Paint in the character;Easter events;Art beat

Heather Neill

While Oscar Wilde (convincingly impersonated by Michael Pennington) makes a heartfelt case for the civilising influence of art in Gross Indecency on the London stage (Gielgud Theatre: 0171 494 5066), no one in arts education needs to be so persuaded. There are still only rumours to go on about the contents of the report to be produced by the Government's national advisory committee on creative and cultural education, chaired by Professor Ken Robinson, but, tentatively re-scheduled for May, it is said to advocate creativity across the curriculum. Some schools, with the help of other agencies, have set off along that path already.

At the Tate Gallery last week, a multi-layered, three-year initiative was launched in collaboration with the Institute of Education and sponsored by the global financial services firm Morgan Stanley Dean Witter, based at Canary Wharf in east London. The level of financial support, "many times that usual in sponsorship", was not revealed, but Visual Paths: teaching literacies in the gallery will not only involve 10 primary schools and one secondary in five London boroughs, it will be meticulously monitored.

The idea is to improve levels of literacy by using the Tate's collection as a resource and by introducing children to artists in their schools. The popular Caribbean poet Grace Nichols will be writer-in-residence for 1999, appointed under the Poetry Society's Poetry Places scheme, and a variety of actors, puppet-eers, storytellers, painters and poets will visit the participating schools in Lambeth, Southwark, Newham, Tower Hamlets and Westminster. Children will make regular gallery visits and progress will be followed by a team from the institute directed by Dr Rose Montgomery-Whicher, who will publish their research as a study of how literacy can be taught outside the classroom.

A simpler pilot scheme, Constructing Identities, has already been run to coincide with last year's John Singer Sargent exhibition. That led to some poems being published in the TES Young Poet column, as Anthony Wilson worked alongside other artists in schools. Visitors to the Tate can see a small but exquisite exhibition of some of the work that resulted from Constructing Identities near the Tate's cafe. There are hand-made pop-up books, posters, puppets and poems. Colin Grigg, head of education at the Tate, described one workshop. Children were encouraged to invent and record dialogue based on characters in the paintings. This they transcribed, making a natural-sounding playlet - and met one of the requirements of the literacy hour.

Working with Andrew Mutter, art adviser for Newham, Grigg and his team are determined to make the scheme a two-way process, with teachers specifying how they want to take part in Visual Paths and artists learning from them in return. Thirty teachers from the participating schools will meet in a regular forum to plan the project in line with the curriculum and to take part in INSET courses. Each spring, there will be a national conference, Word and Image, as part of the London Festival of Literature. (Tate Gallery: 0171 887 8000) Research, children and big money are the ingredients of another scheme which has just got underway. Sainsbury's Checkout Theatre came about because Sainsbury's, supported by the Arts Council of England's New Audiences Programme, commissioned research from Kids Connections, which discovered that theatre is not considered "cool" by 10 to 14-year-olds. Cinema: yes; television soaps: yes; video games: yes; theatre: boring and irrelevant. Well, maybe. The survey only took in 164 young people in two cities, Birmingham and Norwich, but no one in the business would advocate complacency.

The cream of the young people's theatre profession turned up for a one-day seminar, Older Younger, at the British Library, to hear the research presented. Soul-searching mixed with optimism as strategies were shared by writers, directors and administrators from all over the country, and Lord Sainsbury of Preston Candover announced a pound;500,000 sponsorship deal, backed up with pound;100,000 from the Arts Council. This will fund eight new productions for the 10 to 14-year-old age-group over three years, with Sainsbury's offering marketing help to participating theatres.

Applications from groups, naming a writer and director, must be made by April 23. Information: 0171 221 7883 or 0171 695 7851.

At least the age-old rivalry between theatre (performance) and drama (process) seems finally to have lost credibility. The Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith, is making various contributions to the community, sometimes using the theatre's resources, sometimes in less glamorous ways. Two actor-teachers have been taking regular drama classes with teenagers at a pupil referral unit in Parson's Green. On the day of my visit, two groups of 14 and 15-year-olds excluded from schools in the area each had a 40-minute session led by Orlaine McDonald and Nia Kuumba.

They introduced games and improvisations, sometimes giving recalcitrant teenagers the opportunity to take the role of an authority figure and imagine dealing with an unco-operative student or employee. The younger group improvised with excess energy but no real obstreperousness; the older ones were less obliging. But, Nia said, success is measured in mini-seconds, and at the end of the session, he and Orlaine said delightedly, "John (not his real name) spoke." He had never taken part before. We were sitting in a circle negotiating for an imaginary CD player when, for some reason, he decided to join in.

On the wall of the drama room were listed the PRU's precepts: Work hard. Tell the Truth. Respect others. Use your time well. Use others' time well. Not a bad set of rules for anyone, in theatre, school or office. Details of Lyric Theatre's education work: 0181 741 0824.

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Heather Neill

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