Arts and Disability

Making Mytopia

Making Mytopia

Louise Manifold and members of St Joseph’s training centre, Ability West, Galway

Funded by the Arts Council Artist in the Community Scheme

2017 marks the 500th anniversary of Thomas More’s Utopia, and the connection between its legacy and how we collectively idealize and imagine ourselves as communities, societies and nations needs to be rethought and reemphasized now more than ever.

The word “Mytopia” is a take on the word Utopia: a perfect place that then becomes my perfect place, it plays on the word “myopia” to be near sighted, but only in the sense of a curiosity that comes out of taking the time to look closely at the things we take for granted.

The end result is a journey into dreams between light and shadow, trains, dance moves, and a formidable head house.
In using time base art practices ( of film, moving image, and installation) the project aims to collectively form a temporary utopian community in Galway, as a means to explore utopian ideas and their manifestation in practice, and how this can be translated in public structure for others to experience.


The project invited creative collaboration between trainees from St Joseph’s Training Centre (Ability West) and visual artist Louise Manifold to develop a short-term project in the area of moving image and installation. Ability West enables people with an intellectual disability to realise their dreams and ambitions. St Joseph’s Training Centre offers training and support to young adults with moderate intellectual disabilities. Five Trainees from St Joseph’s Training Centre too part in this project, with their Instructor. This group are both male and female trainees between the ages of 18 and 25, with moderate learning disabilities.


The project aimed to introduce practices of time based contemporary art practices, to develop a visual vocabulary in these mediums and to find new ways to communicate personal ideas through visual language, in developing a collaborative piece in which the group worked on different elements of the same film. The project was mutually collaborative and fostered a sense of creative freedom and independence, with an emphasis placed on chance and experimental outcome as a means of leading the process as opposed to outcome.

The group developed once off events in which the public were invited to celebrate the outcomes – in this way the project also introduced the group to aspects of marketing, curation, and event organisation that is relevant to contemporary art exhibition.

Key to this project was to generate legacy for future projects of its kind to happen between Arts practitioners and St Joseph’s Training Centre and Ability West.


The project methods developed in a four-fold strategy:
1- Though group meetings in public space, for example The Galway Arts Centre and Nuns Island theatre. The group worked together to develop core concepts, working with language, presenting ideas both collectively and individually in respect to theme.
2- Language and social intervention being key to the developing creative foundations, process-based outcomes helped to draw upon creative cinematic concepts through collective storyboards and exploration of narrative in visual forms.
3- Cameras were explored through collaborative creative exercises in media technology, focusing significantly on shadow, time lapse animation, the use of theatrical effects, and lighting to create artworks.
4- An important aspect of this project was the emphasis on developing theatricality both in ordinary space and with an emphasis on visual transformation of space through theatrical lighting, imagery, light and shadow displays as a means to explore how to develop imaginative space as an encounter in real time. The group worked with the technique of the dream sequence, as a way in which to freely express thoughts and emotions without being tied to a structure of storytelling, and how to create dream sequences using visual narrative and gesture.

During the development phase Louise was invited by member of staff Ms Claire Quigley to think about ways in which the project could be developed, with a key emphasis on how to best enable the participants to make work which would enable them to connect to the Galway arts community. This involved working closely with the Galway Arts Centre.

The project developed as weekly meetings, hosted in both St Joseph’s training centre and the Galway Arts Centre respectively, which ranged from creative design for film to discussion on artists, and exploration of temporary materials as a means of creative expression.

The creative labs happened within the Galway Arts Centre, as well as at Nuns Island theatre, and comprised of a series of experimental introductory workshops with theatrical effects and lighting designers, film making and 3d rendering technology in order to develop awareness of materials and methodologies. This functioned not only as a way of drawing out interests of participants but also to introduce the group to the logistical aspects involved in hosting an art event. The group not only engaged in making new work but took all decisions on how to put on a show, including advertising curatorial decisions and hospitality in respect to the event.

Artistic Outputs

The group created a video piece, which was shown alongside a set which was designed and built by the group. The exhibition and screening too place on December 2nd 2017 at Nun’s Island Theatre, 6-8 pm.
In mid-2017, the group invited Joanna McGlynn to write a text based on the project. The aim of this was to get an artist to come in to the process at the very end to create a text that represented the group as a whole.

Evaluation Methodology

Participants kept a diary of their activities. Each session began with exercises in new ideas, and reflections/ feedback at the end. Documentation of the participant’s activities were carried out on a continual basis using photography and reviews. Some of this process documentation also features on the projects website.As the project developed this also fed to final edits and sound design.

Assessment of learning was also carried out on a continual basis. As St Joseph’s Training Centre is a registered QQI provider, all written and visual documentation was gathered in participants QQI (Fetac) folders, and was then used to apply for QQI Art level 1 and 2 certifications which go through an internal and external authentication process.

Throughout the process Louise maintained verbal and written feedback with staff on the project at regular designated points. The project’s strategy and objectives were further aligned through consultation with Keith Kelly, art teacher, who identified potential participants and how this project may fit in with the overall creative remit of the centre.


Whilst each member brought their distinctive vision to the project, we were successful in working together to create a unified response for our audience, through team building and mutual respect.

The group learned the technical skills of film making practices, as well as practical skills in the presentation of finished work to the public. The group presented the project’s documentation on a website for each of the artists involved to share.

2018 saw the final project participant graduate from St Josephs training centre, and they are currently making an application to Galway Technical institute for Digital video course.


related programme
Artist in the Community Scheme