Promoting professional arts practice with children and young people
Issue 2 2010
About this publication: Title: Practice Practice publication team:
Contents 1 Welcome 2 Artists and ‘digital natives’ 4 Selected Projects
“Everything starts and ends with dialogue”
Editor: Orla Kenny Content & Copy-editing: Jo Holmwood
ISSN: 2009-2563 © writers, artists and Kids’ Own Publishing Partnership, 2010. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced copied or transmitted in any form or by means without permission of the publisher. Kids’ Own accepts no responsibility for loss or damage of material submitted for publication. The views expressed in Practice are not necessarily those of the Editor.
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Ríonach Ní Néill: Learning by looking through a child’s eyes Ann Henderson: Virtually there Ann Donnelly: Virtually there Puppet Portal Project: Phase2 Maire Brett: Journeying
“That is one of the things that inspires you to say, I can transgress, I can do something that is not allowed. That is just fantastic and it is a real gift. Maybe that is why I love working with kids, because we can do this, I can be naughty too, lets be bold“ Julie Forrester
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Michael McLoughlin: This is not an art class Julie Forrester: Stirring things up Mary Branley: Deep listening Mags Byrne: From stillness comes action Tony Fegan: Connecting through art
“I don’t consider myself a teacher. Yes I can share some skills, and the professional dancers share skills with the young participants, but there are other means of artistry within the young person to engage with” Ríonach Ní Néill
Cover Photograph: work made by Company B © Ciaran Gray, Company B.
Welcome Welcome to the second issue of the Practice Journal – promoting arts practice with children and young people. In the two years since the inception of Practice.ie we find ourselves in a good position to ask what this network has achieved and how it is developing. So far, we have learned a huge amount about the type of practice that is taking place with children and young people in Ireland, but also the lack of support that is available to artists within this field. In the past years, strong models of engagement with children have emerged, but many artists have been working in isolation and without a framework within which to place their work. Lack of documentation and sharing in the past means that learning has often been lost and when great projects come to an end, models of practice and methodologies have not been carried forward. We are encouraging artists to avail of Practice.ie as a support structure through which they can profile their own work but also to galvanise their relationship with the sector at large and become part of a wider dialogue which investigates and promotes the value of this practice. What we have learned is that there is great work happening in pockets across Ireland, but artists need a common space; a framework through which to find connectivity and sectoral relevance in order to truly develop their practice. This journal makes some of those connections between projects and artists on Practice. ie to create a coherent picture of contemporary arts practice with children and the debates that run across it. In 2010, Practice.ie engaged Guest Editors from a range of art forms and backgrounds, to curate features for the site. The Guest Editors for 2010 were: Máire Davey (education and community co-ordinator at Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown Arts Office); Anne O’Gorman (senior project officer for Youth Arts at the National Youth Council of Ireland); Mark Maguire (assistant curator for children’s programmes at the Irish Museum of Modern Art); Fiona Whelan (Amsterdam-based visual artist and director of Dream Depot); Helene Hugel (creative director of Helium, Children’s Arts and Health). This provided a range of perspectives across youth work, arts in health, national institutions and local authority-funded projects. Our Guest Editors actively curated new features for the site, including interviews, project features and essays, and were also invited to keep a blog if they wished. All of the content contributed by the Guest Editors can be found on Practice.ie.
During its first year, as the Practice.ie network developed, we worked with partners across the country to deliver professional development days for artists to share their work and explore and discuss their ideas about best practice for working with children and young people. In 2010, this developed into a live online platform (through Practice. ie) that would allow for more sustainable and immediate engagement between and among artists around the country who wished to share practice and discuss critical issues without barriers to participation. The Practice.ie Online Talk Series drew on the expertise and experience of a number of artists and practitioners, who presented their work to a live public audience online. The Practice.ie Reading Room, sought to engage a smaller group of artists in more focused critical discussion, prompted by themes taken from pre-selected reading materials. We are also currently developing regional groups with partners who can facilitate ongoing real meetings between artists at local level, in order to continue building the Practice.ie network from the ground up. The first regional group in Dun LaoghaireRathdown – in partnership with the dlr arts office – has begun posting updates about its meetings online. In 2011, the development of more regional groups will be an important element for continued on-the-ground support for artists. Meanwhile, Practice.ie provides a hotbed for discussion, where all of the work taking place at ground level is crucially shared. Live online events will continue, but will be more focused, as many artists still find live engagement a challenge and sometimes inhibiting. We are very excited to announce that in the coming months, Practice.ie will undergo a complete redesign, based on user feedback which will result in easier navegation of the site and increase its potential as a platform for profiling artists’ work. We look forward to receiving feedback from our members about the new design. In the meantime, we hope you will enjoy this second publication – a selection of some of the best work taking place between children and artists across Ireland.
Artists and ‘digital natives’ Introduction to the Practice Journal Volume 2 by the practice.ie team Orla Kenny and Jo Holmwood. “Our children are living in the most intensly stimulating period in the history of the earth. They’re being besieged with information and calls to their attention from every platform – from computers, from i-phones, from advertising hoardings, from hundreds of television channels and we’re penalising them now for getting distracted.”1 Sir Ken Robinson Sir Ken Robinson’s address to the RSA highlights the failures of education systems across the world to be forward thinking in the way they teach and engage children. His words demonstrate that we can no longer expect old models of education (based, as he argues, on a ninteenth century view of the mind) to sufficiently meet the needs of today’s children who think and learn in radically different ways to previous generations. This resonates strongly in Ireland where there is increasing disillusionment with an education system that fails to be forward thinking and fails to attend to the whole needs of every child. In the information era, there has been no radical advancement within education to meet the dramatic changes in our society and, as a result, the dramatic changes in the way we are developing as human beings. The increase in children’s use of technology has played a crucial role in the way children learn.
1 Ken Robinson, delivering a talk for the RSA (Royal Society for the Encouragement of the Arts, Manufactures & Commerce) in 2007, entitled ‘Changing Paradigms’.
Marc Prensky describes present-day children as ‘Digital Natives’ – born during the technological era2. Children’s fluency with technology and online navigation has become integral to the way they learn. They are adept at multi-tasking and they are instrumental in their own collective learning, by passing information rapidly to one another through social networking. Increasingly, children are in control of how they learn and as such, the role of the teacher needs to adapt to become more consultative and less instructive. Teachers, and the education system at large, need to recognise that children can develop their own expertise in this new era. In what ways, then, can artists who come in to the learning environment, complement the new learning styles of children? Ken Robinson believes that creativity and creative expression are fundamental to the learning experiences of children. He says: “The arts especially address the idea of aesthetic experience and the aesthetic experience is one in which your senses are operating at their peak, when you’re present in the current moment, when you’re resonating with the excitement of this thing that you’re experiencing, when you are fully alive. And anaesthetic is when you shut your senses off and deaden yourself to what’s happening. We are getting our children through education by anaesthetising them, and I think we should be doing the exact opposite. We shouldn’t be putting them asleep, we should be waking them up to what they have inside of themselves.” 3
2 Marc Prensky, Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants, 2001, in ‘On the Horizon’, MCB University Press, Vol 9, No. 5 3 Ken Robinson, delivering a talk for the RSA (Royal Society for the Encouragement of the Arts, Manufactures & Commerce) in 2007, entitled ‘Changing Paradigms’.
© Ríonach Ní Néill: Kath, Natasha and Holly in ‘Journey’. 1 4
‘Measuring it up’: a collaborative whiteboard made by children at Ballydown Primary School and artist Ann Henderson. Practice.ie is rooted in a firm belief that the arts bring more than just an anecdotal quality to children’s lives and learning. The creative experience can have an integral and instrumental impact on the way we learn, while also promoting the intrinsic value of the arts that Robinson describes. The projects highlighted in this issue of the Practice Journal reflect a variety of unique approaches to working with children and young people, taking place across a number of art forms and settings. Within this diversity, there is a common strength which relates to the value that artists bring to educational and learning environments, which shows their intervention to have a crucial role in developing children’s capacity for critical and creative thinking and complements their new learning styles. The projects featured in this journal complement the multiple languages and intelligences of children. Children naturally have a holistic approach to learning which doesn’t segregate art forms and disciplines in the way that we as adults do. But as Prensky argues, engagement with technology for Digital Natives has brought their learning on to a new level, with a style which he describes as “twitch-speed, multitasking, random-access, graphics-first, active, connected and fun.” 4 More than ever, the kind of work represented by the projects featured in this journal, process and dialogue based creative engagement between professional artists and children, supports this new way of learning. By immersing themselves in activity that branches across art forms and disciplines in an enquiry-based approach that is self-driven, children can satisfy their need to learn in new ways. The arts experience is exploratory, experimental and experiential. In the Further Afield project, the technology affords very focused channels of communication which support dialogue-based engagement, in which the children are active agents in the decision-making process. The interactive whiteboards provide a space for shared and collaborative exploration between the child and the artist. Artist Ann Henderson, in her presentation about the project, said: “I like that they’re very much in control of what I see or what I hear. I’m not able to manoeuvre round the room and glean all this stuff, and they tell me what is happening, in either their words or their text or their pictures and that’s a great way to be informed because it’s not necessarily the way I would choose when I’m there and that’s very interesting.”
4 Marc Prensky, ‘Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants’, 2001, in ‘On the Horizon’, MCB University Press, Vol 9, No. 5
Ríonach Ní Néill in her online presentation of See-Saw, shows how at an earlier level, pre-school children can be encouraged to engage with art in a freer way that enables them to have multisensory responses and to develop their own vocabulary even as audience members of a dance work where the barriers between performers (observed) and audience (observers) are broken down. Self-expression is key within these projects: providing a platform for children to develop their own narratives and express themselves freely. Process is crucial, whereby the primary focus is on the engagement and the dialogue with the children as opposed to some concrete outcome. The outcomes of these projects are always rich, but the documentation of the process often constitutes an important outcome in itself. Also, the skills that the artists bring to this environment are often unique and help them to facilitate this process of engagement and diaolgue with the children. Writer, Mary Branley talks about bringing a “listening heart” to her projects with children. In the space and silence that she creates, the authentic voice of the child is allowed to come through. Similarly, Mags Byrne from Dance United Northern Ireland talks about the importance of stillness from which to allow movement and action to emerge. Dancer, Ríonach Ní Néill relishes the absence of conditioned and formalised behaviour in children (“children don’t know the rules yet”) – something from which she feels she and other adults can learn. And Prensky heavily advocates for Digital Immigrants to learn from Digital Natives and alter our teaching methdologies accordingly. He says: “the cognitive differences of the Digital Natives cry out for new approaches to education with a better ‘fit’.”5 Meanwhile, Julie Forrester and Ann Donnelly refer to a new element that their presence in the classroom introduces: one of ‘quiet anarchy’ or permission to break the rules. This does not mean that the children become undisciplined and chaotic, but simply that within the structured framework of the school environment, the non-linear approaches of the artists appeal to the children’s desire to learn more randomly, actively and in a multiconnected fashion (as Prensky describes). Currently, within the field of socially engaged arts practice, there is much debate about the value that is placed on outcomes and the aesthetic criteria with which such work is viewed both within the arts sector and beyond. Tony Fegan, Director of Tallaght Community Arts, in his interveiw with Mark Maguire, references the difficulties of separating the criteria with which work is assessed. However, what the projects in this journal demonstrate is that by engaging children in authentic arts practices that complement their learning styles, the processes and outcomes are very rich indeed. 5 Marc Prensky, ‘Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants Part II: Do they really think differently?’ in ‘On the Horizon’, 2001, MCB University Press, Vol 9, No. 6 5
Selected projects Practice.ie features hundreds of projects taking place with children and young people across Ireland. These have been made visible over the past two years not only in the project section of the website, but also through our online talk series, which gave practitioners from across a range of art forms an opportunity to talk about key projects that they had worked on.
