Promoting professional arts practice with children and young people
Issue 3 Winter 2011-2012
“All ages can engage with the work at different levels and the rug is not being pulled from under anyone. Nobody is forgiving the work because ‘it’s only for children’. “
About this publication: Title: Practice
Practice publication team: Editor: Orla Kenny Copy-editing & proofreading: Jo Holmwood Design & Layout: Shane Finan ISSN: 2009-2563 © writers, artists and Kids’ Own Publishing Partnership, 2011. 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.
Published by: Kids’ Own Publishing Partnership Carrigeens Ballinful Co. Sligo www.kidsown.ie www.practice.ie firstname.lastname@example.org 071-91-24945
For additional copies contact Kids’ Own. If you are interested in receiving future editions of Practice, register your interest and contact email@example.com Price €5.00/£4.50
Cover Photograph copyright Kids’ Own Publishing Partnership
Contents 1 Welcome Commentary Youth-led practice within youth arts: 2
Toward an understanding of the terms and conditions by Victoria Durrer
‘Nothing if not critical’: Red Square and the Butler Gallery by Jean Tormey
Project Focus OPERA: Access all areas: Developing youth participation at Wexford Opera House by Sheila Creevy
CRAFT: CRAFTed: The Crafts Council’s Primary Schools Programme by Polly Minett
12 14 16 18 20
EARLY YEARS: Rannta na nDéise by Kids’ Own Publishing Partnership
Practitioner Focus THEATRE: Muireann Ahern: Fully present, connected and engaged VISUAL ARTS: Orla Kelly: Turning the lights on EARLY YEARS: Ruth Churchill: Scaffolding young children’s learning EARLY YEARS: Hannah Lefeuvre: Go with the flow
“In early years settings, a really good early years practitioner knows that the starting point is the child’s ideas and interests, or their needs within the whole context of the setting.“ Ruth Churchill 22 24 26 28 29
Documentation Focus Helen Manchester: Visible listening Christina MacRae: An artefactual process Christina MacRae: How do artists document their work?
Young Makers Future development: 2012 and beyond
“Working with professional artists gives to the children a chance to extend their thinking and nurtures their natural curiosity and creativity.” Hannah Lefeuvre
Welcome Welcome to the third issue of the Practice Journal – promoting arts practice with children and young people. In this issue, we’ve brought to you a range of interviews, project features and commentary pieces which represent the very best of arts practice with children and young people, taking place across all stages of their development. What I think this highlights is the importance of engaging children in arts practice, not just at singular moments throughout their childhood, but as an integral part of their lives and development – in and out of school, pre-school, and also, in adolescence. Our opening commentary piece by Victoria Durrer – Youth Arts Coordinator at South Dublin County Council, explores the meaning of the term ‘youth-led’, and the value of this in practice – what it means to enable young people to direct their own engagement with the arts, to become artists in their own right. But this is significant in setting the tone for the whole journal. Because, while the range of contexts explored throughout the journal extend to school participation, performing arts engagement, right down to early years practice, the theme of children leading their own learning and being central to decision-making and ‘active’ participation is a recurring one. Ruth Churchill, in her interview with Guest Editor Helene Hugel, refers to Vygotsky’s term of “scaffolding learning”. The artist does not come in and work with the children to fulfil a predefined agenda, but rather responds to the needs of the children and where they’re at in their learning and development. This is echoed by Hannah Lefeuvre, who talks about the non-linear nature of her dance work with very young children and hence the need to “go with the child’s flow”. And Muireann Ahern, in her interview with Mark Maguire, indicates that even within the structured and pre-prepared context of a theatre performance for young audiences, a truly talented performer knows “when to engage and when not to, yet at all times with that lovely sense that every child’s offering is wholly or subtly embraced.” The research that Kids’ Own conducted alongside our Rannta na nDeise project – an early years book-making project, which incorporated rhyme, song, movement and art work with parents and their young children – importantly highlights how, from the very earliest stages of their lives, children are able to make decisions and take charge in creative situations, to direct their own learning and development in the way that they want. Their response to creative activity is holistic and uninhibited – but very much enhanced by the presence and support of their parents. We should not forget the importance of the parent’s role and, later in the child’s life, the crucial role that all adults play in their engagement with children.
What I think the work in this journal highlights is that the very best professionals who choose to work with children and young people, know how important their role is, in drawing out children’s creativity, while not dictating to them, or prescribing the way in which they should learn or develop. They understand what childhood represents and their concern for quality and integrity comes from their respect of children as well as their respect for their craft. Orla Kelly, in her interview with Mark O’Brien, refers to herself as a kind of “magician”, when working with children, which beautifully highlights the balance required to ‘perform’ and transfer skills on the one hand, and draw something out of the children that they already possess, on the other. The “play” that we refer to as such a core element in very young children’s learning, does not lose its importance as children grow up. It is the ‘play’ element of creative activity that allows us to lose ourselves in the “what if…” and to develop the skills of divergent thinking, which Ken Robinson refers to as such a crucial skill in life development as a whole. Collaboration is also a key theme that emerges throughout this journal. As Ken Robinson says, “Collaboration is the stuff of growth,” and as our research from the Rannta na nDeise project also highlights, interagency partnerships and collaborations between all those people who are engaged with children in all areas of their lives, are what enable truly meaningful encounters between children and arts practitioners to take place. What I would like to advocate for here, on the strength of the work showcased in this journal, is a framework that facilitates more consistent collaborations; a more concerted joined-up approach, which will enable us to allow the arts to become more integral to the lives of children and young people – and not on the fringes or the margins. We are working to nurture the whole self of the child, across all areas of their development. I strongly believe in the value of promoting this work and making it visible to a wide audience in order to ensure that it is supported and developed. And I think the practice within this journal speaks for itself in terms of making the case for this to be achieved.
Orla Kenny Director, Kids’ Own Publishing Partnership
Commentary Youth-led practice within youth arts: Toward an understanding of the terms and conditions by Victoria Durrer
This paper unpicks what is meant by the term ‘youth-led’ within youth arts work. It seeks to clarify, from the perspective of work carried out with the Tallaght Young Filmmakers and South Dublin County Council’s Arts Office, that the term is a way of working with young people that is dependent upon the situational context in which a project or programme may rest. In addition, the risks and limitations associated with such an approach are explored. Through this discussion, it is hoped that a greater understanding of the terms and conditions for taking a youth-led approach within youth arts programmes is reached. Introduction: A Policy Context The work carried out under the terminology of “youth arts” can often be variously defined. Within a national policy context in Ireland, the sector is largely understood as “the practice of all art forms in sectors that are not part of the formal education system, in which young people in the 12-25 year age range engage as active participants [in] or as consumers/audience members [of the arts] in their own free time” (Coughlan 2002: 5). “Youth arts” may also include the engagement of (adult) artists and arts practitioners as well as youth workers who facilitate arts activities, workshops, and collaborative work, with and for young people. Additionally and more recently, however, “youth arts” is understood as including consideration of young people not only as “recipients” of arts activities and events but also as artistic “contributors” or creators themselves (Arts Council 2005a: 1). Within Ireland, there has been a shift at governmental levels, both nationally and locally, in addressing the needs of young people. This change “includes an increased professionalisation of services for young people, an expansion of the remit of a number of government departments in relation to young people and an acknowledgement of the need to build-up a substantial body of knowledge in this area” (Arts Council 2005a: 1). Since at least 1995, within the arts and cultural sector more specifically, this shift has included a call for acknowledgement of young people’s engagement in the arts as an area of work in its own right (Arts Council 2005b). Taking youth voice into the account of provision of youth arts has become more significant within national agendas. The Terms Research by Saito (2006: 68) on youth-led strategies for youth programme development and youth engagement has shown that programming of activities for pre- and early age teenagers must “recognise this age group’s unique developmental need to have increasing levels of autonomy and authority in the design and implementation of their program or project.” As a result, Saito (2006: 68) argues, judgments on the quality of youth programming, in general, are often based on the following criteria: •
Safe places to be with peers and take part in enjoyable, ‘cool’ activities
Programmes/activities where young people may be involved in leadership roles and decision making
Opportunities to have “new experiences, and develop caring, respectful
relationships with other young people and adults” •
Environments and circumstances where young people’s opinions “matter”
Environments and circumstances in which young people may be involved in affecting “real change”
Young people have a stake in programme success
Saito’s (2006: 69) research also shows that many young people acknowledge poor quality projects as: •
Programmes that are disorganised, chaotic and lack accomplishment
Programmes that have too may participants
Programmes that have a lack of attendance
Programmes in which young people are not given any responsibility nor authority
Programmes in which young people feel “underestimated” and are “talked at” by group leaders too much
These criteria are felt to be relevant in defining quality and best practice approaches within a youth arts context. In fact, the lived reality of the involvement of young people in the shaping and delivery of youth arts projects and longerterm programmes is inextricably linked to the perception and reality of ‘quality’ that adults and young people within the sector feel programmes do have. In general, young people are often seen to have input into the direction and daily running of youth arts projects and longer-term programmes. However, the ways in which project and programme structures are established and enacted in order to encourage, foster, and allow for young people’s input, authority and daily decisionmaking may vary. This variation consists of differing levels of what may be termed ‘adult-led’ versus ‘youth-led’ delivery mechanisms (Larson, Walker, and Pearce, 2005). As explained by Larson, Walker and Pearce (2005), adult-led programmes consist of adults employing greater control over daily programme activities, but with the input of young people included. They also explain that youth-led programmes involve young people having greater control of activity development, but with adults serving “supportive roles as mentors and facilitators” (Larson, Walker, and Pearce 2005: 58). In fact, research demonstrates that young people often enjoy working “experientially in project-based models in which they have some level of autonomy and influence over important decisions” (Saito’s 2006: 72). Adult-Led Programmes Within the ‘adult-led’ approach is a belief that adults may have greater understanding for and experience in guiding programme activities. The main objectives of such a method are often the teaching of “specialised skills…that youth desire to learn” (Larson, Walker, and Pearce 2005: 58). Research often
© Diarmuid Durnin
terms this approach in relation to student-centred teaching that stresses “adult leadership that is sensitive and responsive to young people” (Chall 2000; Larson, Walker and Pearce 2005: 59). Typically, adults set a framework of rules, structures and roles that provides an opportunity in which young people may give input (Opelt 1991; Roberts and Treasure 1992; Larson, Walker and Pearce 2005). While such an approach allows for the input of young people in decisionmaking processes, there are limitations. The ownership and creativity of as well as learning by young people within projects may be limited because adults may be seen as an authority to be adhered (Freire 1970; Vygotsky 1978; Larson, Pearce and Walker 2005; Sabo-Flores 2008). Projects that follow such a model may experience a lack of attendance and involvement of young people in programme steering committees as a result (Larson, Pearce and Walker 2005). Youth-Led Programmes Within a ‘youth-led’ approach, the goal is often to promote the empowerment of young people to become leaders. In such programmes, young people may have more opportunity to make and enact decisions. Such approaches are often taken in the context of youth and community development work (Sullivan 2000; Ginwright and James 2002; Larson, Pearce and Walker 2005: 59). In analysing theories on such a youth-led approach, Larson, Walker and Pearce (2005) stress the importance of partnership between adults and youth. While young people may be provided with more leadership opportunities to direct programmes within certain institutional or organisational settings, adults are ultimately responsible for “safety and legal liability” (Larson, Walker, and Pearce 2005: 59). They also explain that much of the limitations involved with such an approach appear to centre on adult concerns and assumptions that young people may not have enough experience to organise and maintain programmes. In addition, misunderstanding around roles of adults versus roles of young people may be encountered (Larson, Walker and Pearce 2005). However, relationships between youth and adults in sharing decision-making powers often build over time and in stages (Jarrett, Sullivan and Watkins 2005).
assists “in the understanding both of current patterns and future possibilities” for such work by examining five types of participatory relationships: informing, consulting, involving, collaborating and empowering (Head 2010: 543). Both of the ‘adult-led’ and ‘youth-led’ approaches described above are dependent upon youth participation, and the levels at which this participation may be possible are, in turn, dependent upon the context of the institutional and everyday settings in which a project or programme may rest. The organisational or institutional settings and structures, the condition of the physical spaces in which workshops and activities take place, the materials and funding available, the artistic media in which a group is working and developing practice, the learning and developmental needs of young people involved, and the skills of practitioners, facilitators and artists are some of the factors that determine the approaches that may be possible. Within the differing contexts of youth arts work there are different limits and/or risks associated with each approach and as such different strategies are taken to encourage youth participation in the shaping of project development and delivery (Larson, Walker, Pearce 2005). There is no prescriptive ‘right way’ in which to strive for youth leadership in youth arts programmes. No one programme or project is the same. Continued overleaf...
