Brigitta describes her experience of Intergenerational work and explains just how important she feels it is for local communities to deliver programmes that pro-actively make connections between different generations of people.
1. Brigitta, as a starter, can you describe for us, what your experience is of inter-generational work?
In 2003 I worked on the Maugherow Intergenerational Project with the Sligo Arts Service. This was the first time I had ever worked on a programme like this. It began with me delivering a sample felt-making workshop. It was great to see that the older people involved, seemed to really connect to the work that we were doing with wool and that the children involved on the project loved it too! (Mind you because it is messy soapy work, I shouldn’t have been surprised about that!)
These workshops then gradually developed into a theme based project, with the two groups of older people and children and we created a wall piece using the theme of The Sea that was displayed in the Centre.
This work then expanded into me working as part of an intergenerational programme for a few months every year with the Sligo Arts Service
2. So how did the Ballymote Project come about?
Last year I was delivering a workshop at a craft fair in Sligo and a secondary school teacher observed the work that I was doing; we chatted about it and she felt that it would be of benefit to her TYA students to get involved in work like it. The Sligo Art Service came on board which allowed the project to manifest and the budget what it needed to run. The project started as a felt-making workshop in the secondary school and then moved into a local Nursing home that looked after older clients. Each week, the teenagers would work with the older people on a one to one basis, teaching them the felt-making skills and other techniques to create works with that they had learnt. As everyone was engaged in the same type of creative activity, it was fascinating to see how relationships between the age groups developed, the students would show their older counterparts how to complete something and Vice Versa.
3. Why did the programme work so well for participants?
As the young people began to connect to the older people they started to take the programme more seriously. We began to get really good feedback voluntarily from parents and teachers about just how much the programme meant to individual young people; this was also evident on a weekly basis in the nursing home, as there was a lot of laughter and storytelling happening around the table. You could see that relationships between the two groups were deepening and friendships were being made.
Of course the skills exchange wasn’t all one way. Some of the older people were fascinated that the younger participants didn’t know how to thread needles or sew and proceeded to teach them, so I definitely think that a lot of learning and development went on for everyone.
4. How do you feel the project impacted upon those who participated?
Because I’ve now worked a lot in Nursing homes and Day Care Centres with older people. I notice that a lot of older people live alone in rural Ireland, especially older women, many living between towns and needing to be picked up a bus service if they are to go anywhere.
But the young people can also be isolated, everything is computerised and there are very little opportunities for them to mix with older people outside of their immediate families. So it really was a really important opportunity for both groups of participants, I think each person looked forward to the1:1 time that they got to spend with someone from another generation each week.
Also for the Transition year students, working on this programme really supported the team building that the school hoped to achieve with its students.
When working on a community project such as this, do you feel that it impacts upon your professional practice as an artist?
The Sligo Arts Service really supports and nurtures artists by helping them to build up their project experience gradually. By starting as a project worker delivering just a few workshops in 2003, my practice has gradually developed over the years and this has enabled me now to initiate and develop sustainable inter-generational work.
5. How important do you think it is to deliver this type of work in Ireland?
This was a two year project. It also took a couple of months to figure out what was exactly the right way to proceed. It would be very hard to deliver work such as this in a short term period.
The Sligo Arts Service had the experience and expertise to know that this work – in tandem with the development of relationships takes time. The school were also very open in relation to moving workshops out from the classroom and allowing the participants to engage in workshops within the community.
I think if you’re prepared to give it the time necessary, creative Inter-generational work can have massive benefits for young people and communities through-out Ireland.
Brigitta Varadi is an artist and educator; her work is found in many public collections including a site specific commission by the Office of Public Works for The Department of Education and Science, Athlone, Ireland. Brigitta works on commissions and exhibitions, developing projects with people of all ages and abilities within the Community Sector, Schools, Prisons and Arts Centres.