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Meet Kathleen: a community musician and researcher working with Impact Arts

Kathleen Turner is a singer-songwriter, community musician and researcher based in Limerick, Ireland. Kathleen is also part of the Clore Leadership programme, and has chosen Impact Arts as the organisation for her secondment as part of the programme.

Here Kathleen speaks about what she has been doing with Impact Arts as part of the first month of her placement, her first impressions of the organisation and the value of community arts more generally.

Tell us a little about your current role and background in community arts

I am course director of the MA Community Music at the Irish World Academy of Music and Dance in Limerick. I've been in the role for three years and part of the Academy as a student and tutor since 2006.

After I graduated I worked for the Irish Chamber Orchestra to set up a primary schools pilot – named Sing Out With Strings - which is currently celebrating its 10th birthday. The aim is to ensure that every child has access to joyful and worthwhile musical experiences, through offering singing, songwriting, instrumental tuition and after-school choir and orchestra.


Tell us more about the Clore Leadership Programme you are part of.

Every year Clore choose 25 fellows working in arts, culture or heritage from around the world to take part in a year’s intensive development in cultural leadership. At different points during the year, we’re all together for training, conferences, visits and interviews, and we also do the secondment – which is why I’m at Impact Arts. The idea is that we develop our own skills, experience and confidence, and that when we’re finished, we bring new learning back to our local arts scene. My fellowship is supported by the Jerome Hynes Fellowship and funded by the Arts Council of Ireland.


What made you choose Impact Arts?

After researching Impact Arts, I found I very much identified with the ethos here, the commitment to helping people experience arts every day and the impact that has on people’s lives. I wanted to learn from the organisation’s strong legacy of working in communities.

Also, because a large proportion of Impact Arts' works with is visual or making, I felt it was enough of a stretch to get out of my comfort zone. I wanted to learn more from the artists working here about how visual art and making can be a way of bringing people together in the same way music can.


What has been your experience of working in Craft Café workshops for older people in Govan?

I’ve been going every Tuesday, spending time with the members, delivering music sessions and helping the artists Charlotte and Quinn with the practicalities of delivering the workshops.

We’ve been looking at different songs the community members enjoy - and we have also written a Craft Café anthem! We worked as a group to develop the melody on ukulele and banjo-lele, while one member wrote these brilliant, clever lyrics that namecheck others in the group.

It’s a really supportive atmosphere at Craft Café, with a real sense of encouragement and kindness. People really celebrate each other. The members also immediately took me under their wing – when I told them I hadn’t painted since school they were helping me out, making suggestions. On my first day, they were telling me how important the space is to them; how much they love having a place they can come, be creative and be with their friends.


What work have you been doing with primary schools?

I’ve been going into Primary One and Primary Two classes in two schools in the East End of Glasgow and looking at how you can introduce singing using a very simple model. We’ve been using the theme of songs from around the world, which – as these are very multicultural classrooms – has been a lovely way to acknowledge different cultures in the room.

We’ve been learning songs with actions and spending time doing that really simple and lovely thing of enjoying making music together. We’ve also been using our imaginations, traveling around the world and imagining what we can see – so far we’ve been to Ghana and India and next week we’re off to Jamaica.


What have you learned in your time here so far?

I’ve learned about the importance of relationships. It has solidified for me how important establishing partnerships is to the success of the projects. Impact Arts clearly has a deep level of trust within communities. When looking to set up the music pilot, I was blown away by how quickly the schools here were ready for me to start, and that was possible because of established relationships and trust.

I’ve found it’s a very healthy organisation because it’s constantly evolving – people are always thinking about how to innovate, are open to change, suggestions and ideas. And there’s a super positive atmosphere as well – it’s been very welcoming.


What is the purpose of community arts to you?

At its root, it’s about bringing people together and making sure that everyone has access to beautiful artistic and creative opportunities – whether that be seeing, listening, making, or performing - in a way that is inclusive, joyful and celebratory. You’re celebrating people at the end of the day – that’s what community arts is to me.


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