The Conditions A common way to articulate young people’s involvement or participation in decision-making structures that affect their lives is via Hart’s ladder of participatory forms (Hart 1992, 1997). Hart critiqued the ways in which governments consult and work with young people regarding issues that affect their lives. He provided an eight-point scale, a ladder, which details ways in which programmes for youth are often structured. Towards the bottom rungs are descriptions of typologies that ‘manipulate’ youth or involve them in a tokenistic way. Towards the top rungs of the ladder is what he refers to as genuine participation, where young people have specific roles from adult-initiated to eventually youth-initiated discussion and decision-making (Hart 1992, 1997). More recent discussions on the participation of young people in decisionmaking, particularly in relation to public services for young people, have begun to reassess Hart’s initial appraisal. Rather, Head (2010: 542) calls for “a more nuanced situational approach” that takes young people’s informal participation into consideration in addition to the structures of power (project management) involved in attempting to engage youth. More specifically, such a consideration
© Tallaght Young Filmmakers
© Diarmuid Durnin
Tallaght Young Filmmakers—a youth-led approach in reality One programme in which South Dublin County Council has been involved since 2008 is the Tallaght Young Filmmakers (TYF). The Tallaght Young Filmmakers are described as a youth-led filmmaking group for ages 14 to 19 that meets weekly, with some intensive project periods for specific film shoots during school breaks. Work carried out with this group has provided South Dublin County Council’s Arts Office with a substantial learning curve regarding what it really means to take a youth-led approach. Further, work with TYF has allowed the Arts Office to understand that youth-led work is a balancing act; one that sways, at times, back and forth between the leadership of young people and the encouragement of adult workers. TYF developed from the initiation of students who had worked with South Dublin County Council’s Film and Visual Arts Coordinator in the local area of West Tallaght. During the 2007 – 2008 school year, students in two different schools had worked on different filmmaking projects that saw them scripting, acting in and directing their own film projects with the support of a filmmaker. These students came together on a trip to attend master classes offered by Cinemagic Film Festival. During their day-trip together, the students proposed starting an after-school filmmaking group to continue filmmaking beyond the school-based projects that were soon coming to a close. As a result, South Dublin County Council’s Arts Office continued to meet with these young people to collectively establish the aims and objectives of TYF and apply for seed funding from the Arts Council’s Young Ensembles Scheme, newly established in 2008. The agreed aim of TYF has been to strengthen the infrastructure and excellence of youth film produced in Tallaght through a programme led by and through the voice and creative agenda of the young people involved. In taking a youth-led approach, it was felt that TYF would provide a supportive environment in which young people could gain confidence, experience, and skills in the process of collaborative filmmaking with the assistance of professional filmmakers. Tallaght Young Filmmakers officially formed as a group in September 2008 after receiving funds from the Arts Council’s Young Ensembles Scheme. At the heart of the youth-led approach taken within the Tallaght Young Filmmakers is an understanding of partnership. In particular, young people, facilitators and local authority Arts Office all have an understanding of what each contributes to the programme as well as the importance of their shared efforts for the group’s sustainability. The group is facilitated by a Youth Film Leader and supported by a Welfare Officer as well as South Dublin County Council’s Youth Arts Coordinator. Adult workers are there to provide technical and administrative support as well as guide young people on budgets and provide information and advice on project planning and implementation. They also provide support if difficulties or conflicts arise within the group (Greenhat 2006). The Youth Film Leader meets weekly with the group to discuss film projects that may be
carried out and areas of learning needed to develop such work. The Welfare Officer supports young people’s participation in the programme as well as contributes to some of the planning of sessional activities. Professional filmmakers are hired through an interview process with the young people themselves to mentor, or advise, the group on how they might carry out particular film projects. In addition, professional filmmakers may become involved to deliver one-off master classes in particular areas of filmmaking. South Dublin County Council’s Arts Office provides funding, the loan of film equipment (through a grant from RAPID, Pobal and Dormant Accounts Fund) and strategic support for the group as well as monitoring and evaluation of the programme. In 2009 after the opening of the County’s new arts centre, RUA RED, South Dublin Arts Centre offered TYF support for meeting space, moving TYF from their original home in Tallaght Library. Today, the seven member group is now eighteen strong with a waiting list. One member from the original TYF is still involved. The programme has seen three young people go on to study filmmaking at third level and a number of other members go on to facilitate filmmaking sessions for other young people, act in feature films and assist on film shoots. The group has screened their work to a wide audience and won awards in youth film festivals. The development of youth-led practice within TYF has been a process, not without its highlights and growing pains. Much of the description of the limitations of both adult- and youth-led approaches mentioned above were lived experiences for TYF. At times, adults involved in working with the group held back ownership from young people, for fear that they may not be able to lead and deliver projects to completion. In addition, young people sometimes needed more direction and were not always clear on how to lead the development of specific film projects. In addition, the structures in place, such as frequency of meetings and the processes for feedback and consultation with TYF members were not always effective. Through a process developed over nearly three years, adults and young people involved in TYF have found ways in which to facilitate youth leadership and ownership of the filmmaking programme. These are: •
Being sensitive to the needs of the young people with whom we work as well as the institutional settings in which that work is housed.
Providing opportunities for young people to meet and work with a variety of professionals/practitioners in workshop and film settings, yet maintaining consistency of support via Coordinator and Welfare Officer roles within the group.
Taking time and being flexible, allowing mistakes to be made and learned from, by young people and adults.
Being strategic about where to begin. As mentioned above, it is felt important to acknowledge what one’s starting point is: where the programme is physically housed and what resources, financial, human and material, a programme has are all factors that may affect the extent to which youth-led goals may be delivered upon.
© Tallaght Young Filmmakers
Balancing letting go: Allow mistakes to be made, but avoid losing the group’s motivation and/or ownership. It is important not to overstretch oneself to ‘fill the gaps’ adults may feel that young people have left in seeing through a performance, a film or an exhibition out of lack of experience. Allowing young people to realise the gaps and mistakes, while difficult, promotes a level of learning needed for taking leadership. At the same time, adult workers are often required to balance those gaps with advice and guidance so that young people do not feel wholly let down.
young people are encouraged to learn, take the lead, and then permitted to make mistakes (Greenhat 2006). At the same time, however, it is important for young people to understand that adults, too, need the flexibility and encouragement to make mistakes and learn from them. TYF has been a great opportunity in which both young people and adults have had the time to do just that, resulting in positive learning and creative experiences for all involved.
Asking questions. Project planning and programme development within TYF often involves adults questioning young people about project ideas and plans and vice versa. For example, if at all concerned that young people have missed a step in a key aspect of project delivery, often asking questions about what may have been missed can raise awareness. This approach is also very useful for monitoring and evaluating project delivery and individual and group learning on a project. In addition, encourage and support young people to do the same of adult workers involved in projects. Such approaches allow adult workers to better understand what young people (artists) are passionate about as well as what their learning needs are.
This article is available to read in full on Practice.ie:
Encouraging learning from mistakes to be immediately applied. Get going on the next project or series of workshops with these areas of learning in mind. This may allow a group to take leadership on how to move forward and gain greater enthusiasm for the next project while highlighting what they’ve gained from the last one.
Realising that knowledge is cumulative. At the outset of the programme, TYF was described as youth-led. However, while individual film projects may have reflected the ideas of young people at their heart, the programme itself was not fully youth-led, nor could it have been at the time. It has been through the involvement in different film projects, working with different filmmakers, and the joining of new young members with different areas of interest in film that has helped to shape the development of TYF in new directions and that has allowed for greater leadership of young people.
Being involved in TYF has assisted South Dublin County Council’s Arts Office in gaining a greater understanding of how to promote youth leadership within youth arts projects. A balance is needed. Youth-led approaches do not mean that young people take complete control over every aspect of programme or even project delivery; however it is driven by them. At times, young people need to know that adult facilitators and artists are there to help and guide. Stepping in to ask a necessary question or encourage a group to meet a deadline, or even assist with that process, is not taking power away from the group, but allowing them to know you are there. The development of youth-led initiatives takes serious commitment from both the young people and adults involved. These initiatives require flexibility in approaches as well as time, providing environments in which
© Tallaght Young Filmmakers
Commentary ‘Nothing if not Critical’: Red Square and the Butler Gallery by Jean Tormey
Between 2009 and 2011, a facet of the Butler Gallery’s education programme, the Red Square youth programme, was initiated and flourished with the realisation of two major projects. Among the aims of the programme are to develop creative and critical thinking skills among young people, to encourage interests and passions outside of school hours, and for young people to give their time voluntarily to a project. The programme also hopes to make the gallery more accessible – to encourage use of its space for social encounters, where young people can engage with, and/ or participate in, high quality arts experiences. This paper is an exploration and analysis of the origins and development of Red Square. It focuses on the unique setting of an art gallery as a context for youth arts practice, the variables that assist the development and success of such a youth programme in the Butler Gallery’s experience, and its potential to become fully youth-led, accessible to all communities living in Kilkenny and integrated within the operations of the gallery as a whole. A note on national context The requirement for galleries and museums to focus on the development of education programmes that sit alongside exhibition programmes in Ireland over the past two decades has been driven largely by the Arts Council of Ireland and inspired by the quality and impact of programming at the Irish Museum of Modern Art. Within this, youth participation has traditionally occurred through schools and community programmes. Internationally, consultation and peer leadership within youth programmes in a gallery setting has been a feature of gallery education practice since the early 1990s. In more recent years in Ireland, a focus on working with those of secondary school age informally in galleries in a consultative and often peer-led approach has been apparent, with the setting up of programmes such as Young Model at the Model, Sligo, Studio 8 at IMMA and Young Curators Inc. at Dublin Contemporary. For the Butler Gallery, the Arts Council’s Young Ensemble Scheme financially supported the development of the young people’s programme at the Butler Gallery in 2010.
Wells. It resulted in a written critique of the exhibition by a participant posted on a local youth website, ‘Punch the Sphinx’. The informative, insightful and relaxed nature of the article, and the entertaining approach of the young person led us to think about instigating a young critics group who, with heightened tools and interaction with artists, curators and critics, would engage in more elaborate, informed and extensive criticism that could be shared with peers, exhibition visitors and the media. The first young critics project took place in 2010 during the Kilkenny Arts Festival, the group calling itself the ‘Red Square Kibosh’. For the first time, we had a funding source dedicated to this particular strand of the education programme’s practice (and support from the Kilkenny Arts Festival and youth centres in Kilkenny), including a budget for marketing, documentation and evaluation of the project. Although a loose structure was in place for the duration of the first young critics project, the young people decided on their manifesto, their name and which aspects of the Kilkenny Arts Festival they would critique. They met and interviewed artists and curators, channelling the results of these interviews into the content of their critiques online and in the local press. The project strengthened the local and public profile of the gallery’s youth programme and enabled us to experience our research in practice, viewing the effects of a gallery-based youth programme on young people in terms of personal development, the development of career interests, making friends and having fun. Furthermore, it mobilised a group of young people who were interested in continuing to work with us and in initiating youth projects themselves.