In this section, we have profiled some of these projects, which represent unique approaches to working with children and young people – through dance; through technology; in the context of arts and health; and in the context of local authority funded programmes. Visit Practice.ie to find out more about these projects or to add your own.
Ríonach Ní Néill: Learning by looking through a child’s eyes This is an edited extract from Ríonach Ní Néill’s online talk, entitled ‘Learning by looking through a child’s eyes’, from the Practice.ie Online Talk Series. I started performing as a professional dancer in 1996, working mostly in Ireland and then went to Germany in 2002 and worked as a performer fulltime until 2006. When I came back to Ireland I established my own company called Ciotóg, and I’m still working as a performer and a choreographer. With Ciotóg, my interest is that dance can engage with social and civic issues and that it can have a central part in civic dialogue. Dance is a dialogue with people and not just with bodies. In that respect I’ve become very interested in the diversity of experience and of people and bodies that dance. My work has become more and more a sort of point of interchange between professional dancers and non-dancers and non-vocational artists. I’ve worked more with older people and over time my work has developed multi-generational and participative contexts. I’m interested in where you can situate art and in moving out of auditoriums into different spaces, and within auditoriums, how you can change the rules of performance to make the experience more inclusive. I’m interested in how art is created in the viewing and participation of it. So a dance work is one thing in the studio but once you engage with the audience that’s when it comes alive and that is when it becomes an art work. So the audience is a prism. It’s not a neutral thing. In live art as we all know, there’s an engagement with the audience. On a micro level even the way that you perform or your eyes might meet somebody in the audience, affects what happens, making it unique to that very moment and what the audience then sees is dependent as we all know – this is very much structuralism and the likes but, - on where you come from that day, what mood you’re in, what you’ve learned, your experiences, all of this, everything that makes you the person affects what happens. I can’t ignore that and say that a piece of art works on its own, so I’m very interested in that kind of engagement with an audience and how much the audience engages back is very important. I’ve also become more interested in authorship and, especially when you work in dance, unless you are choreographing a solo work that you are then going to perform yourself, it is innately collaborative. That makes it very open to working with different populations, because it’s inherently a collaborative process. I’m also very interested in sharing authorship, so I see more and more 6
of my work as a choreographer as being a prism for the people involved, for the dancers involved, and an interpreter or conduit of other people’s creativity. I’m interested in muddy edges. So, where does an art work start? Does it start when you walk in the room? When does it finish and does it have to be a very precise movement to make it? Or what’s the difference between everyday movement, and dance? I love the grey areas between intentional and unintentional, and so with See-Saw, you see how the children are shifting while watching it or how the audience is sitting is actually the frame of the piece and they kind of muddy the edge and what’s more interesting to look at? I’m also interested in breaking hierarchy. I still find that performance is very hierarchical – Who is the most important person to look at? Who’s allowed to go on stage? Who’s allowed to dance? Whose dance is more important? And I have to admit that, still, after working for years in the theatre, with my background, I feel a lot of discomfort and a lack of entitlement entering an auditorium. I would say that making art for and with young people is not a central tenet of my work but that it’s within the context of my work. So, why would I get interested in working with children and for children? And how is making dance for and with children helping me address the questions I’ve outlined? I know that David Coleman the child psychologist has said that engaging in art together is good for the relationship between the adult and child, but I have to admit, even though I’m a mum myself, that what motivates me is that I think that engaging with the adult and child is good for my art. To put it in a nutshell, children don’t know the rules yet. They don’t know the rules yet of what is a piece of art and how you are supposed to behave in a space, how are you supposed to behave in engaging with art. There are different contextual rules about, say, engaging with street art, or with art in a gallery, but a child doesn’t know them yet and therefore can help you break them. One of the most beautiful moments in this [during a recorded performance of See-Saw] is, there’s this little girl and she does this beautiful run forward, beautiful! And we have another little girl who doesn’t know that you’re not supposed to roll across a theatre space yet, but it’s an absolutely gorgeous piece of choreography! And what’s great is that she repeated it later on, so she already understands that you work with one motif and put it into dif-
© Ríonach Ní Néill: Kath and Kym in ‘Between Earth, Sky & Home’ ferent contexts, so her rolling motif went into different places in this piece. Another example is: ‘nobody told Emily that you can’t pick up a twelve stone man and walk off with him’ [Between Earth, Sky and Home] So, there’s Emily walking off with a twelve stone man. She decided that she was going to do that. That was her authorship completely. So that was another example of how working with younger people or adding them in, involving them in the choreography, has allowed things to happen that I really couldn’t have expected. Why take See-Saw, which originated in the Dance Ireland Choreographic mentorship, and make it a new piece for family audiences? One is to do with the themes of it. See-Saw is subtitled ‘gently rocking the balance between viewer and viewed.’ I was looking at art by looking at others looking at it. I think that one of the most profound and simple expressions of humanity is acknowledging others in our gaze and that simply sitting and watching somebody and allowing ourselves to be watched and stripping everything down to that, for me is a reiteration of humanity and a very important thing to do. So I made this piece that was about that and then I realised that young people do that very well. When I started choreographing what was to become See-Saw, I had an adult contemporary dance audience in mind. But when I showed it in rehearsal one day to a dance friend of mine, she brought her young children with her, including her one year old whose response to it was to sing to it. She was totally motivated by what she was seeing and she sang this gorgeous aria all the way through it. Technically speaking, that’s bad audience behaviour, that’s interrupting the audience, when you have a baby making noise through it, but the dancers were hugely and positively influenced. They danced fantastically and I realised that by taking this dance and reworking and opening it up to an audience of adults and children together, the adults could then see this work in a completely different light. But the piece is made through everybody together. And I asked the audience to sit on the floor to allow the gaze, to be able to sit on the floor and look up at a dancer or to be able to move around, the same way that you could at a piece of sculpture. The children in the audience really got that and I realised well if you bring young people more into the audience the adults will look at how the young people are engaged and they will relax a little bit more, they will copy them, they will learn to look, so looking through the child’s eyes. The other piece I’m discussing today, [Between Earth Sky and Home], is a very different kind of relationship because it was to make a work with young people. This was a work which was created with quite a lot of young people, involved all the way through from the start and it used dance as a means to engage young people in reflecting on their relationship with their local
neighbourhood, that being North Clondalkin. It became a dialogue between what my and the professional dancers’ relationship with North Clondalkin was, and the young dancers’. For me it became a huge responsibility to figure out all these people’s ideas not just about their local neighbourhood but also about what they thought dance was. So it was providing the space and to be the conduit to allow that to come out. It involved four professional dancers and twelve young people. We also had an extra level of interaction in the project’s animateur Fiona Delaney, who as a visual artist was “commissioned” by the kids to draw different parts of the landscape that interested them. These pictures then became a starting point for choreographic themes. One of the things I really learned here from this is the importance of recognising that you’re a conduit and that this is a huge responsibility to work like that, or to take on that role with them. Things that I’ve learned from working with younger people and for younger people are: Status: I did three test audiences for See-Saw. One was with a parent and toddler group, one was in a school and then one was in a family setting. What I discovered was that, while my aim had been to have it multi-generational so that the adults in the audience would be able to engage with the art work as well, I realised that once it was said that it was also for children, then that was interpreted as ‘oh that’s for children, therefore, not so important’. Sometimes teachers left rather than watch it, or parents had a chat about shopping or drank coffee and opportunities were missed to see how your child was engaging but also for you to engage with it. So there are still issues of status and acknowledgement of what a work can do. What I found out during the research was that representing the work as for families, for parents or adults with children was what worked best. There’s also the question as an artist; ‘Will the work be reviewed?’ My multigenerational works are never reviewed although they’re invited to be. Will the audience come, will there be the same kind of an audience that comes to other works? Will the adults give status to works that are for them and for young people? So the big question that came up for me is ‘Are we willing to learn from those younger than us?’ and I don’t mean just me, but the audience. Are we willing in an audience to learn how a younger audience is engaging?
Collaborative whiteboards made by children at Ballydown Primary School and artist Ann Henderson as part of the Further Afield project.
Ann Henderson: Virtually there Further Afield is a Kids’ Own project, which has been running since 2007, and which uses video-conferencing software to connect artists and children between the studio and the classroom. This virtual connection provides a unique form of engagement which is explored by both artists – Ann Henderson and Ann Donnelly – in the features that follow. The participating schools are Ballydown Primary School in Banbridge and Donaghey Primary School in Dungannon, Northern Ireland. This feature is edited from a live seminar at which both artists spoke about the project, as part of the Belfast Children’s Festival’s ‘Making Space’ symposia about children’s arts. Ann Henderson is an artist based on Rathlin Island, off the coast of County Antrim. Her work is concerned with engaging a response to the natural environment, focusing on the evidential passage of time. To Ann, the actual process of work is as important as the production of any artefact, reflecting the enduring, procreative mechanisms of nature. What I wanted to pay attention to first of all is the partnership between the teacher and the kids and the artist which is fundamental in any project but particularly so within the virtual experience and I think there has to be particular attention here paid to all the communication that goes into that three-way triangle. One important aspect of the project was that at the start, the teacher and I agreed on a common ground to work with, which was valuable both for the artist and the teacher. The concept of “Growth” was the common ground which we agreed upon. The kids just brought up to the camera their break for the day and they were able to take the web cam, shoot it and put it up and there’s something very important about that immediacy. Suddenly the conversation between you can be a visual conversation and that immediacy is very exciting.
