How can the arts and our indigenous culture contribute to embedding the SDGs into our daily lives?
SDG 14 - Sceal Faoin Uisce - Underwater Story, students of Scoil An Ghleanna and Seán O'Laoghaire, March 2018
Seachtain na Gaeilge (Irish Language Week) is an international Irish language festival and one of the biggest celebrations of our native language and culture that takes place each year in Ireland and in many other countries. Cultural heritage is an important part of sustaining communities and has much to offer as a foundation for the Sustainable Development Goals.
We asked our resident Seánchai, Seán O'Laoghaire about how indigenous Irish culture can contribute to education and empowering communities and how we can include our cultural heritage within the CoDesRes project.
1. CoDesRes: You've a range of skills, storytelling, sign writing, performer, puppeteer, painting and more. Do you think this is common with community arts practitioners?
It can be common, as people seem to happen upon Community Arts and gain skills as they work with a wide range of demographic groups and settings. It is also a way of survival for a community artist, there are not really, any full-time posts, where the practitioner can work to the rhythm of their own work. They have to constantly contort themselves into the restraints set by funding bodies and Arts administrators.
2. CoDesRes: You've been working within community arts practice for 30 years - can you tell us about some of the work you've done and the projects you've been involved in?
After completing a foundation in craft skills, at the Grennen Mill Craft College in Thomastown, Co. Killkenny, I returned home and started teaching art classes in primary schools allover Iveragh. I could see the potential for a more vibrant community arts programme in South-West Kerry and created “The Arts Shebang”, where most practitioners working with children and young people in the area came together for a day with revolving workshops in Art, Music and Drama, interspersed with activities such as juggling, face painting and performance.
In 1993, I moved to Dublin and began work with Tallaght Artsquad, a group of community artists working in the south Dublin area, this lead on to working on the education team at the Irish Museum of Modern Art. Both these opportunities, gave great experience and heightened an interest in puppetry and storytelling.
Returning to Kerry in 2000, I found my real connection was with the land, Mother Nature and Iveragh. I founded my own puppet theatre, Glitter na Gig, which travelled the length and breadth of the country, entertaining and educating, adults and children and made a few appearances on national television.
In 2007, I really had the most excellent time in my career, I was taken on as Artist in residence on the Beara Peninsula. As a community arts practitioner, I worked with about 15 groups throughout the area, in many different media for a year. We had an event to celebrate, bringing all the groups together to showcase not only their work, but their thorough enjoyment of the creative process.
On returning to Iveragh again in 2016, I’ve begun a new creative journey with CoDesRes and the wonderful Anita McKeown, we have collaborated very productively on the Spookemon project and Patrick’s day events and planning many more creative chaos for the year ahead. I’ve renewed ties with the Asana School of English, teaching mythology, folklore, art and general creativity. I’m also working on the idea of streamlining my work within a definite creative path, that brings all my skills and interests into one coherent flame.
3. CoDesRes: What do you feel are some of the values of community arts practice?
After many years as a successful community arts practitioner, I’ve identified three ways to ensure fruition.
To listen to and observe the group/project you’ll be working with and to really watch and observe the possibilities and the language of the setting. Some artists can impose their idea of what the group wants or needs, without fully accessing the true nature of what's going on and that can lead to a less than fertile out come.
To be able to twist, turn and change as the project progresses, it sounds simple, but you need to keep addressing the relevance of situations and understanding the constantly changing dynamics of humanity. This can be very evident in state education, where the same curriculum is being trotted out and it becomes all about the teacher teaching, rather than the learner learning and becomes very stale.
One very important element of community arts practice is relinquishing ownership to the group and actual participants. So often artists and musicians try and hijack the project as their own, when in fact there is joint custody between the artist, participants and the audience. The participants need to feel that they have created (with the facilitation of the community artist) a fantastic end piece, this establishes a hunger for more exploration of the creative process.
4. CoDesRes: Can you talk about the role indigenous culture and its practices could play within community arts practice / sustainable communities
There is a huge push towards homogenisation, where everyone has the same experience and holds similar views, albeit an opposing view, they are very clean-cut, mapped out views for people to hold. A lot of media outlets seem to not just inform people’s opinion, but dictate it as well. People are less reliant on their own experience and the experience and wisdom of their elders. Every news story comes complete on a story, whether to agree or disagree.
