The Pounds 20 million scheme - Arts for Everyone (A4E) - has two strands. The main programme will award between Pounds 500 and Pounds 500,000 for established professional or amateur organisations for new arts activities.
A second programme, A4E Express, will give between Pounds 500 and Pounds 5,000 to small groups that have never been funded before in a six-month pilot scheme.
The actor Tony Robinson hopes that a new form of theatre-in-education will emerge from them. He wants the money to go towards "putting mad poets in schools, graffiti artists regenerating an urban landscape, a new Johnny Rotten arising from Hull or Stoke-on-Trent".
Graham Hitchen, corporate policy director of the Arts Council who designed the schemes, said schools should get together to bid for long-lasting projects. "There are lots of opportunities as the main scheme is designed to encourage involvement and creativity," he said. Teachers should talk to their local theatres, orchestras and their regional arts council to develop a project, he added.
The A4E Express will enable new ventures to get off the ground, to buy equipment for after-school music, dance or drama clubs, or to fund new productions.
Applicants must find partnership funds of at least 10 per cent, (15 per cent for applications seeking more than Pounds 100,000). Five per cent can be "in kind" - that is, voluntary labour, premises or donated materials. Sir Cameron Mackintosh, the theatre impresario, has pledged Pounds 100,000 for five years for partnership funding for A4E.
Lou Stein, director of the Eastern Arts board, welcomed the initiative as the most exciting and important ever announced by the Arts Council. "I want thousands of applications," he said. "I'll be handing leaflets around the local clubs and pubs. We've got to make this happen."
Graham Wiffen, director of the London Arts Board, said there was already a network of education authorities and arts groups that schools could tap into.
"We can give a lot of good advice, but the originality and creativity must come from them,"he said.
Kathryn Deane from Sound Sense, an organisation involved in running music projects for a variety of groups, including the elderly, prisoners, disabled people and youngsters on housing estates, wants A4E Express to be inundated with applications. She said her team would help community groups to develop bids for the scheme.
Successful applicants for the main programme will have to meet three out of five criteria, or all five, depending on the size of the grant. A4E Express applicants will only have to meet one criterion.
The criteria are: encouraging and developing participation in art activity; getting more young people actively involved in arts and cultural activities; supporting new work and helping it to develop its audience; building people's creative potential through training or professional development; encouraging new audiences to experience high-quality arts activities.
A4E Express applicants need only two referees and do not have to be a formally constituted group. Deadlines for applications are January 31 and April 30.
Deadlines for A4E are the end of March, June, September and December.
An application pack about the schemes can be obtained by telephoning 0990 100344.