have for this reality.

!!!! Guest Blogger: Róisin O’Donnell Young Playwright Programme – Blog No. 2

Róisin O’Donnell is a 19 year old leaving cert survivor and writer. She was a participant in the first ever Young Playwrights Programme. Her play ‘Bernie’ premiered through the programme. She lives in Cork, where she spends her time writing fiction and plays, obsessing over books and her dog.

Youth, the Internet and Fiction – Blog 2

There are millions of stories on Fanfiction.net. 791K of those stories alone are listed under Harry Potter.

Meaning: Thousands of mostly young people around the world using their keyboards to enter the writing world. All because of words someone else has written.

I think that sounds amazing.

But attach the label ‘fanfiction’ and people start cringing.
Why?

Using the incorrect form of ‘your’ and ‘you’re’ shouldn’t automatically make you a joke. Writing isn’t easy. And I can relate.

On my way to becoming a writer, I went through the terrible years of primary and early secondary school feeling average. I had nothing in front of me, so much energy and nowhere to put it.

According to school there are only three categories to slot into. Athletic, brainy or social butterfly and if you aren’t a superstar at one of those things – tough shit. To the end of the pecking order, please!

One day, out of boredom, I typed 500 words on my phone and called it a first (bad) chapter. I wanted nineteen years later to be more than a just happy ending at a train station. Those 500 words turned into 230,000 words and counting. And that, I can safely say, drew me to more books, made me see things from multiple perspectives and start to question things. English class didn’t improve my editing skills, get me into the Young Playwrights Programme or give me the opportunity to write this blog. Writing something I loved did.

Yes, there are the scandalous stories but isn’t there Mills and Boons lining the shelves of every library? You just need to know where to look. The most followed stories on the site are under the genre adventure and are longer than any of the books I have on my shelf.

The readers and writers work together. They learn to improve their writing technique by editing and even beta-ing. People constructively break down each other’s work and work together to build each other up. Even the reviews are kind and supportive for the most part.

You wouldn’t believe the number of teen writers testing the waters and spreading their wings. They are trying to teach themselves. They want guidance and acknowledgement.

If you type fanfiction into any search engine late-night talk show segments will show up trying to get a cheap laugh and articles trying to teach parents what it is like in the depths of the community will appear. No one on the sites cares. That’s the outside world. The writers and readers do what they do with confidence. Confidence that would be benefitable to schools and societies in this cynical world.

And I’ll end this first blog with the lessons online writing has taught me. Lessons I should’ve learned in school:

Ability, even a magical ability like creativity takes works.
And
The only way to really succeed is to push forwards through the shitty phase every writer goes through and post that next update.

!!!! Guest Blogger: Muireann Ahern & Louis Lovett, Theatre Lovett – Blog No. 3

Muireann Ahern is Joint Artistic Director of Theatre Lovett. For Theatre Lovett she has directed and designed multiple shows. Muireann has over twenty years’ experience working in theatre for young audiences. Previously, she was Theatre Programmer and Producer at The Ark. She programmed the Family Season of the Dublin Theatre Festival and The Dublin Dance Festival. Muireann has worked with The Abbey Theatre’s Outreach Department, TEAM, part time lecturer at St Patrick’s teacher training college, and is a regular guest speaker on theatre for children at other third level colleges. She has led several Professional Development courses and was a member of the core working group on the published Artists~Schools Guidelines: ‘Towards Best Practice in Ireland’. She has been guest speaker at national and international conference focusing on ‘quality’ in theatre for young audiences. She is a graduate of the Samuel Beckett Centre for Drama and Theatre Studies, Trinity College Dublin and also holds a HDip Education from TCD.


