"... to engage with other creatives has allowed me to find my joyful and creative self, belly laughing with fellow artists and sharing stories of our experiences, supporting each other emotionally and physically as we created potentially the very first shared cultural experience for children since they were born." - Órla Kelly
In 2014 I began a yearlong residency in Draíocht’s artist’s studio aiming to develop my practice as an early years artist. It was an enriching and formative experience and one which marked the beginning of an amazing journey of research and play for me in visual arts for early years children. At the end of that year, we dreamed of an early year’s festival of visual arts, a rich visual experience dedicated to very young children and their exploration of the arts. It specifically focused on the experience of the child, somewhat to the exclusion of educators and adults, and one where our youngest citizens literally took over the life, space and intention of Draíocht Arts Centre. The following year, with a small team, The Toddler Take Over was born.
Now in its 7th year, The Toddler Take Over is an incredibly joyful event to create work for. Work that is created begins 4 weeks prior to installation. For the past number of years this work has developed and been created in the artist’s studio in Draíocht.
This is such a valuable time for me as a visual artist where, not only am I given the space to make, and afforded time to concentrate on my practice, I also get to work with other artists who in collaboration become more than the sum of the parts. All this direct and indirect support allows me to invest time into new ideas that carry forward and develop throughout my creative year. In ways this short month/4 weeks which becomes jam packed with work made, with ideas formed, thoughts of how children may engage with a piece of cardboard or light, and creative investigation time spent with fellow artists, sustains and nourishes me, feeding into new work for months afterwards and fills me with creative vigour across my arts practice.
This year The Toddler Take Over took elements from fairy stories; Rapunzel’s castle, Jack’s beanstalks, magical seas, a giant’s garden, story mountains and many elements created both from familiar and new materials such as cardboard and paper or UV light. These themes are a way into thinking and framing the experience for children which inevitably changes when children interact with the work which is created to fill all the spaces in Draíocht, and perhaps acts as a big welcome to this wonderful cultural space.
Collaborating with Draíocht staff and artists for its creation and installation has been nourishing and reassuring. Time spent alone creating during the pandemic has turned many of us inwardly. To turn again to engage with other creatives has allowed me to find my joyful and creative self, belly laughing with fellow artists and sharing stories of our experiences, supporting each other emotionally and physically as we created potentially the very first shared cultural experience for children since they were born. To facilitate the welcome and engagement with the work we make on the day of the Take Over reignites the joy that is found when we share in the curious wonder that children have for the world.
There is much time and work put into this event, much of it that is not visible, and many have asked why the Take Over is only one day. For toddlers it is one giant, wonder filled day but for Draíocht it is part of a big multi-seasonal programme that nourishes the creative curiosity of young children and the artists who make that event happen. For me it is a sustaining action that, though its direct visual impact last for one day, feeds me for the entire year.
Órla Kelly is a visual artist, creative educationalist and arts manager with a specific practice that focuses on working with and for early years children, aiming to stimulate and support the naturally creative, poetic, philosophical and curious intelligences of the young child. She is the founder and director of Early Childhood Creativity, an initiative that promotes creative thinking and activity in early years children and their parents, and supports artists and educationalists to develop specific and creative ways of working with early years children (0-6 years).