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My Experience of the EU Lab

Interview with Liz Coman, Dublin City Council

Co Author:
Liz Coman

What’s your background and what is your current role within DCC?

I am an Assistant Arts Officer for Dublin City Council and a Visual Arts Education Curator. I have worked for Dublin City Council for ten years. In that period there have been a number of important personal and career breaks. Two stints of maternity leave to have my children, Hugh and Molly, and a three-year career break to work as Adviser to the Department of Young People, Children and Education at The Arts Council of Ireland. I have an MA in History of Art from UCD and an MA in Museum Studies from JFK University, Berkeley.

With over fifteen years’ experience in the creative arts, culture and education sectors in Ireland, my role is to design and support developmental opportunities, projects and policy that align the pathways of the arts, education and learning in Dublin city. I am a curator of contemporary visual arts experiences with children and young people. I have led trainings in Ireland in enquiry led approaches to mediating artwork for visual arts facilitators in The Ark, A Cultural Centre for Children, The National Gallery of Ireland, and The Turner Prize, Derry. I am trained to coaching level in the Visual Thinking Strategies method designed in the USA. I conduct ongoing mentorship for individual artists, arts educators and teachers as an integral part of project development.

Liz Coman and her daughter Molly. Artwork by Rachel Tynan
Liz Coman and her daughter Molly. Artwork by Rachel Tynan

Recently you have been supported by the EU Lab, what has been your experience?

Since July 2016 I have been working with the EU Lab developing an application for the Erasmus+ strand of European Funding which supports school and adult learning in formal and informal education settings. I had been looking at the Erasmus+ application process and criteria before working with the EU Lab. But I found the language and criteria difficult to understand. I also found I was too pressed for time to get stuck in to the huge document that is the Erasmus+ application guidelines. With the support of the EU LAB grant writers, I was able to begin the process of developing a proposal and finding potential partners.

The focus of the proposal is on visual arts learning and builds on work we are doing with schools in the North East Inner City. Project 20/20 is a Visual Literacy Initiative with children living in Dublin 1 led by Dublin City Council, the City Arts Office and The LAB Gallery. The LAB Gallery supports emerging artists at the beginning of their careers and more established artists taking risks in their practice. Project 20/20 builds over time, focusing on developing the visual literacy of a specific cohort of children and young people, by connecting them with contemporary Irish art and artists, living and working in their neighbourhood and unlocking their voices as citizens what they tell us about their lives, connections with others (family, teachers, community), how they learn and develop. The International Visual Literacy Association defines visual literacy as the ability to derive meaning from images of everything that we see to read and write visual language.

Liz Coman at EU Lab workshop at Wood Quay Venue March 2017
Liz Coman at EU Lab workshop at Wood Quay Venue March 2017

Building the relationship with the EU Partners is key. In the early stages, I was working with the EU Lab Project Manager, who supported me to develop a proposal and circulate it to potential key partners. VTS, in particular Yoon Kang O’Higgins, have been doing some training in Europe over the past five years, mainly out of Amsterdam.

We were extremely lucky to have them as critical friends in supporting us to connect with potential partners at the outset of the proposal development. This prompted a considerable amount of questions, feedback and debate. We conducted a Skype call with an initial group and the Project Manager was very helpful in setting up the call and answering questions to tease out the early trepidations on behalf of the group members.

Wessel Badenhorst, PM EU Lab (far left), Liz Coman (centre-right) and EU Partners
Wessel Badenhorst, PM EU Lab (far left), Liz Coman (centre-right) and EU Partners

The group met for the first time in Brussels, November 2016. By this stage I was working with the new EU Lab Manager, Wessel Badenhorst. Wessel is very professional and decisive and his emphasis in this stage was on building the group ownership for a European proposal. In Brussels, he skillfully facilitated a group discussion to bring us through a ‘needs analysis’ and from there we began to negotiate the broad areas of an EU partnership proposal as a collective. The proposal from the beginning had to demonstrate a response to an overarching EU vision but also be led by the skills, expertise and input of the partnership. Therefore, the proposal development process is very much about learning from colleagues across Europe and developing shared criteria and designing shared objectives that have long-term impact.

Would you recommend the EU Lab to other staff and why?

Yes, I would. An application development process such as this is a professional development opportunity. It helps you to bring your own work process into a wider partnership domain and this allows for rich opportunity for peer exchange and learning. You learn about what others in your field of expertise are doing to progress their areas of work and what are their barriers at local level. From the perspective of our application, which is focused on visual arts education, this proposal seeks to strengthen the relationship between art galleries/museums and schools, and unfortunately this is an area of arts in education that is usually very low on the priority list. Therefore, to get the support to work with expert European grant writers has been invaluable. Whether we are successful in this round or not, we have had professional support to get us to this point and therefore we have a professional application developed for all of the partners to own and build on into the future.

Would you engage in the EU Lab in the future to develop your projects at an EU level?

Yes I would. Especially if we are successful with this Erasmus+ application proposal. I think this type of professional support could be invaluable to the professional youth and education arts sector to support training opportunities for arts and education professionals working with children and young people. But one step at a time!!

Here is some film footage documenting our Visual Thinking Strategies work in Dublin so far…

VTS in an Irish Primary School Classroom

Project 20/20 The Art of Remembering

IAWATST Interesting and Weird at the Same Time

We are excited that the children, teachers and neighbourhood are finding joy in the experience of looking and learning from art as much as we do! We look forward to growing our future experiences of the visual arts together.

*Visual Thinking Strategies is an educational curriculum and teaching method which enables students to develop aesthetic and language literacy and critical thinking skills, while giving educators a new technique they can utilise throughout their career.

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