I thank the committee for this opportunity. Mr. Patrick Lydon, who initiated the KCAT (Kilkenny Collective for Arts Talent) Project in Kilkenny in the Camphill community which was set up in 1998 as part of the Horizon project, wrote, "The first principle of inclusion is the acknowledgement of the unfathomable mystery and wonder of every individual life" as part of one of our publications. I have provided copies for the committee and ask members to look at them in their own time.
I will put Luisne in the context of Mayo County Council's arts and disability programme. Since 1989, there has been an arts and disability budget and an arts and disability programme in the Mayo. A lot of projects are funded under Western Care. In 1999 the first step in the current partnership was an arts ability project which was run with Cranmore in Ballinrobe. It was an eight month residency where an artist worked with a group, and was very successful. It created 28 pieces of work which were exhibited in the Ballinrobe library. It was a catalyst for further development.
A disability arts co-ordinator, Mr. Damien O'Connor, works part time. He is registered as blind and has been a wonderful catalyst for working on arts and disability because it is only one part of our spectrum of work. We have also been involved in partnerships with bodies such as the Arts Council, IMMA and South Tipperary County Council. We work in partnership throughout the country as well throughout the county. The International Day for People with Disabilities is one of the projects to which I will draw the attention of the committee later on because it might be a recommended mechanism for funding ongoing projects.
We have an arts and disability programme and also integrate, in an inclusive way, all kinds of communities, including people with disabilities, in our main programme. Where possible, we include people with disabilities. Some 40% of the participants in the Mayo Arts Squad, which is funded by the county council and has been in place since 1997, are people with disabilities. Through our Bealtaine and other residencies we include people with disabilities. We have an ongoing programme with Féile na Tuaithe in the National Museum of Ireland and Country Life. Again, we include people with disabilities in those programmes. Through our dance residencies and our writers in residence we ensure that all the groups and the people we work with in the county are included so that we are not leaving anybody out on a regular basis. We also include people with disabilities in our mailing lists. We have an extensive data base and we ensure that all they are aware of all events and that they are in constant contact with the venues in the county so that it is an integrated approach. I am sure members will have heard of the word "meitheal", which is a very strong word in Mayo and this is how we tend to work. We find that this integrated approach works very well in a rural context.
The arts and ability, Rekindling the Spark project was the first part of this delivery and in 2005, Mr. Mick Smith, who was the leader of our Mayo Arts Squad initiated a project with Mr. Seamus Burke, the development officer in Crann Mór in Ballinrobe. They came up with a project with four artists who had extensive experience in the area of working in the health care context and with people from marginalised communities. This echoes the project that the delegation from Offaly County Council will talk about. The Luisne Art Project wanted to put in place a long-term programme that would be meaningful and would give people a real chance to engage with their creativity, not just a programme of six or eight weeks duration. The partners in the project are Western Care, who bring knowledge, funding and support, Tacú, the Family Resource Centre, which has a community development ethos and an automatic mechanism for integration because it is at the centre of the whole community in Ballinrobe and its administrator, Ms Michelle Walsh does all the administration on the projects and all the financial administration. Crann Mór, which is part of Western Care is an advocate for people with disabilities and has long-term and practical supports for engaging people with disabilities in employment. The Mayo County Council Arts Squad brought all its experience with community arts and Mayo County Council brought funding and our own expertise as well. This is one of the first pictures that came out of the arts ability project. Unfortunately Mr. Dermot Mellett passed away a number of years ago and is fondly remembered by all of us.
The core artistic elements of the projects - and this will be echoed in the contribution by Offaly County Council - is that we wanted to explore the possibility of creating an environment where the sole purpose was to create art. We did not have a social or any other agenda, but just to do a quality arts project and to see what happened. It was open ended. The expertise and experience of the artists was essential, without that there would have been no project. Using quality materials and having a space to work was essential. The artists and participants have an equal relationship, there is no differentiation, there is no leader and follower, they all work together. That seems to work very well. There is no set agenda, no timetable and it is all open-ended. We were not looking to have an exhibition in six months or a year. We were just going to see how it went. We gave people the time and space to engage with their own creativity.
