Joseph Coveney has a B.A. in Fine Art Painting from N.C.A.D and an M.A in Sculpture from Winchester School of Art. Since 2007 he has divided his time between attending international residencies, exhibiting and working with groups of young people. In 2013 he was awarded a scholarship to The Domus Academy in Milan and is currently working towards an M.A in Product Design.
Working as both an artist and facilitator for the past number of years, I think it’s fair to say that my residency at Bluebell was both rewarding and challenging. Usually, in my role as a facilitator, my practice would be as a result of my training, to develop projects in collaboration with the young people that I am working with and to find ways to support them in developing their ideas from concept through to production.
Starting at Bluebell, it was my intention to take a similar approach – to use the community environment to explore issues of identity through Visual Arts with the young people involved. Bluebell Youth Project is a new Centre, and while some of the staff had worked on art projects previously, having an Artist in Residence was a new experience for the them.
Initially we undertook, (what was now in hindsight) an ambitious project; to create a giant spider where we could hold storytelling sessions for Halloween. The short term aims here, were to build relationships between myself, the youth workers and the young people. The resulting piece was impressive, but the process was a little bumpy at times.
On completion of this project, we developed a series of short projects (4 weeks in length). The uptake was poor and attendance sporadic. During the residency’s evaluation it was suggested that, at this point in the process, doing an Art Class was not considered cool. My feeling, at this point, was that the young people were finding it difficult to know what I was about.
My mentor proved invaluable throughout the project, giving honest and clear feedback and helping me to find ways forward. As an artist working in a youth work setting, it was reassuring to have an artist who was more experienced at working in a youth work context to confer with.
Through discussion with my mentor, we decided to take a Do It Anyway approach. I was finding the project overwhelming at this point, and so it was important for me to find a way to re-engage with it. As a Visual Artist, I build a lot of installations and so I developed some ideas, aimed at building an immersive installation with the Centre.
I broke the tasks down into different ways of working, based on different skill levels, with the hope of engaging different Young People and Youth Workers in the process. This was a radically different way of working for me in this context and having the support and trust of the Youth Project’s staff and manager was fundamental.
As I worked away, Youth Workers targeted the groups that they thought might be interested in adopting certain roles or tasks. The 16 – 17 year old group of young men, helped to build the hills from wood and astroturf, while younger groups made the trees and leaves. The project developed momentum, and ultimately was successful because of the commitment from everyone who worked on it.
To engage the wider community in our installation we scheduled a week of events – yoga mornings, film screens, planting sessions and so on. The opening night was a big success, being attended by a wide section of the community and it was obvious that the young people involved, felt a sense of pride and ownership in the work.
On reflection, this project worked for several reasons; adequate funding which gave us the time and space to try different options, the advice and support of my mentor, a firm commitment from Management and Staff in Bluebell and of course the participation of the Young People.