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Art for an art college's sake

Damien Hirst is among celebrities who have answered an appeal for postcard sketches that will be auctioned to fund a bid for specialist status. Amanda Kelly reports

A SCHOOL that sent hundreds of blank postcards to celebrities in the wild hope that they would draw on them and send them back has been rewarded by efforts from Damien Hirst, Colin Firth and Richard Curtis.

Parents at Teddington school in Richmond dreamed up the idea as part of an effort to help the school raise the pound;50,000 needed to apply for specialist status as an art college.

The appeal has exceeded all expectations with 100 replies worth an estimated pound;15,000, all of which will be auctioned in September as the school puts the finishing touches to its application.

The collection so far includes self-portraits by movie stars Pierce Brosnan, Richard E Grant and Colin Firth, a picture of Shakespeare and his dog by actor Ralph Fiennes and a signed photograph from comedian Ali G.

Architects Norman Foster and Richard Rogers responded with original drawings, while Richard Curtis, scriptwriter for the film Notting Hill and TV series Blackadder, composed a sketch between Blackadder and Baldrick that features the school.

Damien Hirst entered into the spirit of the appeal with a line-drawing of a skull and crossbones and the words "Leave Me Alone", while leading photographer Sam Taylor Wood sent in a picture of a hare lying across the sea.

Parents Val Clay and Julia Myring, who are both artists with children at the school, came up with the idea four months ago.

Mrs Clay said: "The generous spirit that generally permeates the art world gave us some hope of success but we have been touched at the contributions and messages of support that have come back.

"If it helps the school achieve specialist art status we will be overjoyed.

"It already has a strong visual arts programme but the extra money it'll receive if it gets specialist status will enable hundreds of other children to benefit, even if they are not naturally artistic."

Headteacher Richard Weeks admits that he held out little hope for the fundraising when it was first suggested, but is delighted to have been proved wrong.

He said: "I loved the idea but must admit I didn't think they would have much joy, but the variety of response has been amazing. Some of the stuff is very quickly done but the famous name will sell it. Some of it is so beautiful it brings goosepimples to the skin.

"Art already dominates the school and 99 per cent of pupils achieve a top GCSE in the subject, but if we can achieve specialist status, it will allow us to take the subject out into the community."

The school already has plans for an Art Bus that will allow art teachers to visit schools, old people's homes and other community groups, as well as a series of public exhibitions.

The auction will be held at the Landmark Centre in Teddington at 6pm on Friday, September 6 and is open to the public.

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