Alternative Practicum Experience at the Crawford Art Gallery in Cork City, Ireland
-- written for the Queen’s Faculty of Education “Student Experiences”
What I love most about the Queen's Alternative Practicum experience is how vague and broad it is, "something educational outside the typical classroom setting," the sky is your limit. Being in the Artist in Community Education Program I just had to do something that involved some art (again, super broad). Our instructors told us to dream big because this was an opportunity to do something or to have an experience we always imagined having. Having no concrete ideas about what I'd like to do I went through the Alternative Practicum database. There were lots of options in there, but the thought of travelling had taken root and the wanderlust was just too much to handle. When I found the contact information for the Crawford Art Gallery in Cork City, Ireland I thought "why not?" Having no connections whatsoever, I reached out via email to someone in their Learn and Explore Program. They agreed to take me on as an intern.
Originally, I was to be doing research and helping to build gallery supports and materials like lesson plans for teaching children about a 2019 exhibition that focuses on children in art. However, when I arrived the curator who I originally talked to was away so I began work with their education coordinator on building materials for their St Patrick's Day event. After Paddy's day I began creating materials to use for the Cork Lifelong Learning Festival. The Cork Lifelong Learning Festival promotes and celebrates learning of all kinds, across all ages, interests and abilities. During the festival all events are free and accessible to everyone. The Crawford Gallery offered a free tour and mini workshop of the current "Heroes and Villains" Exhibition in which I guided people in creating and drawing their own heroes and villains. All through this I also made a lot of tea... which I guess is just a universal intern experience!
These events were fun and engaging but the most rewarding and fulfilling experiences I had were when I was given the opportunity to work with three different adult groups visiting and working in the gallery. First came the GASP Artists Studio. GASP is a network of artists working in a supported studio setting. The GASP artists are individual artists with a diverse range of artistic styles and approaches who have gained a strong reputation for their work and have an extensive exhibition record. The GASP artists are a group of amazingly talented, accomplished, and recognized group of adults with developmental disabilities who are phenomenal artists. They all work with different media and in different styles and are all so cool! They've all also been extensively exhibited and are dedicated to their practice (I could really learn some things from these artists). AND I was lucky to have my portrait painted by the inspiring Yvonne Condon! I worked with these artists on Tuesdays and I am going to miss all of them.
Next, I got to work with the Irish Wheelchair Association who were visiting the gallery and creating works inspired by their favourites on display in the gallery. This was a chance to work with adults with various levels of accessibility issues on creating art and exploring different styles.
Finally, I got to tour and talk with the Lonradh groups. Inspired by the Museum of Modern Art's "meet me" program, the Crawford's program brings many different groups with differing levels of dementia and different sorts of carers to the gallery to look at art and be in good company. Here I got to talk to some lovely people, learn about Ireland and create art with older people - which I find I don't get to do as much in Canada. It was amazing to see what reactions some pieces got and what memories things brought up. Specifically, the gallery owns a print of an illustration of Eva Braun at her sister's wedding in 1944 which brought up some very interesting stories from the participants. It was amazing to hear stories and interact with a group I don't normally get to interact with.
I have always said, when people told me not to go into teaching because in their words "there aren't any jobs" and that I needed "a back-up plan" that I would love to work in a gallery. I think that the arts access a place in people that nothing else can, that they can evoke such emotion and innate human creativity and abstract thought. Galleries are an institution that are under-utilized, and I would love to be a part of a place that celebrates art every day. My Queens alt prac gave me this amazing opportunity to get this experience in a fast-paced gallery environment. I never really knew what my day was to hold but I knew I would love it. I wouldn't trade this experience for any other. I've made lifelong friends in Ireland and I will be back to visit the Crawford in the future. I can't thank Queen's, the ACE program, and especially all those at the Crawford and in Cork, for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that will NEVER be forgotten.