Blog : research

What We’ve Learned So Far

What We’ve Learned So Far

Part of the goal of Exit 15 has been to better understand the artistic life of Ballyogan as a place and to find new narratives of place. This has involved an arts-based research method aimed at capturing an understanding of what life is like in Ballyogan from the perspective of people living and working there.

When one sets out to begin to understand the context of a place—a county, city, rural town or suburban area, one typically turns to the statistical narrative. This narrative consists of information about the geographic location of a place; socio-demographic make-up—for instance, ages of people living there, average income, percentage of local authority housing, and ethnic and cultural diversity; and crime and anti-social behaviour statistics as well as the types of schools, businesses, amenities and services in the area.

For a project like Exit 15, drawing on this narrative is initially useful for setting out a type of picture of who lives and works in Ballyogan and—to some extent—what they do and / or what they face while living and working there.

For Ballyogan, this information paints the following picture:

Ballyogan is a relatively new residential area located in Dún Loaghaire – Rathdown Council Area (DLR), about 12 km from Dublin city centre. It has a young population and a strong traveller community within the surrounding areas. Dlr is Within the context of the broader DLR County area, which is the most affluent local authority area in the country, Ballyogan is characterised as having one of the highest percentages of local authority housing. It is reported that there are high levels of anti-social behaviour and there is low engagement within the community.

In the past two years there has been considerable change in Ballyogan; in May 2016 phase one of the Samuel Beckett Civic Campus (SBC) was opened. While slated to become a public library for the area, SBC currently houses DLR leisure services, specifically a gym; the Ballyogan Family Resource Centre; community services which include Barnados, Youth Prevention Programme and Employment Services; and a creche. There are also community rooms, which are rented to groups, services, and organisations which run recreational, educational social and commercial activities such as Women4Women, support and intergration for intercultural women, art classes, computer classes and more.

Across the road from the SBC there is a newly built Gaelscoil Shliabh Rua, which also houses Stepaside Educate Together National School (on a temporary basis), along with several other Primary Schools in the area. Other services based in Ballyogan  include Crosscare Youth Service (Whitehouse) where the Garda Youth Diversion team are also based, estate management  and a newly opened skate park and playground. The main transport links are the Luas (green line) and Dublin Bus, which have ongoing reports of anti social behaviour.

While undoubtedly important information for creating a sense of what is available in Ballyogan, this description is largely about the physical and demographic composition of the locality. It neglects the personal and social meanings and experiences of people living and working in a locality. In essence, it neglects the daily-lived experiences of people—the people who make up what a place really is—and thus the artistic and cultural life of a place.

The arts-based research activities involved in Exit 15 reveal a more complex and richer picture:

  • Ballyogan is personal.
  • Ballyogan has heritage.
  • Ballyogan is animated.
  • Ballyogan is social.
  • Ballyogan is evolving.

These are taken in turn below.

Ballyogan is personal

Meanings about Ballyogan as a place are shaped by our personal experiences.

As a site, Ballyogan is not necessarily the physical centre of any one person’s life. In fact, we have many physical centres to our lives, as “one’s life… takes place in several localities”: work, home, nation, school, which thus influences how we experience living or working in Ballyogan (Paasi 1991).

Individuals living and working in Ballyogan draw personal experiences and perspectives from a variety of different physical sites, and thus personal and social experiences, that shape their experiences and perceptions of Ballyogan as a place. For instance, some of us are new to living in Ballyogan, having been born and raised abroad, some have grown up in rural areas and moved into our first house in Ballyogan, some have lived closer to Dublin city centre before moving to Ballyogan and others have lived in Ballyogan their whole lives. Some spend most of our day in Ballyogan while others leave Ballyogan for work or study through travel on the LUAS.

Where we’ve come from before we got to Ballyogan to live, work or even just visit; what activities, work and / or schooling we’re doing now, our leisure interests, and what experiences or even hardships we’ve had or are having in our family life, influence our opinions of, and our interactions with, people , groups, organisations and even buildings in Ballyogan.

For this reason, it is actually quite hard to say ‘what Ballyogan is’ as a place. Nevertheless, Exit 15 has begun to reveal a sense of the cultural life of Ballyogan—the ways of life, everyday interactions and traditions, including the artistic, shaping the area.

Ballyogan has heritage

There is a relatively strong collective memory about the origin story of Ballyogan amongst many of the people who live here. This origin story largely starts with the idea that ‘houses [were] dropped in the middle of nowhere’ about 30 years ago with little to no services, schools, street lighting shops and the like. Where children played games with one another in the streets and on the muck hills, families pulled together to help each other out, and local residents established child care services.

Having lived through, managed to deal with or having worked around what have been “ongoing concerns about infrastructural and service deficiencies” (Corcoran, 2010, p. 2538) is part of what creates a strong emotional attachment to Ballyogan as a place. Even those new or newer to the area become aware of this origin story over time.