Our project was shaped by a long-term view of what could be achieved artistically and socially over an extended period. We wanted people to have choice, ownership and independence and we wanted to encourage them. We wanted to aim for artistic quality but we knew that would take a long time to achieve. The long-term nature of the project is essential because one cannot expect any group to learn a new language in three to six months. It will not happen, particularly if they have been marginalised and isolated. As part of our core operational elements, we have a part-time project co-ordinator who came on the team in 2007 and an off-site studio space, which has been a really essential part of the project. The participants can leave the centre, where they are not ghettoised, but it is outside of the community and now they are brought right into the centre of the community and they are integrated with everything that is happening in the town, which is really important. There is also an element of choice, so participants become involved because they want to, not because they have to, it is their choice to do that every week. The funding is important and to date, the funding partners, ourselves and Western Care fund €10,000 per annum, which is getting trickier as time goes by, but that is what is costs. The steering group is very solution-oriented. We approach everything in a problem solving way and when something comes up we try to address it together with all the voices at the table.
We have been blessed with the fantastic Bredas on the project; we had Breda Burns, the original artist, we have a Breda Murphy, our current artist and Breda Mayock, who is the co-ordinator. I will focus on the highlights of the projects. I was going to use the word "achievements", but this is a difficult word when talking about people with disabilities and one is judging people on a different scale. The group has had exhibitions in the Linenhall Arts Centre, which is the mainstream arts centre in Castlebar. The group has exhibited twice in the National Museum of Ireland and Country Life, which has brought them in to the public sphere, in Ballinrobe Library, in Ballinrobe Community School, in University Hospital Galway, which was a significant opening for them. The group exhibited in the Tacú Family Resource Centre at Christmas and for International Day of Disabled Persons, the exhibition was launched by the Taoiseach. There is a clip of this opening ceremony on YouTube, if anybody wants to check it out.
The positive feedback from people attending the exhibitions is really important to the group and I will quote from the evaluation that was carried out in 2007 where one Luisne group member spoke about the public reaction to the group's work. "They say it is good, you feel better when people say this.". The group has also got a number of awards, it won an Aontas Star Award in 2010 and Ms Mairead Coyne was chosen for inclusion in the Ireland Fiftieth anniversary competition. There have been two publications, Flame and Luisne, and I have a copy for each member of the joint committee. It is worthwhile to view the website.
The participants in the project come on a voluntary basis. Participation in other events around the country is also important and where possible we find opportunities for this group to integrate with other major arts events. The Roola Boola festival is run by the Linenhall Arts Centre every year as well as the Lough Lannagh Lights and the group participated in both. There was a Bread and Puppet theatre company residency in 2007, in which they also participated. There was a major project in 2008, Newground Good Guides, and the project came in contact with that as well. It is an opportunity for them to be involved in a bigger experience of the arts.
Now we come to the slide on International Day of Persons with Disabilities. We have been funding projects under this heading for two years now. We felt that the Luisne project was so successful and gave such an important opportunity that we wanted to make it available for other people, through Western Care and other organisations. We funded six projects this year and five projects last year and it is a way of mainstreaming and ensuring that people with disabilities can work with arts venues. We cannot do all the work ourselves but we can ensure it happens with other partners.
We have some slides of the work which are worth seeing. The group has worked across a range of disciplines, and have achieved significant artistic skills and competence in a variety of processes. They have improved concentration and they are more able to set goals and achieve things that they set out to do. Their skills in conversation have expanded, their persistence and discipline are better. They have increased self-confidence in expressing opinions, their communication skills are better and they are able to do more independent judgment and make their own decisions. If one saw the group at the launch of their first exhibition and how shy and timid they were and contrast that with how proud they were to have the Taoiseach launch their exhibition at Christmas, they ‘own' the work now and they want people to see it and buy it. There has been a major transformation.
One of the Luisne group members wrote "art is power" in an evaluation. Empowerment is a major part of the project. We want to strengthen people's decision making capabilities and to promote ownership of the work of the project. That has happened also. Ms Mary Melia is one of the stars of the group. She heckles quite publicly and she really loves painting and using colours and she is also in the Special Olympics; she is achieving a great deal these days. Mr. John McGovern was one of the original members of the group of the Arts Ability Project back in 1999 and his work is going from strength to strength. The group has worked in a variety of disciplines, drawing, painting, print, sculpture and construction, stained glass, clay, textiles, creative writing and photography. It is like a home industry at this stage. The next slide shows one of the glass pieces they produced, which was exhibited in Galway. The final slide is another stained glass project the group worked on together.
This project has informed our work for disabled people around the county. We are now funding artists and venues and centres to come together more completely. That work culminates on 3 December every year, which is the UN International Day for people with disability. There is a possibility for us to upload our events on to their website as well so they will go out worldwide. It brings together the expertise on art disabilities and all our strengths. I hope that covers most of our projects and I am open to questions.