My practice is process-based and process-orientated so the idea that these processes can be drawn in as well becomes relevant; for example my canteen dinner for the day at the school suddenly becomes part of that conversation too and it all starts to roll and gather a momentum. That doesn’t tend to happen in the same way in a face to face situation. An aspect which I think is truly exciting is the fact that we can draw on the whiteboard, and not only can you draw at one end - it’s not just me in the studio can draw but they can draw at their end also, so we can draw simultaneously. I’ve never drawn collaboratively in that way with other people before and it opens up all sorts of new avenues which I find really interesting.
The teacher and I both felt very strongly that part of the “growth” experience should be a real thing - getting out and digging and planting. And potatoes made sense for a lot of reasons. With the facilities within the web cam, we found ways to get up close. We began these investigations camera-wise, which made sense to the P2s because we were already using the camera during our discussions. There were all kinds of visual conversations going on around potatoes. We found the web cam facilitated intimate exploration in a very easy way, for example around the budding of the potato. And then the drawing on the whiteboard naturally became a part of that as well.
And the idea of physically going out into your own environment and bringing that information back in. So, I’m gathering research and information locally at my end on Rathlin Island where I live and work and they’re gathering the same type of information at Ballydown. Then we re-enter the virtual space and very easily through the software engage and forge something else together.
The whiteboards also lend themselves to instructional input - I’m in the studio and we wanted to explore different ways of planting the potatoes. Historically sometimes, the eye was cut out and historically sometimes the potato was cut in half, and then sometimes the whole potato was planted, so there were various bits of information that P2s contributed and bits that I contributed.
There’s the artists’ response time within Kids’ Own projects - I find this just crucial and especially so within this kind of virtual project. You have a camera in the studio and you can draw the kids in and the teacher into a whole range of processes and thoughts and subtleties that just couldn’t happen whenever you transport yourself physically into another kind of a space like a classroom.
We take time apart to do whatever within our activity and then ten minutes later we report back about what was going on. So, I became involved in a performance which would, had they not been at the other end of the camera, have been a private thing and then suddenly I’m drawn into the conversation later on with five year olds as to how this is connected to my practice and I’m trying to find words that make sense for me and for five year olds. Then we’re involved together around the idea of growth so we bring that in also. This virtual communication supports many other kinds of conversations when you’re collectively within this other kind
of space, that wouldn’t necessarily have been a part of going into a classroom. So the studio and the practice within the studio and the processes and the thought processes within the studio are communicated in a different kind of a way.
They grew cress seeds, and then they made a diary of that –a series of charcoal drawings of their cress. Cress diaries we called them. I asked the kids would they get together and communicate in groups of eight or so. Each group was given a date from their diary and in these groups they had to work out together how to convey what was going on within the cress diaries at that stage. What was really interesting here was the conversation that was going on. Had I been in the room, my experience would have been entirely different but I’m physically removed and I’m hearing these conversations in 360. Your brain edits out a lot of information as you’re receiving it, but I’m experiencing all kinds of sound input that I wouldn’t necessarily have even been aware of had I been there.
And the wonderful activity of them communicating about how to go about their collaborative drawing was fascinating and the evidence of that in terms of the drawings themselves and then while I’m listening I respond on paper with charcoal as well - so that’s just as I’m concentrating only on listening to them.
One thing that I think is important to mention is the experience for the teacher. The virtual experience is a high-input one in terms of the teacher’s time and energy – as well as for the artist in terms of the preparation and the communication together. I think it’s a high intensity experience and within that, there’s great potential for lots of things to happen. There’s an aspect to the online journals which I find a really wonderful means of establishing and investigating all sorts of things. It’s beginning to open up as a creative space in itself. And then one other aspect that I want to bring up about the virtual experience is the idea that there are two real worlds happening at the same time. You’ve one shared virtual space but two real physical spaces. There’s something very exciting in that, that you can investigate two real places in real time and come back together and explore it in this way. Images of work and processes by children at Ballydown Primary School and artist Ann Henderson as part of the Further Afield project. 9
Images of work and processes by children at Donaghey Primary School and artist Ann Donnelly as part of the Further Afield project.
Ann Donnelly:Virtually there Ann Donnelly is a Northern Irish artist working mainly with video and photography, often in response to a sense of place. In both solo practice and collaborative projects she continues to explore themes of being and belonging and her work has been exhibited internationally. When I first began working with Donaghey Primary School I would try to get them to look closely at things because I’m really interested in observation, looking closely. Whether that’s from a cerebral perspective or whether it’s from a physical perspective, I think it’s just good to be aware of your environment and your surroundings. So for one of the first exercises we made a little square – an aperture in a piece of black card and used it to examine a docken leaf or a stone or a bit of bark. From this they created a slightly scaled up painting. These paintings are all about what colours and textures they could see, like picking up a pinkish pattern in a pebble. Some of the finished pieces were quite enticing little paintings. I wasn’t planning a painting project but from the very first day the children showed this huge interest in colour and paint and this continued throughout the work: ‘Red, yellow and a bit of white makes lighty peach’ Colour-mixing palettes might well have ended up in the bin, but I was very excited when I spotted them and I said to the teacher, “Can you please keep these? They look incredible.” I asked the class to look at the places they could see from their window in school and respond to those. So they went out and collected words about what they saw in their environment. These words were the basis for cut-up poems, helping to make the children feel less inhibited because they weren’t starting with a blank page to create a piece of writing or a piece of poetry. This is Kirsty’s poem: “Wet green grass, singing birds, children on the football pitch, white daisies, soft washing, clouds and blue sky, heat of the sun, school gates, cars.”
The first line of another one, ‘fluffy clouds, big pink drying bloomers’ – I think it maybe gives an indication that an artist can add that little element of very quiet ambient anarchy in the classroom – an opportunity that the teacher might not always allow but because you’re there they can be a little bit adventurous and play with what’s normal, what the normal rules are. I have a preoccupation with atmosphere and ambience. I’m quite interested in why and how you inhabit a particular space and what stories you tell yourself about this. It is as much about how you feel in your own skin as about physical movement within the space. So I wanted to try and bring an awareness of environment into the work I was doing with the class. I often work with lens-based media, so the group regularly work with cameras. Early in the project, the class went out into the school grounds and worked in groups on different perspectives. For example, one group had to look specifically at the ground, another group was looking at the wall of the school, another group at the horizon line. Every few paces they took turns to photograph what they saw from that particular angle. One of the results was a squished worm, which they thought was just on the edge of what was acceptable to record. They edited these photos down and each group picked one image from this shortlist. From that one image we decided we’d do more paintings and because they’d been quite inhibited at the start with painting these tiny squares, I thought it’d be really interesting to see how they coped with really big sheets of paper. Everything starts and ends with dialogue. Some of it’s recorded, some of it’s ephemeral but quite often a session would generate pages of exchanged text. I work sometimes with dancers as I’m also interested in energy and performance, as that’s a different way of experiencing personal space. So when I get a real visit as opposed to a virtual day, I get quite excited and I wanted to bring the class outside to do something extrovert. For the drawings of their personal space, each person had to stand in the centre of a small circle and draw out as far as they could reach in every direction while always keeping one foot within that circle. We ended up
with these incredible shapes on the ground – coloured chalk drawings that would later wash away. The children were very excited about them at the time and said, “Can we paint over these, can we make these permanent?” I was happy for the work to disappear. None of the chidren came back and said, “Isn’t it a shame? We miss them.” They just say, “We had a good time. We enjoyed doing that.” It was all about the experience. I think that it is easier for the teacher to accept an ephemeral outcome like this in a longer term project, because the relationship is built up between artist and teacher over time and there is an understanding that subsequent work might take a more tangible form. We spent a lot of time exploring portraiture through charcoal, trying various poses, making drawings bigger so that web-cam images were easier to interpret. Some
children couldn’t understand the idea of ‘face-on’/ ‘profile’. I thought it was fascinating: this notion that you think everybody sees things in a particular way. What you learn from this kind of work is that everyone’s perception is different. Part of what I do in my practice time is to ask, ‘How do I get the children to look at that again? How do I get them to revisit that idea?’ I think a big difference between the virtual and real sessions is that on a real visit you might come into a classroom situation laden with bags and boxes – literally with baggage. In the virtual situation you don’t have any of that baggage and the work becomes very pure and very focused. In terms of focus, in terms of seeing things from a completely different perspective, it’s a really challenging way of working.
‘Sailor Sam’: an invitation to participate in the Puppet Portal Project, made by artist Sally Maidment.
Puppet Portal Project: Phase 2 The Puppet Portal Project was a pilot arts, health and technology project that took place across four hospitals in Ireland in 2009. Funded by the Arts Council and the HSE, this was a new initiative of Helium, Children’s Arts and Health Company, managed in collaboration with Kids’ Own Publishing Partnership and in partnership with Trinity College’s Centre for Health Informatics. A full overview of the first phase of the project (Mar-Dec 2009) is available to view on Practice.ie and Helium.ie. As the project moves into its second phase, extending to two more hospitals around the country and with a focus of working on the wards, we have taken an extract of blog postings from Practice.ie to highlight the artists’ perspectives at this early stage of the process. Helene Hugel: “As the Puppet Portal Project Phase 2 gets under-way, we are working to collectively build on our learning and discoveries from the first phase. These were highlighted in an independent evaluation by SpiralOrchard, to be published by Helium before the end of the year. The evaluation demonstrated that the project had both social impact and creative outcomes. We will be sharing some of the creative outcomes over the next few months, grouped into themes such as: creative evaluation techniques, collaborative methods via video link, stages and screens for use in framing a performance via video link, etc. Eventually, these will contribute to a handbook to support participatory arts practice including the use of technology with children in hospital which we hope to publish as an ongoing/ growing document next year. “The first of these creative outcomes is Anna Rosenfelder’s puppet making kits. These were the result of Anna’s challenge to overcome the restrictions caused by the H1N1 virus in the hospital which required strict isolation procedures. Anna comments on the process: “Having to think of a puppetry related activity which allows children on the wards and in isolation to have access to the Puppet Portal Project made me think that this could be a way to generally involve a bigger number of children without having to facilitate it on your own: to prepare simple puppet making kits or another art activity which is somehow related to the theme worked on in the classroom. While children who are able to visit the
classroom work with the artist on a video and link up, others make puppets in their beds (or make postcards/draw images etc.). Later in the afternoon images of both activities could be tied together in one image which can be printed out.” Sally Maidment: “Working on our Puppet Portal theme of journeys I had developed a loose story line around a sailor dropping pegs into the water and the pegs swimming through the sea and making friends with underwater creatures. I was planning on making a short stop animation with the children of pegs swimming through the water and each child making a rod puppet to play with their googly-eyed peg. The wards were very empty and the average age of in patients was two and a half years downwards so in the afternoon I worked with parents and toddlers to make rod puppets. It was my first day in the hospital and I am still finding my feet but I feel that the activity did perhaps benefit parents more by providing a type of activity where they felt they could create something positive for their child. I used the puppet theatre to advertise the workshops and project in general to staff and parents.” Emma Fisher: “Today was the first day back for the puppet portal. On the general theme of journey and also based on the fact that it is recycling week, we made puppets out of milk bottles. The characters were based on such historical characters as Hitler, Tutankhamen and Marie Antoinette. There was a group of nine kids aged from 5 to 15 that took part and most of them were able to see the project through, which was great. We talked about our characters while we made them. Then the boys decided to be in charge of recording sound and video. We unfortunately couldn’t get the video recorder to work, so plan b, we went out on the ward with a camera and recorder, we were greeted with smiling patients, doctors and parents and had a photo shoot down the ward. We stopped at the nurses’ station where the puppets met the nurses and the nurses guessed who everyone was. We then went back to the classroom and loaded and edited the photographs onto the laptop, they picked the music to go with the pictures along with the sound recorded. “In the afternoon we were supposed to link up with Fionnuala to work with
sound over ait eile but unfortunately their hospital was experiencing problems which will hopefully be rectified by next week. So I went out to the day ward and worked with one boy aged six and his three year old sister, with a lot of help from their mom we made two really fun puppets that played lots of shaky instruments. A really nice day back to the puppet portal.”
