I grew up in Galway with more of an interest in creative play than in sitting at a school desk. My teachers and family fought hard to keep me in school after my Junior Certificate. It wasn’t that I didn’t enjoy the subjects that I was learning, I loved Art, Irish and English, and I was good at them. I just found that my ideas of education and my urge to challenge the existing systematic view of education hard to contain.
When I became involved with the community arts organisation Macnas, the Galway based street theatre and spectacle company, and met their then Community Arts Officer Dave Donovan, I started to focus. I was given the opportunity as a teenager to learn how to create large puppets from different materials. At the age of 15 I could dance on four foot high wooden stilts!
As I started to study for my Leaving Cert, music was also becoming increasingly important; my band even recorded their first album. My confidence was also growing as a visual artist through the various community arts initiatives I was getting involved with. Being part of these grassroots activities gave me a direction that spurred me into a frenzy of studying creative practice.
Growing up in Connemara, I was lucky enough to have the sea, the woods and the vast emptiness of the bogland to gather my thoughts if things got on top of me. My time for mindfulness and reflection always came to me when I spent time in these places. My love of the environmental surroundings of my homeland gave me an urge to try to document it the way I could see it.
My parents bought me my first video camera on my 16th birthday; a small digital German make. I spent the next 4 years practicing photography and video production where I felt I was accepted, included and happy. My old room is filled with scrapbooks, D.V.D’s and pictures of friends, gigs, battle of the bands, street parades, old props, and paintings that I created with friends on my own personal project. My room is now filled with good memories.
I enjoyed these creative processes so much that through the support of my facilitators, I started to look into pursuing it further. I worked hard to get the high scores that I needed on my leaving Cert. and I achieved what I wanted to do. I trained at The University of Strathclyde, BA HONS Community Arts in Glasgow where I had the opportunity to meet and work with inspiring and like-minded people.
In Glasgow I gained the tools and skills necessary to learn how to do what others like Dave Donovan of Macnas had done for me in my life. He had facilitated a space for me to discover the path that I wanted to go down. As a result, I trained to be an arts facilitator. I learnt that to be a facilitator, I needed to create spaces for others to discover and enjoy creative processes for their own personal benefit. The art of pedagogy and facilitation like any practice requires important planning and standardised processes to be carried out thoroughly. Having knowledge of evaluation tools like logic models and experiential learning techniques, such as activity based workshop plans, are now vital for me in my practice as an artist in youth work.
These tools created an electric mix of inspired ideas and skills for delivery and supported me in moving forward and telling others about these personal creative processes. My experience as a participant in youth arts gave me the drive to pursue an education that I could be proud of, enjoy, and help others with.
Content and views expressed by our guest Bloggers in Residence does not necessarily represent the views of NYCI
In her next blog Jen Hesnan will reflect on her first experiences as a professional youth arts facilitator in Ireland and discusses some of the learning and insights she has gained about the development of successful relationships in a youth arts context.