Saturday, 12 July 2014

Happy work anniversary to me, Happy ....

It was my14th work anniversary yesterday.  14 YEARS !  How exactly did that happen ?  I initially had a 6 month contract, that got extended and extended and before you know it ...  My job is an arts officer in a local authority.

Before that, I was teaching art in Dublin, mostly around the North inner city, but really anywhere that would have me.  I had 7 part time teaching jobs before I left Dublin.  I didn't drive at the time, so it was a constant back-and-forth to my house to collect art materials and Art History notes.  

I loved teaching.  Loved working with children and young people.  Loved helping kids to tap into their creative selves.  Knowing that you made a difference.  I wasn't so fond of school staff rooms.  As a part-time teacher, you never quite fitted it. As an art teacher, or artist in residence, you definitely didn't fit in.  I worked for a number of years in a convent secondary school in the North Inner City.  Many years before I worked there, there was a waiting list to get into the school, with three generations of girls attending the school.  As suburbs grew in Blanchardstown and Clonsilla, girls continued to commute into the school until, eventually, schools were built in those areas.  By the time I was working there, the population of young people in the North Inner City was declining and the school could no longer be as selective with their choice of students.  It was the early years of multi-cultural Ireland.  I had a number of students who came to my classes with no English whatsoever.  It was great to see them flourish in this artistic language and in time, develop their English language too.

There were many lovely teachers there, but I didn't like the way that some teachers spoke about, or to the students.  I felt that some of the girls deserved a medal for getting themselves to school in the first place, given their chaotic home circumstances.

One teacher in particular did my head in.  One day, she was complaining that teachers were restricted on when they went on foreign holidays - Easter, summer, Christmas, making it very expensive on them.  I was sitting there on my 7 hours and 20 minutes a week contract listening to this.  I didn't get paid for Bank Holidays or attending Parent Teacher meetings.  I couldn't afford to get sick.  That particular teacher put me off joining unions for life.

Moving to a local authority was a big change.  I was totally unfamiliar with Kildare.  I also had little exposure to the art forms I was now working with.  There were also lots of a rare breed that you don't find much of in teaching - men - Engineers and architects and people that spoke in technical foreign tongues.  The language of strategy, policy, integration and social inclusion was foreign to me too.  Looking back, 26 year old me wasn't that confident either.

I have a horrible memory of the first exhibition that I spoke at, soon after I started my job.  A local TD and his Cllr wife were there.  Thankfully they left before I started to speak.  I had a great speech in my head, but it came out like a liquidised dictionary.  A verbal car crash.  I was morto.  I hope that no one that was there remembers it.  Ever since that I always write out my speech, usually word for word.  It's more of a comfort blanket at this stage, but I'm taking no chances.

In the 14 years, I have become more comfortable in my skin.  I know most of the bi-roads of the county (although I still have trouble in West Kildare - many a time, I have seen signs saying 'Welcome to Co Offaly').

I didn't have an email address when I started my new job.  Doesn't that sound crazy ? It was ONLY 14 years ago.  I remember standing over a Fax machine in the office, sending an important advertisement around the country.  We still have a Fax machine in the office, but I don't know where it is, or if it is turned on.   I'm going to have to look at my use of emails though.  Being able to access work emails 24/7 is not a good thing.  You (I) feel pressure to constantly check in and with that, an inability to switch off.

I've been around now long enough to see that work stuff comes in cycles.  We came to terms with social inclusion and multi-culturalism.  We built arts centres and commissioned Public Art.  The need to include new technologies in the arts programme had to be considered.  There was a year of major pressure, to address Child Protection, insurances and Garda Vetting for Artists.  It is expected that we will work on inter agency projects, pooling resources - The theory of this is great, but in practice, it can be tricky if the other partner doesn't want to play ball.  Being a glass half full kinda gal, I try to embrace these changes, to see them as new possibilities.  And if the worst comes to the worst, I know that 'this too will pass'.

I was at a retirement do this week, for a colleague, Pat who retired after 43 years in public service. Although, this was a happy event, when Pat spoke about his memories, I was thinking of his knowledge and experience that he was taking with his as he left, like many more before him.

Since 2009 hundreds of people have lost their jobs in the public service.  In the media, these lots of jobs have been presented only as a huge saving to the public purse.  How come when staff loose their jobs in the private sector, it's a tragedy, but in public service, it is presented as a cause for celebration ?  No one seemed to connect that many of these public service people went straight on the dole queue.  That loss of knowledge and expertise, literally walking out the door.  The media coverage of the hand over of water services to Irish Water is hard to listen to.  The valuable services that local authority Water Services staff have provided (and continue to provide) for many years has been disregarded.   You would swear that every public servant is either chewing on a pencil in an office all day, or leaning against a shovel somewhere.

Recent media coverage of the arts in Ireland hasn't done us much favours either.  The nightly coverage of the early days of the Limerick City of Culture on the media in early 2014 was a sorry mess.  There were no winners.  Thankfully, the City of Culture seems to have gathered itself and the events that I have attended have been super.  The main losers for me, was the arts sector generally.   The media, and individuals on social media talk about a lack of coordination and commitment to the arts in Ireland.  Newspaper articles tend to be poorly researched and generalised.  But I look at myself and my colleagues around the country, busting our tail ends to develop meaningful arts experiences, to develop strategic links and long term partnerships.  There is so much wonderful arts practice out there, that was kick started or nurtured by arts administrators countrywide.  If we are guilty of anything, I would say that it lack of promotion for our work. But the nature of our work, means that the media might not always be interested in it.

Over the last few years, I've received CV's from artists who were born when I was in college.  And yet I still feel like a young un, except with lots more confidence.  We are now in the era of procurement, amalgamations of Town Councils and creative economies.  The changing nature of my work is challenging and demanding, but also exciting.  I had a meeting the other day that hopefully will lead to artists in all art forms becoming involved in development of computer games.  I wonder what's next ?  

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