continue to make three little films using her own soft toy and the puppet I had used and left with her instead of Storybear for infection control reasons. They showed the camera the new bear she had been given but who had to stay in his plastic and they invited him to come and sleep in the empty bed in her room because he had to go to hospital ‘it’s not so bad, we’re here’
“A three year old driving a train over my head and driving Storybear around the ward on his toy truck. Even if his affection with the bear meant I had to retire him from service for the day – he has just been scrubbed in vodka and had a spin in the washing machine, for infection control reasons. Not a good idea to use a soft toy in the hospital.
“I am glad I visited on Monday before starting – it always helps to know the place before you start and I even had a chance to meet a couple of the children. It also helped prepare me for what will be one of my biggest challenges in this project I think – walking into the hospital and seeing the little cots in the corridors was enough to put a lump in my throat. I had to immediately give myself a talking to – I could not afford to be swamped by sympathy if I was going to be useful. That non-working visit also alowed me a chance to do the test web-link with Trinity which once successfully achieved – after some technical assistance - proved a huge weight off my mind. “My preparation was a bit feverish, a symptom of my nervousness around the new job and I came with a plan A and a plan B and materials for both. I felt the way I feel the night before travelling, packing bags for every eventuality. Funnily enough our agreed theme for the moment is Journey. Luckily plan A worked so Plan B is in line now for next week! “Storybear, a small teddy I use a lot as a performer for interactive storytelling, made a video diary from the attic window where I work. He declares it his favourite place and shows the view – back gardens and the high buildings of the city in the distance, he attempts to point out the Spire on O’Connell St and the big wheel at the docks (but they can barely be seen), and he tells how his favourite journey is the walk into town. “The premise was that Storybear is a reporter for Puppet Television, and having invited the children to see his ‘film’ he encourages them or their own cuddly toy to talk about their favourite place or journey. They then would be invited to draw their favourite place, and later, to show it on ‘puppet television’ (either on the Vado little camera with playback which seemed a good size to be Storybear’s tele or on the web link on the laptop) with their own cuddly toy as presenter, in front of it. I offered them a choice of white or coloured card (everyone chose a colour – lovely bright A2 sheets from Evans) and gave them child friendly oil pastels to work with. It had the advantage of my being able to give them a task and move off to another child/ward and return to them later – this is a bit risky in the hospital setting as they are so busy they are in and out, but luckily I managed to get back to everyone who got as far as the drawing stage. With the youngest boy we just played together for a while. “Not sure how successful the content of the film was for some of the children– it was probably too long (2:52 mins) and wordy and hard to hear sometimes in the chaos of the ward, tele blaring etc. but it did impact on the four and nine year old, and certainly communicated the idea of using film and inspired response.
“A seven year old’s well loved bear appearing suddenly out of her bed in response to Storybear’s arrival, and the beautiful drawing she subsequently made of the inside of her school bag – his favourite place. “Particular challenges – when I was on the floor with a three and a four year old attempting to operate Storybear while he was being driven around on their toys, and involve a seven year old confined to bed above us. Trying to do a web link with more than one child at once in the ward situation was also difficult, as was the challenge of not showing the child on the web cam while also letting them see the image of the people they were talking to – the windows are very small. I used the premise that the humans were all secret agents, hiding from the camera. Must try and get the external camera working for next week, and try and source a mike too, it can be very noisy in there and children need a lot of warming up before their puppets can be loud. “Lowlights of the day – when Storybear’s ‘knocking’ in the doorway of the second ward was immediately greeted by a wail of despair from a boy of about three. When this happened again on the corridor later the nurse manager wisely concluded the trolley I was using was possibly the source of terror, it being what accompanies a lot of medical procedures. I had been pleased with it both as a prop and for its usefulness with all my baggage, but of course it has other connotations. If I use it again I will cover it in bright fabric or something. By the end of the day though I was getting little smiles from him, so if he’s still there next week we may do something together. At least it is good he can refuse some ‘treatment’. “Leaving the hospital, exhausted, the sympathy that had been put aside all day jumped on me. It is so hard to see children seriously ill, and to see their parents witnessing this. “Ah..I can’t leave it there, here’s another highlight – trying to burn dvds at the end of the day a staff member clearly bogged down by admin jumped up from her computer and ran over to see when she recognised a child’s voice performing with a purple poodle. She seemed delighted.” The artists participating in the Puppet Portal Project are: Emma Fisher, Niamh Lawlor, Sally Maidment, Fionnuala Conway, Ezther Nemethi Siobhan Clancy and Anna Rosenfelder. Artist Mentor: Ann Henderson.
“Highlights of the day – When a nine year old in isolation was thrilled by interacting with Siobhán’s glove (literally) puppet through the web link and whose confidence in voice projection (gently encouraged by the puppet) and operation increased rapidly. When the web exchange was finished she was keen enough to 13
© Marie Brett: Images of work and processes by children at Rathmichael National School, Shankill and artist Marie Brett
Marie Brett: Journeying A project with DLR’s Creative Classrooms Marie Brett holds a Masters Degree in visual art from Goldsmith’s College, University of London. A trained teacher and group facilitator who studied community development, she has over 20 years experience in the field of participatory public art projects. She has received awards from The Arts Council, Create, Culture Ireland and several Local Authority Arts Offices with work held in numerous private and public collections. The issue of how participatory practice influences an artist’s work and how an artist deals with this, is of particular relevance and importance to her. Creative Classrooms is a Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council arts programme which partners artists, primary school children and teachers in school based projects. Central to the programme is a process-led methodology, professional partnership and an artists panel. I was one of ten nationally selected artists who formed the artists panel for 2010 and we met at intervals as an integral part of the programme. Managed by Máire Davey, DLR’s Education and Community Co-ordinator in partnership with Blackrock Education Centre, the programme has a national reputation for being highly progressive and developmental in nature.
tool I used to begin to explore ideas around navigation, disorientation, loss and threshold. When I moved back to Ireland, about 12 years ago now, I had a long legacy of participatory practice involving working with children, but it was a school project in Cobh that opened my eyes to the possibility of a new way of working collaboratively. With Arts Council support, this project provided an authentic exchange where art came first being led by ideas exploring the notion of immigration, and together we charted some very interesting territory both conceptually and practically, including negotiating with the Navy the use of a pier for an installation of work. I continue to be actively involved in many participatory projects, arts & education initiatives, training programmes and mentor schemes and the challenge for me as an artist is to negotiate a means to find a way that all aspects of my practice interlock and positively affect each other and to critically ensure there is room for me to explore and develop my conceptual ideas and concerns as well as other layers of my practice. I saw Creative Classrooms as such an opportunity.
Gareth Kennedy: One plus one equals three I was partnered with a group of 31 6th class children at Rathmichael National School, Shankill, with their teacher Caroline Dowd. Over 12 sessions we worked together exploring ideas about travel, journeys, transition and loss using a wide mixture of materials from willow to metal. Critically for me, the opportunity to experiment and explore conceptual ideas without the restriction of producing ‘pop-up end products’ was pivotal to my involvement. My rationale for working with children and young people as an artist is rooted in the need for an authentic and honest encounter led by conceptual experience. My methodology is process-led and material reactive; aiming to nurture an interest, enthusiasm and ambition for the creative process whilst partnering in challenge, debate and critique. For me, being brought up in the UK by Irish parents and returning to live in Ireland years later had a great impact on my thinking as an artist. Perceived in the UK as Irish and in Ireland as English is an interesting space to inhabit; transient and ‘from somewhere else’, it’s a bit like being at sea, always travelling between places, perceived as belonging to neither. My time spent at Goldsmith’s in London enabled me to begin to unravel this terrain and mapping was the conceptual 14
Being equally keen to work with ideas as that of material making within projects, I try to think carefully of a theme or idea that will relate well to the group whilst also having relevance and interest for my artwork and offer varying entry points. As 6th class are all each moving through puberty plus they’re about to make a huge step from National to Secondary school, I thought the idea of journey could be real and relatable for them to inquire into both personally and communally, to consider how time, change, transition, loss, new beginnings, orientation, shift, boundary, threshold and choice could be explored visually. For me too, this is an area I’ve invested interest, research and art making in. Interestingly also Caroline (the class teacher) had extensive overseas travel experience which in turn fed into our thinking about cultural traditions and travel. The theme was a great success; it was brilliant to witness depth of thinking, bravery, imagination and clarity of vision; some of the children related work to a birth in the family or to a death of a pet, to uncertainty and fear to chaos and excitement. Many spoke confidently about their work and ideas and that of others. Many engaged critically, all engaged positively. Each week we looked at a different aspect of the notion of journey and used different materials to realise our ideas visually; some quite unfamiliar to the children like sheep fleece, pine cones, conifer branches and willow, others more customary like charcoal, wire and paint. Some work was individual, others group,
some permanent others transitory. A seam that ran all the way through the project though was looking at other artists’ work. It’s a key part of my rationale to show children and staff examples of other artists’ work and to challenge preconceived ideas of what art might or could be. Interestingly, I’d heard the group ‘had no time for modern or abstract art’ so I believed it was really relevant and important to share with them examples of work I’m inspired or challenged by, many of which are ‘modern and abstract’ and discuss their opinion of the same. This proved to be a great success and I think many opinions shifted because the children began to view the works in the context of more complex and ethereal ideas. In school, the classroom was a fairly packed space to work in but luck was on our side with the school hall and the teachers’ ability to free-it-up for my visits meaning we could tackle large-scale and messy work. Caroline (the class teacher) and myself worked in partnership, drawing on each others strengths; her trust and confidence in me enabled me to push the boundaries further and her expectant high standards and ambition was a great spring-board to work from.
