This book grew out of the experience of observing teachers, students and artists interacting together in many different environments. We, Karla Sánchez and Els Dietvorst were part of the first Living Arts Project initiative run by Wexford Arts Centre and Wexford County Council. A project that aims to provide children with an understanding and appreciation of contemporary visual art by placing an artist in residence for fifteen weeks at schools throughout the county.
We both had previous experience in various educational contexts in Ireland and abroad. After our second and third years participating in the Living Arts program (Els as a resident artist, Karla as an advisor) we both had a desire to create extra aids for teachers to use.
After presenting the results of a year and a half of research, we were commissioned to create these booklets supported by the Creative Ireland Programme.
Both of us share a profound respect and admiration for primary school teachers, whose task is to stand in front of a class every single day, lead, and inspire new generations. We also regard artists highly. Particularly those very committed individuals, who amongst other things, show us alternative ways to look at the world.
We decided to work with a group of artists who have several years of experience in the challenging task of teaching art in primary schools. The artists we worked with are Orla Bates, David Begley, Clare Breen, and Laura Ní Fhlaibhín.
This book also has its origins in a shared concern about the future of the world and an interest in how art can help us understand our environment and ourselves better.
We are both parents, and we try to raise our kids keeping creativity, curiosity, kindness, and imagination as the highest values. We regard these as fundamental qualities that can help everyone survive and thrive even in the most challenging of environments. We have witnessed how living in these values can shape girls and boys into caring, sharing, loving and effective human beings who can also have a critical stand before an ever changing and complicated world.
This project hopes to illustrate how art can be a valuable tool in primary school education. The openness and flexibility that art processes allow are great avenues where to explore all other disciplines. Art classes can be the loom in which to weave subjects as diverse as geography, mathematics, history and ethics.
We hope this book can inspire and help everyone who reads it to use art in different and exciting new ways. We are very much interested in encouraging teachers to use art as a process without placing too much emphasis on a finished product. A process based on dialogue and connection between pupils and teachers often produces outstanding and unexpected results.
We believe that all the arts- poetry, music, literature, dance, visual arts (including film and photography)- should be a priority in every school. There is room for artists to have a more active role in contemporary Irish society and education, every school could benefit from having an artist in residence.
Els Dietvorst is a Belgian artist, filmmaker and shepherd who lives and works in Wexford, Ireland. She is a socially engaged artist who uses dialogue, experiment and intuition as her main artistic strategies. Her work focuses on communication, collaboration and social conflict. She is also an experienced lecturer at universities in Belgium and Ireland. To Dietvorst works of art can leave the representative, symbolic domain and provide strategies for actions in society. In a world dominated by capitalism and inequality, Els Dietvorst searches for alternatives, for hope.
Clare Breen is a visual artist whose practice and research is relational, with a long-term focus on developing opportunities for open dialogue with and through art, and facilitating access to contemporary art for everyone, especially children. Clare completed a Master’s in Education in the Arts at the Piet Zwart Institute in the Netherlands (2016) and worked as a member of the Chorus at documenta14 in Athens (2017). In 2018 she was awarded an artist bursary from the Arts Council of Ireland for her work with Education, Children and Young People. She has been artist in residence at VISUAL Arts Center, Carlow since September 2018, developing education programming. In 2019 Clare was an associated artist researcher with the THRIECE Partnership, an Erasmus+ project developing relational, inclusive and holistic approaches to practice in early childhood education.
Laura Ní Fhlaibhín is a visual artist from Gorey, Co. Wexford. She completed her Master’s in Fine Arts from Goldsmiths University London in August 2019 with a First Class Honours with Distinction. She graduated from the National College of Art and Design, Dublin with a First Class Honours in Fine Art Paint. Laura is also a qualified primary teacher, part-time lecturer in First year Studies at N.C.A.D., guest lecturer at Marino Institute of Education and Creative Associate with the Irish Arts Council, Creative Ireland initiative. She has also facilitated participative projects, happenings and publications through Wexford Arts Office Outreach programmes.
Órla Bates is a visual artist whose practice centres on drawing; with a particular focus on drawing as a means of thinking, seeing and inventing. Órla studied Fine Art at Limerick School of Art and Design and graduated in 2000 with a BA in Printmaking followed by a Higher Diploma in Art and Design Education at NCAD. She has exhibited extensively throughout Ireland. Alongside her art practice Orla has worked broadly in art education over the past fifteen years. She was selected for The Living Arts Project in 2014, 2018 and 2019. Orla is a specialist on the Heritage in Schools scheme, developing and delivering art education projects about the natural world in primary schools. Orla has recently begun work as a Creative Associates on Creative Schools initiative. Other publications she has written include Primary Printmaking, Hands On: Crafts in the Classroom.
David Begley is a visiting lecturer at universities in Ireland and Wales and teaches regular workshops to adults throughout the South East. He has presented his body of work at galleries and festivals nationally and internationally since 1996 and has facilitated visual art projects to all ages for over twenty years. In schools he works through the mediums of charcoal drawing, print, painting, collage, animation and story. The first lesson he uses in every class is “The Circle Exercise,” a practice-based holistic methodology developed by him. Its aim is to give each child confidence and trust in their unique ability and create clear communication between teacher and pupil.
Colm O’Neill is a lecturer at I.T. Carlow, designer and researcher working in Carlow, Rotterdam and Brussels. His work is concerned with mediations of digital literacy through graphical, user and programmatic interfaces. The research and practices that result follow the ideals of free and open source development models. He is particularly interested in questions of copyright and free culture.