INSPIRED by the flora and fauna in the lower grounds of UCC, children from direct provision centres in County Cork are collaborating with scouts and brownies for an art exhibition that will run at the Glucksman Gallery from December 8 to 22.
As director of the gallery, Fiona Kearney says: “It’s part of the Glucksman’s overall strategy of creating visibility for the views of young asylum seekers in Irish society and recognising the positive contribution their diversity makes to our culture.”
She adds that the project is providing the younger children, in particular, with space to “explore nature and forge relationships with other children around themes such as the environment.”
The project is called Blueprints and involves 24 children aged between seven and 12 from Drishane Direct Provision Centre and Glounthane Direct Provision Centre. Working and exploring alongside them are scouts from Cloghroe and brownies from Crosshaven.
The project is funded by the Department of Justice through its Community Integration Fund. Education officer at the Glucksman, Tadhg Crowley, says it’s important that children in direct provision feel they’re part of the wider society.
“Working alongside their peers in a civic and social environment, he says, facilitates this.
The children are looking at the river flowing through UCC and the surrounding nature, and creating guides to the area as well as collages and prints.
Tadhg said: “We’re blowing that up to look at larger ideas around climate change. It’s about looking at the environment with fresh eyes. The children were not too familiar with the area starting out, but they’re learning about it together.”
The project involves looking at nature very closely, taking in the micro aspect of it and developing guides to what is in the area.
The Glounthane group along with the Crosshaven brownies are developing prints, on fabric, drawing inspiration from nature.
The other groups are creating collages and field guides. The children are being guided by artists, Cat Gamble, Tom Doig and Cillian O’Dwyer. The exhibition will consist of about 20 collages and a similar number of prints.
Tadhg is full of praise for the scouts and brownies involved in the project.
“They are wonderful children. Part of being a scout or a brownie is having a sense of citizenship and responsibility. They’re really good natured and very open and receptive to the project.
“They are working alongside children who’ve come from very different backgrounds. These children, who live in very restrictive conditions, are looking for a bit of freedom and creativity. They might run wild for a while when they visit UCC. But the scouts and the brownies have been really caring and patient with them,” he said.
He points out, children in direct provision live in highly restricted environments.
“They have always been time-tabled so just coming here to the museum gives them a sense of freedom.
“For lots of them, it’s their first time having any kind of social interaction without their parents being present. They need to run free. That’s part of their social learning.
“Coming into the museum gives them a sense of ownership of it. They also get the opportunity to go to a restaurant and order food.”
Crowley imagines that there must be curiosity among the Irish children regarding the direct provision children.
“It doesn’t tend to come up in the workshops. They probably discuss it with their leaders afterwards.”
Despite UCC being located in the city, Crowley says there are “lots of creepy crawlies and animals in the lower grounds to keep the children entertained”.
He says the project is being aided by UCC’s Star Society, which looks out for the rights of refugees.
“They have done a lot of work with us, volunteering for workshops and helping out in terms of organisation,” he explained.
Working with children in direct provision was Fiona Kearney’s idea initially.
Tadhg said: “And we saw the work being carried out with refugees by our colleagues at UCC, Mike Fitzgibbon and Jacqui O’Riordan. They organise events like Christmas Day events and Easter egg hunts — anything to break the mundane nature of living in a direct provision centre. They do fund-raising too.
“We decided to get involved. When this project is over, we’ll be working again with direct provision kids with a monsters theme.”
In September, a movable mural, mounted on chipboard, was created by youngsters in direct provision at the Glucksman over a number of months in a workshop setting. It depict self-portraits by the children.
Entitled Arriving into View, it was unveiled on Culture Night at Fitzgerald’s Park. The mural is going to be used as the logo for the new global development centre opening at UCC.
It’s all part of what could be a far-reaching initiative, making young asylum seekers and refugees feel part of the new society they find themselves living in.
The government funding goes towards the cost of transporting the children to the gallery and taking them to lunch.
As well as being a real treat for the children, the Glucksman invites them in proving that the museum is fulfilling its remit to reach out to town as well as gown.