What does Arts in Education practice look like? Read about the processes and partnerships behind current projects happening around Ireland.

Myself and My Friends

Tell us the story of your project – What was it about? Who was involved? How did you begin?

Mary Bennett, Teacher

Our project began by exploring self-portraits. It wasn’t long before this led us to the realisation that many of the pupils lacked confidence and self-esteem. We decided to try and tackle this through a creative avenue and to link in with SPHE. The pupils used a kaleidoscope camera to take unique pictures of themselves. From there we looked at describing words for ourselves and our peers. The pupils chose their favourite word and it was carved into their self-portrait. They then placed cellophane behind the word to make it stand out. All the pupils’ portraits were suspended from a grid system Helen had created in the classroom which we added to over the course of the year. The installation was very effective and it helped create a very positive atmosphere in the classroom. We also did a printing workshop. The children designed their own printing plate and they got to use a real printing press which was so exciting for them. As the materials Helen had provided were such good quality, the prints turned out beautifully and the pupils were so proud of their work.

Helen Barry, Artist

Our project grew from a week long Training of Trainers Programme, Summer 2016. A unique initiative with the Association of Teachers’/Education Centres in Ireland (ATECI), funded by the Department of Education and Skills (DES) and the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht (DAHG)/Department of Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs (DAHRRGA) that supports the Teacher-Artist Partnership as a Model of CPD – 22 artists nominated by arts organisations, and in my case it was IMMA (Irish Museum of Modern Art) and 22 teachers representing Education Centres nationwide. In our partnership the organisations were IMMA (Irish Museum of Modern Art) and Dublin West Education Centre.

During the week long Training of Trainers programme we had time to discuss and plan potential ideas that would link naturally to the curriculum. Mary had had this particular class in the earlier stage of their primary school education so she knew the girls quite well. As an artist I try to link the theme to areas of my own practice. A key component of my own inquiry is faith and belief, that I was keen to explore as most of them would be participating in a holy sacrament during their final year of primary school. As with many potential themes and ideas these are quickly abandoned when I actually meet the class and get to know the group

How were the ideas developed and how did the young people, artist and teacher work together?

Mary Bennett, Teacher

Helen began by meeting the class and getting a feel for where their interests lay. She planned a lovely introductory session where the pupils got to know her. By the end of session one, the students felt at ease and were very excited about where the project would lead. Myself and Helen liaised with each other and were able to link our project into the curriculum. As it’s so overloaded, it was a great help to be able to integrate in such a creative manner. We initially decided to link in with SPHE in a bid to help build on the pupils’ confidence – a great bonus for pre-teen girls.

Helen Barry, Artist

The time in the summer had provided Mary and I with a good understanding of how we work and most importantly gave us an understanding of each other’s personalities. In my experience it is crucial for a successful artist in residence that the interaction between the artist and teacher is mutually respectful of each other’s professional practice. In this particular incidence it was imperative that I followed Mary’s knowledge of the class. It was evident on my initial meeting of the class that their confidence and self esteem seemed particularly low throughout the whole class. Mary and I had similar aesthetic tastes and though Mary had at times little confidence in her own artistic abilities her enjoyment, enthusiasm and new skills embraced everything we did and the children followed suit.

After my initial meeting with the class Mary and I were able to re-plan a creative programme that centred on building self-esteem that would grow throughout the year with the children.

What was your personal experience of the project in terms of successes and challenges?

Mary Bennett, Teacher

I learned so much from this experience and overall it was incredibly positive and rewarding for both myself as a teacher and the pupils. By the end, I felt much more confident in teaching the various art forms that we had explored. The pupils grew in confidence in their abilities and were so proud of the work that they had created.

My only challenge was in accepting the importance of, in a sense, allowing the project lead itself. Each week or so, we would re-evaluate and decide where we would be taken, either by something that the pupils spoke about/ enjoyed doing or something that struck us as professionals. As teachers, we tend to be quite regimented regarding our planning and we like to know what we’ll be doing weeks in advance, so it was lovely to allow the creativity to take over and to allow the pupils to play a major part in deciding what we would do.

Helen Barry, Artist

I really enjoyed working on this project and watching it grow and develop in parallel with the children’s growth in confidence and self-esteem. The project really benefited from the time provided for the teacher and artist to get to know each other. The main challenge was parking my specific idea at the classroom door.

What was significant for you about the project that is worth sharing?

Mary Bennett, Teacher

We created a really wonderful installation. It began with the installation of our portraits but that was just the beginning of a piece of work that we added to again and again as the year went on. It really stressed for me the importance of the process as opposed to the product. I was also stuck by how effective it can be to allow simple conversations with the pupils’ guide where a project goes. By keeping your ear to the ground, you can pick up on so much which will bring the project to a place that the children are interested in and will take so much pride in.

Helen Barry, Artist

The dynamic of every class is different and even if the artist can see a potential project that has strong links to his or her own studio enquiry it is imperative to pause and understand where the teacher and class are at. I can honestly say that the children led the direction of the project and enjoyed allowing it to go somewhere that I had to loosen my control of.

Has anything changed in your work as a result of the project?

Mary Bennett, Teacher

I have become much better at not being so fixated on a plan and have learned to accept that when working on a long-term project, there are bound to be changes and that’s ok. I have learned from Helen that trial and error is all part of the creative process. It’s great for the children to see and experience this too. I’ve become better able to step out of my comfort zone as a result of working with Helen. It was a fantastic opportunity, one that I was so glad to have had the chance to participate in.

Helen Barry, Artist

I spend more time listening to the teacher before overloading them with ideas.




Helen Barry, Artist

I am a visual artist whose collaborative work with children is intrinsic to my practice. My focus is with early years and primary school children, creating work with them and sometimes for them. Through sculpture, installation, printmaking, movement, and sound we explore ideas of community, self and belief. I have completed over 10 artist-in-residences in recent years and no two follow the same path. The relationship between the artist, teacher and child will shape and lead where we go together.

Following this AIR Mary and I facilitated the artist/teacher partnership as a model for CPD in Summer 2017 with Dublin West Education Centre.


Mary Bennett, Teacher

Mary Bennett has been teaching at primary school level for 10 years, first in Crumlin, County Dublin, and has recently made the move down to Mountmellick in her home county of Laois. She is very passionate about Arts in Education, particularly the visual arts, and has set up an after-school art club in her new school.

Helen Barry


Helen Barry

Mary Bennett, Teacher


Mary Bennett


Visual Arts

School Level


Participant Group

Scoil Mhuire Ógh 1, Dublin 12

No. Participants



Dublin County


11-12 years , 6th Class


September to December 2016


Other Partners and/or Funders

Department of Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs (DAHRRGA), Department of Education and Skills (DES), Dublin West Education Centre

Key themes/ lines of enquiry

Myself, My Friends

Communication, Group Work, Self Esteem

Curriculum Strands

Drawing, Making prints

Looking and Responding

Construction, Shapes and Spaces,

Writing and Listening.

Research or relevant publications

I have learned from Helen that trial and error is all part of the creative process. It’s great for the children to see and experience this too

Mary Bennett, Teacher