Barbie becomes benefactor of art

Think of Barbie, the blue-eyed, blonde-haired siren of the toy world, and numerous endowments spring to mind.

It is unlikely that any of them would immediately be associated with primary school. But Mattel UK, the company behind the world's most famous plastic blonde, has just launched the Barbie prize: a pound;20,000 cash grant to support art education in primary schools.

Across Britain schools are being invited to submit sample works of art for the Barbie prize competition. Shortlisted entries, selected by a panel of judges including Ivan Massow, former chair of the Institute of Contemporary Arts, will be displayed at the Royal College of Art in October. The winning school will be announced at the beginning of December.

The prize money is intended to be spent on promoting art education. But the generous Barbie proportions mean that the winning school could, conceivably, finance the employment of a dedicated art teacher for a year.

"It's not something we'd considered, but there's no reason not to use the money for that purpose," said Sarah Allen, PR manager for Mattel.

"If it meant the children could spend more time doing art, then that would be a good use of the money."

Barbie, after all, has been a ballerina, a film star, a supermodel and a princess. Turning her not inconsiderable talents to the classroom seems an obvious career progression. But pupils should not expect "Barbie Teacher" to teeter into lessons in sequinned gown or pink mortarboard - there will be no instruction in the art of hairdrying or manicure.

"The doll is one thing, the charitable donation another," said Ms Allen. "We wouldn't be looking to get the teacher to behave in a certain way. That would be totally inappropriate."

Full details of the Barbie prize and an application form are available at: http:www.barbieprize.co.uk tel: 020 7691 2508

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