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Celebrate links of northern cultures

An ambitious cross-curricular project is bringing together pupils in neighbouring nations and will climax in an arts extravaganza, writes Di Hope.

West Dunbartonshire's five cultural co-ordinators have already proved their worth. With an ambitious and vigorouse expressive arts programme for the authority's 42 schools, they have successfully engaged the pupils and their teachers in drama, music, film and visual arts workshops, placing creativity at the heart of education.

This success has given them the confidence for their most ambitious proposal yet, bringing their varied, specialist skills together in a project called Face North.

Stephen Bullock, the drama co-ordinator, is excited about the scale of the project. "It brings together two entire school clusters - in Dumbarton and Clydebank - and offers an excellent opportunity for integration working and sharing ideas and cultures between the eight schools involved," he says.

Crucially, Face North, as its title suggests, is designed very much as an outward looking project, exploring notions of national identity in order to find links with other northern cultures, such as Norway and Canada, nations the pupils rarely see as neighbours. Both differences and similarities are being explored in a series of workshops which have been running since January.

The project pulls together digital animation, street theatre, dance music and textile printing, among other arts, and takes in curricular areas such as history, geography, language and citizenship. It has been awarded pound;20,000 from the Scottish Arts Council as one of its 10 Hothouse Projects.

First Light has also given funding for additional film components.

Arts and education officer Eona Craig, who is in charge of the project, says: "In an area like West Dunbartonshire, which is not particularly multicultural, it seems important to help young people celebrate their own identity first, to look at what being Scottish means to them, then to move towards exploring other North Atlantic cultures, which are much closer to home than many people think. We share a lot of mythology, journeying songs and stories with other northern cultures, especially stories of resettling and emigration."

As part of this exploration, pupils at the Dumbarton Academy and St Andrew's High cluster schools are keeping in touch by e-mail and webcam with a group of pupils in Oslo to learn about their perceptions of Scotland. This will be followed by a week-long visit from the Oslo pupils, who will take part in workshops with the Clydebank pupils.

Film and animation groups at both Our Holy Redeemer's Primary and Our Lady of Loretto Primary are making short films with professional filmmaker Kevin Cameron. "The level of enthusiasm and commitment of these pupils has really surprised me," he says.

"We are working on ideas of the north, and what it means to live in the north. I am encouraging them to build up their own ideas, including some abstract visual ideas, which have been great and quite sophisticated in fact.

"They have been working with 2D animation using light boxes, 3D techniques in plasticine and some cell animation using layers of transparencies."

Siobhan Gavin, Ashley Gallacher and Clare McCafferty, all P7 pupils at Our Lady of Loretto Primary, have enjoyed learning how to manipulate the camera and trying animation, as well as thinking about characterisation and the best use of their resources. They were amazed at how much planning went into their short film.

"It takes a long time and a lot of work but it's worth it in the end," says Clare.

The collaborative aspect of the project means a lot to them. The fact that "people could see that we had worked together and as a team" was important to Siobhan.

The girls plan to take part in a film summer school, which is also intended to assist with issues of transition to their secondary school and help them meet other pupils from the cluster primaries before the next session.

Maurice Liddell, the deputy headteacher of Our Lady of Loretto Primary, is impressed by the films made so far. "This has been of great benefit to our pupils and has shown a level of accomplishment that we would ideally like all our pupils to be able to reach."

Other workshops in drama, costume and hat making, visual art and music will run throughout the autumn term, leading up to the culmination of the Face North project, a multimedia extravaganza at Loch Lomond Shores on November 12.

This is billed as "a performance of giant film projection, street theatre, textile costumes, crazy hats and digital music", pulling together all the work exploring the folklore, stories, myths, culture and identities of Scotland, Norway and Canada into a vast event using an IMAX screen, catwalks, the latest music technology and what are billed as "the politest Vikings in history (big on customer service, low on looting)".

The cultural co-ordinators are all unstinting in their appreciation of how well the children have risen to the challenges of Face North. This has increased their commitment to delivering a professional event next term.

Jenny Hunter, the visual arts co-ordinator, says: "Exhibiting with an audience gives them a real buzz and at no time in their entire primary career have they performed with 150 other people."

"Quite how we will handle the big day is not quite clear yet," says Ms Craig, "but working closely with the teachers is vital. We need to get all the schools involved in the organisation. We are putting together a social event soon with all the teachers from both clusters to see the films and discuss progress."

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