This week students of Blakestown Community School proudly launched their Micro Forest of over 450 broadleaf trees on the school grounds. This beautiful concept of planting a forest outside of their art classroom was developed by artist Gareth Kennedy in partnership with woodwright Eoin Donnelly.
The art project, initiated by Fingal County Council Arts Office and Superprojects, involved seasonal art and ecology activities led by Gareth and Eoin. It included tree planting, wood splitting and turning, mulching, and planting while learning about the ecology of our native woodlands and contemporary art practice in the open air.
The Mayor of Fingal, Cllr. David Healy, officiated at the private launch and congratulated the students, school staff and artists. He said: “I’m delighted to be here to celebrate this exciting art and ecology project. These students have produced a living artwork which is a gift to their school for years and decades to come. They are part of a global movement of micro-forests seeking to help to restore some of the damage we have caused to nature.”
Between lockdowns and school closures, changing seasons and other challenges, the students and their teacher Mary Quinn displayed resilience and determination in establishing this project.
Artist Gareth Kennedy said, ‘There is a real urgency around how we view and connect with nature in meaningful ways, trees are vital to our survival’, he continued, ‘the students and Mary embraced this project concept and have been amazing to work with. Their micro forest will grow and mature over the years into a functional habitat and space for learning’.
Teacher Mary Quinn said, ‘Thanks to Gareth and Eoin for sharing their knowledge with us at a pace which allowed us to absorb and understand their practice. The skills they taught our students will last them a lifetime through the action-packed activities with real life learning at the core of every session’, she continued, ‘We are truly grateful to Fingal Arts Office and Superprojects for this once in a lifetime experience; the opportunities you are offering young people to work with contemporary artists is a credit to you. The educational aims of this project will make an impact on our whole school community over the coming years.’
Earlier in the year, student Christian Macaraeg presented the school’s ‘Micro Forest’ project to a national conference on the theme of ‘weaving wellbeing into school life’. The Mayor experienced student-led demonstrations on how to use environmentally friendly carving equipment and heard from the artists and students of how this project changed lives during this challenging year.
Youth & Education Officer Fingal Arts Office Julie Clarke said, ‘The students have created something of value that will benefit local biodiversity and other students for years to come, this is a significant gift for any young person in TY to present to their school. It’s an exemplary model of how art can provide us with opportunities to learn about and care for our environment.’
Fingal Arts Office and Superprojects have a vision for the future development of this initiative. Curator Rayne Booth said, ‘We plan to continue to work with Gareth and develop this project further as a site for learning about art and ecology into the future’, she continued, ‘we are already planning a series of artist visits to the site in the new academic year which will allow us to reach a new cohort of students and teachers.’
Nathan a TY student and active project member said ‘Working with the wood was brilliant and it reminded me of my grandfather and how he used to make things with wood. It was a great opportunity to try to use new materials that we don’t experience in the classroom and it was so satisfying to know I was part of this being produced and will be in our school forever’.
Fernanda, a fellow project member said, ‘I liked taking part in this programme. I tell my family all about the project after school. I think it is the best thing I have learned’.
The Mayor gave a special thanks to the students saying, ‘Aaron, Kayleigh, Nathan, Fernanda, Daniela, Marina, Marta, Amy, Pol, Leah, Julian, Maxim, Christian and Ciaran, you are an inspiration to us all.’
The entire seven-month process has been documented by Arcade Film and will be available to view soon. This remarkable project is co-produced by Fingal County Council’s Arts Office and Superprojects, with additional funding from The Arts Council of Ireland. For more information please visit www.fingalarts.ie www.superprojects.org