However, additionally, engagement through the artists with Exit 15, have made those who engaged in the making of their work or attended sharings of work of a longer history about the place that is linked to the physical land as well as shared folkloric traditions with members of the traveller community.

For some people, this sense of collective memory or link to a longer historical tradition may be important, but perhaps not to all.

Ballyogan in animated

People living and working in Ballyogan are active in animating or bringing to life and improving the physical appearance of the locality, as well as starting new activities, introducing people to one another and to services.

Many different types of activities are taking place in and around Ballyogan. These range from yoga to bowling to arts to traditional dance to the playground to the skate park.

The physical infrastructure—like buildings, green fields and playground—around Ballyogan is important to facilitating and providing opportunities for these types of activities. However, new physical spaces can sometimes be prohibitive in making activities happen, like the hire costs of the Samuel Beckett and the bureaucracy and regulations that come with a new building or even new child protection policies, for instance. Nevertheless, the willingness and support is there to make things happen.

Many people taking part in Exit 15 emphasised the sense of play they felt from being involved. Most activities were perceived as being fun and with an open approach as well as process focused with no pressure or expectation regarding a final product. There is an interest in more of that taking place with people very open to being playful, “having a go” and trying something new.

Taking part does seem to require some sort of introduction to the project, the process and / or the artist(s), by way of someone that an individual knows and trusts.

People engaging in the project have aspirations for themselves and others as well as Ballyogan as a whole—whether that be in work, in building community, in making connections with others living in the area, or in creative activity or in showing pride for Ballyogan. No one who has taken part in the research activities seems indifferent about Ballyogan, nor did anyone seem to perceive Ballyogan as just a physical setting to where they live or work.

Ballyogan is social

People engaging in Exit 15 enjoy interacting with one another and across different cultures and ages. Relationship building is key to the infrastructure of Ballyogan.

While many people like structured activities, sitting and talking with one another informally is also important. At the same time, facilitation of this informality is important—like through youth club activities, the women for women breakfast meetings or in the open / drop-in style approaches to some of the arts activities. Exit 15 and the work leading up to that project has facilitated bringing new people together.

Learning about one another’s life experiences and perspectives, exchanging ideas and working together on receiving, initiating and delivering services and activities in the area—like through Exit 15, has been enjoyed by all I spoke to; even if there were some glitches with project activities.

Many people talk fondly of times when people living in the community have come together: for family days, for instance. And when asked about what activities they’d like to see happen, there is an emphasis on something that would bring the ‘community’ together. Particular mention was made of including those people who are new to moving into the area.

In conducting the research, I have witnessed and heard about a strong sense of neighbourliness in Ballyogan. However, young children as well as young people are a source of making social connections and a focus of a number of the services … and it seems that if you don’t have children, you may not be as socially connected in Ballyogan.

As a result, finding out about information and activities in the area is still difficult for some, particularly those who are older or new residents to the area. Facebook groups, the Family Resource centre, the pub, and other services as well as the Samuel Beckett Centre have helped, but word of mouth—based on existing relationships and trust between people is really important to promoting activities and opportunities.

I addition to the issue raised about children and young people as a source of connection, it seems that the people that get socially connected are often those who are already inclined to do so—or have the confidence to do so—to come forward and to seek out information. So, isolation and a feeling of exclusion do exist for some.

This feeling of exclusion is important to recognise, particularly as many people encountered on the project are particularly socially active. Many having initiated some type of new event or activity in the area or volunteering in particular activities or social / political issues in the area, either as part of their work or out of a personal interest. What we’ve learned about Ballyogan so far is coloured by that and this does not necessarily represent all the people here.

Ballyogan is evolving

The origin story referenced above creates an impression that there is a strong sense of nostalgia about what used to happen in Ballyogan. While some individuals are concerned about new housing developments that are planned for the area—as if they will change the character of the place, many who live and work here appear to be positive about the changes that have and are planned to take place.

It should also be noted that buildings like the Samuel Beckett, when funded and built by institutions like local authorities, as well as transportation links like the LUAS, are important ‘signifiers’ to those living both within and outside the area that change is happening, that the place is being paid attention to.

People are aware of a ‘bad judgment’ about Ballyogan and they feel this misrepresents the area, which was described as “so much different now”. The establishment of the M50 for instance, like the LUAS and the Samuel Beckett are perceived to have helped put Ballyogan ‘on the map’; raising a consciousness of the area to those who live or come from outside of it. People feel this may help facilitate stories different from those ‘bad news stories’ the people in Ballyogan feel those who live outside the area encounter.

But local activities challenge this narrative as well

Engagement in the work leading up to and within the Exit 15 project has raised awareness within the area itself of the array of creative activities already taking place as well as what is possible. It has also raised awareness of how existing services might tap into arts and creativity in new and different ways as well as provide support for the activities and interests of local residents.