Louis is Joint Artistic Director of Theatre Lovett. Theatre Lovett make work for all ages and tour extensively both nationally and internationally. For Theatre Lovett he writes, composes and performs. Work includes They Called Her Vivaldi (Abbey Theatre, National tour, USA tour 2019), The True Story of Hansel and Gretel (Dublin Theatre Festival 2015). Mr. Foley, The Radio Operator (national tour), A Feast of Bones (Dublin Theatre Festival, UK tour), The House that Jack Filled (Dublin Theatre Festival, Irish tour) and The Girl who Forgot to Sing Badly (Irish, US/AUSTRALIAN tours). Louis has also worked with The Abbey Theatre, The Gate Theatre, The Corn Exchange, Siren Productions, Performance Corporation, Barabbas and others.  Louis has also performed in and directed several productions at The Ark, A Cultural Centre for Children. Television & Film includes Moone Boy, Stella Days, Anseo, Killinascully, The Tudors, Showbands, Story Lane, The Morbegs and others.

Theatre Lovett make theatre for all ages, child and adult, young and old, chicken and egg. They were nominated for a Judges Special Award at The Irish Times Theatre Awards 2017. If you seek theatre that can amuse, involve and sometimes scare, we offer you theatre as adventure www.theatrelovett.com.

 

Blog 3: Theatre Lovett in the Rehearsal Room

Into week two proper of FRNKNSTN rehearsals. The focus in the creative space at present is on unlocking the gate way between the words of Michael West’s script and the actor’s physical, vocal and spiritual interpretation. Director Muireann Ahern, stage manager Clare Howe and actor Louis Lovett set up stall in a creative marketplace where ideas are unloaded, laid out, prodded for texture, freshness, flavour, tried out for size, weighed, assessed, refused, balked at, laughed at (in a bad way), laughed at (in good way), and once or twice a day, but usually just once, a string of ideas are spooled out in an order sufficient to please and perhaps, for a critical second, to impress. These ones are marked down for memory and promptly asked to take one more twirl around the room, and again and again. If they stand up to scrutiny and pass muster after repetition, then they are stamped for approval and requested to present for duty the next day to undergo the same drill again. Mr. Lovett accepts the challenge on their behalf. They will then be pushed for improvement. This string of ideas might comprise one short section of one scene whereby these firm, fresh ideas might be leaned upon to point the way forward and assess the way we have come so far.

These ideas are the precious gifts we intend laying at the precious feet of our fine audience. It is essential that they are the best we have to offer. Their providence is obscure in parts, clearly archived in others. Some are like midges on a summer’s evening that have become tangled in our hair for no reason but pure chance that we had decided to cycle in the park. But now we’re overdoing it…

Time hurtles towards tech week and first audiences. Our rehearsal time, our time strolling (racing!) the aisles of our ideas market is being whittled away. Always other demands pull us from the business of ideas.

Muireann Ahern directs and Louis Lovett performs in Theatre Lovett’s next production of FRNKNSTN by Michael West, a modern mutation of Mary  Shelley’s classic novel FRANKENSTEIN at The Abbey Theatre. This daring adaptation re-imagines Victor Frankenstein as a gene-splicing molecular biologist who creates human life from his own DNA with catastrophic results. Speaking from a holding cell, Frankenstein is desperate to set the record straight. A modern ghost story and psychological thriller, this version of Frankenstein aims to chill us with the darkness we hold within our DNA — and our hearts. Age Guidance: Not suitable for under 16s, www.abbeytheatre.ie/whats-on/frankenstein/

!!!! Guest Blogger: Jessica O’Brien, Young Playwright Programme – Blog No. 1

Jessica O’ Brien is a 16 year old student and aspiring writer from Cork. As part of the Young Playwrights’ Programme with Graffiti Theatre, she along with eight other young people wrote and staged plays in The Everyman as part of the Midsummer Festival in 2018. She is currently writing her first book and hopes to have a career in writing novels or journalism.

Let Creativity STEM – Blog 1

All my life I have been aware of what subjects defined me as ‘intelligent’ and what made me ‘subordinate’ by the education system.

