bgen Conference 2017 Proceedings – Day 1

Wednesday 8th November 2017

Talk: Developing audiences at the National Botanic Gardens

Felicity Gaffney, Head of Education, National Botanic Gardens, Ireland

The National Botanic Gardens, Glasnevin, has grown their audiences from 120,000 in 1992 to over 580,000 in 2016. Felicity Gaffney, Head of Education shared the Education Strategy used to develop the visitor experience, exploring the role that events, exhibitions and an all-inclusive approach to education has played in the continued growth in visitor numbers and a much enhanced visitor experience.

Felicity Gaffney has worked at the National Botanic Gardens of Ireland for over 20 years and has established, and developed the Education Department at Glasnevin. From the initial Education strategy developed in 1997, the brief within the Education Department has expanded and grown significantly to cover events and exhibitions. Felicity manages the Visitor Centre, the Erasmus garden and leads the Education and Visitor Services team in the gardens at Glasnevin and Kilmacurragh.

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Talk: Walking the walk while talking the talk

Éanna Ní Lamhna, Broadcaster, commentator and botanist

Broadcaster and communication expert Éanna Ní Lamhna, who has developed a career as an environmental commentator on National radio and TV, shared her experiences on how to engage audiences and communicate your messages. When conducting field trips outdoors many obvious things are overlooked – can the audience hear and understand you, are they properly equipped with clothes and footwear, do they know how long the trip is to be? What do they expect from the field trip and how are you going to deliver this? Why are they there in the first place?

Éanna Ní Lamhna is a botanist by profession having learnt her trade in UCD many moons ago. She was responsible for much of the ground-breaking species distribution mapping carried out by An Foras Forbartha in the 1970’s and 80’s. She has been a lecturer in sustainable development in DIT for the past twenty years. She is publicly on the side of the environment as evidenced by her stint as President of An Taisce from 2004-2009 and more recently (2011-2014) as President of the Tree Council of Ireland. She is the author of several books including ‘Wild Dublin’ and ‘Wild Things at School’. Éanna has been broadcasting on RTE about wildlife since 1988 when she cut her teeth on radio with John Skehan. She has been the mainstay of the ‘Mooney goes Wild’ programmes since 1995. She has made several wildlife radio documentaries including one on the rainforest in Costa Rica, which was recorded on location, and just lately one on rats. Her television appearances include a series of 50 programmes on wildlife for ‘The Den’ – entitled ‘Creature Feature’ – several ‘Late Late’ shows. She currently has a regular wildlife slot on TV3’s Six O’Clock show. Her voice is instantly recognisable as that of an authority on Irish Wildlife matters.

Workshop session 1: Engaging disadvantaged communities through story

Andy Crofts and Max Coleman, Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh

Everyone has a story. If you gain their trust they will share it with you. If you have genuine reasons they may even let you record and share that story with a wider audience. The Big Picnic project at RBGE set out to tackle the issue of food security in disadvantaged communities living near to the Botanic Garden. These communities never, or only rarely, visit the Garden. By a process of co-creation with community members and local food initiatives it was decided that the medium of digital storytelling would be used to gather personal stories about access to nutritious food. These stories are being used to provoke a response in a wider audience at science café events and through a mobile exhibition. Food issues are ever topical, and the relevance to botanic gardens is obvious. However, working with disadvantaged communities requires gardens to listen, and be open to new approaches. The workshop explored the lessons learnt and some of the tools used.

Max Coleman and Andy Crofts are part of the Public Engagement team at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh. Using food to engage diverse audiences is a strong feature of the public programme at RBGE, but historically this has relied upon individuals and groups visiting the Garden. Stimulated by the EU-funded Big Picnic project Max (Science Communicator) and Andy (Community Gardener) have been involved in engaging people living in disadvantaged communities through exploring personal experiences of food insecurity. This work is identifying barriers that prevent people from these communities engaging with botanic gardens.

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Inquiry-based learning in the Garden

Sandra Austin, Marino Institute of Education

The outdoors is one of the best learning environments for young children, providing an opportunity to explore, experience and make meaning of the natural world. The workshop looked at a range of ways to integrate inquiry-based learning outside of the classroom for children in early years and primary settings.

Dr Sandra Austin is lecturer in Social, Environmental and Scientific Education at Marino Institute of Education, Dublin. Her research interests include exploring school gardens as integrative and inclusive teaching spaces, co-teaching in primary education, and teaching and learning outside the classroom with digital technologies. She has worked as a research scientist in the US and Ireland, and spent two years as a rainforest horticulturist at the Eden Project, Cornwall, UK. From 2015-16 she was programme co-ordinator for the RDS STEM Learning Programme.

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Demonstration: Using art to develop new audiences

Susan Early & Louise Leonard, Graphic Studio Dublin

Susan Early & Louise Leonard are printmakers and members of Graphic Studio, who have collaborated on a number of projects with The National Botanic Gardens. The exhibition, ‘Another bite of the cherry’  opened in the gallery space at NGBI on 15 November and featured original fine-art prints from over 50 printmakers. All of the pieces are inspired by the National Botanic Gardens, showing a variety of print methods, such as etching, linoprint, carborundum, woodblock, photo-intaglio and more. During the demonstration, Louise printed a linocut and Susan an etching from a copper plate, using a small desktop press, a smaller version of those that are used in the studio.

Activity: Building, Bonding and Beyond

Niamh Synnott, Artist

Team work, creativity and enjoyment are a must! Guided by artist Niamh Synnott, participants were thrown in at the deep end, collaborating on a design and construction project inspired by the wonderful Turner glasshouses at Glasnevin. They also turned their hands to ‘Make friends with a leaf’ and create cut-paper inhabitants for our Turner inspired constructions.

Niamh Synnott has been facilitating art experiences with all ages for over 20 years. She also sculpts predominantly with clay, from her studio in Co. Louth. Her work includes large stoneware sculptures, functional pottery, permanent installations and collaborative community art pieces. She has lectured for 12 years in primary art education. Niamh currently runs the monthly children’s art classes here in Glasnevin, which aim to involve children in active observation of the natural and built environments. ‘Looking for’ rather than ‘looking at’ a particular feature, however minute, in the gardens to inspire art-making and encourage further exploration. Inspiration can come from anywhere, from a blade of grass to a giant redwood.

Botanical Cocktails and bgen AGM

Cambridge University Botanic Garden team (Botanical Cocktails) & bgen Board (AGM)

The Education team at Cambridge University Botanic Garden shared their experiences of using cocktails and edible bug snacks to help develop connections between plant collections and new audiences. They  prepared some for the plant based cocktails they trialed on their ‘Botanical Nights’ event and were on hand to talk about how they set the events up and the feedback they received (non-alcoholic cocktails were also available!).

We are very grateful to the Dingle Distillery, who supported bgen with this activity.

The bgen Annual General Meeting was held once cocktails are served.