The pilot programme took place in 2021, with 12 teen participants on the summer project and 24 participants on the autumn / winter project.
The programme was researched, designed, delivered and evaluated by artist Yvonne Cullivan with the support of Helium’s Creative Producer Monica Flynn and the Helium Arts team.
Members of Helium’s Youth Arts Advisory Panel and Epilpsy Ireland were engaged in research and evaluation, integral to the development of the programme.
This pilot programme aimed to extend Helium’s Creative Health Programme by creating a new offering for teenagers and to increase the capacity of the programme beyond Limerick, Cork and Galway and their surrounding satellite locations.
Helium’s vision is for a long-term programme that reaches teenagers living rurally across Ireland, in a way that responds to the needs and interests of this specific age-group. In the immediate term, the pilot programme also created a remote offering for those teenagers who, due to Covid-19, were more isolated than usual.
Visual artist Yvonne Cullivan was engaged to develop and deliver the programme, while also documenting the process and methodologies and compiling recommendations for future replication of the programme.
The artist’s approach throughout this project was a cyclical model of combined research, interactive consultation, creative facilitation, ongoing evaluation and continuous programme development.
The artist began with a period of research into previous Helium remote offerings and their associated evaluations, and also into international programmes. This was followed by interactive online consultations with focus groups of young members from a number of patient support groups. Helium artists were also consulted for their invaluable experience and pre-existing outcomes of Helium stakeholder consultations were also considered.
Yvonne consolidated the findings from this R&D period and developed a short trial programme which would serve as an action-based method of deepening the research. This short programme was followed with another period of consultation and evaluation, leading to the development of a longer programme. This longer programme also served as action-research toward the final recommendations and manual.
The programmes were designed to allow a broad range of creative responses and engagement within a solid framework. The framework included clear session structures, creative ice-breakers, sharing of inspirational material, live and recorded demonstrations, live and emailed instructions, live making and structured opportunities for online sharing. The artist also provided follow up open studio sessions.
All online engagement took place via Zoom with the presence of the artist and creative producer, both of whom took part in making / creating alongside facilitating. Communication with participants manifested through online chatbox, live discussion, emails, shared Google documents, and posting images and comments on private Padlet spaces.
The creative content itself included photography, drawing, collage, mapping, construction and simple forms of animation. Themes included surrealist collage and image-based narrative construction. Responses to the themes were varied and individual e.g. participants created alternative self-portraits using collage, or photographs of carefully chosen and arranged objects, or short animations that touched on their emotional inner landscapes. Participants had the option of developing their making from one session to the next using the artist’s guidance or to make anew each time. They were invited to make in the live space and also given follow on opportunities to continue their making independently.
The emphasis of the programme was on social engagement, creative process and developing the five creative habits of mind (imagination, inquisitiveness, persistence, collaboration and discipline). Participants were given freedom to engage in their own way, as much or as little as they wished, and to create with no obligation to share the results.
A private online space was established on Padlet and used for sharing, learning and communicating. Images of participant artworks were archived. As this project was an action-research piece, the results were in-house and consisted of an online celebration on the last day of each programme and an online document of engagement in the form of the Padlet.
The project included ongoing evaluation. Participants engaged in interactive online evaluation during and at the end of each pilot programme through live mentimeter surveys, Google forms and online conversation. This was essential to the development of the structure of the programme and the final recommendations for future programmes. The artist and the creative producer kept reflective journals charting each day of engagement with the participants
‘It’s very empowering for young people to be able to take part as their condition allows without having to explain.’ – Parent
The evaluation outcomes gave rise to a clear structure for remote engagement with teenagers living with long-term health conditions and insight into their preferred methods of engaging online, sharing work, creating, and receiving instruction and guidance. The outcomes also led to the creation of an Artist’s Manual which provides suggestions for: a workable structure, approaches to engagement, a framework for creative content for artists working in this specific context in any visual medium.
‘It is not pressuring and I can do it at my own pace.’ – Participant
The biggest challenge was to consistently engage this particular age group in an online setting. Understanding the needs of participants through continuous interactive evaluation allowed for a reconfiguring of the structure and content as the pilot programmes progressed.
‘I like using Padlet since I don’t like showing my face and have control over what I show.’ – Participant
Documentation and Dissemination
Documentation remains in-house, in the form of an archive of images and two archived Padlet spaces. An extensive report, including key findings and recommendations, was created for Helium Arts. An Artist’s Manual was also created for Helium’s Associate Artists for future remote engagement with teenagers. Both of these documents were presented to Helium Arts in an online whole-staff training and development day. The findings continue to inform Helium’s programming.
Helium Arts’ Remote Teen Pilot 2021 was designed in consultation with young people, including Helium’s Youth Advisory Group, Helium Arts associate artists, and patient support groups including Epilepsy Ireland, Irish Children’s Arthritis Network and Muscular Dystrophy Ireland.