Red Square Roots The Butler Gallery has run events and residencies for young people of secondary school age as part of its core programme since 2004; but nothing on a voluntary and informal basis. Having seen at first hand the full impact of the youth programme at Tate Liverpool, I set about developing a youth programme at the Butler Gallery in 2008, looking at models such as Young Tate, but also the Irish context, keeping in mind the wealth and quality of existing non-gallery youth arts practice in Kilkenny such as Barnstorm Theatre, Young Irish Filmmakers and the existence of 2 youth centres – Ossory Youth and the Drum, run by Foroige. To test the water, throughout 2009/ 2010, workshops were programmed relating to different exhibitions and artists working at the gallery. One such workshop was ‘Without End’, inspired by a David Godbold exhibition at the gallery in 2009 led by artist Julie Moorhouse and writer Grace
© Jean Tormey
© Ross Costigan
Red Square Returns In 2011 Red Square secured more funding and engaged in a second round of the young critics project (‘Nothing if not Critical’). This time there was a desire to do and see less in the festival, while being more genuinely critical about the artwork they chose to critique. Also, the project spent more time discussing criticism and what it meant to be critical with facilitators focusing on certain aspects of the visual arts and theatre alone (working with artists Etaoin Holahan, Kate Strain and Anna Galligan of Barnstorm Theatre to achieve this), and worked with Young Irish Filmmakers on a documentary film of the project. The emphasis was on the group working together to write critiques rather than individually at home, and as a result the blog and the overall running of the project was more streamlined and successful, with the group’s opinions (captured at their public discussion event at the end of the festival) being featured generously in the Irish Times write up of the festival. This development in the evolution of the young critics group had the benefit of learning from another major project – a young curators project entitled ‘From Us, Through Them, To You’, which consisted of a number of phases of training with Etaoin Holahan, Anna Galligan and Mick Minogue, and a youth-curated exhibition at the gallery. This project moved the youth programme on in leaps and bounds, giving it a voice in the very central space of the gallery, and exposing the positive complications that involving 12 other voices adds to a gallery’s system and operating structure. The project emerged among a small group of young people who were involved in the first young critics project, and who (in collaboration with the gallery) successfully applied for a Leargas Youth in Action grant. A bigger group was gathered together in January 2011 and engaged in different phases of training over five months - creative & critical, research & communication, and project & event management. Given the tangible and public end-product of the process, the usual systems of the Butler Gallery were challenged by the collective curating of the exhibition, as the group made the final call - not just about choosing works, but deciding on the look and feel of the invite, the opening and most importantly, the hanging of the work. Learning Curve
very beginning with the young people involved. Leading on from this, the construction of a loose and flexible structure is necessary, often referred to as ‘scaffolding’ in UK youth arts practice. An emphasis on both process and product, with an open-minded and flexible attitude to the latter helps the success of a project. Adequate time to realise projects may seem an obvious point, but was pertinent in our young curators project, as we had a tight turn around to organise the exhibition following the completion of training. The capturing of ideas that emerge along the way, while reflecting on and reviewing these is important, as are the evaluation, research and continual development of ideas. During the project, a mix of activities aimed at different learning styles was necessary, and at the outset a connection with schools and teachers was crucial for the attraction of participants to the project. Red Square Future In the early days, our concerns were simply about gathering a group of young people who were interested in taking part in workshops and projects at the gallery. Then it became about the retention of these young people and the generation of new ideas and funding for projects. More and more, Red Square became about giving the young people we were working with a genuine voice in the development and growth of the programme. Now, I believe it should be about accessing and empowering young people from different cultural backgrounds to participate in the programme. Through the Red Square projects, the Butler Gallery has developed an ethos that is about nurturing the audiences of today in a way that makes sense to their lives now, rather than simply building an audience of the future. Jean Tormey was Education Curator at the Butler Gallery for 3 years, from 2008 – 2011 and is currently Education Curator: Schools & Families at the Whitechapel Gallery, London. Follow this link to read the full version of this paper on Practice.ie: http://www.practice.ie/interviewarticlepage/27
The development of the youth programme proved a steep learning curve for all involved. On reflection, we learnt that one of the most important tenets for the success of a gallery-based youth project is genuine organisational support from start to finish, where colleagues are sympathetic to and supportive of young people and the nature of what they are trying to do. Confident, clear and consistent communication from the point of view of education staff managing the project is of utmost importance, and the ability to mediate the needs of the group within the overall structure of a gallery setting. A dedicated funding strand is crucial to a substantial youth programme that can spend on dissemination and marketing as well as activity and content. Facilitation needs to be objective, informed and inclusive, with realistic and collaboratively agreed aims of any particular project mapped out from the
© Jean Tormey
Project focus: Opera Access all areas: Developing youth participation at Wexford Opera House by Sheila Creevy
On 5th February 2011, in Wexford Opera House, a group of 60 young people performed an extract from the opera La Traviata with professional opera artistes. They had just completed a day-long workshop that had brought them together from many different youth groups across County Wexford. Initially dubious (and somewhat embarrassed) about participating in an opera workshop, over the course of the day they had warmed to the idea, had a lot of fun, and developed a better understanding of what exactly takes place behind, and on-stage at an opera house.
The OperaWhat? model of engagement, was devised through a period of consultation with stakeholders and supporters of the Learning and Participation Project at Wexford Opera House. These included a voluntary steering committee consisting of local arts and community agency representatives; County Wexford Community Forum; and Wexford Opera House personnel. The aim of this model was to: •
Initiate communication with youth and community groups;
This pilot event was the culmination of 8 months research and development undertaken at Wexford Opera House into opera education and community outreach. It also represented the development of new partnerships and relationships between the world-class opera venue that is Wexford Opera House, local development agencies (including Wexford Local Development, who supported this ‘taster day’), artists and communities. Sharing knowledge, resources and enthusiasm were key to making an event such as this a success - encouraging young people to consider the cultural facilities and artistic resources that are on their doorstep, and the many different routes they could take to get involved.
Offer, and encourage engagement with, free learning and participation opportunities at Wexford Opera House;
Consult and gather feedback from the community to inform the development of Learning and Participation at Wexford Opera House.
Background In April 2010, Wexford Opera House commissioned a feasibility study to assess the viability of implementing a programme of learning and participation activities in Opera across County Wexford. Emerging from their desire to engage with the local and regional community, the intention of this study was to actively connect with the community. This was not only to consider if the anticipated programme would be possible, but also to give a voice to the needs and desires of the potential participants - in particular children and young people. Constructed on the site of the old Theatre Royal, historically a popular community venue at the heart of Wexford town, it is important to Wexford Opera House that it maintains this relationship with the local and regional communities, as well as developing new connections. However, specialisation and re-branding as an Opera House has provided its own issues. The perception by the community of this redevelopment has not always been that of accessibility and inclusiveness. Opera, as an art form in itself, poses problems, with preconceptions of elitism, exclusivity and inaccessibility. Many people feel more disconnected, and there is an assumption that there is “nothing for them” to engage with at Wexford Opera House. With this pilot project, it was hoped that these issues would be addressed; that more people would be encouraged to become involved with Wexford Opera House activities, contribute to the development of Learning and Participation at the venue, and realise that opera can be an accessible and enjoyable activity for all.
The first OperaWhat? event took place in September 2010. Fifty-five people attended, representing twenty-nine youth and community groups from a range of locations and backgrounds. Participants spent the afternoon in various activities, meeting and working with professional artistes in opera and theatre. The event involved a workshop, a tour, and a ‘behind the scenes’ seminar on opera design and production. This event was a huge success, and led to a specific enquiry from Wexford Local Development, seeking opportunities to encourage the young people they work with across various groups, to become more aware and involved with cultural activities and resources in County Wexford. They wondered if young people could overcome existing barriers to participation and experience and learn more about this artistic activity on their doorstep? “But what’s that got to do with me?” In the 1997 Arts Council / Combat Poverty Agency report Poverty: Access and Participation in the Arts, the researcher Jeanne Moore identified real and perceived barriers to access in arts activities. These were: Financial: Cost of tickets; transport; Practical: Including distance; child-care; Social: Feeling uncomfortable in a venue; discrimination against marginalised groups; Physical: Including lack of disabled access; Cultural: Lack of interest, or perceived relevance to their own lives. Fourteen years later, these barriers still exist; and for young people, these issues are compounded by a lack of specifically targeted activities. In particular, those activities that develop awareness and understanding of the relevance of arts activities to their own lives, and allow access to professional practice. This is especially true in opera - and the many opportunities it can provide for young people to engage with all areas of production, including
© Wexford Opera House
youth groups, from a broad geographical area of Co. Wexford.
creative, technical and performance. In discussions with Wexford Local Development, we realised the OperaWhat? event model could provide an opportunity to overcome some of these barriers, creating a free event specifically for young people. It would be inclusive, drawing groups of different ages and backgrounds, giving them an opportunity to meet and mix, whilst sampling a ‘taster’ of opera specifically designed for them.
Many of these participants took their first steps into the opera house, and discovered that there was something of interest for them in this beautiful venue.
The groups mixed and met new people from different backgrounds, in a neutral and safe environment.
Supporting the young people in taking that first step across the threshold of an opera house opens a world of opportunity that they most likely were unaware exists for them. It allows for the development of interest and awareness, and encourages participation.
Feedback indicated an increase in enthusiasm for opera, and many young people have returned to Wexford Opera House for other events and performances.
Wexford Local Development put a call out to their youth groups, and the schedule included: •
A tour of the opera house - bringing the young people to areas they would not normally see.
A talk from the Technical Manager, Michael Lonergan - enlightening them as to the technical capabilities of the venue, and the work involved in production.
A workshop, designed and delivered by opera director Thomas de Mallet Burgess, and singers Fiona McAndrew and Declan Kelly (accompanied by professional Repetiteur Nolwenn Collet)- all highly experienced in facilitation with youth and educational projects.
The future of Learning and Participation at Wexford Opera House hangs in the balance as, due to a lack of funding, difficult decisions have had to be made about programming and support for such projects. The feasibility study showed that there are many potential participants and supporters for a longer-term programme. It is hoped that eventually Wexford Opera House will be producing community operas - that is, led by the young people and communities who participate; develop a youth opera company; and set up an outstanding learning programme. In the meantime, we seek opportunities to develop relationships and partnerships; and engage with the young people and communities of County Wexford to continue what we started: developing interest, awareness and opportunities to access all areas of opera.
The issues of communication and transport were addressed by Wexford Local Development, and the partners also agreed on Health and Safety, and Child Protection protocols across both organisations for the day. But key to the success of the project was the design of the workshops and talks. It was necessary for them to be interesting, to engage participants in activity, and to make it relevant. The choice of scene (the Brindisi from Verdi’s La Traviata) provided an opportunity to work with a familiar melody. The setting would encourage the young participants (as chorus) to mingle and become involved in developing the party scene; and gave them a sense of ownership of the final product. Experiences and Outcomes The event ran very smoothly and once the young people had arrived and settled in, they became very involved and interested in the activities they were undertaking. The initial shyness (and embarrassment) that existed among the participants was soon overcome by the excitement of new experiences. The opportunity to directly access professionals in the field of opera creation, performance, and production was significant. The outcomes of this event were manifold: •
60 young people attended and participated on the day, representing 6
© Wexford Opera House
Project focus: Craft CRAFTed: The Crafts Council’s primary schools programme by Polly Minett
CRAFTed is the Crafts Council of Ireland’s primary school visual arts education programme, which promotes learning through creativity and innovation, and is presently being developed and delivered in partnership with the 21 full time Education Centres across Ireland. The CRAFTed programme places professional craftspeople working alongside teachers in primary schools, focusing on integrated learning methodologies through the visual arts curriculum, with an emphasis on skills that can be applied to project based learning in numeracy, literacy and in the Social, Environmental and Scientific Education (SESE) curricula. One of the main aims of the programme is to develop good collaborative practice between craftspeople and teachers. One way this is achieved is by providing joint training /planning days for craftspeople & teachers, where they have time to explore their different roles and expectations and work on ideas that suit both the working methods of the craftspeople and the themes taking place in the classroom, before embarking on their projects. Feedback and evaluation from participants to date has shown that the pre-project collaborative planning is invaluable and contributes greatly to the success of the CRAFTed programme, as it creates a shared understanding as to the expectations, and aims and objectives for everyone. CRAFTed in its present form was launched in September of 2010 when it was run in partnership with six Education Centres. Due to the success of the programme, it has now developed from a regional to a national programme, and has dramatically expanded to include all the full time Education Centres in the Republic. As each centre hopes to involve six or more schools, this means that in 2012, the programme will involve about one hundred and twenty schools, providing greater opportunities for more craftspeople to become involved.
in Cork, called Craft in the Classroom. This was piloted in six schools in 2005, its key aims being: joint collaborative training for both teachers and craftspeople; pre-residency planning; and support around the visual arts curriculum. Positive feedback from the pilot resulted in expansion to other regions over the next few years. One of the keys to its success was good feedback and evaluation from both craftspeople and teachers, which was carefully documented, leading to additional aims and improved delivery. Key additions included: •
An information day for craftspeople, in which the aims, objectives, methodologies, and terms and conditions of the programme could be clearly defined before they applied;
A selection process for schools to determine their commitment to the programme and to match teachers’ requirements with the skills of the craftsperson;
A selection process and interviews for craftspeople to ensure a level of quality and professionalism.