There is a sense of ‘potential’ about the locality and a recognition that Ballyogan is not static, but changes over time, not only as people move in or out or on, but as development plans or local area plans come into play and as new businesses set up or old businesses close and as local people engage in shaping the area.

Victoria Durrer, Lecturer in Arts Management and Cultural Policy, Queen’s University Belfast

 

Academic Work Cited:

Corcoran, M.P., 2010. ‘God’s golden acre for children’: Pastoralism and sense of place in new suburban communities, Urban Studies47(12), pp. 2537-2554.

Paasi, A., 1991. Deconstructing regions: notes on the scales of spatial life, Environment and planning A23(2), pp.239-256.

Wider Context

Wider Context

It is important for a local authority Arts Office to question its assumptions about the role of the arts in our lives and what we mean by ‘participation’. Exit 15 is a part of DLR Arts Office’s work towards that end.
The Exit 15 project emerged as part of a longer process of inquiry, begun in 2016 in partnership with Voluntary Arts Ireland. It came from a desire on the part of Dún Laoghaire Rathdown County Council’s Arts Office (DLR Arts Office) to develop a service that is responsive to the artistic interests, activities and needs of the county’s residents. Upon taking stock of the Arts Office’s activities throughout the County, the team realised that they had a lack of engagement in the local area of Ballyogan as compared to other parts of the County. However, rather than assume that this lack of engagement is because there is a lack of artistic participation—interest and activities—in the Ballyogan area, DLR Arts Office began to wonder if they really understood what people’s actual artistic participation is within Ballyogan. An award from Arts Council Ireland’s Invitation to Collaboration Scheme made it possible to establish Exit 15 in 2017 with the goal to build the Arts Office’s awareness and understanding of the artistic life of Ballyogan and thus develop new ways to better support it.

In considering the public policy context of Exit 15, this post will explore why it is important for a local authority Arts Office to question its assumptions about the role of the arts in our lives and how Exit 15 is a part of DLR Arts Office’s work towards that end.

The Government and the Arts

Since 1994, Dún Laoghaire Rathdown County Council has been supporting and developing the arts in the county through a dedicated Arts Office. As a local government Arts Office, DLR County Council is one actor in a network of bodies in Ireland that work to support and develop the artistic life of the country as a whole. The image below gives only a snapshot of the types of bodies involved. These include other local government Arts Offices as well as central government, such as the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht; non-governmental agencies like the National Youth Council; quangos, such as Arts Council Ireland, which provides public money to support the development of artists and public engagement in the arts—from music to visual arts, to theatre and film, for instance; publicly funded organisations like arts organisations and charities; and commercial artistic organisations, such as film and design companies.

 

In establishing and maintaining the Arts Office, DLR County Council recognises local arts development as a part of local government planning, with the arts having a role in the County’s social and economic life and in establishing a sense of community. The remit of the Arts Office is thus to support the “sustainable development of the arts within the County.” This work involves, but is not limited to, distributing funding to, for instance, individual art projects in youth services, venues like the Mill Theatre in Dundrum, individual artists to make work, and amateur music and drama groups. They also host exhibitions at DLR Lexicon, support festivals in different communities and develop partnership projects like Creative Classrooms, an artist in schools scheme in partnership with Blackrock Education Centre. These activities are funded by DLR County Council itself as well as Arts Council Ireland. They are also supported through the development of partnerships with some of the agencies listed above.

As part of the work the Arts Office does, it is required by law to create an Arts Development Plan for supporting the sustainable development of arts in the County. The plan is informed by consultation events with County-based artists, residents and organisations; learning gained from the activities they do; and government policies and Arts Council Ireland policies.

DLR Arts Office is informed by a number of wider policies, but there are three main national policy documents to note here:

  • At national level, the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht’s Culture 2025, the first national strategy for culture and creativity; 
  • Its associated implementation programme, Creative Ireland; and
  • Arts Council Ireland’s 10 year strategy, Making Great Art Work

These documents help direct planning for the support and development of the arts in Ireland, including strategies for how funds may get distributed as well as to whom or what organisations in addition to the development of different projects or new buildings, for instance.

Statements of Value

Government tends to describe the arts in two ways (Yúdice, 2009):

1) as a public good —like a product—an exhibition, theatre performance, or music classes, made available to the public to take part in, and

2) as a service – helping create jobs and bringing people together, for instance

As government documents, what Culture 2025, Creative Ireland, DLR Arts Development Plan or even Making Great Art Work say about the arts is a statement of the value that the government places on arts activities. Across the documents “people and places are [described as] central to policy and provision in the arts”. Participation in the arts is argued to have “transformational potential” in building people’s confidence or helping them to express themselves differently. Arts activities are also argued to support individuals’ “well-being” and have “the power … to bring communities together and … strengthen …a sense of identity”.  These documents also articulate the arts as being at the heart of “developing vibrant cultural locations” and building or showcasing a “sense of place” in urban, suburban and rural areas, making places more “attractive”, fostering economic success through the creation of new jobs and bringing in “tourism” and “investment”, and building local “pride” through, for instance, the building of arts centres.

