Galleries unveil Link to learning

Karen Shead

The completion of the National Galleries of Scotland's Playfair project means they are ready for a new chapter in education, writes Karen Shead

The new education suite for the National Galleries of Scotland in Edinburgh is pristine. In studio two, the activities room, everything is gleaming: the 14 laptop computers, the desks, the drawers containing paintbrushes still in their plastic wrapping, the cupboard with stacks of arts materials inside, even the sewing machine sitting next to a box of brightly coloured cottons waiting to be used. There is not a fingerprint, smudge or splodge of paint in sight. The room is light and airy and inviting.

Adjacent to this is studio one, the seminar room, with a drop-down screen and projector. Just as bright and airy, it can be used as a conventional classroom and the laptops can be brought in for doing digital multimedia projects.

Studio one can also be used as an overflow area to the neighbouring 200-seater Hawthornden lecture theatre and cinema with surround sound. The drop-down screen can be linked to show the same images as on the screen in the lecture theatre.

Each studio can hold up to 30 children and the new lunch room means school groups can take a break on site.

These facilities are all part of the Clore Education Centre - named in recognition of the support received from the Clore Duffield Foundation - and form part of the underground Weston Link between the National Gallery of Scotland and the Royal Scottish Academy building on the Mound in Edinburgh.

The Weston Link, named after the Weston family in honour of their support, was unveiled last week and is the final phase of the Playfair Project, the ambitious, five-year pound;30 million scheme to restore the Royal Scottish Academy and link it to the National Gallery of Scotland, both of which were designed by Edinburgh's great architect William Playfair.

As well as the education suite and lecture theatre, there is an information technology gallery where visitors can access information about the national collections. The gallery has seven computer pods which each have two 20 inch touch-activated monitors and can display 1,200 significant works in the national collections.

Although schools have been visiting the National Galleries for several years - workshops this year have included one based on the RSA's Degas and the Italians in Paris exhibition and a Paolozzi event in celebration of National Children's Art Day - the Weston Link means that the galleries can offer schools modern facilities which allow a more exciting education programme, expanding the existing one and making it more relevant to the curriculum.

"This is going to make a big different to the way we can work," says Emma Nicolson, head of education at the National Galleries of Scotland. "The two rooms enable us to work in new media. We can have several workshops, including animation and filmmaking. It is all bringing us up to date. We have gone from nothing to having the most state-of-the-art information technology to work with in the lecture theatre and education rooms. We have new equipment like video cameras, digital cameras, a print press and even a sewing machine. It's very exciting."

An education programme packed with activities has been planned already. In early October a series of workshops and events entitled Feasting on Pictures and Words will celebrate National Poetry Day. "We are working with the Scottish Poetry Library on this," says Ms Nicolson. "There will be an artist and poet in residence for a week. As part of the programme, we are also organising films at The Filmhouse. This is a first for us; making links with other establishments is important."

Another week of activities is planned in celebration of the Mexican Day of the Dead festival. Deadly Delights (October 30-November 5) will feature talks and practical workshops, including a look at celebratory objects, making tissue paper hangings and listening to Mexican folk tales, to promote cultural awareness and understanding. These events are open to schools, community groups, families and individuals.

The education programme also includes teachers' previews of exhibitions and in-service training days. After school on September 8, teachers of all stages of the curriculum can see the RSA's exhibition The Age of Titian: Venetian Renaissance Art from Scottish Collections, which is on until December 5. Workshops and guided visits for schools will run from August 23 to December 3.

The first teachers' training event is an animation workshop on August 18 and coming up in December is a drawing course for primary teachers entitled "Using the Right Side of the Brain".

"We are very keen on professinal development for teachers," says Ms Nicolson, "and the new resources will enable us to think about running a proper CPD programme and form partnerships with local authorities and teacher training colleges."

Brian Ivory, chairman of the board of trustees of the National Galleries of Scotland, says: "I'm hoping what we are getting, today and henceforth, is proper education facilities to brighten the lives of thousands of schoolchildren."

National Galleries of Scotland education department, tel 0131 624

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Karen Shead

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