The need for an arts-based primary education programme was initially brought to the attention of the Crafts Council of Ireland at a meeting called in 2002 by members of the Guilds, Associations, Networks & Societies of Irish Craft Workers. The meeting was called in response to the fact that many craftspeople had been approached by primary school teachers for ideas and support with the new visual arts curriculum (revised in 1999) who didn’t feel they had the skills to fully deliver. In turn, many craftspeople didn’t feel they had sufficient experience of arts education practice to work confidently in schools. The outcome of the meeting stated that the Crafts Council of Ireland needed to commission a feasibility research study, which was then conducted by Mairead Mc Allen in March 2003. The study highlighted the Crafts Council of Ireland’s responsibility to support craft in education and the need to work closely with primary teachers and the revised curriculum to develop an education programme that would raise the profile of craft and make it accessible to young people Pascal De Coninck (education officer for The Cork Textile Network) was appointed to liaise with the Primary Curriculum Support Programme and run a pilot project
Bandon Presentation Primary School, West Cork © Liz Flatman From 2007 the programme developed, through partnership with PPDS (Primary Professional Development Service) arts officers and more emphasis was placed in training on the importance of good collaborative process. The following year,
© Anne Harrington Rees
more partnerships were forged with Education Centres, enabling the programme to double in size. Each school also made a small financial contribution.
the visual arts programme will have a significant impact on the preservation of skills and future of the craft industry in Ireland.
With Craft in the Classroom expanding and developing as a model, the question of how to enable the programme to grow without losing the integrity of the model became extremely important. At the same time, the economic environment in Ireland signified a threat of cuts.
It was from the findings of this research that CRAFTed was developed. CRAFTed 2012 is presently in its preparation phase, with the Crafts Council expanding its education panel to meet the demand for work opportunities, and to place more craftspeople regionally.
In preparing to develop a new strategic plan (2010-2012), the Crafts Council of Ireland agreed that research into Craft in the Classroom was required in order to focus its future efforts in the primary sector. A number of key questions had arisen from the initiative, such as: the focus and effectiveness of the programme; the role of the Crafts Council; the nature of the collaboration between teachers and craftspeople; and how to adapt the structure of the programme for delivery to a national audience.
Regional collaborative training will take place early in 2012, with roll out in spring/ early summer. The project involves 10 contact hours in each school. The length and timing of sessions can vary from project to project and is agreed on at the preresidency planning meetings.
In October 2009 research was commissioned on the Primary Level programme from its inception in 2005 to 2009 and this was conducted by Marie Brett (a freelance artist and arts education facilitator) who was involved in developing the Crafts Council’s primary programme since its inception, and myself, Polly Minett (Programme co-ordinator since 2006) Research was undertaken in two phases:
The 2011 CRAFTed programme culminated in a feedback celebration, which was held at The Ark, A Cultural Centre for Children, in Dublin. Both teachers and craftspeople were invited to share their projects and discuss their experiences and feedback showed that participants found this very inspiring. The Education Centres also hosted exhibitions of the works created during the CRAFTed programme, and students were invited to the centres to view their work and that of their peers. Students were delighted and proud to know that their work was part of a bigger programme, taking place in other regions and that other children were also viewing their work.
Primary research through questionnaires to assess the impact of Craft in the Classroom; its strengths and weaknesses, the needs of teachers and craftspeople and to map the direction for future initiatives in the primary education sector;
Many of the CRAFTed projects from 2011 can be viewed on the Craft Council’s new website http://learncraftdesign.com launched in October 2011. This new education platform will enable wider access to the wonderful work created through the CRAFTed programme and it will also provide ideas and inspiration too.
Secondary research which looked at comparative national, international and UK based craft education initiatives, focusing on their key messages, modes of delivery, types of resources, methods of training and types of partnership.
Results from the research highlighted the following key factors: •
Craft in the Classroom was successful in its delivery of high-quality, processled qualitative experiences for children, teachers and makers;
Participants felt that training for teachers and makers was fundamentally important;
Process-led programmes that focus on quality of experience and experiential learning methodologies will have a greater benefit in the long term;
Craft-based education initiatives present an opportunity for additional income to makers;
A craft-led primary-based national initiative that supports the delivery of
Leap National School, West Cork © Liam Callaghan
© Kids’ Own Publishing Partnership
Project focus: Early years
Rannta na nDéise
by Kids’ Own Publishing Partnership About Kids’ Own and the Travelling Library Kids’ Own is a children’s arts organisation and the only dedicated publisher of books by children in Ireland. As a children’s arts organisation, Kids’ Own takes a holistic approach to child development and believes in the crucial role that the arts and creative activity play in the development of the whole child. The Travelling Library is a national resource developed by Kids’ Own. The vision of the Travelling Library is to create a nationwide community of empowered young readers and writers whose creative endeavours are shared and valued through publishing. The Rannta na nDeise project was funded by the Arts Council Touring Award in 2010, and emerged as a partnership between Kids’ Own and Waterford County Library Service. The project aimed to develop a model of early years engagement that would support family learning between parents and very young children through a range of creative activities with two professional artists. The Travelling Library was installed in four libraries across County Waterford. During its installation in each library, writer/ musician Mary Branley and artist Polly Minett spent four days engaging with small groups of parents and very young children through a range of activities from songs, rhymes, puppetry, art work and play. The work that the children and parents created was brought together into a unique publication called ‘Wiggly Woo agus a Chairde’ Wiggly Woo agus a Chairde can be read in full at the following link: http://www.kidsown.ie/projects/wiggly-woo/ Kids’ Own also conducted preliminary research to investigate the impact of play, book-making and family engagement in supporting child development and learning.
The following is an edited extract which summarises some of the findings and conclusions from the report by independant researcher Áine Mc Kenna. How do we define “quality” in Early Years education? The purpose of all education is to “draw fourth” potential. Specifically in relation to the education of pre-school children an understanding of their developmental stage is crucial if a meaningful, relevant and stimulating play experience is to be offered. In addition to this when working with parents their knowledge of the qualitatively different stages of development cannot be assumed and therefore the aim of any supportive intervention work with parents should aim to communicate this knowledge in a practical way because this knowledge alone may be key to improving adult-child interactions during “playtime” in order to provide more intellectually nourishing experiences and increase the satisfaction levels for all involved. Research has consistently shown over the past thirty years that parental involvement in children’s education not only enhances the child’s intellectual development but also improves their social skills and reduces problem behaviour (Englund, Luckner, Whaley, & Egeland, 2004; Fax & Chen, 2001; Izzo, Weissberg, Kasprow, & Fendrich, 1999).
© Kids’ Own Publishing Partnership
The facilitation of “quality” play experiences provides a context for the deepening of young children’s representational thought, the developing of pother spheres, who also get a kick out of working with young people, with their vocabulary, the freedom to experiment with the metalinguistic features young minds.as well as the enacting of story structure, setting and other literacy of speech elements. From the theoretical perspectives that will briefly be outlined Onhere ownership it willofbework: demonstrated that early literacy education should include time and out opportunity for nature experimentation with aand vastwhere rangeit of I’veproviding been trying to sort recently, the of collaboration literacy materials during the first five years of life. begins and ends. Why I have work in a folder here [in my studio] and I specifically think myadults own work and then there’s lots of work going on that’s not The rolethat’s of the in early years education my own work. I tried to work out what is the difference. I though I could hone it Dewey (1897) asserted of that role ofIfthe adult does notthe involve imposing down to the development thethe concept. I had developed concept, if it was certain ideas or creating certain habits in the child rather it is to select defined completely by me, then that made it my work. But then as to how much influences which shall affect the child and to assist him/her in responding theproperly childrentoinform directions of the concepts of thethis works we do together, these the influences. Connected closely with is Vygotsky’s conceptI don’t They certainly inform practical aspects of it. Sometimes they(1978), inform, I of know. the “zone of proximal development”. According to Vygotsky learning children all areparts challenged mean, ideallytakes theyplace wouldwhen be informing of it. within close proximity to, but slightly beyond their current level of development. It is therefore Onsuggested Evaluation:that the outcome of successfully completing a challenging task is that the learner gains confidence and motivation. Von Glasersfeld (1989) Asking ‘Why?’ is a part of my ongoing practice as an artist. In more practical contends that sustaining motivation to learn is strongly dependent on the ways; leavingconfidence time aside at to ask the kidsfor their opinionsThese on things, what learner’s in the his end or her potential learning. feelings worked for them, in very simple ways like taking votes on things. Putting time of competence and belief in potential to solve new problems, are derived aside forfirst-hand their evaluation of things and forofthe teacher’sinevaluation of things. And from experience of mastery problems the past and are much morethe powerful than any ‘Did external acknowledgment and motivation putting three together; it work for us all?’ or ‘Where there parts(Prawat of the day These theories andthough supporting suggest that a thatand fellFloden apart?’1994). The parts of the day, even they evidence are difficult to address, knowledge of a child’s current level of ability provide the basis for the initial that fell apart, probably inform the next time together more so than the bits that planning of the play session and the role of the adult is to “select influences”, went moreresponding” positively. and carefully “scaffold the challenge” to ensure the “guide confidence and motivation of the child are nurtured. On documentation: What in the workshops? I don’t seehappened the documentation as being separate to the process, you know, the photographs that happen or ... for example, discussions that we have and the Music, song, rhyme and storythe session whiteboards that we put up using the remote software, are part parcel of A positive atmosphere of participation, fun and openness wasand encouraged. ourThe communication snapshots of certain periods of time. They material was process. age andThey stageare appropriate. do All document the communication that has gone on.own So its partofand parcel of the children were allowed to participate at their level comfort. process Guitaritself. was played by writer/ musician Mary Branley. Puppets were introduced to “scaffold” children’s integration into the group by Artist Polly Minett. Creative art session Facilitators laid paper, chalks, pastels, on the table. Parents were encouraged to join their children in the activity.
Facilitators modelled the asking of open questions about the children’s emerging works of art… ”What’s this”, “Tell me about that.” This activity was child-led. Children developed ideas about what they wanted to create. Facilitators modelled the scaffolding process for parents and then allowed parents to take over this “supportive guide role”. If boredom set in, facilitators extended play by gradually adding new materials: paper for tearing and gluing, glitter, lollipop sticks, water for the pastels to see what happens when... Printing session was set up and this offered a welcome opportunity for the children requiring an additional challenge to extend the journey of colour and texture exploration even further. Zone of Proximal Development: In session one, facilitators, parents and children sang songs, enacted rhymes and shared stories. At the outset traditional nursery rhymes such as “Incy Wincy”, “Polly put the kettle on”, “The Grand Old Duke of York” etc. were used to ease the children into the session. Once all children were settled and interacting and participating, they were encouraged by the facilitators to develop their own rhymes. One child would say a line and the facilitators would encourage the children to think of rhyming words to create the next line. This was a carefully “scaffolded process” where the children’s emerging metalinguistic abilities were carefully developed in an atmosphere where mistakes were no “big deal”, even funny at times, and success led to the addition of a new line for the emerging rhyme for their book. Session two provided opportunity for individual parent–child involvement and engagement with the materials at a level and pace that they felt comfortable with. This session was carefully planned so that play was gradually supported or extended when frustration or boredom set in. Parents were shown how to follow the child’s lead, to ask appropriate open ended questions about the emerging symbolic representations and to act as a sensitive and supportive guide when required. Adults were encouraged to become process orientated in their attitude towards children’s creative play. In this way children were supported to bring the fruit of their representational thought out into the “real world”. To view the full research report from this project, go to: http://www.kidsown.ie/projects/travelling-library/
Practitioner focus: Theatre
Louis Lovett in A Man in Half (Theatre Lovett), Directed by Muireann Ahern
Muireann Ahern: Fully present, connected and engaged Muireann Ahern is Joint Artistic Director of Ireland’s THEATRE LOVETT (Purveyor’s of Fine Theatre for Children, Women & Men) and was interviewed by Practice.ie Guest Editor from June / July 2011, Mark O’Brien. Can you speak a bit about your work background and your practice? I have been working in the field of Theatre for Young Audiences since graduating from The Samuel Beckett Centre almost 20 years ago. Over the years I have worked with some great companies (Wet Paint, TEAM, The Abbey Outreach, The Ark) in varying roles – as an actor, director, education officer, producer and programmer. I have just moved from my role as Theatre Programmer and Producer at The Ark to Theatre Lovett and am delighted to take up post as Joint Artistic Director alongside Louis Lovett.