Some comments from the children were: “The art with Marie Brett was very fun because we got a lot of independence.” “It was amazing and really inspiring. We got to do things we never got to do before and it gave me many great ideas.” All in all, I found being an artist as part of Creative Classrooms was a very positive experience for me because as a programme it operates on several different levels. Travelling from my home in West Cork to Dún Laoghaire weekly meant I had to think carefully about what I hoped to gain from the programme and what makes it stand out from other arts and educational initiatives in the country. For me, three things are distinct: the artist’s panel meetings offering opportunity for peer networking and exchange; a process-led methodology and professional partnership with clarity of roles. Following on, artists from the panel have set-up a networking group, meeting to share our work, approaches, ideas and concerns with a group project journal being kept on practice.ie.
Interviews The following is an edited selection of interviews that were conducted for Practice.ie and which can be heard in their entirety on the ‘Featured Artists’ section of the site. Among those interviewed over the past two years have been visual artists, writers, dancers, youth arts workers and those working in community settings.
Some interviews were conducted by our Guest Editors who were invited to explore the work of practitioners or programmes that they were particularly interested in. To read or listen to the interviews in full visit: www.practice.ie/features
Michael McLoughlin: This is not an art class Michael McLoughlin is Youth Arts Worker with dlr Youth Arts Programme. His role involves supporting youth led creative initiatives, developing collaborative projects with young people and encouraging creative activity among young people in Dun Laoghaire Rathdown. He works directly with CANVAS, who he collaborates with on many music and visual art based projects. Michael is a practising artist based in Dublin. He has exhibited widely in Ireland and internationally. His work combines audio, drawing, photography and sculptural objects, and has explored social relationships with the built environment. The work generally involves collaboration/co-operation with residents of a particular locale and the processes often revolve around social activities. Michael was interviewed by Guest Editor Maire Davey in January 2010 Q: Could you maybe expand a little on your role and the context of your role? I’m based primarily in the Grainstore in Cabinteely Park. It’s dlr’s youth arts facility. It’s a unique building and it’s a unique idea behind it. The Grainstore has existed for ten years and it was opened ten years ago as a youth arts centre and ten years ago a youth arts centre in Ireland was quite unique in itself. So, dlr arts office have been managing it since September 2008, and my role is within a new vision for the youth arts facility, which is based primarily on a youth-led approach. The group call themselves CANVAS and I work with them on an ongoing basis, developing projects they’re looking at. I suppose one of my roles is to expand on what’s available to them or what could be done and just in terms of their own outlook, what could be a viable art process to get involved in. 16
Q: I was wondering about the difference between your role and a youth worker and how are you still developing as an artist? I suppose I’m very comfortable with it, because even looking at the role, initially, the whole idea around CANVAS and that development of relationships and forming particular connections and spaces for people to use would be central to my practice – what would be considered my own studio practice for instance, so in some ways looking at it the other way, I think what’s considered my studio practice couldn’t exist without the social engagement. I suppose it’s like with anything, depending on how you define the role yourself. I recognised within the criteria for the role, the process I’d use within my own practice, which is an art practice as opposed to a youth worker role, so for me I define it within that because that’s what’s familiar to me. That’s how I see it because I would’ve developed practice in a direction that led me to the role in the first place, so I don’t feel that’s changed at all. Q: I wanted to ask you about the kind of support structures and funding that has allowed your role to evolve. I know there are other such roles around the country but there are very few. I think what’s unique is that the role exists within the local authority and it’s within the arts office in dlr County Council and it’s funded by the Young Persons’ Services and Facilities Fund which comes from the Office of the Minister for Children. One of the benefits it has, and it’s probably one of the things that allows
the role to be positioned in relation to the young practice, is that that exists within the arts office and starts from an understanding of the way of working; an understanding of practice, just in terms of the support structure. And I want to develop on what already exists and push what’s possible in terms of what’s provided for young people and allow more opportunities for young people to get involved in artistic activities on their own basis as opposed to something that is being predefined for them. Support structures are key to the role. Q: What programmes, projects or events are CANVAS planning? Have they got anything in the pipeline at the moment? Well there’s the Thursday night project, ‘this is not an art class’, which feeds into the other CANVAS projects and is primarily visual arts focused. They’re keen to have another gig really soon. I suppose they’re really keen for more people to use the grainstore and for more young people to know that the Grainstore is there for them. And that’s brilliant as a starting point, to be involved in a group like that is fantastic. They’re also invovled in both Store Beats and the youth ensemble programme. They’re both music programmes run by dlr arts and they are based from the Grainstore but have a county-wide remit, involving musicians and bands from all over the county.
Q: An aim of the Arts Office would be to try and project that it’s for everybody, so it’s nice to have a diverse grouping and I suppose CANVAS really are at the core of the group themselves. As they go on, they’re realising how important their role is and even in terms of their decision-making. What’s amazing is they make a lot of decisions that are really, really considerate of other people and how other people use the building and observations on how people use the building and how they can use it in a better way, and that’s invaluable. What’s really interesting is the good will that’s coming from a core group of teenagers around the building who are offering to help out and volunteer and it’s a group that probably naturally are the ones that would be dropping off from other services but they seem to be interested.
Members of CANVAS engaging in youth-led programmes at the Grainstore, Dun Laoghaire. 17
Julie Forrester: Stirring things up Julie Forrester trained as a sculptor at the Slade School of Art, London. Based in Cork she has been the architect of numerous collaborative art projects and has been awarded by Cork City Council, The Department of Education and Science and the Arts Council. She has been involved with Kids’ Own since 2000 where she worked on the Multimedia Maps and Trading Places residencies and the Mysterious Eye book project. Julie has been involved with Cork Arts initiatives including Backwater Artists Group and Art Trail and has worked with Crawford Gallery on the Animation Summer Camps. In this interview Julie discusses the developments in her work with young people over the past fifteen years and she reflects on The Sodacakeville, her most recent project with Kids’ Own, an after school project for 10-13 year old girls from 2 Killeely schools at the Northside Digihub, Limerick.
– I don’t want it to sound glamorous, because in a way you say, oh well, I bring the danger – but I think it is important to know that that is there when you are making art. That is one of the things that inspires you to say, “I can transgress, I can do something that is not allowed”. That is just fantastic and it is a real gift. Maybe that is really why I love working with kids, because we can do this. I can be naughty too, lets be bold. Q: Could you maybe talk about the dialogue between yourself and, for instance, if it is a teacher and you are in a school situation?
I think it is really important that whatever a child produces, that it is what they produced, and that it is recognised as such and the more I work with children the more I want to take a back seat. There is always I suppose that compulsion to mould a subject around an idea of my own, while I see the children working, and these things run in a kind of parallel tension with each other. […] The idea of values then is that particularly when it’s the child’s voice, that voice is so easy to cover over, with some adult perception, or an adult way to make it more acceptable or interesting to somebody else because it fits in with a certain pattern that people are expecting, those kind of expectations of what to get from working with children. I think a lot of that is because artists tend to be brought into places to “fix things” and I think that can put a lot of problems on the work that you expect to come out of working with children particularly.
The way that I like it, which is probably not the way the teachers would like it is if the teacher goes “welcome into my classroom, they are all yours and you can do whatever you like” and sometimes I have been lucky enough to have that kind of a situation. But if they want the children to have a learning outcome, I find that I really can’t do that anymore because it just feels like there is no spark there, there is a case where they have to learn about this process or they have to learn about science or they have to learn about pattern and it somehow makes the art not art anymore as far as I am concerned because there is this kind of overlay, and I know that I am being a bit negative about that but I find that it really dampens my spirit and I am not able to work as well as I could. So in those situations I don’t know if talking to teachers would actually help, because they do have an agenda, they do have to educate the children, they have a pattern of teaching that works for them that they need to adhere to, but I think it is great if you can allow somebody like me or somebody else to come into the classroom and stir it all up. I think this kind of approach can help the more formal aspects of education to work smoothly, to fall into place.
Q: How would you describe your role?
Q: Do you want to talk me through your dialogue with the children?
I am a bit of a wild card. When I go into a school I don’t feel I am one of the teachers. The teachers are there and there is a big structure there around what’s happening in the school which has to be respected, but having somebody like me come in to the classroom allows for another energy to be in that room, where you can actually say, “Nothing is wrong, try, try all of these different things, see what happens, it might not work, but it might, there are no limits”, which is something you can’t really say, you can’t really afford to say if you are a teacher, if you are someone who has to maintain order and safety in a room. So it is quite
It is very un-premeditated really. It just seems to arise and every situation is different and I always see it as a process and every child is a different ingredient to whatever it is you are making and sometimes it falls flat because you did not beat the eggs long enough and sometimes magic happens. I think that the ingredients for a real collaboration is that each child knows that everything that they are saying is important to the project and that they have the support and the power to be able to shift that, individually or as a group and that there is enough flexibility in the idea of what is happening to allow for people to work individually or in
Q: What values underpin your work?
pairs or come together or to separate, to have the flexibility to know that what you are bringing to the pot is something of value. Q: That sort of allows for everyone to have an ownership? Yes, I struggle with words like ownership. It’s one of those buzzwords, where it is not really about that. The whole process has an energy of its own that, you know, you can call it ownership but it isn’t about owning anything, it is about doing something. It is about trying things out and seeing something that is magic. Q: How do you evaluate, either formally or personally? Personally, I am thinking ‘did I have a good time?’ If I did, then probably it was good. That is one of the main gauges for success. Any project that I wasn’t so happy with in the end, is usually because the expectations had been different from myself and the people who brought me in. Sometimes I feel a little bit cheated at the end of the projects. I feel I have been bled dry, they have used me all up and they have done what they wanted to do and it’s “what’s next?” kind of thing. And I feel they have not really understood what I had invested in the
project, and what I wanted to get out of the project. When you go into the schools you hope that the teachers “get” (a little bit) what it is that makes art so exciting - when they don’t value it and just go through the motions, then the kids are not going to value it either. It is going to be just another thing that they have done in a day. It is not going to be of any special importance, so they are not going to say, “really that drawing was a great achievement” or “that is something that is really important for me” or any of those things because it is kind of swept aside with everything else that is inconsequential in their lives, where as children need to have things that are important to them and those things need to be recognised and cherished and valued, and not necessarily understood. Q: Do you think you bring an opportunity for that? Yes. I think anybody that busts up the routine, whoever it is, does bring that opportunity to say things can be different. I mean, and it might not always necessarily be better, but it is a little hole in the weave of the fabric of society and we need those holes.
© Julie Forrester: Work from the Sodacakeville project, made with girls at the Northside Digihub, Limerick. 19
Mary Branley talking to young people from Roscommon as part of the Learning Together Kids’ Own book project.
