In this series of blogs from Bluebell Youth Project, we hear the perspectives of both Artist and Youth Worker as they discuss both the low and high points of a year -long residency.
The Youth Work Perspective
From September 2012 – September 2013, artist Joe Coveney and Bluebell Youth Project collaborated on a project aiming to Embed the Visual Arts in Bluebell Youth Project. With funding from a few sources (including the NYAP), we were lucky that Joe could work with us as an Artist in Residence , for two days a week. This working arrangement was sustained for the duration of the project, allowing us the space and time to figure out, how to engage with young people in Bluebell, through Visual Arts Practice.
We tried several different approaches… the construction of a giant spider, which housed scary story telling for Halloween 2012, class type short programmes, each approximately 4 weeks in length; one in Light Box Animation and one that was Tags on vinyl. Disappointingly, these short programmes were met with mixed interest and the participation of young people was sporadic; it seemed that neither of these small projects nor one focusing on drawing, captured the imagination of the young people that we worked with.
We included an artist mentor in our residency and this role proved key to the success of our collaboration. Following a few sessions, that explored how to animate the interest of young people; Joe decided to imagine a project which he believed in and which we would lead, in the belief that, with the engagement of youth workers in the project, young people would follow.
This approach marked a change in the project as a whole. A renewed energy and belief emerged, that the construction of a room with a working title Bringing the Outside In, could offer young people a chance to join in at their own level. Elements of the project included… building hills from wood and astroturf… mountains from chicken wire, papier-mâché and cement….. trees made from peat planting cups, even painted paper leaves reinforced with wire.
Youth workers got on board, taking on various roles and bringing interested young people with them.
The reality is, that even with the best efforts to develop a bottom up project through consultation with young people, the ideas did not flow from young people, to develop a creative project. When Joe took an approach to follow his own interests, an artistic idea emerged, which the youth workers and young people could grasp in part as it grew.
The end result, was a transformed space in Bluebell Youth Centre, with low level lighting akin to a jungle; bark on the floor, (which brought an outdoor feeling, along with the associated smells), a mountain with a stream running from top to base, trees, plants, hills and sounds of wildlife. The community of Bluebell came to our exhibition and attended a week of events in the space, which we named Headspace.
The programme included yoga sessions, an intergenerational tea party and oral history telling, planting sessions and film screenings. An opportunity to enter a different Headspace was offered and taken up by many.
The following presentation was made at the NYCI Annual Conference in November 2013 and the accompanying video,(created by a youth worker, for who Visual Arts has gradually become embedded into her youth work practice), captures the elements that resulted in the project’s success.
It was a great project on which to work together and of which we are truly proud. The Young people involved genuinely felt confidence and pride in their artistic creations, made possible through Joe’s residency in Bluebell Youth Project.
Joe has now finished his residency with Bluebell Youth Project. An Arts Afterschools Group has been running since the end of the residency …ergo, Visual Arts has been embedded as a result of this project. An ever evolving process will follow, in the context of a risk taking and reflective Youth Project who will collaborate further with Artists when the opportunity arises.
Bronagh O’Neill is a Community Youth Worker working as Manager of the Canal Communities Regional Youth Service for the past 12 years. She studied Drama and French in Trinity College in the late 80’s, Youth and Community Work in NUIM in the early 90’s and more recently in 2011 returned to NUI Maynooth to complete a MA in Applied Social Studies.
Bronagh has worked in a variety of youth work roles in Glaswegian and Dublin South Inner City communities. This work has varied from outreach work in Glasgow, work with young drug users in Rialto Youth Project, managing a regional youth service with a focus on supporting voluntary led youth activities and latterly managing the establishment of a new youth project in Bluebell, Dublin 12.
Working in communities where children and young people experience grave inequalities and poverty, demonstrated through early school leaving, drug and alcohol use, early parenthood and unemployment, has led Bronagh to understand that we do not all start out equal and that until ‘we’ the citizens of Ireland chose to change this these inequalities will prevail. A strong belief in young people’s development through youth work, individual personal growth and as active citizens in changing society, drives her commitment and long career in youth work.
Her experience informs her belief that the arts can play a powerful role in youth work, where young people find forms of expression to explore who they are and communicate what they think or feel about any subject of their choice. The development of strong relationships between young people, artist and youth worker is key to any projects success. Film, music, drama, photography, painting, dance, and visual arts can all be made accessible to young people through youth work and the results are tangible at personal and community levels. Young people’s engagement in the arts can create an avenue for the expression of their strength and belief in change.