I would have to say many of the challenges are most probably the same as making work for adults – finding like-minded collaborators, the constraints of time, budget etc. and more. One very big challenge I find is trying to bridge the divide that exists between those who make theatre for children and those who make theatre for adults. I find it very exciting when these lines are blurred. For example, while Ireland has some fine practitioners in Theatre for Young Audiences (TYA), over the last few years I have worked with many artists not normally associated with young audiences (Marina Carr, Selina Cartmell, Jo Mangan, Tom Swift, Lynne Parker, Don Wycherley and others).
Gareth Kennedy: One plus one equals three
Is there a common thread that runs through your work? Children, children and more children. I have to say, however, that I do lean towards the dark side when it comes to making, programming and enjoying work for children. I don’t buy into the primary colours and pigtails approach (and frankly I don’t think the children do either!) I have programmed the family season of the Ulster Bank Dublin Theatre Festival for the last five years and have been very taken by the craft of some of the visiting companies and their ability to take children skillfully to darker places and then bring them back again unscathed – and exhilirated. A lot of the work that grips me is tiptoeing round the fringes of terror. This can be delectable and thrilling for children when done responsibly and with skill. I directed a show for Theatre Lovett called A Man in Half written by Fances Kay. At its core is the belief that young people are able to enjoy and understand drama that shows the adult world as a complex and occasionally dark place. Throughout the piece is balanced by some great comedy. Sharing a Theatre Lovett theatre piece empowers children and their adults to embrace life, with all its light and shadow. We will show you the dark colours of the rainbow. Can you talk about the challenges in the area of work with / for children and young people?
Inviting these artists to make work for young audiences can be a good thing when they are supported in the process. Often, they may not have thought of turning their craft to children’s theatre until invited to do so. Another challenge can be to find actors who are at ease interacting with their audience and with what the children might offer them during performance. This is a very particular skill, knowing when to engage and when not to, yet at all times with that lovely sense that every child’s offering is wholly or subtly embraced. Louis Lovett is the master of this interaction and has a real desire to upskill other actors in this area. He surfs his audience beautifully and his audiences are rarely left unheard or with their contribution left hanging in the air. When an actor can include what comes from the floor without putting the brakes on the momentum of the piece – this is what can really set theatre for children apart from the grown-up variety. What inspires you? Theatre that shakes me up, moves me, or out-foxes me, inspires me. Artists who are at the top of their game inspire me. Writers, directors, designers, composers, dancers and those actors who can transport us from out of our seat, up into the air and into their heads and inside their story. A child in an audience who is truly connecting inspires me to try to do this for them again and again: To make more work where they can be fully present, connected and engaged, where they will leave the theatre remembering this one. And remembering it for the right reasons. Theatre that truly engages with its age group AND the adults in the audience inspires me. That is what is so appealing about Theatre Lovett’s work. All ages can engage with the work at different levels and the rug is not being pulled from under
anyone. Nobody is forgiving the work because “it’s only for children.” Louis and I want to see both adults and children coming to Theatre Lovett’s performances because both groups want to be there. Getting this pitch right is the holy grail of theatre I believe. This is where like minded collaborators are essential. What is most important in work with and for young people? Is it the engagement or the aesthetic? Is there a space where they are intertwined? How do we get there? Most important in work for young people is probably accuracy in terms of pitch. There is no point if this is misguided or misdirected as both audience and artists will be at sea. We need to be clear of the developmental levels of our audiences, their cognitive abilities, emotional needs etc. It is only then can we try for a meaningful engagement. With that in place, engagement can begin to happen on many different levels – the aesthetic, the character’s dilemma, the music, and so much more. When this happens we are doing our job. That’s the bull’s-eye. Striving for a fuller engagement is what I enjoy. Critical to an age pitch decision is WHO is communicating the piece. Is it about the child or the teller? I have seen inaccessible material made quite accessible to certain age groups when delivered by the right performer. And I have seen perfectly accessible material made inaccessible when in the wrong hands. Wonderful or woeful depending on who is doing the wooing. Can performances be interesting or rewarding for children when it just about escapes them in all areas most of the time? The initial, early-stage choices made by the creatives influence a pitch greatly. I love seeing children and adults enjoying theatre for whatever reason might grab them. But I always want to make it better for them, give them more reasons to love it.
Theatre Lovett). This was an outstanding process as all artists involved were not afraid to go beyond the parameters of what their role in the project was and to just let the air in. It was a truly collaborative project with very powerful creative returns. It is receiving invitations worldwide. No one was precious about their corner – but everyone was following some kind of map that we all understood. Finegan Kruckemeyer, Lynne Parker and Louis Lovett know how to play and how to get others playing. Even the audiences at this show feel they are playing too. Young and old. Dream Project? I have Panto fantasies. Of the good kind. Oh yes I do. Mark O’Brien is a graduate of UCD with a Masters in English. He has been Arts Development Manager/ Deputy Director at axis, Ballymun since 2004 and became Director of axis in 2011. His role includes developing both participatory and collaborative arts projects and the strategic development of arts practice in a range of contexts. During his editorship, Mark explored the question of collaboration, participation and the aesthetic.
For the full interview visit: http://www.practice.ie/interviewhome/9
How do we negotiate what the objectives are in working in a collaborative context? Having a shared objective would be nice. But, as we know, things can and do change. Goalposts shift. As much as possible we should agree to go forward with a willingness to support and celebrate the process or outcome. Success or failure. Coming or going. With an honesty and an openness and with a good energy. Knowing our collaborators is key. Having trust and being flexible is also critical to successful collaborations. Most importantly in any collaboration is learning how to embrace failure more. We have to be ready and open to offering up all our ‘bad’ ideas to the floor for discussion. I find this hard. I like mine to be all polished and shiny before they get an airing. I am learning! In response to my opening thoughts an artist posted that ‘we should always aspire to Excellence, Learning, Engagement, Participation in our practice – both for the facilitator and the young people’ In your experience what are the conditions needed to make this happen and why? That’s a mighty big question there. From my standpoint, the answer to WHAT is WHO. Why? Because of what they can do. Last year, I was a guest speaker at Danish Plus, an international TYA conference on the issue of quality. It was a fascinating few days and provoked a whole range of responses from people. Integrity was a word that came up more than once. But coupled with this came the key word for many – Talent. Our task, if we seek to be purveyors of life-enhancing theatre and opportunities for children should be to unearth and encourage the “who” – those artists and facilitators who truly shine at what they do. One outstanding memory or project and why? The Girl who Forgot to Sing Badly (The Ark, A Cultural Centre for Children and
Louis Lovett in The Girl who Forgot to Sing Badly (The Ark, A Cultural Centre for Children & Theatre Lovett), Directed by Lynne Parker
Practitioner focus: Visual arts Orla Kelly: Turning the lights on
Orla Kelly is a visual artist and creative educationalist. Her own education includes a diploma in psychology, a degree in fine art and a masters in arts management. She has worked with children for over a decade creating work in Dublin, and mainland Europe, with and without a common spoken tongue, using creative understanding to collaboratively make things. The following is a documentation of her interview with Practice.ie’s June / July 2011 Guest Editor Mark O’Brien.
with the other, to really try for something that is indescribable at the point where you start from. Maybe it’s definable in some sense, that an artist comes together with a teacher who has an idea to engage with their students, and you work through a relationship. And you come out at the end of it, if you maintain that honest, open, authentic relationship, or even a proper relationship, you end up with something authentic at the end of it because you’ve engaged authentically.
Can you talk a bit about your background and how you came to be doing what you’re doing? The work I do now lingers between my own work as a visual artist and designing and facilitating work with and for young people. I started that journey from graduating in fine art from first Galway, then Limerick and quite surprisingly got a job immediately after graduation with what was then the Sculpture Society of Ireland, doing educational projects in inner-city Dublin, which was a really great experience. You came out here [to Ballymun] to facilitate a summer project and ended up being the first arts development co-ordinator… Yeah, Dig It was an early primary school project, so I was the artist in one of the schools in Ballymun and there was a really interesting conversation about product versus process and I really started to think about these two things – they have value each on their own and they don’t have to be the same thing and – what’s better, what’s worse? And teachers in that project intimated that they wanted a product as an outcome and I thought that was very interesting. What do you expect as a teacher as a product? Do you expect your children to be more engaged, more enlivened, better people, better children or do you want them to bring home an object that they made with an artist in a school. It’s not so easy to evaluate a process but there’s value in trying and even in understanding that there’s huge value in process. The conversation now has moved on with many teachers – not all – but there is a certain understanding that the outcome is not the be all and end all of any engagement. Is there a thread both in your own practice and in your collaborative engagement or participative work in your aesthetic and the way you approach things? I think it’s different with every engagement. I suppose what would be my intention with every engagement is to be authentic either in my own work or in work with other people. I’m interested in that word “authentic” and what that means… For me, to be authentic is to be not only the real deal for yourself but to engage
© Orla Kelly What are the challenges of working in the educational and other contexts? In some ways one of the challenges goes back to the concept of the product and process, that as an artist you try not dilute what you do, or you try not dilute the engagement and sometimes it does get diluted, maybe because those who are paying or who are bringing the artist in have an agenda and it’s not the same agenda as the artist’s. If there’s a theme or a way of working already given in to the project, is there confinement around that? Not necessarily confinement, but it’s diluted because the goals are not the same. The idea of trivialising what an artist does in trying to get an audience… in that case you do dilute what the artist does, because it’s easier to make what the artist does seem easy, by saying “you too can do it, you too can be an artist, you too can make wonderful things…” and of course yes, you can, but there’s a middle ground between completely trivialising and popularising art work with children or adults and the other side of making it authentic again. An awful lot of these relationships are brokered by a mediator or a co-ordinator or a facilitator and the artist comes in and delivers. But I think what interests me in the work that I’ve seen that really works is there’s at the outset an intention in a good way. But
how do you actually free this creative mind in a room with other creative minds to create something while also allowing whatever contexts are there to kind of feel safe? It’s something that one develops over a certain length of time – that being a teacher, or being an educator, or being a creative educationalist, you consider and you develop, it doesn’t just happen. But it is interesting that when I am in a classroom or when I am in a creative educational setting that there is a bit of theatre about being an artist facilitator in a classroom. Because it is engaging in a different activity than they would normally engage with and I think to make that very exciting that I do need to turn the light on and engage with them in a role of wonder. I’m the magician.
very few people working in the zero to four years of age, and I think there’s a great wealth to be had for both children and artists and educationalists – not just a gap or a wealth but there’s a need to educate when children are most creative, not to shape them out of proportion but to understand what they can share with an artist. What is it that inspires you in that area? What is it that would bring you into that room? In seeing young children investigate the world, it’s so enlivening, as a human being and as a visual artist, that everything is about wonder. They’ve never seen things before and that sense of looking at something, of understanding, of trying to understand the world can be so enlivening and inspiring. An awful lot of the time we talk about what the young people are getting out of it, and in some sense feel guilty about what practitioners are getting out of it. And I think it’s really interesting to have a space to say ‘actually that really inspires me to go off and do my own work’, do you know what I mean? Yeah, that’s an interesting point as well. I think as a grown up we kind of forget to do the play thing and we kind of forget that in our professional capacities that we’re still learning about the world, that we’re still investigating who we are and what we do. It’s interesting to be inspired by beauty and not just a beautiful thing but by a fresh human being which is fascinated by the world and that fascination as an artist should be, maybe not in everybody’s work but certainly it should be in mine, to make things fresh, to make me inspired and to look again at things. That’s interesting because a lot of my conversations have been about engagement, not versus aesthetic but how do you find a space between the two of them? I’m interested in placing that question now in this early years context. How do you broker that conversation with early years workers and are the perceived outcomes completely different?