Mary Branley: Deep listening Mary Branley is a writer and poet living in County Sligo. She has two collections of poetry published with Summer Palace Press and was awarded the Patrick and Katherine Kavanagh Fellowship for poetry in 2008. She trained as a teacher at St. Patrick’s College, Dublin and worked in Sligo, Boston and London, before becoming Visiting Teacher for Travellers in Sligo, a post she held until 2007. Mary has a M.Ed. in Intercultural Education from Emmanuel College, Boston and has co-ordinated a number of projects using intercultural tools. She divides her time amongst Kids Own, her own writing, and music. Q: What are the values that underpin your work (with children)? My first priority in working with children is listening. I feel children are best placed to articulate childhood as a state of being, that as adults we have forgotten. So deep listening is a way of valuing childhood as well as the individual child. There are many definitions of art, but one we agree on in Kids’ Own Publishing Partnership, is art as communication, art as dialogue. I see the value of art for its own sake, not as a resource for literacy or other subjects on the curriculum, but much more valuing the actual process of working together and dropping into the unknown together with children. It took me a while to reach this point though, because in my role as teacher I wanted children’s books to fill gaps in what was available for Traveller children in learning to read. For me, it’s really a spiritual activity anyway working with children. Often we have worked with children who have been totally on the margins, making books. I feel strongly that those experiences are really important as a way for children to have breakthroughs in their confidence, and self-esteem. They discover how they can be themselves in the arts. Children can also discover that any art process can be liberating because you don’t know before you start what the outcome is going to be. Most of children’s experiences in school are not as open ended. Q: Could you talk about the process that you employ? My preference when working with children as a writer is not necessarily using the imagination to make up fantastic things. It’s actually for children to value the real events in their lives and that they don’t need to make anything up for it to be absolutely unbelievable. Sometimes the way children are asked to write in school, is making up things that have never happened to them, that they haven’t the confidence to articulate. Maybe they’re not given permission to actually write what is. What’s happening is usually much more extraordinary. If you have experienced something, then you can talk about it, and if you can talk about it you can write it. Listening and enquiring into the story is how I work with children. I often type for 20
them as they speak, so their natural idiom, cadence and inflection emerges easily in their texts. We edit and change, or I ask a simple question if the child is stuck. A teacher once observed to us that we remove the barriers to children expressing themselves. Q: If there is information that comes out that’s sensitive or very personal for children, how do you deal with that? There is no point in avoiding the issues. There’s none whatsoever, because what makes art is coming from your own internal struggle. I think it was WH Auden that said, ‘the quarrel with the world is politics, but the quarrel with oneself is art’. There would be little point writing something that wasn’t in some way sensitive, perhaps even painful. The last project we were doing in Roscommon with kids and adults around change– the fact that the population of small villages had multiplied by three, and were suddenly international, with immigrant workers, refugees, locals returning from London, New York etc. and families moving west from Dublin. There were some real sensitive issues there amongst all of the children. These new communities are in the process of evolving, so, what was extraordinary was to be with children talking about the difficulty of moving and which for some of them was still very painful and saying ‘what helped you through it?’ Or ‘how did you make friends?’, ‘how did you get your mind to settle?’ For some of them the moving meant the break up of the family. For some of them, it meant moving across the other side of the country from their extended family. So these kinds of discussions are about the reality of life. It’s not all highly sensitive information but it can be an emotional experience for the child going back to those memories. I believe, not only do we have one story to tell but we have numerous stories and we are all the time trying to communicate what is significant to us, what is of value to us. A little boy I was working with had created this multi-coloured house and he said oh, that’s my house. I said, that’s a fantastic house. Is your house really like that with the multi-colours? Well, he said, well...my daddy was a builder. Was he? I said. Where is he now? Oh, my daddy died when I was 8 (or 7, this was about a year ago). This child was holding the house, the father’s death, and his admiration for his father in that picture. So as a listener and as a facilitator, I need to be tuned to whatever sensitivities are being relayed so that we actually can get to the story. The deep listening has elements of intuition too. I think children think that adults always know what’s happening and know without them articulating it. To draw the story out a little more you have to hone in very tenderly and ask a very tender open ended question.
Q: Do you have a role and how would you describe your role?
Q: Do you pass that on to them in any kind of formal way, that skill of listening?
As a listening heart. More and more I understand just how important listening is. In fact, it’s a kind of a closure in and of itself. Non-verbal listening is giving a hundred percent attention to what somebody is reading. It’s an extraordinarily powerful experience to go through. You hear your own words in the clearest possible way, without any distortion, without any misinterpretation and probably another way to say it would be in this experience of unconditional love, so there is just complete acceptance for what you’ve written, what you’ve produced, or what you’ve said. I think that’s a very powerful experience for children and deepens their ability to go in a bit further to what it is, to the core of what they want to express.
I might say something simple like we listen with our whole body, not just our ears. But there has to be a shared sense of a safe space to express yourself. It can be a risk to read in front of your peers, unless you have built in “this is a hundred percent acceptable what you are doing and what everybody is doing.” Older children often need to be invited to switch off their critic towards their own work as well as towards other people’s work. Hopefully, I will pay more attention to this, how to help groups listen, listen to themselves and listen to others. But really you have to demonstrate it with your full attention.
Mary Branley talking to young people from Kilkenny as part of The Butler Gallery, Kids’ Own book project. 21
Mags Byrne: From stillness comes action Mags Byrne is a dancer, choreographer and director of Dance United Northern Ireland. She has been working with children and young people through dance for 29 years. As an organisation, Dance United Northern Ireland works through contemporary dance, delivering a wide range of workshops and projects with people of all ages and abilities. Q: What brought you to working with children and young people? I have been working in dance theatre for nearly thirty years now, to begin with, as a dancer and teacher and more recently as a choreographer and director. The way that I work with young people changed dramatically after a project that I undertook in Ethiopia, where I was working with street children alongside choreographer Royston Maldoom. Along the course of that programme, I realised the impact that dance could have on peoples lives. I think I’d always realised it, but it really came home to me how important this activity could be – it’s a way of knitting the physical, the emotional, the spiritual and the intellectual sides of the person. A way of knitting all of that in a holistic way. And, as the person delivering the dance, I started to realise how important the way you deliver is. The way you speak, the type of delivery, the type of work you deliver, all of that, is so important. Dance can be entertainment, it’s great that it’s entertainment, but it can be such a whole lot more than that too. And now, rather than teaching a class as such, and seeing myself as a dance teacher, I run a dance development company and I think of the ‘development’ side of the work – the word ‘development’ is important to me. Q: Do you think that’s the underlying value of what you do – the development of the individual, or are there other sides to it? I would say that dance is a performance art and at the end of the day, the art is important. Professional work is really important, and the fact that you are facilitating a creative process. It’s through the art that the development part is able to have any weight. If you’re delivering mediocre work, then the development side is mediocre as well.
Q: What kind of responsibilities do you have to the people you work with? When we went to work in Ethiopia we went initially to do one project. We went in to be there for a month. To this day, I can remember the young people that we were working with at that stage – they were street children – absolutely breaking down as we were leaving, saying “you won’t come back, you won’t come back, you’ll never be back” and thinking, my god, what a responsibility, because once you’ve opened that door for somebody, you have to go back. Q: In terms of non-arts practitioners, for example youth workers, what kind of dialogue do you have with them? Most people who engage the company are not a hundred percent sure what they’re engaging. They have a notion that they want this style of dance, or this kind of process, but they’re not a hundred percent sure what they’re going to see or how that might materialise. It’s not an easy process. Because as young people change and as they grow, they challenge. They don’t immediately become the young people that you would like them to be, or they don’t immediately respond in the way that you want them to respond, and I’m talking now from a teacher’s point of view or a youth leader’s point of view. So my dialogue with people or organisations that are going to be project partners and that we’re going to be working with, is around the structures of the work. In terms of giving them a specific outcome, it’s very difficult to give them that before it’s actually happened. I think working with project partners is so fundamentally important to the workthat we do. There’s no point, or less impact, if we go in and do a great project in a school and then go away, if the teachers haven’t come along that process with us, if they haven’t come along and grown with us. One of the biggest changes I think tends to be in how the youth leaders or the teachers see their class afterwards, and in order to facilitate that, there has to at least be a dialogue between us. So yes, when I say we can’t tell them how it’s going to be for them, a specific outcome,
© Joe Fox. Young people perform in Messages from Ourselves by Dance United NI. 22
we can’t. But we can include them in dialogue the whole way along, so that we know how difficult they’re finding it, or how great they’re finding it, or what their observations are, and they also can get a sense from us about how we’re feeling, how we’re doing. Q: Do you impart techniques as part of the workshops, is that your starting point? Partly, because it’s important for us all to gain control on what we are feeling and to gain control of our physical reactions to things, and to learn to be able to speak with our bodies. So yes, partly it’s skills-based. Things like the ability to stand still, and that sounds like a nothing – how to stand still – but I tell you for adults and children alike in this world it’ s hard. We don’t have stillness. We almost never have situations where we can be still and I think that’s a massive thing, because from stillness comes action, and you can decide on your action if you can actively stay in the stillness for a moment. So yes, it’s partly about learning techniques to be able to communicate what you want to communicate with your body, and for your body not to do things that you don’t want it to. Sometimes it’s introducing stretching, to free a body that is locked in a particular way, and in the freeing of that body, there can also be the freeing of the emotions and the freeing of the spirit behind that, and the intellect. So yes, the beginning of each class would be spent doing a warm up, and within that warm up, the learning of skills. I want to stress at this point that I’m not a social worker and I’m not a therapist. I’m working in and through the arts, but to facilitate that it’s vitally important that I create, we create, a safe space and that within that space there’s a feeling of lack of judgement and of physical safety. Q: What about your own personal development as a dancer and as a choreographer? The minute you stop developing you’re dead. I really do believe that. Whether you’re dead physically I don’t know, but you have to keep challenging yourself, and in order to do that I have to challenge myself to do things that aren’t in my comfort zone. The development has to be in the people giving as well as the people receiving the workshops. It has to be within the artistic team as well as in the participants. Which is why I said before, it’s important not to be self-satisfied. It’s important that you don’t say, oh sure I can deliver this no problem, that’s grand, I know this backwards, because then you’re short-changing everybody and in a process or project, I’m always looking for more from myself. At the end of the day – the process is alive, it’s not dead.