When working with people in a community arts capacity, having an opportunity to draw from the 'well of life' or experience and a shared yet unique culture, puts more flesh on the bones of the project. Even, in a village of people or a family, people will always have a different interpretation of any given moment, but knowing why and what informs us of that interpretation, gives us a stronger sense of self and the less likelihood of being swayed in a direction, against will and against our knowledge.
A people having its own language and mythology, greatly adds to the ability for free thinking and thinking outside the box. What is happening now is that small groupings, who have their own way of interpreting the world, have become to see the mainstream as better. In our family, we have phrases, stories and simple actions that communicate a whole library of experience and ways of interpreting the world.
We also have it in our village of Iveragh. Nobody else might get them, but they our little code for relating “who we are”? It is very important, not just to keep these codes alive, but for the young people to create their own interpretation of the world. Using the same ingredients as our ancestors and creating new recipes of interpretation!
5. CoDesRes: What are some of the key indigenous cultural aspects of Uith Rathaigh / the Iveragh Peninsula?
Growing up in Iveragh has also influenced my way of working and skill set, my father was essentially a farmer, but also a blacksmith and harness maker. A neighbour was effectively a postman, but also a farmer, people wore many hats, this was done as a means of survival, but it also a vibrant lifestyle and used a lot of “juggling” skills, which leads to a very resilient way of living.
I always had a great sense of heightened drama from the people of Iveragh, performance and storytelling, people did not just tell stories of day-to-day occurrences, but of their ancestral heritage, every field, stream and rock had a story of origin and often, its relationship to the people who lived there. These stories had a potency, they were not just to entertain around the fireside, but were like pieces to an ancient puzzle. Hiding slivers of a precious code, that would unlock the answer to the great question, “who are we?”
6. CoDesRes: How do you think these aspects might be relevant within the CoDesRes project?
In a microcosm, the team is made up of people from very different backgrounds and viewpoints, getting them understanding the SDGs and their relevance will be the first victory. We each begin to see world from the viewpoints and the work of others. We will be learning from each other’s about the different experience and expertise.
That experience can be tested, taken out into Iveragh and re-jigged again to show the possible vibrancy that can be achieved, not just with the projects, but with the manner the projects were constructed. Also, having artists and storytellers working alongside scientists and engineers, ensures a strong and accessible interpretation of the goals.
7. CoDesRes: Back in March during Seachtain na Gaeilge you introduced the SDGs into workshops you were doing at the local school - can you tell us about that?
Yes, I was working with a group of children, making shadow puppets. Getting them to perform a small show in Irish, was the main goal. I decided to bring in “life below water” as the starting point for the session, we explored many different kinds of life that existed tied to water and why they look the way they do, the aqua dynamics, as it were. It really was a great success, both the theme and the end result worked well.
8. CoDesRes: Your are also working with Portmagee Development Group and Portmagee National School. Do you see opportunities there to introduce the global goals in particular the ones you are working on with CoDesRes?
I’ve already started creating connections between the development group and the school, where we have started work on a community garden. I’ve started creating an encyclopedia of local wildlife, where the children can start focusing on the life around them and then catalogue, what they see, when and what those creatures were doing. This is something, that I did as a child as my parents and their friends would show me an otter, a heron and so on.
In my opinion, it is better for children and adults to know about the pine Martin or egret in their area, rather than the Kardashian’s on television!
Pages from the encyclopedia of local wildlife, Portmagee National School, 2018
9. CoDesRes: What do you think young people feel about the future - has there been a link made to the work they are doing with you and how this might contribute to their lives longer term?
I think, the older a young person becomes, the more aware they are of the future. Even though, they are listening to the dominant narrative all the time (whatever, that narrative may be), it’s when, they have to become more of an individual, that they realize the contribution they can make.
I would strongly hope, that my work would influence, not just the young people, but the community at large, to create a strong positive narrative. A narrative that gives hope, pride and an appreciation of our ancient culture not just to those who just who hear it, but to those, who utilise it. A narrative that can have far reaching effects, through time and in a global context. A narrative that instills a sense of wonder and magic, in our locality.
That is my work in CoDesRes..
CoDesRes: Thanks you we are delighted to have you as part of the team.