© Orla Kelly
What supports do artists need in the development of their work? I just think that Practice.ie is fabulous because it’s a kind of network support for artists and you mentioned communication earlier on, what other supports? Certainly contracts – we’ve spoken about this many times. No matter what setting artists should always have contracts for themselves for what they do. We are professionals and we should consider ourselves as such. And certain amounts of conversations of what it’s for, what each side’s expectations are, so that there aren’t misunderstandings, that you can tick their boxes while also ticking your own goals. I suppose the rest is all workable. I suppose the greatest thing is the understanding of what you do, or what you can potentially do and also trust is a huge thing, so if someone engages me to do workshops, I would hope that they would trust me to do that after the converstaions have happened.
I don’t know the answer but I really do want to find out and I think there’s something really important there to be learned. As a grown up artist, what is an early years aesthetic? Does aesthetic come into play? And what does it really mean even in a grown-up setting and how do they all fit together. All of these words that are used, like creativity, aesthetic, even experience, are we using them with the right understanding? I suppose it comes back to the idea of being authentic. If we really investigate, if we are really interested in being artists in the true sense, we should really investigate these words and what they really mean. For the full interview visit: http://www.practice.ie/interviewhome/10
We’ve been talking quite a lot outside this room about your work in developing research around early years. Do you want to talk a bit about what inspires you in that area or what it is that you’re trying to find out for yourself? There seems to be a huge gap in provision for early years education – creative education – not only for the children but in the artist community as well. There are
© Orla Kelly
Practitioner focus: Early years Ruth Churchill: Scaffolding young children’s learning Ruth Churchill is the Director of Earlyarts UK, an award-winning network for professionals in the arts, cultural and early years sectors working creatively with children and families. Ruth has worked on developing arts, cultural, early education and learning strategies in both policy and practice, and has published a range of papers, articles and guides in the areas of creative practice in early years, online learning and knowledge management. She was interviewed by December 2010-January 2011 Practice.ie Guest Editor Helene Hugel. The first question is about the value of arts for very young children – for parents and then for artists as well. Personally I believe that the arts are incredibly important for children from birth. Children are born with trillions of synaptic connectors in their brain waiting to make connections as knowledge travels from A to B. Children’s genetic predispositions, combined with exposure to experiences in their environment, has a massive impact on their learning and development in the first three years of life particularly. What we now know from MRI scanning, is that children who’ve been supported and developed in a very creative environment have had a much greater blooming of the synaptic connectors that enable a disposition for creative thinking to happen. We’ve seen this in practice through hundreds of years of work with arts and creative practitioners where they’ve been using different art forms to enable children to find their own languages, to build a sense of self-confidence, to find an identity in terms of knowing who they are as people, where they fit in the big wide world, so there’s a plethora of evidence out there, but we know why that works now which is something that perhaps we haven’t known so much about in the past. The role of the artist: I think one of the most important things is where an artist can come into an environment with children, parents and professionals looking after those children and find a way jointly of understanding what those children’s ideas, interests and needs are, and somehow using their art form to enable those ideas and interests to really grow and find a life of their own. So if you wanted to look at the theorists, you would probably focus on Vygotsky, who talked about scaffolding young children’s learning and that’s exactly the right description of the role of the artist. It’s not to come in and put their own work at the centre of the focus, but to use all their incredible skills in a very creative way to enable the ideas of the child to really flourish and for that child to be nurtured in every single way through that experience and also, the experiences of the adults that are supporting that child as well. The skills required: In traditional arts education cultures, working within a school setting requires an understanding of the curriculum and the art form is slotted in to the curriculum so what the children are required to learn to meet their assesment targets is the starting point for the artist to work with. In early years settings, a really good early years practitioner knows that the starting point is the child’s ideas and interests
or their needs within the whole context of the setting. A good artist will be able to work with that and still meet every single one of the early years foundation stage objectives at the end of the day. Because it is all about life-building skills, it’s about how children build confidence, build social emotional skills, how they develop a knowledge and understanding of themselves and of the world around them as much as it is about developing specific art skills. Now, there’s nothing wrong with an artist who wants to come in and work on developing specific art skills but the way younger children learn is different to older children, so they learn in a very holistic way where kinaesthetic and experiential learning are just as important as aural learning or reading and writing for instance. Older children can compartamentalise their learning into subjects much more easily and therefore it’s easier for the artists to go in with the curriculum as the starting point. But in younger years they don’t compartmentalise their learning in the same way, so it’s very important for the artist to start with where the children are at, take that as their starting point and really build the ideas from that. And nine times out of ten, if they’re a brilliant practitioner, facilitator, scaffolder, a brilliant listener as much as they are a brilliant creative practitioner, all of the early learning goals will be met. The value for parents: Arts practice is very important for parents, not least because it gives them a sense of finding a language to express themselves with. Whether it’s visual arts, sculpture, theatre, movement, dance, or whatever the art form, it’s a way of giving parents an experience of themselves of their own identity, in the same way as it does for children. It helps parents give themselves a bigger sense of confidence of who they are and where they fit in the bigger picture and I think that’s really important in today’s society where we’re increasingly expanding to become part of this global community at the expense of our local communities. We have a number of cultural conventions where we send our children away to university at quite a young age or we send them away to jobs and that family community isn’t really there anymore, so the arts gives us a sense of being able to come together, find out who we are or how we can express ourselves in the world around us. The value of the shared experience: For some adults it’s really important to have a shared sense of learning with their children and when you have an experience that’s within an arts environment it gives parents a sense of what it is that makes that child tick and what it is that makes their own life feel different as a result of that arts experience. For some people this is just a small very subtle change that can come out over a period of time, and if the adult is there experiencing it with the child at the start, it gives them a context to understand that journey over a long period of time. For other adults and children, this is very transformational. For instance, we had one child in a children’s centre who came through all sorts of refugee camps and was unable to speak when he came into the early years setting. For many months family support workers worked with him to no avail. An artist started to work with this child using drawing, sculpture and collage to really help him find
© Earlyarts UK, 2007
a sense of grounding his identity and reflecting back who he was in amongst a context that had been constantly changing throughout his whole life. Within 6 weeks, not only was he scribing the things that made him happy and the things that made him tick, but he was also expressing himself in an extremely confident manner in a language that hadn’t previously been available to him. His parents were part of that work with him and they saw that transformational experience happen, having not believed beforehand that anything was possible to give that child his confidence and his languages back. When they saw this happen, they got it. They felt that it was incredibly important for them to continue that work with that child in a very creative environment. It’s very, very exciting to see that sort of example and it’s happening in settings right across the country.
aspirational practice, we want quality that blows the socks off traditional learning environments or traditional creative environments for artists” and to do that you can’t have one without the other. You can’t have brilliant quality without a solid infrastructure, you can’t have a solid infrastructure without having great content. Earlyarts is an award winning network http://www.earlyarts.co.uk/join/map.html connecting people, resources and intelligence to nurture our creative children.
Why artists engage with this work: I think the joy of working with very young children is that children work in the very same way as an artist. They want to build, to think, do, make, have loads of ideas in any one day, and find their way through those ideas to construct some sort of meaning, which may not have any sense to anyone around them but is still perfectly valuable to themselves. And that’s really important. We accept that as a value within young children’s environments in a way that we don’t accept it for adults. So when artists come together to work with young children, I think for some of them it’s like a panacea, it’s like dying and going to heaven because you can be that person that you really want to be as a creative practitioner. You can bring all of your inside out - all of your inner ideas and your soul and your heart and everything that makes you you. The spirit behind your creative work is all part and parcel of the way young children work, so it’s a great partnership to bring artists and children together and fundamentally, I think probably the word that sums all of that up is play, you can frankly just get on and play and that’s brilliant.
© Earlyarts UK, 2007
Vision for Earlyarts: Earlyarts is trying to achieve a two-track ambition. One is to secure a sustainable infrastructure for this sort of work to happen for a very long time to come, for it to be embedded within the work and the practice of early years settings, of artists and of arts organisation, without concern over funding, that it is there at the heart of all young children’s learning and more than that, that it’s at the heart of teacher training and parental development as well. The second track that we’re working on is to raise the quality of creative practice in early learning. Together as a network we can do that because we can show exactly how those changes have impacted on young children’s learning and on the lives and learning of their parents and professionals around them. And once we start bringing all of our evidence together and gathering that strong voice of the network, I think that’s when we really start to raise our own bar and say, “ok, we’ve had lots of isolated pockets of fairly good practice in the past, but now actually we want
For the full interview visit: http://www.practice.ie/interviewhome/1
Practitioner focus: Early years
© Richard Tomlinson
Hannah Lefeuvre: Go with the flow Hannah is an experienced community dance artist, with a particular flair for Early Years work. Since 2009, Hannah has devoted her practice to working with under-fives children, exploring dance, movement and the imagination in children’s centres, nurseries, pre-schools, woodlands and theatres. Hannah was a lead creative practitioner on Little Big Bang, a 2-year research project in Somerset and has since worked with children in Kolkata, India and is now an MA student of New Leadership in the Early Years with Canterbury Christchurch University. She was interviewed by Practice.ie August / September Guest Editor Corina Chiran. Do you think that you need specific artistic preparation / inclination for understanding the early years? I believe an artist needs an instinct for early years initially and I think it requires a certain approach. Early Years children are very immediate. They let you know when they’re not interested (by walking away or telling you) and they also pick up on adult emotion. For example, they are much more sensitive to facial expression, tone of voice and body language. The work is not necessarily linear. I find it very lateral and often episodic. So, the artist needs to be open to go with the child’s flow, whilst keeping the thread of a workshop and extending the play / activity. Why is it important for very young children to engage with professional arts practice? Working with professional artists gives to the children a chance to extend their thinking and nurtures their natural curiosity and creativity. It is also important for parents to engage, to understand the benefits and have confidence for their child to do something creative.
I have encountered many parents who have certain pre-conceptions about the arts. So we need to make it accessible to everyone. It’s important for children to experience professional arts practice before they get to an age of being ‘bad’ or ‘good’ at something and before they start to want to fit in with others. Creative arts practice is holistic and covers all areas of learning and development. In terms of dance, it covers physical, social / emotional, mental and creative development. © Richard Tomlinson
Why did you choose to work with this age group? I have always found an affinity with this age group and have worked with early years children since my teens. I didn’t pursue it as a career initially, because at the time, it was not a viable option. Fortunately, things have progressed since then in the UK. The early years is becoming a reputable career and the engagement of the arts sector is currently strong. So now I can combine my two passions: dance and early years children. I love this age group for their playfulness, openness, sensitivity, instinctive movement, ideas and imagination. I learn a lot from early years children and they feed my own creativity. Generally, I find them non-judgmental, honest and grounded and a daily reminder of the good aspects of humanity. I am excited by the potential of being part of the beginning of a person’s life, in years that are so crucial and formative. I believe that if we can instill hope, faith, kindness and confidence in our early years children, and encourage their individual skills and offers, this will set a person up for life and feed our future. I know your workshops are fabulous. Do you have an amazing memory that you can share with us, from one of your activities? I had some very inspiring sessions collaborating with a visual and environmental artist. We flowed together and with the children for several hours, beginning with great big lengths of bamboo and a few logs, creating birds, hoops, trails, dens, collages, canvases, decorating a tree and creating a whole story and movement journey together. Otherwise, no one particular moment stands out. It’s often an idea, a comment or a moment of particular progress, which is significant. I like to work with groups over an extended time, say 1, 2 or 3 years, which might span babyhood to toddler, toddler to pre-schooler. Then I can really get to know their needs and preferences. For example, in one group, I would bring in a few items, ask the children where they wanted to go today. We would problem-solve our way there together, think up activities to do there and then get back home again. They moved a long way in their confidence and imagination, from their first session as toddlers, where they were shy, hesitant and not forthcoming with ideas. In another group, of parents and children, we decided on one occasion to take our adventures into some local woods. We continued our subsequent six sessions in the woods, with stories extending for 1½ hours. I travel a lot interacting with many nationalities and I know you do the same. I am curious to know if there are any differences in children’s expressions of joy, or in their reactions to the arts experience around the world?