© Joe Fox. Children from Seaview Primary and St Marys Star of the Sea perform in Belfast’s Waterfront Hall as part of Dance United NI’s The Quest. 23
Tony Fegan: Connecting through art Previously Tony Fegan lived and worked in London as Director of Learning at LIFT, London International Festival of Theatre. He has been CEO and creative director of Tallaght Community Arts or ‘TCA’ since 2007. In 2009, TCA successfully relocated to its new base in Rua Red, South Dublin Arts Centre, beside the Square in Tallaght. TCA is a multi-disciplinary participatory arts company and its slogan is “Connecting through art”. Tony Fegan was interviewed by Guest Editor Mark Maguire. Q: Tony, you have a lot of experience of working in the arts, particularly in London during the 1980s. Are there any similarities or learning outcomes from the Thatcher era in Britain that might be of interest to contemporary Irish based arts practitioners who are now confronted by the current economic situation? Yeah there are huge parallels. I was director at Battersea Arts Centre (BAC) in London between 1985 and 1989 when the Thatcher government had enacted a whole series of measures to basically decimate the voluntary sector and not only did it do that but it also curtailed public art funding on a national scale and it drip fed into other particularly conservative authorities, where local authorities also curtailed their funding for the arts. So it was a huge shock because whilst in the previous labour administrations in the seventies, there had not been lots of money sloshing around, there was a kind of a feeling that there was a social contract in which the arts played an important part and there’d been an explosion I suppose from the late sixties through that decade of a lot of voluntary sector cultural organisations that reflected both the geographical location like London and elsewhere but also the growing and changing cultural demographics of London with people who’d come originally from the Indian subcontinent or the Caribbean, those first generation of black and asian Britons who were beginning to kind of flex their cultural muscles. I think there are huge parallels because here in Ireland we’ve been through a period of comparative wealth for the arts in terms of public funding and now we’re faced with the fact that actually that public funding both at national and local level is going to diminish over the next few years because of the financial crisis but I think also because of a kind of political ideology which suggests that we should be more like America and be involved in individual giving. But there aren’t tax breaks and there isn’t a culture of philanthropy and individual giving in this country yet, so I think it’s quite serious. Q: Back to the present – talk to me about the idea of “quality” It’s an interesting issue because when you’re making art work with anybody there’s always the issue of what happens at the end of the process when you share that work with people. Artists working say with a group of children or a community group or very specific groups have to take on “what happens when we put this work in the public domain?” A lot of people would judge the quality of the work by the criteria that they would judge professional art work, so I would say that they judge the extrinsic quality of the work with a capital Q. There is an intrinsic quality with a small ‘q’ which is about let’s examine the work out of the context in which it was made, i.e. who are the people making it? How much experience they’d ever had before with art making? Had they even worked together before, what was 24
the process and time that they could be involved in it; what were the kind of resources that were available? And to frame it in a particular way, so that when people are coming to bear witness, to celebrate, or to be in many ways a kind of conventional audience for it, at least they’re informed about the kind of processes that went into the making of it. Q: Community is a word that has become ambiguous in its use over the nineties and noughties. How do you interpret this word with relation to your practice and are there any challenges arising from its use? Well, community arts has a very particular kind of historical root. It’s rooted out of a movement that happened probably from the late fifties into the early eighties. And it was about a critique that people had of a particular arts establishment, which had a sense of excellence and elitism around it. People said no, actually we can do this ourselves. There was also a political kind of motive of people. A lot of artists said I don’t want to be part of that kind of process. What I want to do is work at a grass-roots kind of level with people and engender a sense of pride and a sense of satisfaction and achievement and sharing around what people could do in what I might call a vernacular setting, at a sometimes very local level. And their exploration of arts was in a broader cultural and social framework, which was very often about politics of identity so a lot of community arts work started with professional artists – and sometimes non-professional artists in that people didn’t earn a living as artists – working with women’s groups or working with children or cultural groups or social groups that had been marginalised from the mainstream arts scene. I think things have changed and grown over the years. I define what we do here as a participatory arts process which is about a participation of people both professionals and non-professionals in a process to make some art work, sometimes collectively together, sometimes in response to a professional artist’s work. And this participation is a very important one but it’s one that both provokes a kind of curiosity in all the participants that actually there is something that they share together out of that process that they wouldn’t do if they were not together in it. I’m also interested in the idea of ‘communities of interest’. Some of the old models about, ‘within a participatory arts process, we’re always working with slightly social, cultural, economically marginalised groups. I think that’s true. I think there are still major challenges about ensuring that people have access to what I call a cultural entitlement. However, I get very excited if I can have five year olds, fifteen year olds, adults, older adults in a room together because they’re interested in dance or they’re interested in theatre. That’s a kind of ideal and there’s a process through which you can get to that. But that becomes much more interesting. Or a group of older people who are not really interested in possibly doing a reminiscence project, but they are kind of interested in dance, so they’ll come together and we’ll work with a choreographer to do dance. That becomes interesting.
© Tallaght Community Arts. Children participating in Figuring It Out: Young curators project, November 2009. Q: Can you talk to me about instrumentalism in the arts today? Well I think it’s about what I touched upon in the last conversation. I think there is a kind of a belief in a social scientist head, and a lot of other people, that arts are good for you, they’re therapeutic, that they’re like a good dose of cod liver oil every morning and if you get them regularly enough you’ll grow up to be a good person. So there’s that kind of side of it. And undoubtedly, I would say that the arts do transform people’s lives. I have evidence of that. However, I think that there’s been a lot of claims made about the arts and those claims are often translated into, “So we’ve got this group of people who are a problem…” What I suppose I’m saying is that the kind of establishment says the groups of people who have a problem or are a problem are a challenge and one of the ways to engage them in a more mainstream society or to integrate them is to do a certain set of processes with them of which the arts are one. And therefore what happens is you can reduce the idea of being involved in the arts down to, “Well okay we will do something about social inclusion. We’ve got a lot of people who we believe are not socially included so let’s do an arts project and at the end of the arts project, they’ll be socially included.” That’s nonsense. However, the way in which that work is often funded comes through particular channels of funding which is not arts money but comes out of social and economic intervention funds and therefore people have often a very narrow view of what they expect the arts to be doing and they don’t understand that the arts, when they’re at their best, can either look at something very directly and say very clearly what the issue is that people feel about it or they can be hugely ambiguous as life is. This instrumentalism drives out the kind of ambiguity which is what very often the best art is about and it leaves people with questions, both the people who have participated in the making of it but also the people who share the outcome.
There was a whole thing a few years ago in the UK that if you did music in school you’d get better science and maths results, well actually, fine if you can and maybe you can and maybe you can’t. But don’t reduce being involved in music down to the fact that music is a stimulant to be better at something else. I think that really debases music as an art form and what it contributes to people’s lives. Q: In the upcoming year what TCA projects are you most looking forward to? We’re kicking off a project called box stories, which is taking 100 wooden soap boxes and distributing them to different social, cultural groups, communities of interest across the county with an invitation to those people to respond to 3 very broad questions, but they can subdivide them into much more specific questions pertaining to themselves, which is: ‘Who are we?’, ‘Where are we?’ and ‘What do we want to say about ourselves?’ Why I’m excited about that is that I think there’s been a huge change in the social and cultural demographic of South County Dublin, but very often those changes are not visible to everyday society. However, I do think that one of the things that the arts can do is to profile that kind of diversity that’s within our midst and to make people feel there are certain things we can share in common and also lots of things where we are interestingly different and there needn’t be an anxiety about that. Mark Maguire is Assistant Curator of Children’s Programmes at the Irish Museum of Modern Art
When you reduce it to ‘it’s either black or white’, it’s not very interesting for people and people have got a very strong antennae and they know when they’re being socially engineered. Participatory arts has often had to look outside of conventional arts funding to get resources to do the work and very often the people who are providing those resources just kind of reduce it, so as arts people we end up jumping through hoops to try and make something with people when actually someone has a very narrow view of what the outcome should be. I think what we have to do as an arts community is to probably be much more articulate about what it is that the arts do, what it is that they can’t do and be much braver and stand and say “we can do that and that, but we can’t do that and we’re not going to do that.” And I think it’s about having a more articulated set of shared values between people who are working in this area of participatory arts, community arts, collaborative arts making. 25
Best Practice This section provides a reflection on elements of best practice for working with children and young people, based on feedback and meetings between Kids’ Own and practitioners over the past two years.
In the current climate, there are less opportunities for artists to engage in long-term meaningful engagement with young people. While key organisations and institutions uphold long-standing residency programmes and models of best practice, it is a challenge for many independent artists to find funding that supports them in sustainable enquiry-based projects with children. With this in mind, peer support is crucial for providing artists with a sense of connectivity and sectoral relevance. It is more important now than ever that artists articulate what it is they do, both in terms of their own reflective practice and to collectively galvanise the value of their work. Practice.ie aims to provide a structure through which to encourage networking and peer support among artists. By contributing their thoughts, ideas and experiences about current contemporary practice, it is hoped that they also can gain new understanding and learning from others. In other words, engagement with Practice.ie is a reciprocal process. Practice.ie does not pretend to hold all the answers, but rather it is an evolving dialogue – a platform for continuous learning from the field. As a result of editing and monitoring the content of Practice.ie over the past two years, Kids’ Own has drawn together some information on key areas of best practice, contributed by artists, which we feel can usefully inform the ongoing practice of others working with children and young people. Ríonach Ní Néill – Dance
rated out the technique from the artistry, which is kind of hard to do. I also discovered that one has to be aware that sophistication comes in many guises, and that comes back to the content that I want to do deal with. In See-Saw I wanted to address this idea of stripping down human relationships to viewing and being viewed. The sophistication of the response of young people, including toddlers, really took me by surprise, and made me realise, yes, I’ve got to be aware of that. The importance of non-verbal communication: If you’ve got a pre-language audience, they’re receiving physical and visual information directly, unmediated or explained by words. In a way, your body can’t lie to them. As adults we’re used to our bodies and our words contradicting each other (‘I’m fine’ with clenched teeth) and giving credence to the words, but a very young person reads our bodies’ emotional states very accurately. Becoming aware of that, I realised that I had to be very truthful in my movements and performance. The choreographer’s role as interpreter. I realised that as well as creating the work, you have to teach or lead the audience what to see in it and how to see it. For example, in See-Saw, it’s as important for me that we look at how others are watching the dancers as it is to look at the dancers. And I’m still exploring how to convey that. Do I put it in programme notes? How explicit do I make it to look at everything in the room – to look at the child looking and then to learn from them?
In her online talk delivered for Practice.ie, Ríonach outlined some of her own personal reflections on best practice within dance for and with children. These are not general guidelines at all but what I discovered for myself: Working on this presentation gave me a chance to reflect on what is the best practice for me of making dance for and with young people. One of them is that I don’t need to change the content. I didn’t want to change what my work was about but just the way in which it was conveyed and the way it relates with an audience. And I discovered that if I change the context to make it more accessible then it works well. Engage with the young person as an artist/Engage with the artist as a young person. We all know that one. Because dance is a different vocabulary to the verbal one that we practise every day, it would be easy to slip into a teacher/ student relationship in order to increase young participants’ movement repertoire. But I don’t consider myself a teacher. Yes, I share some skills, and the professional dancers share skills with the young participants, but there are other means of artistry within the young person to engage with. So I sepa26
A young audience member engaging with See-Saw by Ríonach Ní Néill.
