Born Creative

Grasshoppers International Early Years Festival Strategic Plan 2021-2023

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Grasshoppers International Early Years Festival (GIEYF) was founded in 2019 in Balbriggan, North County Dublin. The first edition of the Festival was supported by Our Balbriggan, the local development office for the town, to advocate for and ensure arts provision for the youngest citizens of the town, from the most diverse backgrounds.
Year one saw us develop our first audience via:

  • a booked-out series of eight advocacy workshops for carers to come together with their children to engage in a free art activity or storytelling and music session
  • a community art exhibition which celebrated the first steps toward artistic expression about how the children felt about their own town. More than 250 pieces of art by our young community were exhibited around the town in key public locations
  •  a weekend of international performance experiences with artists coming to Balbriggan from Lithuania, Flanders, Croatia and Romania

The festival weekend was opened with Ireland’s first community buggy parade attended by the Mayor of Fingal.

We connected with eight pre-schools and eight primary schools through these activities. Feedback from our first festival indicated that there is very little on offer for pre-school children in Balbriggan. We realised that more frequent events needed to be offered, to satisfy the appetite created.

The Artists who took part in the 2019 festival weekend were identified and connected with through the EU Small-size Association Network and Assitej International. As part of her independent practice, GIEYF founder Cliodhna Noonan has been supported by The Arts Council in the past through travel and training opportunities to attend international festivals and network and train with like-minded individuals from around the globe. Cliodhna researched the structure of these international events and evolved GIEYF from the Space Invaders event at Farmleigh Estate in Dublin in 2014, 2015 and 2017 and from an initial collaboration in Cork in 2010 between Baboro International Arts Festival (Galway) and Cork College of Commerce Early Childhood Department. It is central to Cliodhna’s practice to
bring expertise from abroad into Ireland to inspire audiences and artists in Ireland, to showcase work from other cultures, or in some cases from the cultures of minority communities in the town.

Grasshoppers’ family of funders and stakeholders continues to grow, seeing GIEYF 2021 supported by Our Balbriggan, Fingal County Council Arts Office, and The Arts Council’s Festivals Investment Scheme (FIS). Our governance structure has been formalised as a community organisation with a committee, tax number and bank account in our own name.

Environmental Context

This Strategic Plan was created during 2021 with the mentoring support of a consultant, a year into the global Coronavirus Pandemic. The mentoring support was funded by The Arts Council’s Capacity Building Strategic Support fund. A series of mentoring sessions with the Founder strengthened the organisation and focused strategic thinking of key committee members towards the intent of future iterations of the Festival.

GIEYF 2021 took place from 22-27 February and was a fully virtual event. Some 24 workshops were offered online and all booked out. Due to demand, audience numbers increased threefold by the end of the week with the artists’ consent, but remained manageable to allow for a high quality arts experience. Workshops for creches and pre-school groups ran in the mornings, with family workshops via Zoom in afternoon sessions. Virtual events broadened our reach to families in Germany, Lithuania and around Ireland, along with local groups in Fingal and families in Balbriggan.

The new structure and increased support for what is now the flagship festival in Balbriggan, helped us to develop our website with the support of a designer, and to work with an online booking site for future festivals.

National and Local Context

The objectives laid out in this Strategic Plan are developed and will be delivered with a knowledge and understanding of the strategic ambitions and objectives of our funders and partners, ensuring shared values. For instance, the ambitions laid out in The Arts Council’s national strategy ‘Making Great Art Work 2016-2025’ focuses on the inter-dependent priorities of the artist and public engagement. Consultation on a new strategy for Young People, Children and Education (YPCE) is being conducted, which GIEYF hopes to feed into, but it is anticipated will seek to support artistic excellence, both in the standard of practice, and the level of ambition.

As we develop GIEYF, we aim to embrace the ambitions of The Arts Council’s ‘Equality, Human Rights and Diversity Policy and Strategy’ which strives to respect, support and ensure inclusion of all voices and cultures that make up Ireland today – from all sections of society, existing and new communities, from all social backgrounds, ethnicities and traditions. The Festival has sought to identify and remove barriers to inclusion, be they economic, language or cultural etc, and will continue to do so. We also aim to empower, support and resource artists in their work, delivering on the values and ambitions of The Arts Council ‘Paying the Artist’ policy.

