Arts in Education

Mairead McGuinness914 views
Creative Engagement exhibition opening
Collins Barracks, 3 October 2015
Speech by Vice President of the European Parliament, Mairead McGuinness MEP

This is an education for me today and a very pleasant one!

We mark the tenth anniversary of Creative Engagement – an arts-in-education programme organised by the National Association of Principals and Deputy Principals.

Creative Engagement is a cross department and agency collaboration – co-funded by the Department of Education and Skills, the Department of Arts Heritage and the Gaeltacht and the Heritage Council.

It is a celebration of the arts-in-education in Ireland.

I was reminded in coming here today that we are not talking about art education, but a much broader concept of arts-in-education.

With arts-in-education, an outside artist or arts group comes into the school and works with students.

There are many fine examples of that creative collaboration here today.

The creative engagement comes from the interaction between the artist or arts group and the students.

The work that emerges from that interaction is wide ranging: from film and theatre to music and sculpture and dance.

National Association of Principals and Deputy Principals

The National Association of Principals and Deputy Principals have long advocated for this broader approach to arts-in-education. Indeed the NAPD has been responsible for a shift in emphasis about an inclusive attitude to the arts generally in our education system.

The Association’s Arts and Culture Committee, chaired by Mary Hanley, lobbied successive governments for the introduction of the arts-in-education model and in 2005 those efforts proved successful with the launch of Creative Engagement by the association.

The arts-in-education model has reached over 400 second-level schools since its inception in 2005, producing a wide range of creative engagement projects.

The collaboration of the Departments of Education and Science and Arts, Heritage and Gaeltacht and the Heritage Council is a very good example of best practice that is reflected in other EU countries such as Denmark, the Netherlands and the UK.

In Ireland this partnership concept has been developed further by Creative Engagement, with partnerships extending to other cultural institutions, the Arts Council, Amnesty International, local arts officers and many others.

And so today we are privileged to see the fruits of those partnerships in Collins Barracks with the hosting of the exhibition by the National Museum of Ireland.

This cooperation between government departments is something we have seen modelled in Europe. It is effective but it is not always easy to achieve and requires commitment from all involved towards a common goal – in this case the opening out of the arts experience to school communities the length and breadth of the country, allowing all students to experience the arts in action and the arts in education.


Just over two years ago the partnership between the Department of Education and Skills and Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht resulted in the launch of the Arts in Education Charter which outlines a road map for and commitment to the arts-in-education.

The Charter has built on decades of discussion about the role of the arts in education.

It set out a vision for the arts-in-education in Ireland in which the promotion of the concept of the Arts Rich School will see an increasing emphasis on the arts in the curricular and extra-curricular life of the school.

It is visionary, envisaging a future where schools will extend their partnership with artists, arts officers and cultural institutions. It also envisages the development of new school buildings that are designed with specific arts spaces to allow for the arts to flourish.

This year there is a further development with the establishment of a new body, Encountering the Arts Ireland Ltd – of which the NAPD is an active member.

This body is and will be a powerful national advocate for the arts-in-education in Ireland.

Arts in Education Portal

To support the work of the schools and the artists, the first ever portal website was also launched on May 19 of this year.

In order to implement the Arts in Education Charter, a high level implementation group had been set up, chaired by Professor Emeritus John Coolahan.

Dr Katie Sweeney chaired the committee that developed the Arts in Education portals in which the NAPD was also actively involved.

This will be a great resource for all involved in the arts-in-education in Ireland.

Arts in Education Charter in action

Creative Engagement is an example of the Arts in Education Charter in action. It is co-funded by the Department of Education and Skills, the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht and the Heritage Council. It encompasses a wide range of the arts in which local artists came into the schools and worked on projects.

We see themes from our heritage, from the environment, from nature and from local and world issues. Some schools look to local industry for inspiration.

There are also a number of projects on show with our Decade of Commemorations like Larkin College’s three year project.

In recent years Creative Engagement has reached out beyond Ireland to Europe and Africa.

St. Ciaran’s Community School in Kells connected with Iona in Scotland.

Pobalscoil Chorca Dhuibhne connected with Lesotho in Africa.

This year there is a recognition of the role of heritage as a starting point for projects.

World Teachers’ Day

October 5th is World Teachers’ Day. It was designated so by UNESCO in 1994 to show appreciation for teachers worldwide.

This exhibition in Collins Barracks is a fitting tribute to the work our teachers do with students and artists.

My own experience of visiting schools has shown me the extraordinary lengths teachers go to in order to get the best from their students and for their school in everything they do.

This exhibition is a celebration of that commitment and I’m sure that the pride of the students is match by the pride and joy of the teachers who are part of today’s story.

Creative Engagement also have a stand at the Teaching Council Féilte Exhibition in the RDS today to support their celebration of World Teachers’ Day.

Today we also acknowledge the work of the many artists and the arts groups without whom this programme could not happen.

These individuals and groups come into the schools to engage with the students.

This is a big step for many artists.

They have taken a leap of faith in the partnership that underpins Creative Engagement and one that will further the cause of the arts in Ireland.

Creative Engagement creates employment for artists. It places the arts at the centre of society.

We also acknowledge the encouragement of school leaders in fostering Creative Engagement in their schools. There are so many demands on schools, too many perhaps, that it might be easier to say no to such a project. But instead many, many schools have said yes, knowing that arts-in-education is beneficial to all – pupils, teachers and the school community and society in general.

I was reminded in coming here that the former Irish Commissioner, Maire Geoghegan-Quinn used the platform of the European Parliament in 2012 to highlight the importance of the arts.

Her remit in the Commission was research and innovation, but knowing the value of the arts to society she urged Europe to put the A into STEM, to integrate the Arts into Science Technology Engineering and Maths. Her call was for STEAM, not just STEM.

She highlighted the importance of the arts and humanities and exhorted the change from the narrow STEM emphasis.

In the U.S., too, the importance of a broader educational experience is being recognized, with the House of Representatives calling for a similar change, prompted by Cisco, Google and other multinational companies who are always searching for that creativity that will spark innovation, which is the key to economic development.

The arts-in-education programme like Creative Engagement is the model that both Europe and the US government were emphasising.


A warm word about our students and their energy, openness, creativity and enthusiasm.

They are our future. They will be responsible for developments and innovation which we have not even dreamed of.

But to do that they need the broadest possible education…arts included!

I am confident that we are only at the beginning of something big…in ten years a lot of positive things have been done to focus on the arts in education.

The future is not about arts as an afterthought but arts at the centre of the life of the school.

We look forward to a future of Arts Rich Schools as envisaged by the Arts in Education Charter.

Let me finish with some words of appreciation to those who have made today possible.

  • I want to thank Museum Director Raghnall O Floinn, Lorraine Comer, Head of Education, Alissa Fitzsimons and all in the National Museum, for hosting the event today.
  • The students, teachers and artists who are exhibiting here today and have been involved in Creative Engagement over the past decade.
  • Director Clive Byrne and NAPD President May Nihill for inviting us all here.
  • Mary Hanley and the NAPD Arts and Culture committee who guide the Creative Engagement programme.
  • Michael Starrett, CEO of the Heritage Council and all the other partners who have been increasingly supportive of the Creative Engagement programme.
  • Derek West and all the NAPD Arts and Culture committees of the last decade.
  • The Departments of Education and Skills, Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht and the Heritage Council for grant aiding the programme.
  • Dermot Carney, NAPD Arts Office, who has worked with all the stakeholders to make this event happen today.