Creative Lab: how to get teenagers interested in art

Axis Arts Centre hopes to inspire young Dubliners to follow a creative path to the likes of the National College of Art and Design

'Tubes connected to back of dress for alien effect," is one of the notes that Antoinette Farrell, who is 17, and Chelsea Burke, who is 16, made for the project they have been working on for a fortnight. They're two of 15 teenagers from schools in north Dublin participating in the Creative Lab project at Axis Arts Centre, in Ballymun, this month.

The idea behind Creative Lab is to encourage students who might not otherwise think about studying art at third level: their first trip was to the National College of Art and Design’s graduate show. It’s facilitated by Axis and the college’s access programme, along with the Rediscovery Centre, a recycling-based social-employment enterprise, which provided materials.

Farrell and Burke are not just creating an alien effect in the silver-lamé, foil and red-tartan dress they designed and sewed; they're taking their concept of high fashion further. "When we've made the dress Chelsea is going to model it, then we're going to take photos of her in it, and Photoshop her on to a Vogue cover," Farrell says. "So there won't just be the dress on a mannequin. We'll have all these pictures on the walls, too."

Farrell learned to sew only last week. It’s one of the skills she has picked up because of the workshop, through Carrie Ann Moran, the Rediscovery Centre’s head of fashion. “I also learned how to put together a good mood board, and I’ve learned other people can have good ideas, too, not just me.”


The students were split into groups to create projects. First they brainstormed ideas around a suggested topic, memories. Olivia Robinson and Maebh O’Dowd, who are both 16, came up with the idea of a galaxy far, far away in an old TV set.

"Olivia loved Star Trek when she was a child, and I really like space," O'Dowd says. There were no flat screens when they were children, so their old TV set is chunky, made out of cardboard. It has foil-covered coat-hanger antennae for authenticity, and they've filled it with painted Styrofoam planets, black holes and model clay spaceships, back lit with fairy lights, to look like constellations. "We put cellophane on the front to make it look like a screen," says Robinson.

Also, “we’re blowing up photos of my mum and Olivia’s granny, and we’re going to put them into space helmets made of foil and hang them up, so they look like they’re astronauts,” O’Dowd says. Robinson says, “Doing this project has made me more open-minded about what I can do.”

“If three or four from this group progress to NCAD that would be great, but the bigger purpose is raising aspirations about education in general,” says Finola McTernan, NCAD’s access officer.

Glen McCormack is interested in animation. “Five of us have made some side projects around animation, and we also made a film,” the 17-year-old says. He clicks one of the animation pieces on his screen. “We put Pokémon into real life and gave him business suits,” he says. “I didn’t know how to shade before, and one of the other lads showed me. We’re sharing what we know. I’ve learned that when you’re in a group you come up with more ideas, and it’s good to talk about them, rather than just sitting on your own, with your own ideas.”

Their film is Small Rings. "It's a mix of old and new," McCormack says. "The old bit is Lord of the Rings and the new bit is modern medicine. So we have characters from Lord of the Rings going to see a doctor. He's Dr Boctor, the worst doctor ever. We wrote a script and made the costumes and filmed it with a camera we borrowed. Except we have to call the characters different names, in case we get sued."

“I was a hobbit, because I’m the shortest,” says Liam Dunne, who’s 16. “Except I’m a hubbbit, not a hobbit. We learned how to use the camera, although we weren’t allowed to be left alone when we were using it, because it was too expensive.”

As well as acting, and learning to film, Dunne is the Creative Lab social-media manager, he says. He set up a Facebook page and an Instagram account, and he’s posting images of the projects as they take shape. “It’s good to let people know we’re here and what we’re doing. Even if it’s only a few people, at least they know what we’re doing, and maybe some local artists will see it too.”

The Creative Lab projects are on show at Axis Arts Centre, in Ballymun, until Friday