I took some paints and brushes, and Frank Clark’s Simply painting books, into the Crannmór Training Centre in Ballinrobe and they caught the interest of several service users. Soon it was: ‘Can we do painting again today?’ Plans began to hatch in my mind for our ‘Arts Ability Project’. I was able to use my own contacts with local community and county groups, and the Crannmór Arts Ability Project resulted from a partnership between ourselves, Mayo County Council Arts, The Linenhall Arts Centre in Castlebar. A plan was submitted and I visited the Arts Council in Dublin to gain their support. A useful grant from the National Millennium Committee paid for all the framing for our exhibition.
The Linenhall Arts Centre coordinated the selection process for an artist/facilitator for the project. A representative from each of the organising partners, and one of the eight service-user participants, interviewed eighteen artists. It was perhaps the first time we’d included a service user on an interview panel, and their interaction with the candidates was very important in the selection process. Eight artists were shortlisted. They prepared their plan for the six-month project, and each held a one-day workshop with the group. Breda Burns, from Westport, was finally selected to be the artist/facilitator. She has vast experience in community and disability arts–working with schools and community groups on set designs, murals and parade floats and with the Mayo County Council Artist in Residence scheme.
The aim of the project was to awaken our service users’ artistic talents that they had never had the opportunity to express or develop. Stage One was called ‘Rekindling the spark’.
At the start of the project, Breda asked the group to choose something that was important to them–something they could make large-scale replicas of as their art project. The items that the participants brought in included a key, a ring, a Boyzone tape and Walkman, a soft toy, a fishing rod and net, a watch, a frog and a bicycle and musical notes. As well as creating artwork based on those objects, the project participants also produced many other paintings. (Aside: The lad with the fishing rod and net later ‘netted’ himself a part-time job with the Lake District Enterprise Board!)
The climax of the first stage of the project was an exhibition of all the artwork in the local Ballinrobe library. A large crowd attended the official opening of the exhibition by Minister of State Éamon Ó Cuív, and many others were able to see it over the two months it remained on display. Some of the paintings sold at the exhibition are now in private collections and others were bought by Mayo County Council. The project has helped to create links with individuals and groups in ten other counties–links we hope to continue to build on. Often at the suggestion of our community partners and facilitators, the group have visited other exhibitions and taken part in drama, samba and percussion workshops to widen their range of artistic experiences.
All of our artists eagerly anticipate Stage Two of our art project, ‘Fanning the flame’, which is ready to begin as soon as the funding is in place. At the start of the first stage of the project, our artists began very tentatively, barely daring to dip their brush into the paint. But their confidence grew quickly, and soon they were mixing colours and ‘going for it’. We have proven our original premise that there is art in everyone; artistic expression just needs a medium and facilitation.