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More than just painting?

It's not all about splashing paint on paper, it goes deeper than that. Phil Creek reports on a cross-cultural art initiative

How can art maintain its relevance in the 21st-century? It's a question art teachers have to answer - but also ask themselves.

Art is still a very successful subject; with methodologies in lessons that are well rehearsed. In art we have a wellestablished tripartite lesson: an introduction, practical activity and plenary - even when the plenary often becomes, or merges into, the "cleanery". We manage lessons for cognitive and practical skills and develop other wider skills, like speaking and listening, which are fundamental to learning in art. Maybe we do not have to choose either to cover the art curriculum well or "everything else".

For instance, recently, when working in a local school, I asked a Year 1 class if they knew how to make green paint. One very small girl at the back of the group said "I know how to do it".

"Can you tell the class please?"

"You take blue and you take yellow," said Clare.

"That's brilliant," I said.

"No," said Clare. "It's green!"

Our conversation was part of an initiative to widen the range and impact of art and design locally and in other countries. It involves 65 schools in Devon. The Devon Education Advisory Service (dcs), developed "The Colours of Africa" to raise pound;2,000-pound;3,000. The aim was to develop pupils' understanding of life, culture and art in the developing world while also improving their own making of art and, above all, contributing to education in Africa.

How are we doing this? One major paint supplier, Calder Colours, has provided heavily subsidised materials like the Ocaldo paint ranges, brushes and canvases. Calder Colours provide paints, high quality acrylics, printing inks and many other art materials specially-designed for the classroom. Another local Devon outlet, World Wide Trading, an importer of artefacts from abroad, provided 200 hand-carved wooden cats as a surface to paint on for the schools. Teachers are now using the painting ideas learnt at a training session with dcs in February to empower the pupils to paint cats and canvases with a range of designs and patterns based on those in African art.

African influence

Visits to Africa by St Peter's High School, Exeter and Ridgeway Community College in Plymouth as well as local collections and exhibitions at the Royal Albert Memorial Museum, Exeter or Bristol City Art Gallery have stimulated pupils' knowledge of the culture, ideas, colours, pattern and design of Africa.

Kingsbridge Community College took their GCSE art groups to Bristol Museum to visit an African art touring exhibition. Some South African artists, such as Garth Erasmus, a modern figurative painter, produce work which shows what life is like in Cape Town today. Others, such as the Ndebele people, are known for the vibrantly coloured and abstracted imagery which adorns their buildings and dress. Their work has been used in art training sessions run by dcs for many years; publications and websites illustrate the work in an easy form for teachers to use in the classroom.

Visiting Africa, at Easter this year, art teacher Maria Nicholson from The Ridgeway showed a CD of pictures of African artists work alongside paintings by students in Devon from the "Colours of Africa" project. When the school visited Soweto, South African teachers were so impressed they asked to keep the work to use with their own pupils.

Great Moor House exhibition

On June 9-10 the work of the 65 schools is exhibited and being sold at Great Moor House, Exeter. This student exhibition will be opened by Garth Erasmus. His visit will enable pupils to speak and listen to a successful and living artist from the country they have been studying. The next step is to encourage pupils to consider how, through making art, they can improve their understanding of life in other countries. By raising money for existing projects, like those in St Peter's and Ridgeway schools, we hope also to help African children in need.

Phil Creek is adviser for art design, Devon.



Calder Colours

World Wide Trading


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Garth Erasmus

St Peter's High School, Exeter html

The Ridgeway School, Plymouth

Royal Albert Memorial Museum and Art Gallery, Exeter

Links with South African schools

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