Since I made the jump from primary school to secondary school I have become increasingly aware of the differences between myself and the students who excel in STEM subjects. It’s pretty clear what careers are portrayed as sensible, high intelligence careers, as careers in the arts are simply never discussed. STEM subjects include science, technology, engineering and mathematics- and recently I have noticed what a huge effort is being made to promote careers in these subjects, especially as my school is all female. We have been visited by countless representatives encouraging us to begin a career in a STEM subject and we have had several different weeks in school dedicated to science and maths. I believe this is hugely positive and will inspire us girls with the message that we too can hold positions of power in careers dedicated to these subjects- but I do think that those who are genuinely not interested in these subjects are being tossed aside.

Despite science being a choice in my school, I am constantly made to feel like it was never my choice to drop it. There have never been weeks dedicated to the students that excel in the arts. Yes, there are classes available, but they were hard fought for and aren’t treated as important by those who don’t participate in them. I spoke to my art teacher at an open night once, and she told me that parents would approach her, and ask her if ‘art was really that hard.’  My music teachers have only recently been given time slots for practicing for our carol service that is one of the biggest events on our school calendar. This would never happen with any other subjects. I was at a meeting being on our school’s magazine team. Our teacher didn’t show up to the meeting, which was a regular occurrence, but we decided we were going to power through on our own and show the school what we could do. But that couldn’t happen now. We were told the school didn’t have the funding for the 6 extra pages we wanted to produce. Yet our school bank gets hundreds to rent in famous guests to hype up their work. Our school has an annual run to pay for a new running track for sport. Our science labs are always stocked for experiments and our art classrooms are used as supply cabinets whenever people need to make posters. If you want to work hard in schools in a subject to do with the arts, you are pretty much on your own. I feel that the way people who work hard in these creative subjects are treated is really offensive. Music, art, and all other creatively based subjects are also fulfilling and big earning careers. The world needs them just as much as it needs scientists and engineers. Would you turn around to a world famous actor and chastise them for not becoming a mathematician?

Jessica was a participant in the Young Playwrights’ Programme with Graffiti Theatre which was a recipient of the Arts in Education Portal 2018 Documentation Award.

 

 

!!!! Guest Blogger: Dan Colley, Dramaturg & Director of Collapsing Horse Theatre – Blog No.4

dan_colley_headshot_editDan Colley is a director, dramaturg and programmer from Dublin. As Director of Collapsing Horse Theatre he has directed The Water Orchard (with Eoghan Quinn, co-produced by Project Arts Centre) The Aeneid, Bears in Space, Conor: at the end of the Universe, Human Child, Distance from the Event and Monster/Clock. With Collapsing Horse, Dan is Theatre Artist in Residence in Draíocht and co-Artistic Director of Kilkenny Cat Laughs Festival.  As a dramaturg Dan has worked with Macnas, Dublin Fringe Festival, WillFredd and Sugarglass Theatre among others. Dan has a degree in English and Philosophy from NUI Galway and studied Youth Theatre Facilitation with Youth Theatre Ireland. Dan was a recipient of the Next Generation Bursary in 2016.

Blog post 4: Rights Museum

The Rights Museum is a participatory art project that attempts to allow our objects to tell our story through the medium of a museum. Its subject is the lives of students in Larkin Community College and how the rights enshrined in the UNCRC intersect with their actual lived experience. Or don’t.

In my last blog post I detailed how I worked with a group of first year CSPE students and asked them to invest in the stories behind their rights – and learn about their rights in reality.

In our next session, I presented a simple everyday object to the group – I used a shoe. I like to gather the participants around the object in a circle. First I asked them to make objective observations: what can we say for certain just by looking at it? For example; “it’s a shoe”, “it’s got white laces”, “it’s black” “there’s dirt on it”. I kept this going, correcting them if they brought in any subjective observations (eg. “They look like they’ve been used to go running” or “They’re ugly”). Keep it to the facts that you can tell just by looking.

