Tuesday 17 July 2018

Fuelling the next generation in a powerhouse of the arts

Kildare is a county that has always punched well above its weight in terms of its artistic output, writes Celine Naughton

Sisters Heather (5) and Caroline Coffey (7) watch juggler Johnny Phelan and acrobats Ali Futto and Ali Mswad perform as they helped mark the launch of the family programme in
Temple Bar Tradfest. Photo: Leon Farrell/Photocall Ireland
Sisters Heather (5) and Caroline Coffey (7) watch juggler Johnny Phelan and acrobats Ali Futto and Ali Mswad perform as they helped mark the launch of the family programme in Temple Bar Tradfest. Photo: Leon Farrell/Photocall Ireland

Celine Naughton

It is renowned for horseracing, but when it comes to the world of arts, Co Kildare has a creative pedigree to match that of its famous bloodstock industry.

With a roll call of talent that includes the likes of writers Molly Keane and Maura Laverty, singers Christy Moore, Luka Bloom, Damien Rice and Jack L, broadcasters Ray D'Arcy and Brian Dowling and comedian Aisling Bea, the county can lay fair claim to being a powerhouse of artistic endeavour.

So what is it about the place that breeds such standout people?

"I think it reflects the 'can-do' attitude that's ingrained in the people," says County Arts Officer Lucina Russell.

"They're passionate about what they do and they share what they experience. I think they're visionaries in that sense."

Yet for all the prestigious events, at the other end of the age spectrum, children in Celbridge, Prosperous, Newbridge and the Curragh can look forward to noisy, fun-filled classrooms when the new school term begins in September.

Six new artist-in-schools residencies will be delivered ranging across a variety of art forms, including circus, photography, puppetry, visual art and clay.

"Working with schools is the most democratic way of reaching all the children in the county," says Ms Russell.

"The music department of Maynooth University supported our recent application to Music Generation, the national music education programme, and we hope this will deliver outreach programmes for schools across the county and professional development opportunities for musicians."

For teenagers, the award-winning Kildare Young Filmmakers group, based in Leixlip had a short film, 'Saturday Session', screened at last year's REC-Filmfestival Berlin, where it was highly commended.

"The film-making group has proved so popular, we're starting another in Ballitore in south Kildare later this year," says Ms Russell.

Ballitore is a small, rural village, yet its local Griese Youth Theatre boasts an impressive 130 members.

Engagement

Drama groups for all ages are also well established in other towns and villages across the county, reflecting again the local engagement people have in this creative county.

Community participation will also be evident during this month's National Heritage Week (August 19-26). Newbridge Community Library is the venue for a free music workshop, 'Bacon, Cabbage and Spuds,' for four- to six-year-olds, on Saturday the 19th.

Other free events include: a presentation by the North Kildare Beekeepers Association in Castletown House, Celbridge (Sunday 20th); a weaving and spinning display in Naas Day Care Centre (Tuesday 22nd); a thatching demonstration at Yew Cottage, Monasterevin (Wednesday 23rd); and a presentation on foraging for free food at Castledermot Community Library (Friday, 25th August).

"In our Arts Plan, we have five words that underpin everything we do: inspire, broker, mentor, curate and respond," says Ms Russell.

"These fit effortlessly into the Creative Ireland initiative and they describe the way we work. We collaborate with community groups and network with the public to produce a thriving artistic and cultural heritage that runs deep in this county."

An example is an upcoming two-day seminar, 'Illuminating Heritage - the Walls of Athy through the Artist's Eye'. While Kildare Town's historic heritage is celebrated in its annual Medieval Festival - taking place this year on August 20 - Athy also has strong medieval connections.

No tangible remains of the town's ancient walls survive above ground, but this September-October, a number of artists will be working with historians and archaeologists to explore and interpret the town's medieval layout.

Athy is also the centre for a new, week-long Sign Language Festival from September 22, featuring puppet shows for children, sign language in schools, a karaoke night, Shackleton heritage tour, flash sign mob at Athy train station and other events celebrating Irish Sign Language, one which looks set to soon become recognised as Ireland's official third language, if the ISL bill, now in its fourth stage at Seanad Éireann, is eventually passed by the Dáil.

Organised by the Athy Sing and Sign group, the festival is one of Co Kildare's innovative new projects to be supported by Creative Ireland.

"Creative Ireland copper-fastens what we do and acts as a springboard for new collaborations," says CI Kildare co-ordinator Marian Higgins.

"Through the Arts Council's 'Invitation to Collaboration,' we're currently working with Tipperary and Kerry County Councils in a two-year 'Dance for Health' initiative.

This is a training programme for dancers who will work with people with special needs, such as Parkinson's Disease.

"We're also working with Leitrim, Limerick and Fingal County Councils in conjunction with (economic consultants) Indecon and Economics Professor John O'Hagan of Trinity College Dublin in an evaluation of arts programmes in all four counties.

This will be a comprehensive and objective report, which will help inform future planning of arts and culture provision not just in the participating counties, but right across the country."

Irish Independent

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