Artist(s):

Naomi O’Kelly

Naomi is our lead artist in North Ayrshire. She facilitates the sessions with creative kinship carers and the children they look after, enabling and empowering familial relationships through creative activities. In this blog, she reflects on how the project has developed during its first block of sessions.


It’s the end of our first block of Creative Kin, and it has been fascinating so far. It’s a privilege to witness the skills and resilience of Kinship Carers who are doing everything they can to create a new, strong family dynamic out of sometimes challenging circumstances. It’s also a privilege and a joy to be able to get to know families through playing and creating with them.

Some scattered reflections on what we’ve done so far, and on what happens next:

  • I’ve learned that playing ‘keepy-uppy’ with balloons (i.e., trying to keep balloons up in the air) is a game that all ages can engage with, from little people who possibly haven’t a clue what’s happening (but are still delighted), to mature adults who initially scoff (“are you kidding on?”) but just can’t help joining in . . .

(The reason why I introduced balloon ‘keepy-uppy’ is that I’ve a brilliant memory of playing it with my 16-year old brother when I was 5. The delight of that game is etched in my memory, so I know that, although simple, it is beautiful, exciting, accessible to all ages, and funny. What more could you want from a game?)

  • We’ve also made stories, music and a little cardboard town, complete with a gigantic scary castle, an ice-cream parlour, and a “chill out pad”, which every town should have.
  • We have worked only with guest artists called Brian. First, visual artist Brian Hartley, and later musician Brian James O’Sullivan. They were both brilliant and valuable to the project, but I don’t know any other Scotland-based artists called Brian, so the Brian-trend must sadly stop here. (Unless, of course, either of the previous Brians come back to work with us again.

Our first block of Creative Kin has, of course, not been without its challenges. The main challenge was the diversity of needs within the group. (When I say ‘needs’, by the way, I mean factors which influence what a person likes, what grabs their attention, and what they’re able for. Factors like age, health conditions, additional support needs, likes and dislikes . . . everyone is different, of course, and we all have needs).

As a participatory artist, my priority is to be guided by the abilities and preferences of the people in the room, and to do everything I can to make the experience enjoyable for those particular people. My challenge, at times, was that our group contained a wide diversity of significant – and sometimes urgently expressed – needs, and that sometimes those needs conflicted with each other.

This raised really interesting questions, such as “should a community artist try to cater for everyone at the same time? What can be done to create a top-quality experience for everyone, in circumstances like this?”

We’ll continue to ask these questions, and try new ways of responding to the challenge, as we go on to the next stage of the project.

The most exciting thing about planning the next stage is that we can now collaborate with Kinship Carers who have attended so far. I think/hope that the ownership of the project has shifted slightly, and that there are families who feel they have a stake in the project and that they want to contribute their ideas to it. This would be fantastic.


Creative Kin is a 2-year pilot project funded by the Scottish Government Children, Young People and Families Early Intervention Project Fund and delivered in partnership with Children 1st, Scotland’s National Children’s Charity.

Visit the project page for more information