In her second blog, Jen Hesnan reflects on how she initially built her experience as a professional youth arts facilitator in Ireland working with Foróige in Galway and discusses some of the learning and insights she has gained about developing successful relationships in a youth arts context.
When I graduated in 2011 from The University of Strathclyde, BA HONS Community Arts in Glasgow, the recession was in full swing back home. People thought I was mad leaving work in Scotland to work at something that was barely recognised as a profession in Ireland.
Having done one of my 2nd year university placements in The Gaf Youth Health Cafe in Galway I had heard of the plans to move and separate the initiative into two services – The Foróige Galway City Youth Cafe (youth centred spaces for young people to chill and hang out with their friends in a safe and secure environment) and Jigsaw (a free and confidential support service for young people and their mental health and wellbeing). So, on the first week of my return to the Green Isle, I walked into the Foróige Galway City Youth Cafe and met two of the staff members there. Immediately I felt welcome; the openness that I experienced was extremely encouraging. I believe that this is key to all community services who work with young people and artists; a welcoming and supportive approach to anyone who walks in the door to volunteer or get involved.
In those initial few months volunteering at the newly opened Youth Café, I felt that Foróige staff made every effort to empower me to facilitate a youth arts programme with young people. For me as an artist, one of the many great things about volunteering with a youth work organisation was the physical and social space that was made available for me to work in. Being in such a space meant that I was given the expert advice of youth work staff, not to mention I had the opportunity to work with inspiring young people and volunteers. During this time we applied for and were successfully awarded funding through NYCI’s Artist in Youth Work Residency scheme for 2011-2012 and went on to create an environmental art project called Journey.
The success and notoriety of the Journey project delivered as part of this residency meant that my reputation started to become known in Galway. I then started to receive offers of work at seasonal events in Galway by others in the wider community including Galway Christmas Market, Galway St.Patrick’s Day committee and the Galway Aboo Festival -I was creating Christmas lantern parades, giant snakes for St. Patrick’s Day, choreographing the Thriller Dance for Halloween etc. These were all employed ventures for me and would certainly not have been possible had I not been given a base such as Foróige to work from. For me to reach this point in my career it initially required willingness for me, as the artist, to volunteer and subsequently a commitment from the community organisations who approached me, to be open to seeking funding to make projects possible.
In my view, a welcoming attitude, a willingness to share skills between youth workers and artists and a supportive atmosphere are the starting points towards facilitating high quality arts programmes for young people. Meaningful collaborations between artists and youth organisations can create amazing spaces for youth participants to discover their own journeys through creative means. I chose my profession because I have seen first-hand the valuable outcomes of such creative spaces for many different individuals. As a youth arts facilitator you experience many different behaviours in the course of your work, all of course dependent on the context and the young people involved. At times it can be challenging to experience and work with attitudes of fear and low self-confidence in some young people, sometimes even aggression. I strongly believe that positive re-reinforcement is extremely important when facilitating an arts programme within a youth work process. Having the patience and the know how to build a rapport with each individual in your group whilst bringing them through a creative journey in my opinion leads to successful outcomes for all involved; the artist, youth workers and, most importantly, the young people.
Content and views expressed by our guest bloggers in residence does not necessarily reflect the views of NYCI.