Mairead Holohan – Working with children with special needs Mairead Holohan worked at the School of the Holy Spirit in Kilkenny as part of the Butler Gallery Artists in School Residency programme. Here, as an extension of her blogs on Practice.ie, she outlines some considerations for working in a school with special needs. In my mind, it is essential that the children have a positive outcome and that may mean as artists we need to concentrate on what the children and particular school need. We can have all the ideas in the world but the ability to put these into practice with all the constraints that workng in an environment where your work is just a part of their day is a skill in itself, to sail across the politics of any school means being flexible and accommodating. That is not to say the artistic aims need to be compromised, they are just different. Time is the element that is lacking in these types of project. The longer the time frame with all parties committed to the project, openness and honesty are essential and these need time so that all parties understand and feel comfortable with each other. It is all in the approach and expectations being realistic. In this school, the principal was quite clear that these children work best with clear direction as some can become quite stressed when faced with a challenge so this was to be avoided. However, by the time we had reached the last session the children were starting to come up with ideas themselves and I think that if we had a whole year, we would have gained enough trust to get the children looking at their environment and responding more to it than just abstract ideas. The children in the school were all quite high achieving and compared to the more severe and profound end of the special needs sector are very capable and some very artistic. This residency involved two clases so two teachers and about six SNAs. Two teachers can be tricky as often one can be more committed than the other but this was not the case here. They worked in perfect unison even when they were not both there, they obviously communicated well as everything requested between sessions was always done. They were more willing to do the work between sessions and organised anything I asked them to.
So the hospital environment from the outside can seem like a very limiting environment but I think sometimes those limits and those challenges can actually create opportunities and really encourage us as artists to invent and innovate new ways of working in terms of our practice, and for me I find that quite exciting.” “Some of the best practice points that I like to work with – things that might be required when working in a hospital setting are: Sensitivity – the listening skills that are required. Somemtimes we need to step back a bit and listen in order to be responsive to the child and their needs and where they are at. And all the children will be in different situations with varying needs and potential limitation. That’s very important. The flexibility and responsiveness that’s required can be huge. It’s an unpredictable environment and sometimes you don’t quite know what’s going to happen next but I have to say this is one of the things I really really enjoy about working in hospitals. I just really enjoy that flexibility, needing to be flexible and just being on your toes and the spontaneity of that. That brings us to good improvising skills, that’s quite important and being able to adapt – not only in our method, but potentially with materials, you might have to adapt your plan for the day if necessary. Good communication skills of course is very important because not only are you relating with the children and maybe your link person, but then of course you’ve all the other staff around you and understanding their roles is very important so you can understand then your role within the environment and how you might fit into that and complement and add to everything else that’s going on. And respect for the environment. Obviously the children are there for a very specific reason and in terms of the clinical and medical environment there’s a certain spec for that and that includes respect for certain infection control guidelines, confidentiality and child protection.”
Working in a school for children with special needs is different to a mainstream school, mostly in a good way; there is a lot of staff so there is lots of help. The children usually love art though some can have tactile problems that can inhibit their playing abilities, their ability to tolerate any challenges that arise can be difficult but the staff is so well trained to cope with situations that the disruption is minimal. One challenge to any artist (and this applies in any school) is being allowed to work in a totally non prescriptive manner with the children as this brings in the chance of failure. In my opinion apart from the art itself, the problem solving element of the artistic process is one of the most valuable elements of art for children in the school environment. Helene Hugel – Best practice within the hospital setting In an online talk with Siobhan Clancy entitled ‘Engaging collaborative practice with children in hospitals’, Helene Hugel (Director of Helium Children’s Arts in Health) drew on her extensive experience as a clown doctor, puppeteer and performer within the hospital setting to outline some principles of best practice in this environment. “The actual [hospital] environment itself, it’s a very busy environment. The staff are very focused, very committed to their work. It can be very busy, a lot of coming and going, both for patients and staff and for this reason, if you’re trying to create and engage as an artist with the environment, with staff and children, it can be very disjointed and continuity can be very challenging. 27
This document was drawn up to outline and clarify the role of mentoring on Kids’ Own residency projects with input from artist Ann Henderson, who has worked extensively with Kids’ Own both as artist and as a mentor. The role of mentoring on Kids’ Own residency projects. Kids’ Own believes in the value of the space offered by the mentor which can be used by the artist in whichever way they chose and is of most benefit to them in their work. Kids’ Own seeks to engage a mentor for artists working on residency projects where desired and where funding is available to do so. The role of the mentor is to provide a support for the artist through discussion about the project work. This may range from practical issues to more conceptual/ philosophical thoughts as directed by the artist according to their own needs. It is felt by Kids’ Own that this support role provides a ‘space’ for the artist to reflect on the work that is being done and to invite feedback from an ‘outside’ / independent person who also has experience in the area. The mentor engages in the process from the position of “peer practitioner” and will not necessarily be considered ‘senior’ in any way to the artist undertaking the residency but will have experience in similar projects and will offer an outside perspective. Whilst the mentor may advise the artist on particular matters if invited to do so the general intent is to create a space where the mentor promotes relevant dialogue encouraging reflection and questioning from wider and alternative perspectives. The ‘space’ offered by the mentorship is confidential between the artist and the ‘mentor’. However the mentor will be asked to submit a brief report at the end of residency projects, in which they will present a summary of thoughts and recommendations based on the feedback from the artists, as a means for Kids’ Own to assess the artists’ experience and continue to improve residencies for artists. No reference shall be made by the mentor to specific artists or their work in this report. Should the artist raise issues with the mentor that relate to management of projects or practical issues that would be of concern to Kids’ Own, the mentor may recommend that the artist communicate with Kids’ Own directly about these matters. The mentoring does not seek to remove Kids’ Own from the artistic process and Kids’ Own would continue to maintain direct contact with all the artists during the course of the project. Therefore, between Kids’ Own and the mentoring there are two strands of support offered to the artist: one which relates to practical, administrative, logistical issues and communication with teachers/ schools etc., and another level of support which relates to the artist’s reflection on their own practice and their progress on a more personal level within a particular residency. Artists are encouraged to avail of mentoring where it is offered, as this is intended to be supportive and enriching for their own progress and development. However, it is not obligatory and artists should state to Kids’ Own at the outset of a project if they do not wish to avail. In entering into partnership around mentoring both the mentor and the artist should be aware that the success of the process requires commitment from both parties. The mentoring service is also viewed as a service that contributes positively to the workings of the project as a whole.
â€˜The delights of diggingâ€™: Children at Ballydown Primary School during the Further Afield project with artist Ann Henderson. 29
© Joe Fox. Dance United NI’s Around Town.
Defining and negotiating the artist’s role This paper was drawn up by Kids’ Own as a response to a Practice.ie professional development day (in partnership with Dun Laoghaire Rathdown Arts Office) at which artists discussed the importance of articulating their needs and the boundaries of their role when taking on new projects. One of the main aims of Practice.ie is to professionalise artists’ practice with children and young people. This document will assist artists to think about how they can communicate clearly their needs, their role and conditions of work to their employer. This document has been developed out of findings from a Practice.ie professional development day.
• Clarification from the employer on the definitions and understanding of the terms that they are adopting, e.g. If the organisation uses a term such as ‘teaching artist’, ‘artist educator’ or ‘artist facilitator’, establish why they use these definitions. • Clear definition of what the artist is being paid to do – what does this cover? Beyond your role as artist, are there social or educational implications or objectives to the work that you are undertaking?
It is important to acknowledge that artists throughout Ireland work in a number of different settings and contexts and that each individual’s practice is unique within this.
• The employer should recognise the value of the creative process – is there room to negotiate the time that the artist is being paid for? i.e. development, planning and process time, in addition to contact time.
Before offering their services to anybody, artists should be clear about their position, know their own process and know what it is that they can uniquely bring to a project or post. Artists are in a stronger position to negotiate their contract when they can clearly articulate their process – what they do, how they do it and what the value of their work is.
• Negotiation of project structure: can the artist have input into: overall timeframe; balance of emphasis on process/product; evaluation and how it is carried out; documentation of the project; press and promotion of the project.
Through Practice.ie professional development meetings across Ireland, we are conscious that many artists are not accustomed to negotiating a contract. However, we believe that artists have a responsibility to themselves and to the wider sector by ensuring that contractual agreements with employers are standard practice. Best practice is not just about the conduct of the artist when making work and engaging with children. It applies to an organisation’s treatment of the artist and valuing the creative process. Communication is essential from the outset – this means being able to articulate your position and ensuring that you understand the terms and language being adopted by the prospective employer. A common ground must be established. Communication is the basis for negotiation. There are many areas that can be negotiated for inclusion within a contract that the artist is often unaware of. 30
Some of these are as follows:
• Are provisions made for ongoing feedback and revision throughout the project? • What support is being offered by the organisation in terms of personnel? • What is the agreement for copyright? • What facilities are being provided for the artist? • Insurance – artists should check that they are covered by the organisation if they do not have their own policy.
The main aim of the practice.ie re-design is to make the site more accessible to existing members while drawing new members in to avail of practice.ie. In the first year of Practice.ie, we started small with some basic functionality. We added in new features when requested, and over time these have amassed a considerable amount of data. The design was suitable for a small- scale site however it now needs to be updated for current needs and requirements. The level of use on practice.ie throughout the past two years far exceeded our initial expectations. User feedback from practice.ie members has provided constructive feedback on how to improve the site to make it more successful and useful for artists. The largest sources of data include the member profiles and project profiles. Pages with improved search capacity will make it easier for people to find projects they are interested in and make conceptual and professional connections. The new design will make it easier to see and demonstrate best practice, highlighting the work in a more appealing and visual way. In addition new areas will allow members to select and feature projects . The new members page will recognise the effort that members put in, showcasing their projects, images, and recent updates all in one place.. Members will also be able to track discussions, projects and also â€œfollowâ€? other members. The redesign will be completed by January 2011.
practice.ie re-design ,member page, wire frames mock ups
practice.ie re-design, projects page, wire frames mock ups
Invitation to artists:
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Practice.ie The online space for artists’ practice with children & young people. “The primary benefit of Practice.ie is that it provides a platform for work, a great way to record events in progress and fantastic reference for showing the type of work I do in context with other artists working in the same area. It raises the profile of this work and adds professional clout.” A member of practice.ie
Promoting arts practice with children and young people.