In India, I did observe some fascinating cultural differences in the approach to the Early Years. I worked in India for one month, at a school for slum children in Kolkata. (This trip was made possible thanks to financial support from the Lisa Ulmann Travelling Scholarship Fund.) In the school, the 2, 3 and 4 year old children are left to roam, for ‘free play’. I observed them fighting, wriggling, running nowhere and being bored, but not playing. They were scolded by older children and staff for getting in the way, being in the wrong place or having access to something they were not allowed. So they had nothing to play with and no one to role model. Similarly, in street children, I observed a lot of fighting and general restlessness, but not play. (I was informed by colleagues that children are more playful in the rural areas, where it’s safe to play. In a city like Kolkata, it is unsafe to play on the roadsides and children need to be streetwise for survival.) So the work I was doing was very tentative. There seems to be a perception in slum cultures that small children get in the way, waste resources and shouldn’t be trusted with things and this was reflected by the older children at the school and some of the more elderly staff, who come from the community. I focused my attention on these 2 and 3 year olds, working in one tiny area of a classroom, shared with two other classes and shielded by a screen. We had no means of playing recorded music, so my first approach was to introduce play, using resources which are not seen as precious and which the children and staff can access when I leave. For example: cardboard boxes, newspaper, water play, plastic bottles, string and using our own bodies as our greatest resource. Once I introduced an idea, the children were incredibly responsive, imaginative and bright. Without any common language, we played together for hours. At the age of 4 or 5, the children are already learning by rote, with immaculate exercise books, containing drawings of westernised houses, trees, boats etc. So with these children, they also soak up everything, but through copying, learning songs and movements quickly, without contributing their own ideas. I have other observations, but the study of arts practice for early years children in India is vast in scope and hugely complex, with children receiving a huge range of early experiences, according to caste, location and teaching. I would welcome dialogues with others who have explored such work in India.
For the full interview visit: http://www.practice.ie/interviewhome/12
© Richard Tomlinson
© Helen Manchester
Documentation Focus Helen Manchester: Visible listening Helen is a Visiting Research Fellow at the Education and Social Research Institute at Manchester Metropolitan University and an independent educational research consultant. She has recently completed two nationwide research projects (with Sara Bragg) for the Open University and funded by Creative Partnerships: “Youth Voice” and “Creativity, School Ethos and the Creative Partnerships Programme” (in press). This research involved working closely with resident artists and creative practitioners in early years settings in the UK. Here, she is in conversation with Guest Editor, Christina MacRae.
feel like what they’re doing is being valued and it’s being seen by people and they therefore feel that they’re important and they’re seen as being sensible and having ideas that are valued and that changes the way that the adults and the children talk to each other. The children feel that they are able to ‘do’, to ‘act’, because they see that what they’re doing is being valued and being seen.
Could you talk about what your understanding of “visible listening” is?
I think that’s really useful for practitioners because as we’re saying it’s quite difficult sometimes to talk about your practice and what it is that you do and you take things for granted – your everyday interactions or whatever, with children. But I think then artists can have an important role in being another person who’s not involved in those everyday interactions and they have a fresh perspective on what’s going on and they see things differently. There was a science lesson where they’d been dealing with different liquids and the artist was taking some photos that showed how beautiful these different liquids were and the teacher said, I’m coming from a science perspective and I didn’t see that at all but just look at this, this is just gorgeous and beautiful and we’ve now got these pictures of what a sort of aesthetic experience that was for the children.
I think the best way to think about it is where I’ve seen it happening in nurseries and early years settings. It’s about listening, it’s about those everyday practices of pedagogical documentation that are going on through observations of children and their responses to the provocations that are posed. And then it’s also about the staff and the time and space that they have to talk to each other, to reflect on what’s happening with the children, and also to reflect with the children about what’s going on. That’s the basis of it, but then there’s another part of it, which is that the learning that the children are doing, which is being observed and documented by the staff and perhaps by the children themselves, is made available to them; that their learning is being made visible to them, and also to their parents, or to the wider public, and that those resources are part of the children’s learning as well. In the nursery in Birmingham that I worked in, everyday they put photos of what the children have done or examples of their work on the notice boards, which parents can see and talk to their children about when they pick them up. The children will go up to the pictures and say “oh look, that’s me and that’s what I did.” When you’re documenting what children are doing, you’re also seeing them as producers and you’re valuing their production, rather than worrying about what they’re not doing. Yes, I think that’s really important. The effects of that on the children is that they
Sometimes when I’m in the school as an artist, I feel like some of what I’m doing is just capturing stuff that’s happening all the time but you begin to see these more extra special things happening.
In terms of my practice as an artist, using a sketchbook to capture my ideas is an important part of my practice. What role might you think artists could play in relation to documenting children? It’s that thing about the different tools that the artists bring. The same teacher that I was talking about before was saying how working with the artist is a bit like working with any other colleague. He’s not necessarily saying that the artist is this amazingly special thing because that’s dangerous, you know, to say that when the artists come in they are the saviours and can solve everything. But artists bring with them tools that are different to what a colleague or another practitioner might have. It might be digital media tools or it might be skills and resources in terms of making things more visual. It’s partly about
the aesthetics of the tools and what gets produced as a result of that, so often something more beautiful can be produced because an artist has come in. Do you think there are things artists might learn from the practice of pedagogical documentation that might feed back into their own enquiry and sketchbook practice? I’ve seen artists’ sketchbooks and documentation that is more about them reflecting on what their perspective is and there’s definitely a space for that, but I think that the better sketchbooks and reflective journals are ones that have actual words of children, pictures of children in them and are not just about the artists’ practice. And that’s something they can learn about from other staff – teachers or practitioners that are doing pedagogical documentation really well. It’s about the children and their processes and observing their everyday interactions, rather than this thing coming in to do something to them.
against completely different targets, so there might be ethical issues there. As an aritst, one of my problems is when documentation is used for promotional purposes as that can be a very confusing line. When you’re documenting your work and it’s part of your process it’s a different thing to when you’re putting together promotional material. And it’s become the role of some of the artists that I’ve worked with that they’re also involved in the promotional stuff because the photos they’ve taken are beautiful or great publicity materials, but as you say there’s a difference in that and the day-to-day, “we’ll take a photo, and we’ll put it up there for you to interact with or to reflect on.”
As an artist I’ve learnt very much that there’s one element that’s enquiring into your own practice which is very rich, but it’s different if you are actually sharing that documentation with other people. It makes you think differently about your work so you’re not quite so wrapped up in your own concerns as an artist. It opens it out. There’s almost space for two different documents there. One thing a storyteller I worked with recently was grappling with was how to produce documentation where the children felt they had played a part in creating the documentation and that they could interact with in a meaningful way. Because often it was about ‘this is what we did’ or something about what a child’s said, but 3 and 4 year olds can’t actually read the text of that, so how do you make that much more of a child-produced and child-understood resource? © Helen Manchester Given the current climate, how do you see the role of artists in sites of learning developing?
© Helen Manchester
I think that schools who already have resident artists or who have been on a journey of involving artists are going to want to stick with them and keep them involved because they’ve seen the difference that they can make. On the Creative Partnerships programme, they’ve started to think of themselves more as researchers as well. So, one of the schools I was working with last year is now saying “we don’t think we need external researchers to come and work with us anymore because we can do it ourselves, and we know how to document.” So I think there’s a role for artists in training teachers and teaching assistants and other early years practitioners.
What do you think some of the difficulties raised by documentation might be?
And other researchers also?
There are difficulties for schools who are asked to describe all different kinds of things – tick this box and tick that box. I think a lot of schools are searching for ways of documenting their everyday practices, what really happens, and saying what the worth of this is. They know what the worth of working in that kind of way is, but how do you actually prove to external people that it is worthwhile following these kind of methods or spending the time giving the space to children, to talk to children or to observe them? So that’s hard. Schools judged ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted, are worried that next time they wouldn’t be outstanding and how could they prove that the practices that they knew were working for children, were working? Sometimes, the idea of surveillance is a fine line between the children feeling like every move they make is surveilled and making sure that there are quiet spaces for children where it’s not actually okay to take a picture. Sometimes practitioners cross that line. They’ve all got their cameras and there are four people with cameras or videos in the room and it can stop the spontaneity of an activity. Also practitioners have raised concerns about this activity going on in early years and then they hit proper school and suddenly the practice stops and that’s no longer what’s important and they’re judged
Definitely, yeah. How do we do research? Often, I think the people that are based in the nurseries are much better placed because they have the relationships with the children to do much better research to be honest, but as long as they have the skills and the training to do that. For the full interview visit: http://www.practice.ie/interviewhome/4
Documentation Focus Christina MacRae: An artefactual process
Christina MacRae is a freelance arts practitioner and also researcher at Manchester Metropolitan University where her research interests are in young children’s art making. With an original background in Early Years teaching, she later studied art. Her art practice is concerned with collected objects and relationships between people and things.
became visible and important because of new connections and understandings.
I began my career as an early years teacher and later became an education researcher focusing on the early years. Most recently I have also become an artist. Instead of seeing these identities as separate, I like to think about the ways in which these roles might work together in order to generate a hybrid practice. While observation was a practice common to all three identities, it was performed differently according to which role I was working from. After 16 years of teaching, in my new position as a researcher, I found I had time to critically reflect on the checklist and the gridlines of the assessment boxes that I had been trained to use. I found myself returning to my teacher training where I was taught to observe using what was called the Target Child Observation Schedule. I remembered the difficulties that I had had as a trainee teacher trying to keep my observation within the grid lines of the schedule, and how I had had to ‘tidy’ up my observations when submitting them for my assessment. The finished sheets might have looked tidy, but they covered over a subtext of ongoing failure to observe procedurally and with accuracy. The very complexity of lived experience defied orders and categories. As a researcher, drawing on ethnographic methods, I found a new distance from which to recognise that whilst classifying and categorising may inform us about child outcomes and contribute to what Gunnar Dahlberg calls “a discourse of quality”, we must not forget the effects that this has on the way we create knowledge about the child. My attention was now drawn away from the children and towards the way we see children through particular framing devices and how that in turn produces particular discourses around the child. Rather than looking harder or more closely, Patti Lather urges us to look at “what frames our seeing” and become aware of the “spaces of constructed visibility” that produce relations of power and knowledge. I began to experiment and adopt what was a “decidedly unmethodological” approach to data collection and I began to see my field notes, conversations, images and models produced by children, and photographs, ALL as artefacts of documentation produced in a continually expanding and unfolding field. I turned my attention away from the frames through which we view children and towards the artefactual documentation generated through encounters. This is a field note from my PhD research (above-right), where instead of procedural observations, I scribble impressions of what I observe in both words and pictures. Looking back on these notes after the event allowed me to focus on the way that children engaged with objects and materials in new ways. I found that through them I could attend to small details missed previously, or things that now
At the same time as becoming a researcher I was also attending art school. But, I felt frustrated that my art practice was over shadowed by my role as a researcher. I began to formulate a practice-led artist residency where I could explore how I could engage as an artist in an Early Years setting. My six-month residency, called the “Secret Life of Objects” was funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council in 2009-2010, and set out to explore how my art practice could be developed by working alongside young children in the workshop environment of an early years classroom. My current practice involves collecting souvenirs, ornaments and other personal items from flea markets and second hand shops. During the residency I approached the child as both artist and collector in their own right by closely observing how they interacted with objects from my collection, as well as attending to their own collections and special objects. Short pieces of film documented children’s hands as they arranged and re-arranged collected objects. This was a process that sometimes also contained shifting narrative threads, and these were shared on a residency blog. Rather than seeing the artist as the creative expert, the project tried to develop a methodology where I could develop my practice by engaging with practices encountered while working alongside young children. In my sketchbook I used notes taken at the time to reflect on an image, which then provokes a reflection on the material qualities of objects as well as our bodily responses to them. During the residency, I was deeply engaged in what Carla Rinaldi calls a “pedagogy of listening” (2001: 80). This deep level of listening was something that I struggled to achieve as either a researcher or a teacher. In part, this deep listening was possible because of my marginal position as an artist who could operate outside the tightly
organised and planned structure of school. In one sense I was acutely aware of my ‘useless-ness’in the classroom, and yet on the other it was precisely this lack of obvious purpose and ambiguity that gave me time to listen to children and my genuine interest in their objects meant they had an interested other person to hear them.