Our Balbriggan’s Rejuvenation Plan lists GIEYF as number four of twenty projects established in 12 months in the town. Our Balbriggan continues to support the Festival for local and grassroots activities and our funding partnerships have extended to Fingal County Council’s Arts Office and The Arts Council for 2021 in line with their own provision of events for marginalised and new communities in Ireland.

GIEYF is closely aligned with the Fingal Arts Plan. We share a vision of bringing the arts to life in Fingal and Fingal to life through the arts. We promote public participation and an awareness and understanding of the arts within the early years sector in particular. We align with the values of curiosity and inclusiveness providing safe spaces for children to explore their own creativity in our programme. The strategic goals of the Fingal Arts Plan match our
own. The four pillars Making Space, Connecting People and Ideas, Enabling Excellence and Developing Capacity are very much part of our own thinking.

Making Space: Grasshoppers IEYF extends and deepens a programme of work, enabling children and young people in particular to access artistic and cultural experiences, most for the very first time as audiences and participants.

Connecting People and Ideas: Grasshoppers IEYF encourages and explores new ways of engaging with the arts and of creating space for the unexpected, especially for the youngest citizens (0-6) of Fingal whose lives are focussed on exploring and thinking.

Enabling Excellence: Grasshoppers IEYF supports artists and local organisations working with the early years age group of 0-6 to lead in innovation, collaboration and the development of original work. We ensure at least two local collaborations on our programme (such as with Tidy Towns and IIMS in Balbriggan).

Developing Capacity; Grasshoppers IEYF mirrors this goal in its investment in and publication of a Strategic Development plan 2021-2023 and in the upskilling and professional growth of the steering committee.

Quality of provision is central to the Grasshoppers ethos. Grasshoppers IEYF has published a Child Safeguarding Statement which is accessible on our website. A designated staff member is named as a liaison person. All Committee Members are vetted by An Garda Siochana with their consent, and undertake the TUSLA online Child Protection Training. We are aware of the strict provisions around child protection when taking photographs, recording
or posting on social media and we seek to adhere to all requirements with the support of our staff, volunteers and local artists. Collaborations with third party organisations are underpinned by shared principles, and Grasshoppers IEYF adheres to a signed Memorandum of Understanding in this regard

Strategic Purpose, Vision & Mission

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Our Purpose

Grasshoppers International Early Years Festival’s work is rooted in inclusively connecting communities of place, whatever their identities, through creative activities for early years audiences (families and pre-schools included), to drive a sense of belonging and creating pride of place across the community. GIEYF events are collaborative, inclusive and participatory.

Our Vision

Our Vision is to see a supported and organic national rollout of Grasshoppers International Early Years Festivals building a sense of belonging in every community from our youngest citizens up. We want to ensure that every child in the country has access to arts experiences from birth, which respect them as individuals regardless of gender, ability, family structure, economic situation, cultural heritage or nationality.

Our Mission

Our Mission is to continue to develop the scale and ambition of our flagship Balbriggan Festival, growing our confidence, the understanding of our impact and our reputation.

Alongside our work in Balbriggan, we grow our networks nationally with venues, touring organisations and festivals, who share our values and can programme a GIEYF event or strand of activity for their community.

To support our focus on content and excellence, we inspire, support and train young artists to make work within the Early Years artform.

Our Pillars

We deliver our work with a focus on art, audience and organisation. We do our work under an umbrella value of ‘constant development’ or ‘capacity building’ via our three pillars – Artform and Artist, Audiences, and Delivery and organisation.

Artform & Artist Audiences Delivery & Organisation

Programme of professional
performances – dance,
theatre, visual arts, music

Mother and toddler groups Team development

CPD workshops

Pre-school networks Early Childhood Ireland

TY workshops

Families with 0-6s HSE (Public Health Nurse)

Visual Art Exhibitions

Junior & Senior Infants Venues around Ireland
Artist masterclasses General public Advisory group
Our Onlyness/Uniqueness

The Grasshoppers International Early Years Festival stands alone in festivals for Ireland’s youngest audiences, because of our focus on building pride of place, and spotlighting inclusion through engaging multiply-marginalised audiences via our international connections.

