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Art and Design Education

4 May 2017

St Mary’s University College Belfast, in partnership with the National Society for Art and Design Education (NSEAD), was delighted to welcome over fifty delegates to the conference on 12 April 2017.

Surrounded by the work of art students from St Mary’s, as well as that of associate lecturer and former artist in residence Joanne Porter, we were welcomed to the conference by Mary Flanagan, Senior Lecturer at St Mary’s University College Belfast and representative for Northern Ireland on the NSEAD Council.

Welcoming address by Mary Flanagan

The first keynote was presented by Dr Peter Gregory, Principal Lecturer at Canterbury Christ Church University and President of NSEAD. Peter intended to, and succeeded in, ‘touching a nerve’ by asking what our role must be in defining the future of art and design education. He further reminded us of our need to consider how as art educators we impact on, and inspire, the lives and futures of our pupils. Our roles can include being playful learners, technology appropriators, curriculum champions, subject leaders, reflective practitioners—and more. Peter considered the different meanings of curriculum and, above all, the power of the art and design teacher in opening or closing possibilities, removing barriers, articulating values and challenging and inspiring ourselves and others.

Keynote speaker Dr Peter Gregory

Following Peter’s talk, three parallel sessions gave delegates a choice: a practical bookbinding workshop with artist teacher Jenna Stevenson; a presentation by Stella Cross and Francis Murphy about successful whole school development programme between a school and the College; and a workshop by Dr Ivor Hickey, using his research into ‘SCIART’ interdisciplinary teaching and learning at the post-primary level, which applied the outcomes of his collaborative work on ‘The Leonardo Effect’.

Francis Murphy and Stella Cross

A second keynote was delivered by Professor Gary Granville, Emeritus Professor at Dublin College of Art and Design, formerly Assistant Chief Executive of the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment in the Republic of Ireland. Picking up on issues explored by Peter, Gary considered the tripartite links between art, art education and education and urged a positive, not defensive, response to the challenges faced by our subject. Peter focused on the following topics: the subject’s unique ability to look beyond what we can see, what artists do, what they are about, and how that is understood. Gary also opened discussion on curriculum design and the use of design in this process: how design can be a recipe, not just a blueprint, and how designing is continuously reconstructed.

Keynote speaker Prof Gary Granville

After lunch and an opportunity to look at student work in the college, we returned to a choice of sessions showcasing the creative industries of Belfast. Conor Flanagan from Jam Media ran a virtual reality drawing workshop where participants heard how VR is being used by contemporary artists in exciting ways. Participants then had a chance to experience and experiment with the medium and consider the potential relevance in schools. Jam Media is one of the leading creators and producers of multi-award-winning, animated and live-action content for a children’s audience (including pre-school children), focussing upon innovative, and story-driven brands across multiple platforms.

Emma Berkery from Young at Art

Emma Berkery from Young at Art described the education work of Northern Ireland’s leading children’s not-for-profit company in coordinating not only an international festival but also a wide variety of projects to engage children in the arts. Explaining that families in Northern Ireland are the hardest hit by austerity measures across the UK and that by 2020 Save the Children anticipates that one in four children in Northern Ireland will be living in persistent poverty, Emma left us in no doubt of the need for her work and its success within the context of Young at Art’s Creative Child Programme for working with professional artists.

Artist Rhiannon Ewing-James

Gathering together again, delegates had an opportunity to discuss the role of NSEAD in Northern Ireland with Lesley Butterworth before listening to the final presenter, Rhiannon Ewing-James, a recent graduate from Ulster University who has specialised in ceramics. Rhiannon is the recipient of several international awards and has exhibited widely and collaborated on several research projects. In her opening address to the conference, Mary Flanagan wanted us to challenge ourselves—for our children and our young people—to be inspiring and creative teachers. At the conclusion of the conference, we had this fulfilled and successful young person in front of us describing her creative journey through school and university and beyond, celebrating her art and design teachers and tutors for supporting and challenging her and for expanding her horizons to embrace a career in the visual arts. It was a perfect end that inspired all of us to return to our classrooms, studios, galleries, offices and lecture theatres, more ready and reinvigorated, to champion our subject, to be agents of change and to value and promote the visual arts in education.

  Delegates at the conference

Delegates responded very positively to the speakers and presenters and provided interesting feedback:

"It was great to have a CPD for art in Northern Ireland – certainly not a regular thing! Thank you to NSEAD and St Mary’s."

"Thank you for a great day. If there is any opportunity for teachers to come and take part in a 'hands on' art and design day in the future that would be fab."

"Very good!"

"A wonderful day – sparked much enthusiasm – many thanks."

"More please!!"

"A fantastic day – very informative. Lots of pause for thought, ideas and relevant chats with like- minded professionals."

"Instilled me with more confidence about my subject and its value within education as a whole."

"I was challenged as a practitioner – and made to think about the future – in a good but scary way."

"The range of speakers was interesting to hear and came with a variety of perspectives, but all art lovers."

"A very informative and interesting programme."

"The College is welcoming and in great modern style."

"The refreshment facilities by the College were excellent."

"Warm hospitality."


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