Once I’d just about exhausted this, I asked them to make subjective observations. I prompted them; who might have owned these shoes? What might they have used them for? Did they value them? And with each answer, I asked them to support their claim with evidence that they can see.

Then I placed the shoes on a raised platform (I used a bin but asked them to imagine it was a plinth in a museum!) and I asked them if that changed the way they saw it? Did it make it seem more important? Why? What could possibly be so important about this pair of shoes that they would be in a museum? I asked them to imagine that there was a label on it that said “Plastic and canvas shoes. Shoe size 5. 2017. Syria.” and then I asked them what they thought of them then. What would they think about the story of these shoes and who wore them?

I put the shoes away and then put another object on our “plinth”. This one was of personal importance to me – a pair of cufflinks displayed in their box. But I didn’t tell the participants anything about them yet. Again I asked them to make objective observations, then subjective observations (“is this important to the owner? Why do you say that?” “Are these expensive? Why do you say that?” “When were they made?” etc.) I then told them what they were, the story behind them and why they were important to me. Then I asked them all to bring in an object that was important to them, look at their UNHCR which we’d been working on, and relate what was important to them about the object back to an article in the charter.

Now we were facing the task of putting together an exhibition in the National Museum of Ireland at Collins Barracks. Our questions for this were; how do we represent the work and the participants’ learning in that space for members of the public to see? And how do we invite the public to actively engage with the ideas within it?

We decided to keep it simple; we photographed all the participants with their chosen object and asked them why it was important to them and what right(s) it related to. We then got Sarah Moloney, a graphic designer (although this could have been done by me or someone who had time to learn Photoshop) to lay out the photographs with quotations from the students laid over the image, along with the text from the UNCRC that were relevant. Each of these was printed on A2 card and was displayed on the walls of the exhibitions space. This allowed all of the students who had taken part to be represented in the exhibition.

There were three large windows in the space; the middle one we printed the text of the UNCRC and on the two sides windows we wrote “What would be in your Rights Museum?” and invited the public to write on the windows in liquid chalk pens which we provided. This allowed the public to actively engage in the ideas that the Right Museum was provoking.

The Museum kindly lent us a display case, for which I chose eight objects that were representative of the whole group, to be displayed for the duration of the exhibition. This was the centre piece of the Rights Museum and showed the seemingly everyday objects, contributed by young citizens, enjoying the prestige and equal importance that is given to the treasured objects in the National Museum’s collection.

The power of this statement seemed to resonate with those we told about it and we had an enthusiastic response to our invitation to the opening of the exhibition. The opening was attended by the Minister for Education Richard Bruton, Director of the National Museum Raghnall Ó Floinn and the Ombudsman for Children Niall Muldoon, as well as national media including RTE news and the Irish Times. Two students from Larkin Community College, Ciarán Hayden and Isabella Anthony, spoke about their experience of the process at the podium, alongside the Minister, Director, and Ombudsman for Children. A number of students led guided interpretive tours of the exhibition for our guests.

I’d count among the Rights Museums successes; the way that it was able to facilitate learning about children’s rights in an active and personal way, that it succeeded in placing, on equal footing, the objects and stories of the young people alongside the artefacts of the National Museum, and the wide reach that the Rights Museum had to the public, through the media and from those who visited it.

The main challenges were in finding time and space with the young people to work in a way that was outside of the curriculum – although there are important curricular subjects being addressed. I am eternally grateful to the staff of Larkin, particularly Máire O’Higgins for facilitating that. Another challenge I found was a lack of understanding, of and buy-in to, the idea of human rights by the young people that I worked with. I picked up on a prevailing perception, before I started working with them, that human rights were a

My takeaways from this projects are many but the main ones that jump to mind

1. That artists have a different approach to working that the students can benefit from that perspective. The artists way is often a more circuitous, process and enquiry based approach than students are used to in mainstream education. It’s one that’s comfortable with the state of ambiguity you find yourself in while you’re working, one that all