The final idea from artography that I would like to highlight is Relationality Stephanie Springgay talks about communities that form through the process of
of practice documentation.
Until now, I have talked about the artist, teacher and researcher as separate things, but documentation is central to how the three can be brought together. I recently completed a Creative Partnership funded project working with two Sure Start Centres which, while problematic in some ways, provided me with an opportunity to try to integrate my researcher self, with my teacher self and my artist self. Also, my Guest Editorship of Practice.ie presented an opportunity to explore ways of integrating these identities Artography: I am now trying use the practice/theory from an arts based movement that comes from Canada called a/r/tography: “Drawing attention to a/r/t (artist/researcher/teacher) is not intended to single one identity out, rather it is an encounter between bodies that releases something from each” (Springgay, 2008: 159) At the heart is the practice of documentation rather than observation. Documentation is the‘graphy’of a/r/tography: it not only lends itself to interpretation but it is itself interpretation (Rinaldi 2001:86) It is an artefactual process.
Education is seen as a “relational place”. Meanings that we give to events do not prescribe what we should do, but they point us towards many possible directions. Documentation helps us map the relationality at the heart of both our, and children’s, learning paths and processes. While an individual practitioner may be motivated by their personal interests, they are always aware that these are positioned alongside the interests of others. It is through this relationship that an ethical dimension plays out, because you are always balancing your own interests and position in relation to the wider cohesiveness and interests of the group. Stopping to linger and reflect on documentation may open up spaces for us to talk about things that are often left unsaid. Rather than avoiding difficulty and failure, discussion can give us the confidence to proceed through a process of trial and error. This is an edited version of an original presentation by Christina MacRae, entitled, ‘Art practice as research; shifting paradigms in documentation practices.’ For a full version of this presentation, point your QR enabled mobile device at this code or visit: http://www.practice.ie/interviewarticlepage/26
As an artefact it is has a material and physical presence and can be returned to and re-read. At the same time as bearing the trace of the event that it records, it also carries the trace of the person who made that recording. It is in the documenting that a space is created that has the potential to be reflective and creative. One of the first things that drew me to a/r/tography was that it insists that theory is not separate from practice, but rather that they are mutually entangled. So it is through process that knowledge is constructed, in the in-between spaces that lie between people, culture and things. In my current project I am using documentation as the focus for dialogue with practitioners as well as with children to create a form of“visible listening”. It is the staff who document what happens when children engage with materials and objects, and this has the effect of drawing our attention to the small things, often the things that happen all the time. In this way, documentation can be a way of heightening awareness of everyday moments, to see the “extraordinary in the ordinary” (Strozzi, 2001:58).
Documentation Focus Christina MacRae: How do artists document their work?
As both a researcher and as an artist, documenting my work in the form of sketchbooks and journals is an important practice. It allows me to return to events, ideas, and objects for ongoing re-interpretation. I work collaboratively in schools and early years settings and at the moment I am experimenting with ways of opening my documentation out in order to make it a more shared, conversational and dialogic tool, instead of one mainly concerned with my own thinking. I would like to find out how other researchers, artists and teachers use documentation too as a space for reflection and for creative action. As part of my editorship I invited artists who work in schools/early years settings to scan in a piece of documentation and write a few words on why documentation is important to them as practitioners. Claire Witcomb – Carlito and Enzo
© Claire Witcomb
As an artist I find there’s always the need to ask questions about ourselves, the world and life. The ability to ask questions and foster a curiosity for the world we live in is what makes us human. Documentation for me takes many different forms. Collecting words and images, making drawings all acts as an aide memoir. It’s all about observing. These collections can act as a trigger and means of re-visiting and re-looking and re-thinking events and moments. Time is another huge factor as I find I need to let things filter through, to give myself space to formulate and reflect. Documentation can be a great many things - but most of all in working with young children it’s a way of sharing, understanding, celebrating, and challenging the achievements of children. The page that I have attached is a little piece of ‘finished’ (ie. it went into his learning journey book) documentation that I did after I verbally supported a little boy (3yrs) to draw a picture for his friend. They had a very strong friendship and his friend was ill that day and he was missing him... Debi Keyte-Hartland – Actions of Listening: Pedagogical Documentation For me, pedagogical documentation is a process of collecting and collating visible traces (e.g. photographs, video, audio, transcripts of dialogue, artefacts) of children’s processes of learning. These collated traces are used as visible/audible ‘rememberings’ and the subsequent analysis and interpretation of these traces can then be used to re-present to a wider audience to gather their perspectives of learning processes and the construction of knowledge of the individual or group of children. The majority of my work now as an artist working in education is about enabling whole teams to come together, to document, to share the traces, to collectively interpret and make visible our mutual understandings of how children learn and make sense of the world.
Journal Page. I usually work with a grid format, clearly stating the obvious signs (date, who was involved etc) but also stating the context, which was in this case observing how the small group of 3-4 year olds approached mixed media drawing. I write my intentions, which were to ‘capture their drawing strategies to begin to find out how they are expressing ideas about composition’. After the session I highlight significant dialogue, actions and gestures and print off thumbnail photographs that relate to my notes. I may add questions and reflections of my own. The traces are then taken to a daily reflection meeting for group discussion and further reflective notes added to. Over time, the notes and photographs in the journal build up quickly and are then used to track where ideas have started, changed or developed. © Debi Keyte-Hartland
James Alridge – What might we see on our walk? I worked as an artist with Pitton Pre-School, near Salisbury from 2004 until 2007, carrying out three action research projects through 5x5x5=creativity. This is a page from ‘The Blue Book’, into which photographs, drawings and other visual documentation of our sessions were placed during each year’s project. The documentation supported a collaborative approach to working with staff and children, by enabling the children to remember past sessions and plan new ones with us. At this stage of the project we’d had six weekly sessions together. Children had been on one walk, collecting ‘treasures’ along the way, and using still and video cameras to document it for themselves. In this session we are planning a new walk, asking them to think about what they might see, looking at maps of the area, and providing them with sticking and mark-making materials. R - puts an orange circle over the top of the horse – “That’s the flame of him – you can see him in there.” (Lighting up the horse?) R – “Can you take a photo of mine and put it in the book?” James – “That’s a good idea, do you want to tell me anything else about it to write down?” R – “Yes, do you know what that is? It’s Sharon’s horse box.” J – “She has bits above, to the side and below her.” R – “That’s the roof of the horse box, that’s the side bit… and that’s the side bit.” (R has coloured her fingerprints to become the horsebox) Lorna Rose – Artist-in-residence, Lillian De Lissa Nursery School, Birmingham At Lillian de Lissa Nursery School we have developed a wide knowledge and appreciation of the teaching and learning styles, of both practitioners and children. We recognise that children respond differently to practitioners, provocation and environments, and we use documentation to evidence each child’s learning interactions taking place. I work in school for 3 days a week and have built a strong relationship of communication and understanding with the staff team by providing another way of finding out about the children and how they like to learn. My documentation shows the exchanges of knowledge, interests and actions between the children whilst working creatively with a wide range of stimulus and everyday objects including art materials. The documentation I create is displayed in school and shared with all staff members so extensions of learning can be considered, discussed and put in place. This visual documentation is also used for reflection by the children and family members. Our cycle of reflective practice moves through action, documentation, observation, interpretation, action. In this way, short term planning is based around the findings that have been recorded.
© James Aldridge Tumim and Prendergast – Scrapbooks from a residency in the Royal Aberdeen Children’s Hospital Tumim and Prendergast is a research-led collaborative between Orkney based artists Matilda Tumim and Christopher Prendergast who use many different forms to explore their ideas – but embroidery is currently their main medium of choice. Much of their work is concerned with loss. They are interested in items that have been lost or discarded, of lost loved ones and of people who lose their way literally and emotionally and also the loss of dignity, lost youth and the loss of innocence and nature’s discarded remnants. These scrapbooks come from a project with Glaitness School on Orkney and staff and patients of the Royal Aberdeen’s Children’s Hospital to create new work for the lift lobby. The scrapbooks feed directly into the work that the artists produce. To see this article in full and for links to each artist, visit Practice.ie: http://www.practice.ie/interviewarticlepage/14
These pieces of documentation (below) show only a fraction of one child’s investigation into understanding maps and as well as demonstrating social skills.
© Lorna Rose © Tumim and Prendergast
Future development – 2012 and beyond We are currently undertaking a comprehensive review of Practice.ie, which will enable us to understand the ongoing needs of our member base, and therefore to deliver a programme in 2012 that responds to, and meets, those needs. Challenges Within any long-term programme, challenges arise and new directions emerge. Our vision is for Practice.ie to continue evolving in such a way that it continues to provide the right supports for artists – emerging and established – across all contexts, and to overcome the barriers to participation and engagement that some of our member base experience. In 2012, we will carry out a needs analysis, to map current usage of Practice. ie and invite feedback from our members in terms of the supports that they need in the current climate within the sector in Ireland.
© Niamh Lawlor
2012 and beyond Practice.ie Tour
In partnership with our Young Makers partners – South Dublin Arts Office, Temple Bar Cultural Trust, West Cork Arts Centre and Kilkenny Arts Office – and 2 additional local authority arts offices, Practice.ie is going on tour!
In 2012, in addition to the Guest Editors, we will bring on four Context Editors who will work with us to curate features and deliver a programme of online and real events over the course of a year, to support artists working within specific contexts. In 2012, the contexts that we will focus on will be: Youth, Health, Schools and Early Years.
In 2012 we will be meeting with artists on the ground to develop skills and build capacity within local areas for artists to come together and explore the process of reflective practice. By its very nature, Practice.ie implicitly promotes the value of reflective practice. Our aim is to break down the barriers that prevent artists from reflecting on their work and through our Practice.ie Tour, we wish to build skills and encourage reflective thinking and approaches. We will explore different models of reflective and critical practice – such as peer critique and critical response system – so that more artists can begin to critique their own work within a peer supported environment.
© Liz Smith
International focus Building on the international relations that we developed in 2011, and our anticipated European collaboration for 2012, we see great potential for Practice.ie to provide support for artists in other countries and to showcase work that is taking place internationally. Our Irish members have already expressed interest in having access to international artists and projects in order to place their own work and the Irish context within a wider international framework – and we see this as a logical progression as our partnerships and collaborative practice within Europe broadens.
© Marie Brett
Young Makers is an exhibition of art work created by young people in Ireland, Canada, Latvia, Portugal and Slovenia, across a range of contexts. The art work has been submitted by international partners who were originally part of the Eksperimenta! triennial exhibition of young people’s art work in Estonia in 2011. The ‘Young Makers’ programme has emerged among the Irish partners whose work was selected for presentation in Estonia, and reflects a desire to build on the Estonian project, with a national touring exhibition of Irish and international work that represents exemplary youth arts practice and celebrates the talent and imagination of young artists.
Each venue w i l l programme a series of workshops and events to run along the exhbibition. To complement this show Practice.ie will also hold events in each venue for arts professionals working with young people. For more information keep up to date on practice news.
This exhibition will tour to West Cork Arts Centre in Febuary 2012, Kilkenny Arts Office in March 2012 and No Grants Gallery, Temple Bar in April 2012.
Images courtesy of Ilze Kupca (Latvia), Mateja Ocepek (Slovenia), Ana Barbero (Portugal) Joanna Black (University of Manitoba, Canada) and Zoe Shields (Ireland)
Por tugal Slovenia Canada Ireland Latvia |||||
Invitation to artists:
Promote your work See new ways of working Get practical advice Be inspired
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
The third annual installment of the Practice Journal, for Winter 2011-2012