The participants in this project included 180 children between birth and three years of age, 24 childcare workers in 12 early childhood settings in Cork city and county, the
BEAG team of three artists, a Project Director/Researcher, Margaret O’Sullivan, artistic advisers Emelie Fitzgibbon and Síle Ní Bhroin, a research adviser Dr Marion McCarthy, UCC and management support provided by the staff of Graffiti Theatre Company.
The BEAG pilot project was designed to investigate the feasibility and sustainability of an early years arts initiative in Cork, through a range of research objectives to be examined using a Practice-based Research (PbR) methodology. Three artists worked together as an integrated team, developing artistic encounters for children in early childhood settings incorporating participatory and performance dimensions.
BEAG focuses on children from birth to three years, and the work is guided by three core principles:
- the creative voice and experience of the children
- the centrality of the aesthetic quality in artist-led work
- the active engagement of the childcare worker
The development of capacity in early years arts delivery requires artistic and creative exploration, skills development and structural growth among artists, early childhood centres, childcare workers and organising partners such as institutions, arts organisations and funding agencies.
The BEAG pilot project’s research objectives were broad in scope, addressing questions of practice, capacity building, development and sustainability for the future.
In relation to practice, the pilot project aimed to identify conditions, methods and attitudes in undertaking art work with very small children in a range of early childhood settings, and to identify specific issues of practice arising during the project.
A central aim was the development of capacity amongst artists to engage in the early years arts field and of a theoretical framework for individuals participating in this area of work, alongside the documentation of examples of early years arts practice.
The pilot project facilitated analysis of the effectiveness of early years practice and the observation of arts work in early childhood settings with a particular focus on imaginative play, creativity, well-being, collaboration, communication, problem-solving and inquiry.
The identification of opportunities for the further development of an early years arts team in Cork and the development and consolidation of links with early years arts practitioners overseas were additional objectives of the project.
The aims of the pilot project were reflected in the evident desire for the building of a culture of early years arts engagement among childcare workers, artists, the organising partners and funding agencies and the wide network of international contacts that grew as a result of the process.
The BEAG pilot project was conceived as a PbR project, a research methodology that facilitates creative outcomes in the form of new works, alongside the advancement of knowledge about or within a practice. In this process, practice is an integral part of the methodology. The artists worked in an integrated team, and a sequential programme of engagement with children allowed participants to respond to ideas and issues as they arose and to apply learning in practice as it emerged throughout the process.
Phase one, the planning and development phase, took place over the first three months. During this time the focus was on planning, scheduling, operational aspects and the development of the relationship between all participants, alongside the collaborative training and development of the BEAG team. Twelve early childhood settings, representing a diverse range of contexts, were identified by the HSE and Cork City and County Councils and were invited to participate.
Artist training and development consisted of:
- self-guided collective workshops – three artists sharing their disciplines
- a programme of training by Irish-based and international practitioners
- development of new early years activities in intensive exploratory sessions
- visits to early childhood settings and meetings with childcare workers
- development of and induction in data collection methodologies
- Additional preparations included development of project coordination and tracking methodologies, research material collation and literature reviews, gathering of equipment, schedules, materials and project documentation plans
Phase two, the active engagement phase in early childhood settings, took place over five months, with the artists and project director working with children and childcare workers, conducting sessions, documenting process and feedback, and developing new work. Ongoing analysis, feedback and the application of a theoretical framework in the context of practice and documented material were ongoing throughout the project.
Phase three, the reporting phase, was dedicated to the collation of the vast store of visual, aural, verbal and written material gathered during the project. The material was analysed and compiled into a comprehensive report of the pilot process, addressing the research objectives and outlining opportunities for future development. The final report of the pilot project was publicly presented at a celebratory event in Crawford Art Gallery, featuring a keynote presentation by pioneering Development Psychologist Dr Suzanne Zeedyk, specialist in infant-adult communication which was preceded by a response to the project.
The BEAG pilot project was documented, monitored and evaluated internally throughout the process from planning to delivery of the final report. Self and peer evaluation perspectives were applied within the team on an ongoing basis. Reflective journals were maintained by all members of the team. Feedback from childcare and other workers was documented. Analysis of photographic evidence was conducted with a view to reflecting the engagement of the children. A final report of the project was compiled and a printed summary document was designed and published alongside the full report. Both are available in pdf form at www.graffiti.ie/early-years
The BEAG pilot project demonstrated the feasibility and sustainability of an early years arts initiative with the appropriate supports in place. The focus on children under the age of three facilitated extraordinary levels of creative engagement on the part of all participants.
Specific outcomes include:
- A team of artists equipped to deliver early years arts practice
- Twelve childcare settings with experience of engaging with artistic encounters for the very young
- A portfolio of new artistic works for the youngest combining participation and performance in music, theatre, visual arts, storytelling, improvisation and sound
- A desire on the part of many childcare workers to explore their own creativity in practice
- Enhanced structural capacity to manage and plan for further early years development
- Evidence of the effectiveness of the Integrated Arts Team approach
- Demonstrated need and hunger for artistic and creative encounters within the early childhood community
- A rich body of material gathered during the pilot project, and evidence of the potential for further research based on practice in this area
- Solid links with networks of local, national and international practitioners, educationalists and researchers with a strong interest in supporting the development of BEAG
Comments from participants/stakeholders:
‘The children really had the time of their lives every single time you arrived with a new adventure for them!:) We feel so lucky having been involved in this project… Thank you, Thank you, Thank you.’ Childcare Worker
‘I recently went through some of the visual documentation […] in slideshow format. As I watched each image unfold from the previous one I was so struck by the children’s special presence and their simple joyful response. I realised again the importance of giving them these experiences and I feel very privileged and also in a way humbled to be amongst them.’ Artist
Documentation and Dissemination
Documentation methodologies included:
- Artists’ portfolios, statements of practice and learning, journals
- Video and audio recording of exploratory workshops, training sessions, work in settings and of work by guest facilitators
- Semi-formal interviews with childcare workers after each session
- Profiles of participating settings, including photos and written descriptions of space and resources
- Observational notes and personal response journals by artists
- Literature on early childhood arts theory and practice
Training and development was consolidated by full artist team participation in workshops and performances at the annual La Baracca Festival in Bologna, Italy. The BEAG Artist Development Initiative, under the auspices of Arts Projects Ireland, received a travel and training grant from the Arts Council for a week-long training opportunity with La Baracca – Testoni Ragazzi, the leading early arts development company in the world. The artist team also attended the Starcatchers Symposium, Edinburgh.
The outcomes were documented in a final report of the project, a summary of which was disseminated to all the participants. The presentation of the report was attended by representatives of the participating early childhood settings and by professionals in the areas of health, education and the arts. Specialists in infant mental health, development psychology, education and curriculum development, children’s rights and many other areas attended the event and/or received the summary BEAG document after the event. Click here to view a short film of the BEAG project.
Cork City Council
Cork County Council
Cork Arts and Health Programme – HSE South