What’s the problem?

What government funds and recognises as the ‘arts’ in these regards makes a statement that these activities are what is of value. What government does not fund or otherwise resource or support, what state policies and strategies do not discuss or acknowledge—what gets excluded—is perhaps perceived as having lesser or no value.

This raises some important questions:

  1. What gets included and excluded when government and other agencies describe and develop policies and plans for people’s participation in the arts?
  1. Who makes these decisions? Who is not making these decisions? Essentially, who knows best about what art we feel is important to our lives?

Perceived levels of participation in government-funded arts have been cause for concern in the arts sector in the Republic of Ireland. Efforts to broaden access and tackle psychological, economic, social and spatial barriers to engagement remain key policy goals for the Arts Council. A strategic review of Arts Council policies held in 2014, Inspiring Prospects, highlighted how the emphasis on “funding the professional arts sector” has overlooked fuller consideration of the ‘public’ and the ‘citizen’s’ actual participation and interest in the arts (ACI 2014, p. 5). There has been acknowledgement that what we typically understand as making up the arts: opera, theatre, painting, printmaking, drawing, music, certain forms of dance: Irish traditional or ballet, for instance, does not fully capture the range of activity that people are doing. The review indicates how policy and programming has typically presented the individual who is not accessing publicly funded arts and cultural activity as a ‘non-participant’, an individual disengaged. This assumption risks neglecting the rich diversity of arts-related practices currently taking place and experienced everyday in Irish society (Miles and Sullivan 2010, see also Understanding Everyday Participation), such as gardening, playing video games, doing crafts at home, reading a book, or watching a movie.

Critiques on strategies to broaden arts participation in the UK indicate that strategies tend to focus on individuals’ capacities for participation in government-funded arts. Initiatives often involve enhanced education and audience development approaches, rather than focusing on the capacity of the sector to engage individuals. Instead of seeing ‘people’s lack of engagement in art…’ as the matter to be addressed, researchers highlight a need for deeper consideration of the artistic and cultural offer and the capacity of the sector to engage with the public (Jancovich 2011, p. 272 – 273; Jancovich and Bianchini 2013; Gilmore 2014; Durrer 2017).

Arts Council Ireland seems to have taken on board these critiques. It acknowledges the need to consider, more strategically, the actual interests and participation of the public in the arts. The significant position of local authorities in this work has recently been more officially recognised.

Equally, DLR Arts Office is acknowledging that people are not being asked enough or perhaps even the right questions about the artistic activities in which they have an interest or participate. Additionally, the public they serve may not be involved enough in shaping the service they provide. These deficiencies foster a lack of understanding that impacts on how government appreciates what makes up the artistic life of a place like Ballyogan.

Through arts-based research activities, Exit 15 is aimed at helping DLR Arts Office better understand people’s everyday lives—their interests, lifestyles and traditions—and how these may relate to the artistic activities in which people take part and thus what supports and policies could be in place as a result. Its methodology is based on the goal of working with (rather than simply for) people in Ballyogan. The emphasis is on learning for DLR Arts Office but also the community of Balloygan: learning about existing and new artistic interests and activities of the people who live and work there and involving Balloygan in making decisions about that provision and support. This project is about building community capacity for arts participation, with community here including the local government Arts Office as well as citizens. While the road will no doubt be long and winding, the ultimate goal is to work toward a local government support service for the arts at local level that is a shared endeavour—a partnership between local government and citizen.

Academic Works Referenced:

Durrer, V. 2017. ‘Let’s see who’s being creative out there’: Lessons from the ‘Creative Citizens’ programme in Northern IrelandJournal of Arts & Communities9(1), pp. 15-37.

Gilmore, A. 2014. Raising our quality of life:
The importance of investment in arts and culture
, London: Centre for Labour and Social Studies.

Jancovich, L. 2015. Breaking down the fourth wall in arts management: The implications of engaging users, International Journal of Arts Management, 18(1), pp. 14-28.

Jancovich, L., and Bianchini, F. 2013. Problematising Participation, Cultural Trends, 22(2), pp. 63 – 66.

Miles, A., and Sullivan, A. 2010. Understanding the Relationship between Taste and Value in Culture and Sport. London: DCMS.

Yúdice, G. 2009. Cultural Diversity and Cultural Rights, Human Rights in Latin American and Iberian Cultures, Hispanic Issues Online, 5(1), pp. 110 – 135.

Understanding Everyday Participation