This work doesn’t daunt us. Our international committee members resident in Ireland liaise with their respective communities and make sure they are invited to participate in all events. The GIEYF Chairperson and Founder speaks seven languages. International networking through the Smallsize and Assitej Associations provides access to a huge range of colleagues, not only English speaking, but also Lithuanian, Croatian, Belgian, Greek, German/Austrian, Romanian and Italian to date.

We believe the key to inclusion is relevance. It is essential to invite communities to participate whilst celebrating their heritage and culture, and recognising our common approaches to early childhood together.

Our Artistic Policy

GIEYF provides high-quality first-time arts experiences to families and early-years settings with children aged 0-6. We recognise that this is an enormous developmental spectrum, and so our arts programming reflects this. Activities are usually sectioned by suitable age group (eg 0-9 months / 9-18 months / 18-24 months / 2-4 years / 4-6 years). We strive to include activities and performances suitable for all children.

Grasshoppers IEYF is mindful of the multicultural context we now live in in Ireland and seeks to reflect new communities in its programming. This is to ensure that new and existing cultures are celebrated among us and common threads identified. We believe that children should see their cultural heritage celebrated in this way, even though they are growing up in Ireland.

Grasshoppers IEYF places the audience first and strives to maintain its grassroots identity in every community. It is a participatory and child-centered programme of events. Grasshoppers IEYF seeks to activate a common culture. It provides an opportunity to nurture a fragile new community (or audience) through partnership, presence and activity.

Grasshoppers IEYF programmes artists with a similar small-scale, grassroots background from the Smallsize EU network and from Assitej International. Grasshoppers IEYF envisages a growing and evolving opportunity to be a platform to showcase the new EY projects and performances funded under The Arts Council’s YPCE schemes.

Our Team

Our Team

Cliodhna Noonan – Chairperson and Founder
Advocate for EY arts since 2008. Performer and producer. International activist with seven languages

Akvile Simanskiene – Treasurer
Lithuanian visual artist living in Ireland since 2008. Training in marketing and branding 

Rebecca Gilbert – Music for early years specialist
Early Years tutor with Irish Institute of Music and Song in Balbriggan. Very aligned with Grasshoppers IEYF ideology

Sophia Weir – Advisor on national rollout
International experience in hotels, Failte Ireland and entertainment industries

Dorothy Fletcher Bentley – Website design and image consultant

Katia Silva Campion – Advocacy Advisor
Brazilian resident in Balbriggan and full-time Special Needs Teacher in a Primary School setting

Lizzy Noone – Advocacy Advisor
Local activist for change in Balbriggan. Networker extraordinaire with experience in development agencies and charity work

Our Strategic Goals and Objectives

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Artform & Artist

Over the next three years we are ambitious to grow and have a measurable impact on the quality, breadth and scale of art, creative events and activities for early years audiences, and to grow the capacity of artists making work in the YPCE sector. We will do this by implementing the following strategic objectives:

1.1 Strengthening the collaborative practice of Grasshoppers IEYF, by developing a robust Memorandum of Understanding for partners and collaborators with clear best practice expectations for communications, marketing and child protection.

1.2 Scaling the impact of Grasshoppers nationally, potentially activating partners in other counties beginning with Longford and Letterkenny in 2022. Collaborations will prioritise identifying local artists to liaise with communities as ambassadors, and set up local informal networks within new communities.

1.3 Supporting, resourcing and empowering local, national and international artists to create early years experiences through Grasshoppers Festival platforms, mindful of the values in The Arts Council’s EHRD and Paying the Artist policies.

1.4 Creating a pipeline for emerging makers in the artform from TY groups in local secondary schools (building on our 2021 pilot at Bremore Educate Together, Balbriggan). This has the potential to also lead to the creation of young ensembles making new early years work, which may be programmed as part of Grasshoppers IEYF and tour to festivals in other counties running under the Grasshoppers IEYF brand.

1.5 Activating international opportunities with the Smallsize EU network and Assitej International to attract artists to perform, mentor and co-create in Ireland to seed and grow the artform here.

1.6 Identifying Festival commissioning opportunities to provide further showcase platforms for artists and new experiences for audiences.

