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Seven Summer Stars: teens with CF connect on Helium’s online art project

Seven Summer Stars are a group of young teenagers with Cystic Fibrosis who have been making art and connecting creatively as part of a pilot online art programme led by Helium Arts in partnership with Cystic Fibrosis Ireland, the Irish Museum of Modern Art and Waterford Healing Arts Trust. The first phase of the project took place in spring 2019 with seven young people aged 12-16.

Using digital tools and online mediated meet-ups along with access to professional artist mentors, the project supported a group art journaling experience over six online sessions. Artist Rachel Tynan, who has been collaborating with young people on Helium’s creative projects since 2012, is the lead artist. An Cosán Virtual Community College provided the online technology and moderated the online sessions.

Project Artist Rachel Tynan sharing examples of her artwork using the virtual classroom

So how did it all work? The young people connected via a virtual classroom. A multiple-screen format meant everyone could see each other during group discussions and the screen could also be reconfigured to just show one person; for example, when Rachel was sharing PDFs of artwork and journaling processes. Participants typed ideas and suggestions into a live messaging box and breakout sessions enabled smaller group conversations which were a great opportunity for participants to get to know each other better. A very cool Ladibug document camera allowed for high quality art demonstrations.  Before each workshop, the young people could take part in an online artist ‘drop-in’ session with Rachel to talk about what they were working on and how they might progress their ideas.

I thought it was really cool to meet other people with CF and have that connection. And I like how we’re sort of all in the same room at the same time and that’s comforting.”

Each workshop was recorded for anyone who couldn’t make a session. The recordings were stored on Google Classroom, which also became a space to connect between workshops. Participants uploaded artwork and images from their project journals here, shared photos that ‘tell a story’ as part of a project led by guest filmmaker Linda Curtin, and watched art tutorial videos created by Rachel. One of the videos demonstrated how to create the fairy light roses seen in the image above.

I think it’s really fun and I like how we can all find different ways of being creative

Surprise packages posted to participants.

To add another dimension of excitement between sessions, Rachel posted the young people art packages. Before the project started, each participant received an art pack in the post and it was great to see everyone using the materials in their journaling work. The young people also received surprise packages (‘Do not open …yet!’), postcards of artwork from the National Gallery which tied into themes they were exploring, and mugs that they could decorate. 

Fostering connections between young people with CF in an online creative environment was one of the main aims of the project. Participants explored connections they shared on a visual map, from owning a dog (nearly everybody) to loving chocolate (that would be everybody) to playing the guitar. 

“At the beginning we did that drawing where we connected what we had in common and I think that really just started to connect us. And then as we moved on we kind of became good friends and we haven’t even met each other in real life.”

Through a word association game and a digital poll, the young people decided to call themselves Seven Summer Stars and designed their own group logos. Rachel combined their design suggestions into one logo and everyone received their own Seven Summer Stars t-shirt in the post.

Seven Summer Stars t-shirts.

The project also sought to increase access to the arts for young people with CF. Participants explored artworks from IMMA’s Freud Project ‘Gaze’ exhibition via a pre-recorded gallery experience, led by curator Mark Maguire from IMMA’s Engagement and Learning Department with artist Rachel Tynan. Artists with CF who use their life experiences as inspiration for their work was another area of exploration and Mayo-based artist Katie Moore proved to be a big hit! 

“I actually have realized I really like drawing things that relate to my CF, that’s because of you guys!”

Virtual gallery experience at IMMA’s Freud Project ‘Gaze’ exhibition: Curator Mark Maguire and project artist Rachel in front of Stephan Balkenhol’s Large Head (1991).

The group were excited by the idea of sharing their artwork at the end of the project and a public showcase took place at Waterford Healing Arts Trust on 29 May. Participants were brought on a virtual tour and took part in a virtual ‘meet the artist’ session with project partners and showcase attendees where they discussed the inspiration behind their work. 

“I’m really excited to have a proper showcase and have my art in it. It’s not something you would do every day or something that most people would get [to do].”

For a lot of the young artists, their CF experience was a key theme, with purple roses and hues populating their pictures, thorns protruding from a body, and roots mimicking the double helix. The artwork was positive (“My illness doesn’t define me”); poignant (“Cystic Fibrosis grew roses in my lungs. Yes, they’re beautiful but, I can’t breathe”); and optimistic, with a purple butterfly signalling change and hope. 

 “Thank you for such inspiring, insightful and revealing artworks! Love them!” – showcase visitor

Individual artworks by the Seven Summer Stars

The showcase also included a project film created by Linda Curtin with animator Dave Lawless, featuring some of the young people’s project work and audio reflections, and a response artwork by artist Rachel Tynan inspired by the theme of connections and featuring the young people’s hands waving to each other during the online sessions.

Since the showcase, Seven Summer Stars have had their artworks exhibited at the CFI celebration for the VHI Women’s Mini Marathon and the CFI book launch for Our Baby has Sixty-Five Roses

Many thanks to the seven talented young artists for your creativity, imagination and dedication, and showing us that even if we can’t always connect in person we can create amazing connections in other ways.

Waving across the internet, response artwork by Rachel Tynan.

Join us this autumn!

The next phase of the online art programme will take place this autumn and is open to young people with cystic fibrosis aged 12-16. The programme is free for participants and no art experience is necessary. If you would like to get involved, register your interest with Samantha Byrne at CFI: sbyrne@cfireland.ie or 01 4962433

The Summer Stars online art programme is supported by The Arts Council, The Ireland Funds, Dublin City Council and The Health Services Credit Union.

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