by Seán O'Laoghaire, NAISC Skellig Diaspora Network - Seanachai in Residence with A. McKeown
For the next two years, we are working to bring the Sustainable Development Goals into people’s daily lives. So how are we going to do this in a way that is relevant, fun, engaging and non-judgemental?
Well one example was last weekend's workshop, at The Skellig Experience, as part of the May the 4th Festival, promoted by Fáilte Ireland and the Wild Atlantic Way. As a team, we wove together our interdisciplinary skills around Seán O’Laoghaire, our local Seanchai's story of Aine’s attempts to save the ocean from plastic pollution to create an engaging arts and crafts workshop for children 2 – 12 years . We had approximately 75 children over the 2 days and you can see their wonderful creations here
A Call to the Light by Seán O'Laoghaire
As part of the “May the 4th” festival, held in Portmagee this year, I was approached by The Skelligs Experience Visitor Centre to create a story and workshop relating to puffins, porgs and the transformation from one to the other. It was important to the organisers that Star Wars was used as a thematic hook to get people in, but when they were in, they could examine the natural and local heritage and culture.
With this in mind, I felt that I needed to include some more elements to the story, making it more grounded and appealing to many parties. These ingredients were science fiction, Irish mythology, ecology and my own creativity. I really felt it was important to include Irish mythology and ecology to make it more grounded and linked into the children’s heritage. I worked on the idea of the problem of plastic in the oceans, but treated it more like something that could be solved, rather than a doomsday scenario. In fact , the story ended with the table of children, being the ones sent to work and help find the solution to the problem of plastic.
This is very important, because we need to build a generation of problem-solvers and environmentally-aware citizens, to ensure a resilient future. This was a perfect opportunity to get the CoDesRes team involved. Getting the CoDesRes team on board gave a lot more options to create a workshop with many vantage points and a broad skill set. The team included
Dr Anita McKeown - Artist
Seán O’Laoghaire - Artist
Eleanor Turner - Marine Biologist
Colin Keogh - Engineer
We designed the workshop to reflect the idea of the possible adaptation of puffins, which could easily be turned into , “adaptation of ourselves and other parts of the natural world”. So, after hearing the story , the group began chatting with Eleanor Turner-our Marine Biologist about how could/should/ would puffins need to adapt and started thinking of reasons why puffins might need to adapt and how this adaptation might manifest itself.
As it was a very open workshop, with people arriving, doing the workshop and leaving again, we had a selection of different cardboard bodies cut out and had a section of materials that could be used; shells, seaweed, felt pieces, paint, markers and pipe cleaners were placed along the working table. Participants were encouraged to let their imaginations run free.
We didn't have a prescribed way of creating the art pieces, it wasn't a case of step 1, step 2 and step 3. We had each individual create their own way of working. The children really took on the challenge in earnest and created a scenario for adaptation and then picked the materials that were needed. The outcomes were astounding, with parents and children working together to not only make, but to creatively think about what they were making and why.
They also went away with a story and its elements, resounding in their head. In the future, we would look at forging a workshop, based on specific needs of adaptations like, temperature, erosion, change of food source and lack of habitation, where we could really track the ideas of change in a more specific manner, yet keeping creativity and invention at the forefront of the project.
The Role of the Arts
By linking questions to real issues that Atlantic puffins are experiencing due to human-driven climate change. e.g. changes to food sources and changes to location of food, we were able to gently begin a conversation in a way that small children could understand without fear.
This approach created the foundation for our participants to create the puffins of the future; a fun way for them to start to use their imagination and creativity to explore environmental adaptation and raise awareness of concerns that can be overwhelming or frightening.
Will this make a difference?
On its own, no, but as part of a coherent strategy to link art, design, ecology and storytelling who knows what new opportunities and solutions may emerge once we are aware of the situation.