1.7 Encouraging further involvement by community members through mentorship and exchange to activate skills for leveraging. Many of the incoming community members have wonderful and diverse arts skills which we can engage with and celebrate in return for work experience with a committee here in Ireland and the development of other useful skills for employment (marketing/branding/event management/ production/design etc.).


Grasshoppers International Early Years Festival wants to grow the scale and diversity of audiences for early years creative activities, to create inclusive programmes that reach families who experience barriers to inclusion.
We will:

2.1 Continue to professionalise and grow the profile and reputation of Grasshoppers IEYF to strengthen trust in the Festival.

2.2 Mine local and national available data to ensure we reflect the diversity of Ireland within the programming, delivery and development of Grasshoppers IEYF.

2.3 Work across the community and networks to engage non-arts stakeholders in the rollout of the Grasshoppers IEYF framework in line with their Community.

2.4 Create local committees that help to connect newly arrived families into communities in their area for a celebration of the arts for early years’ audiences.

2.5 Connect and build stable bridges with national Early Childhood organisations and via arts applications to Local Authorities to provide activity in towns for local pre-school audiences. Libraries and small venues are also perfect partners for Grasshoppers IEYF to develop audiences. Our strong partnership with Fingal Libraries connects our activities to special schools in the area, along with after-school groups, childminders and community groups attending events for 0-6 years at their local library.

2.6 Continue to upskill ourselves to understand the breadth of accommodations we can provide to support the participation of children or carers with additional needs. We will ensure no event is programmed that doesn’t consider the needs of marginalised communities.

2.7 Develop a bespoke programme with partners such as HSE and Public Health Nurse network that reaches and connects automatically with new parents in the area to introduce Grasshoppers IEYF and grow the parents’ network in the county to reach young and first-time parents.

2.8 Create a network of Creative Preschools and Early Childhood Settings in Ireland as well as creative and innovative partnerships with local and national organisations through regular programming and delivery in the community. This will activate social issues such as environment, sense of place etc.

Delivery & Organisation

We are ambitious to build an organisation for GIEYF that has strong governance principles, and delivers unique and compelling events to communities of place. We will do this by implementing the following strategic ambitions:

3.1 Create a job description for an Advisory Group, which key roles and tasks assigned to Chairperson, Secretary, Treasurer, Local Advisor, Artistic Advisor etc

3.2 Recruit a diverse and representative Advisory Group who will input on the grassroots programming in their own communities. They will have the knowledge on the ground of what Grasshoppers IEYF can offer to the 0-6 age group in their town. This is already in place in Balbriggan. May be extended to Longford and Letterkenny in 2022. GIEYF may act as a mentor for these representatives to identify skills and to have meaningful input into and employment in their community.

3.3 Future-proof our capacity for a national rollout by creating strategic partnerships with national stakeholders like Creative Ireland, County Councils, Childcare Committees, HSE. 3.4 Research structures internationally in cities where there is excellent provision of the arts for early years (eg Bologna, Italy and Hamm, Germany). Begin a series of conversations and a research programme for Ireland to understand and identify partners within our state and
private sectors, who could invest in and implement a national early years arts policy.

3.5 Develop a full slate of policies to ensure we adhere to all legislative requirements in health and safety, child protection, inclusion and diversity, employee care etc. In 2021 Grasshoppers International Early Years Festival was formally established as a community organisation with its own tax number and bank account and with a committee of seven members.

3.6 Maintain membership of Fingal PPN and revise and develop our governance structures


Through the following measures beginning in 2021, we will implement as much of the Strategic plan as possible:

  • Call on the expertise of the Advisory Group to assist with the growth and development of the GIEYF festival
  • Create and maintain a professional website
  • Create and sustain partnerships with Tidy Towns, Local Authorities and venues interested in a Grasshoppers event. (eg Lusk, Longford and Letterkenny)
  • Remain visible and active as a Smallscale organisation with funding from The Arts Council FIS, Our Balbriggan and Fingal Arts Office
  • Research and apply for appropriate funding from other stakeholders to increase the capacity and delivery of the festival model
  • Audit our progress at the end of each year of this Strategic Plan, and create an Implementation Plan for each year setting SMART targets and identifying and resourcing the delivery of specific objectives listed previously.

Grasshoppers Early Years Festival is supported financially by Our Balbriggan, The Arts Council and Fingal Arts Office to date.
2022 is the third edition of the festival.