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Mystery and magic for all

Dundee's Contemporary Arts centre aims to offer access to every school in the city and beyond with the appointment of education chief Sarah Derrick. Deedee Cuddihy reports.

If Dundee school kids don't end up knowing more about contemporary arts than any other youngsters in Scotland, it won't be for lack of opportunity. For the Dundee Contemporary Arts centre (DCA) which opened last March now has a full-time head of education, Sarah Derrick, who has thrown herself, head first, into the job of developing an education programme which could become one of the most wide-ranging and comprehensive of its type.

Ms Derrick says: "The aim of the education programme is to provide access for all to the full range of contemporary arts exhibited, catered for and carried out in this building including painting, printmaking, photography, design, filmmaking and craft; and to provide access to the artists - many of them with international reputations - and other people involved in creating that work."

Ms Derrick seems undaunted by the prospect of encouraging access to everything going on at DCA, not only to the city's 10 secondary schools and 40 primary schools but to pre-school groups, special needs, youth clubs and the over-60s. "If anything," she says, "schools are the easier part because they have a curriculum and we can work within that."

Ms Derrick is well used to schools, having worked as an education officer at the Tate and Hayward galleries in London. She seems able to juggle any number of tasks without getting into a flap but dismisses this as "something everybody in an arts-related job has to be able to do these days".

Jane Watts, of Wormit Primary School, was certainly impressed when she contacted DCA to ask if it could offer her P4 class a workshop connected with the Magic and Mystery topic it was doing.

She says: "I explained that we had been discussing the use of light and Sarah said there were exhibitions at both DCA and the nearby McManus Galleries (dscribed by Sarah as a 'fantastic and complementary resource') that could be worked into our visit. She came back to me with a choice of three programmes and ideas for worksheets.

"The children ended up creating their own slides with the help of an artist who encouraged them to experiment, and these were then shown through a projector, which the children loved."

The fact that Wormit Primary is situated in North Fife did not exclude them from benefiting from DCA's education programme. "Although we will obviously be focusing on Dundee schools where our rolling programme of on-site and off-site visits is concerned, with artists going out to schools and schools coming here on a regular basis, we certainly won't be turning away requests from teachers in surrounding areas, and even further afield, provided the resources are available," says Ms Derrick. "In fact, the slides workshop went down very well with the children and is one that we can develop.

"But even when we've achieved our aim of providing contact with a contemporary artist for every school in Dundee, we will continue to tailor and adapt that contact to suit the needs of individual classes.

"It won't be a case of drawing up a programme at the beginning of the year and expecting teachers to accept it."

A range of in-service sessions for teachers is planned at DCA between February and June this year, covering photography, computer image work, jewellery and printmaking. The centre will also host meetings for Dundee's principal art teachers and its primary school art specialists.

Most of the workshops held at DCA take place in the education room equipped by Atlantic Telecom which, over the next two years, is also supporting the education programme and paying Sarah Derrick's salary - an investment she describes as "a brilliant example of business sponsorship".

For further information about school visits and the rest of the education programme, contact Sarah Derrick, tel: 01382 432317

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