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Artbeat

Meet Leonardo da Vinci! Daisy Gough and Gary Wright make up Wideopenstory, a fledgling theatre company committed to encouraging children to read. Last Tuesday, they were at Skippers Hill Manor prep, a small mixed school set in the rolling east Sussex countryside near Tunbridge Wells. About 40 key stage 2 children, dressed in royal blue sweaters and socks, filed into the hall and, for almost an hour, watched an unusual entertainment unfold, beginning with a life of the Renaissance artist and inventor.

Wideopenstory works closely with children's publisher Barefoot Books, a small outfit specialising in picture books with arresting artwork. Gough and Wright choose stories from the Barefoot list and put them into action. There are four or five tales to a show, designed for key stage 1 or 2, taken from titles that may be factual or inspired by folk tales.

Quick changes, television-show formats, plenty of humour and the odd bit of audience participation keep the playgoers on their toes. Two children from the audience, Charlotte and Adam, read some lines from the Creation story (Adam was well named) with no trouble, and Gough and Wright hope that children will build on their reading expertise and pleasure in books as a result of watching the shows. This one also included delightful folk tales and a story about Isis and Osiris.

Schools receive catalogues from Barefoot Books, whose publisher, Tessa Strickland, is committed to using the visual and performing arts to encourage literacy, and are given 20 per cent of the value of parents'

orders in products - books, that is. Wideopenstory charges pound;2 per child and will perform for up to 300 children at a time. For information, tel: 01342 824792. Barefoot Books: www.barefootbooks.com Andy Warhol chose pictures instead of, rather than as a way into, books - he claimed never to read. A major exhibition of his work, Warhol at Tate Modern, provides a gently paced introduction to him as a significant figure in 20th-century art. Warhol was a commercial artist first, inventing images for products. Later, in a satisfying about-face, he used products and, famously, icons of art and celebrity, as well as newspapers to make art.

Here, of course, are the (by now cliche) Campbell's soup tins and repeated-but-varying images of Marilyn, Jackie, Liz, Marlon and Elvis. But the exhibition begins with bright, flat-colour flower pictures just asking to be turned into notelet covers (which indeed they are, in the shop).

Here, also, are disturbing images of the United States - wanted men, the electric chair, horrific disasters. Warhol made art - by painting, drawing, screen-printing or by mixing media - out of whatever was around him, and that included newspaper photographs and anyone, from pop star to small child, who happened to come into his studio, the Factory.

He made more than 2,300 videos, sometimes with a hand no more steady than that of the average wielder of a camcorder, and some of these are on show. There are films in the exhibition, too, as well as a programme of others to be shown separately.

So well spaced are the individual items that you can comfortably take them in in an hour or two - or spend all day drinking in every filmic moment.

Forty years on, Warhol still holds his own among the moderns. Like many of them, he was as fascinated by himself as any other aspect of the world, so there are plenty of prints and photographs of him posing or in action.

Gallery talks are scheduled throughout the run of the exhibition, until April 1. A conference, Warhol from A to B and Back Again, on March 2, will have artist Michael Craig-Martin and film director Mike Figgis among the participants. Information: 020 7887 8008; www.tate.org.uk Families are invited to Planet Sound, Life on Earth, Live on Stage, followed by Symphony of Abandoned Objects, music that summons up the world from the Big Bang, and celebrates music being found everywhere. Daytime performances at the Purcell Room on the South Bank in London on February 20. On February 19, Thomas Trotter will give an organ recital at the nearby Royal Festival Hall, including Messiaen's Messe de la Pentecote. Music and art students who have created their own work inspired by Messiaen's use of birdsong and association with colour will take part in a pre-concert event. Tickets: 020 7960 4242.

One school, Moss Hall junior in north London, is acquiring a reputation for producing talented musicians, especially singers. From February 21, 40 children (in two casts of 20) will be involved in the spectacular production of Carmen at the Royal Albert Hall, and 14 of them will be from Moss Hall.

Headteacher Neil Marlow says the school gets good results in English, maths and science, but the arts and sport are considered too important to neglect. The school has good relations with the nearby Finchley Children's Music Group, and each pupil has a weekly hour-long music lesson as well as a 40-minute singing session. Children study 13 instruments, there is a choir, wind band, string orchestra and recorder groups. Ninety of them took part in the Queen Mother's 100th birthday celebrations, and several have been in West End productions.

After the Albert Hall, the Carmen 14 will perform in a production at the National Indoor Arena in Birmingham in March, "mostly over a weekend, so it doesn't interfere with work", observes Neil Marlow. Tickets: 020 7589 8212 (London), 0121 780 4444 (Birmingham).

HEATHER NEILL

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