Ark 1x1 in Cavan

ARK1x1, is a unique project to allow children in Cavan schools to encounter and interact with visual arts on a gradual, focussed basis in their own environment.

ARK 1 x1 is a unique pilot project, a partnership between The Ark, A Cultural Centre for Children and Cavan County Council which aims to endow children with a visual awareness and confidence which we hope will endure.

During the 2013-2014 academic year children in 12 County Cavan primary schools have been engaging with a visual arts exhibition, viewing artworks in their own schools. Curated by Jobst Grave, the exhibition consists of 13 artworks by well known Irish artists, 10 selected from The Ark’s visual art collection and 3 on loan from the Arts Council’s collection. Each picture is exhibited in a Cavan school for three weeks at a time and then rotated with a different picture. All artworks are selected to have a resonance with the theme of ‘Ark’ however there is no linear narrative. It is for the children to discover for themselves the linking theme. The children viewing the artworks are free to see what the work means to them. In a sense, the exhibition takes form in the imagination of the beholder.

Children and their teachers are encouraged to respond to the artworks at their own pace and leisure within their own schools, to take time for reflection and contemplation. Every participating child is given an ARK 1 x1 journal for their own imaginative drawings, responses and thoughts. The approach is a ‘slow seeing’, immersive engagement with art. The Ark provides free classroom guides, with support material on every artwork and stimulating questions. These are intended to enrich a range of interpretation of the work, not to lead children to some pre-determined outcome.

Participating primary schools are based throughout the County of Cavan. They are: Cabra Central NS Kingscourt, Holy Family School Cootehill, St. Mary’s NS Drung, Knocktemple NS, Knocktemple, St. Patrick's NS, Killinagh, Miltown NS, St. Patricks NS Shercock, St. Annes NS Bailieborough, St Mary’s NS Ballyhaise, St. Clare’s PS Cavan Town, Ballynarry NS Ballyheelanm, Kilnaleck, Convent of Mercy National School Belturbet.

The reaction from children and teachers alike has been hugely positive. The children love seeing the artwork and enjoy trying to find the link to the theme. They get excited every time the ARK 1 x 1 van pulls up in the school grounds and they see a new artwork being revealed to them. For some, this is their first engagement with an original work of art, not a computer generated image. Children are bringing in their parents and grandparents to show and ‘explain’ the artworks. Spontaneous corridor conversations about art have been overheard between older children and younger children. Interactions between classes of different ages also organised. This really is a whole school project. As one teacher says, when she sees a traffic jam in the corridor, she knows that the new artwork had arrived! Children, who might be considered academically challenged, are proving to be particularly responsive to this project.

For many of the teachers involved, working with primary children on a contemporary visual art project has been an absolute revelation. As one teacher described it ‘Initially I felt slightly daunted but the children are amazing. They lead the discussion. They are learning new skills, as am I. It’s reminding me that it is important to look, to have your own opinion, that there is no right or wrong. The children are adamant about what they see.’
ARK 1 x1 is not only exploring a new approach to visual arts education but a new way of learning. Teachers across the County are consistent in their feedback: ‘It allows room for children to engage on their own terms’. ‘There’s a great freedom in this project which is enjoyable for everyone’. ‘There’s no rigidity or pressure to submit assignments or a paper trail yet it really does fulfil the curriculum criteria’. ‘It’s great for oral and visual literacy.’

At a wider community level everyone - including caretakers, clergy and school visitors – are encouraged to engage with the artworks and expressing an opinion about contemporary Irish art. New friendships are being fostered between schools, with participating schools inviting non-participating schools to come and enjoy the work. Visits by exhibiting artists to the schools, funded by Cavan Council Arts Office, have added a great richness to the project and lifted the connection with art to a deeper level. Artists in ARK1x1 are: David Godbold, Amelia Stein, Tom Molloy, Michael Boran, Charlie Brady, Patrick Pye, Christopher Banahan, Martin Gale, Mary Lohan, Daniel de Chenu, Rita Duffy, Diarmuid Delargy and Elizabeth Magill.

On a practical level, much has been learnt about hanging art in school environments. We now know that an artwork, placed in a busy thoroughfare like a corridor or an entrance hall helps to promote art as part of the daily school routine. Incorporating elements of theatricality and mystery into the unveiling of the artworks keeps the children engaged. Even the style of the hanging system, devised for schools by The Ark, reinforces the precious value of art to children.

ARK1 x1 is a ground breaking pilot, with rich potential. The Arts in Education Charter in Ireland, recently announced by Minister Quinn and Minister Deenihan sets out to place creativity at the heart of our future as a country. If that is to truly happen, it is important to develop new, non- Dublin centric models of arts education practice in order to deliver equity of access. ARK 1 x1 is a meaningful model which may be of value to other counties, particularly rural counties, where access to public art facilities may be difficult or limited. The Ark and Cavan County Council would like to deepen and extend this pilot for a further two years and are currently exploring funding options, in order to develop a replicable model of arts education.

For now, however, this phase of a unique experiment is coming to completion. ARK 1 x1 is culminating in a final year end show which will be formally opened in Johnston Central Library, Farnham Centre, Cavan by Professor John Coolahan, Chair of the Arts in Education Charter Implementation Group on Tuesday 17 June at 6.30pm. For the first time, all 13 artworks can be seen together, alongside the responses of children. By the time the show opens, we hope that over 5,000 children and their communities will already have had a rich and meaningful engagement with contemporary Irish visual art, in a way that would not have been feasible with a conventional exhibition.

Eina McHugh, Director of The Ark and a 2012-2013 Fulbright Scholar.
Read the Ark1x1 Teachers Support pack