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Curator kids to captivate Castlebar

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EXHIBITING EXCITEMENT Pupils of St Angela’s Primary School, Castlebar, Evanna Corley, Sophie Berkley, Katie Walsh, Lara Tolan and Rukkaiya Salim discuss curating ‘The Captivated Eye’, an upcoming Linenhall Arts Centre exhibition of artworks in the County Council collection. Pic: Michael McLaughlin

Ciara Moynihan

Curating an exhibition of respected artworks is far from child’s play, but setting out to prove that such a feat is certainly not beyond the abilities of bright young minds are the Sixth Class pupils of St Angela’s Primary School in Castlebar.
Through their participation in an ambitious project called ‘The Captivated Eye’, the children have been given access to Mayo County Council’s extensive art collection in order to curate an exhibition of a selection of its works. The results will be on show at the Linenhall Arts Centre, Castlebar, from October 20 to November 26.
The schoolchildren in question are well used to engaging in visual-art exhibitions, thanks to St Angela Primary School’s efforts to ensure that the arts are a significant part of their education. The lasting benefits of such efforts were trumpeted just last week, when a new ESRI study revealed that primary-school pupils in Ireland who take part in artistic or cultural activities, including drama, dancing, art and music, cope better with schoolwork, watch less television and have a more-positive attitude towards school later in life.
So far during their primary-school education, the current Sixth Class pupils of St Angela’s have visited 15 visual-art exhibitions at the Linenhall Arts Centre’s gallery as part of its Visual Art Programme for Schools. Through the programme, the children get to visit the gallery’s shows, discuss the artworks they see and attend workshops that allow them to explore some aspect of those artworks in a hands-on way.
‘The Captivated Eye’ takes the Linenhall’s Visual Art Programme for Schools even further, by encouraging the kids to organise an exhibition themselves. They do it all, from examining and discussing the various art works available to deciding which work to include in their show. They also compose the brochure blurbs, decide on the layout of the exhibition, come up with text for display as part of the show and publicise the event. Gaynor Seville, Public Art Co-ordinator at Mayo County Council, and Orla Henihan, Arts Access Officer at the Linenhall, have been on hand to assist the pupils throughout.
Both Gaynor and Orla have been impressed by the level of enthusiasm that the kids have shown, with each of them passionate about different aspects of the project.
“This is a great opportunity for us, and we’re so lucky to get this,” said Aisling Kearns, one of the young curators. Her class mate, Destiny Johnson was very taken with the artworks, and developed a real appreciation for the value of their originality. “It’s lovely to see all these unique paintings,” she gushed. Another pupil, Aoife Jennings, echoed Destiny’s love of the  pieces, calling them ‘fascinating’.
The ever-growing Mayo County Council art collection now boasts almost 200 works—paintings, prints, photography, sculpture and mixed-media pieces—all either by artists from or living in Mayo or by artists who have exhibited in the county. The artworks are displayed  permanently in public spaces in county council buildings around Mayo. Elements of the collection are also exhibited in a variety of shows, and there is also a schools’ exhibition programme.
For their upcoming show, the St Angela’s NS pupils involved in ‘The Captivated Eye’ project have already created a shortlist of 19 works from the council’s vast collection, with pieces by Camille Souter, Veronica Bolay and Bernie Bohan among the works that drew, or ‘captivated’, the children’s attention.  
With the help of their teachers, the Sixth Class pupils of St Angela’s are gaining an in-depth understanding of these 19 pieces during class discussions about each work. The teachers and children are using an approach called Visual Thinking Strategies, which was developed in the early 1990s at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. The approach is designed to help children  develop thinking skills that become habitual and transfer to other aspects of school life, including oral- and written-language literacy, visual literacy, problem solving and team work in all areas, from poetry to maths, science to social studies.
Pupil Elwira Podoba confirmed these benefits, confiding that she particularly likes the way the project has brought all her classmates together to work towards one goal. Donna O’Malley, one of the St Angela’s NS teachers involved, is also full of praise for the project, saying it ‘provides a unique opportunity for the children to engage with and appreciate artworks whilst developing their critical thinking skills’.
Leonardo da Vinci once argued that to develop ‘a complete mind’, one should “study the science of art. Study the art of science. Develop your senses – especially learn how to see. Realise that everything connects to everything else.” Thanks to ‘The Captivated Eye’, the pupils of St Angela’s are, it seems, being primed to do just that. No doubt the Italian master would have approved.  

‘The Captivated Eye’ exhibition will be officially opened at the Linenhall Arts Centre on Thursday, October 20, at 1pm. All are welcome to attend.
The ESRI’s ‘Arts and Cultural Participation among Children and Young People: Insights from the Growing Up in Ireland Study’ is available to download from
www.esri.ie and www.artscouncil.ie