You would expect an exhibition entitled Brand.New to be well designed, but its first room at the Victoria and Albert Museum is still a surprise. Four thousand photographs of people and things, from Chris Evans to cosmetics and foodstuffs, fixed on standing wires, wave gently in the breeze from electric fans. The forest of brands, designed by Thomas Heatherwick, marches up over a wooden hill, on the other side of which begins the exhibition proper.
Here the brand as promise - to make the consumer feel more confident, healthier or more beautiful - is explored in depth. Celebrities endorse a brand or even give their name to a product, such as Paul Newman's sauces and salad dressings. Sometimes a character is invented: homely cake-baker Betty Crocker exists only as a marketing phenomenon. The strains of the music from the Hilltop commercial, "I'd like to teach the world to sing", accompany a display which chronicles the success of Coca-Cola in seeing off most of the 300 similar brands available in 1917 and going head to head with Pepsi. And here the visitor encounters the notion of "glocalisation": a brand, such as McDonald's golden arches, recognisable anywhere, has subtle differences to acknowledge variations in culture and environment.
Ways of individualising a brand come next, displayed in booths meant to recall huge packing boxes. "Authenticity" is a useful catch-word, meaning the original, the genuine and, therefore, the best. The wall is adorned with a rare and suitably "distressed" (in the sense of worn and begrimed) pair of pre-1900 Levi's. Could these have belonged to a genuine cow-poke? The subsequent booths explore various ways to impress the consumer - with scientific know-how, friendliness, by playing on the conscience (buy without damaging the environment) and status. Ogle the piles of monogrammed goods through what appears to be a huge gold card - and then congratulate yourself on being superior to such meretricious temptation. Well, it's better than feeling poor.
The final sections show a series of nine mini-films by David Cohen in which people talk about their response to branding, and a section entitled "Subverting the Brand" in which fakes and political satire of consumerism are displayed side by side. The exhibition is not sponsored, although Siegelgale, the Internet consulting firm, is supporting the associated website: www.vam.ac.uk This is a fascinating, thought-provoking exhibition, which would be an excellent stimulus for discussion in PSHE as well as art and design. There will be a two-day conference about the issues raised on November 11 and 12 and a programme of other educational events. For details: 020 7942 2197.
The first year of the new millennium is three-quarters through, but celebrations are not yet over. Stitches in Time, a Tapestry for the Millennium, is a masterpiece which is unveiled today at Bethnal Green Old Town Hall in east London. Fifty tapstry panels, each 10 feet by eight, depicting life in Tower Hamlets over 2,000 years, have been worked on by 3,000 people over seven years. The brainchild of artist Diana England, the project has involved 21 schools, 50 community groups and 24 artists. Embroidery, screen printing, silk painting and applique tell the story of different cultural and religious groups and their history in this part of London. The illustration shows one of the pendants of the Huguenot fan panel which shows Protestants fleeing France and arriving in Spitalfields in the reign of William III.
The tapestry will be on view, entry free,until December 23. Organisers of visiting school groups should phone Artsworkshop: 020 7247 0858.
Next week, David Glass's multimedia show in collaboration with Polka Theatre, Off the Wall, will be at the Maltings in Farnham, Surrey, before going on to Margate and Brighton. Originally conceived with the Tate Gallery, the show uses film, slides, computer graphics as well as theatre and dance skills to make paintings come to life. In-school workshops suitable for eight to 14-year-olds, teachers' in-service sessions and a resource pack are available. Tour information: 020 7323 2355; www.offthewall2000.com The Everyman Theatre in Gloucester is tackling the literacy hour with the help of the Story Coat project. The story coat is a living "book" worn by an actor which leads to interactive storytelling, writing and drama workshops. The Three Billy Goats Gruff is suitable for years 1 and 2, Orpheus in the Underworld for years 3 and 4 and Macbeth for years 5 and 6. For information about the project, teachers' in-service sessions, curriculum-based workshops and activities for secondary schools: 01242 512515.
There are plenty of arts challenges out there for children and their teachers. It is time, for instance, just as the Schools Proms are about to take place at the Royal Albert Hall (November 6 - 8), to be thinking about The National Festival of Music for Youth next summer. For entry forms for the regional festivals which lead to the South bank celebration in London in July, phone: 020 8870 9624 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Information: www.mfy.org.uk Then, 10 teenagers from Maze Hill school, Greenwich (for children with severe learning disabilities), will be given the chance this month and next to perform in a series of poetry workshops on the stage of Shakespeare's Globe in London. These have been organised by Keith Park, a teacher from Sense, the charity for the deaf and blind. For information about Sense: 020 7272 7774; www.sense.org.uk Shakespeare's Globe itself is now well into its education season and is running workshops for all ages throughout the term which can be combined with a visit to the new exhibition about Shakespeare's life and work and the theatre of his day. Information about these and in-service sessions: 020 7902 1433; www.shakespeares-globe.org Heather Neill