Exposure to, and participation in, the arts help to cultivate creativity, artistic appreciation, imaginative exploration, experimental initiative and empathic awareness, all of which are valuable for young people’s development. Exposure to the arts is part of their entitlement to a holistic education.
Through the Arts in Education charter, the Department of Education and the Department of Arts, in association with the Arts Council, have joined forces to promote this entitlement. The charter is a landmark attempt at joined-up thinking and co-operative policy endeavour. An implementation group was set up to put the policy objectives into effect.
The new Arts in Education portal, which is just launched, is a significant outcome of the work of the implementation group, with assistance from key partners. The website will be the key national digital resource for arts and education practice in Ireland and is designed to the highest international standards.
The portal is an opportunity for teachers, artists, students and the interested public to engage productively with arts in education. Schools in every part of the country will have ready access to a vast range of artistic presentations and activities from Irish and international sources.
The portal’s editorial committee will also invite submissions from school groups and from artists, reflecting a two-way process.
The portal will have a research role in arts education practice across the island of Ireland, as well as communicating news and information on arts in education.
The editorial board will seek information from individuals and agencies and will commission new content for the portal. It’s a great opportunity for the education and outreach agencies of the National Cultural Centres to dynamically engage with young citizens throughout the country. The board also plans occasional events, bringing arts practitioners together to showcase work and share knowledge of developments and emerging trends in arts-in-education practices.
Other activities are under way or planned by the implementation group, including continuing professional development for arts education. The course Exploring Teacher-Artist Partnership, for example, facilitates teachers and artists exploring ideas, activities and innovation together, with the support of the regional education centres. Also, since the charter launch, the Arts Council has sponsored six artist residencies in colleges of education, which has been inspirational for those studying education.
Another planned project is the Arts Rich School scheme, where all types of schools throughout the country will be invited to focus on how the arts can be best cultivated as a dynamic part of their school community life.
Music Generation has been recognised as a major stimulus to music education in many schools. Under the Arts in Education charter the Department of Education has been a key partner in funding the Music Generation programme since July 2014.
In the past, inadequate information and communication on arts facilities and opportunities have left a major lacuna. This is now being addressed by the implementation group, which is mapping arts-in-education activities all over Ireland. Part of the aim is to identify locations with little or no provision, with a view to remediation.
An allied objective of the charter was to establish a register of research on arts in education. With the assistance of higher education and national cultural institutions, a data bank is being constructed, which will be useful for policymakers, researchers, artists and educators.
Another objective is to promote local arts-education partnerships, whereby local authorities, educational agencies and others can co-ordinate efforts and synergies for arts in education in their regions. The new Cavan-Monaghan partnership is an excellent example of what can be achieved. The implementation group is in contact with other local and regional groups planning such initiatives that reflect local priorities.
These activities, promoted by the charter, reflect a climate of collaboration and co-operation between cultural and educational agencies in Ireland, in place of an older tradition of compartmentalisation and fragmentation.
A noteworthy example of fresh collaboration is Encountering the Arts in Education, an agency of more than 30 organisations for which a constitution was agreed in 2014. The education and outreach sections of the 11 National Cultural Institutions are now re-energised, after a new policy framework was agreed this year. The Association of Teacher and Education Centres of Ireland – 30 regional centres – has established an arts partnership network.
These developments, in conjunction with the charter, suggest potential, which should be nurtured and harvested for a more receptive landscape for the arts in education. The Arts in Education initiative has so far been met with energy, talent, expertise, goodwill and engagement. The concept of arts in education could lead to a culture change, from which this and future generations of Irish citizens would benefit through personal development and social engagement.