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Pottery studio fires fresh interest in arts

North Lanarkshire's Youth Arts Festival is working its magic with teenagers, writes Deedee Cuddihy

Snow was falling in Wishaw but that wasn't going to stop Kenny Ross from going ahead with the most exciting stage in the production of Japanese raku pottery.

Wearing protective face gear and fireproof gloves and armed with long-handled metal pincers, Mr Ross withdrew a set of white-hot clay bowls from the raku kiln, took them outside and dropped them into a bin of shredded newspaper, which instantly burst into spectacular orange flames.

Raku firings are carried out at the Pather Artworks studio in Wishaw throughout the year but members of the public do not usually have the chance to watch. However, this firing was taking place during North Lanarkshire Council's two-week Youth Arts Festival.

The annual event, which was marking its third year, offers 14- to 21-year-olds the chance to try a variety of arts and arts-related activities, mostly after school and at the weekends but some are run as special projects within schools. This year's festival, which finished last weekend, included comic book, music and drama workshops, television presenting, street dance and performance poetry sessions, science fiction writing and photography.

The raku sessions took place on two Saturdays at Pather Artworks, a dedicated pottery studio which is run by Heather Thom. All those who went to the second workshops were trying pottery for the first time and seemed to have no qualms about getting dirty with the clay. They had a go at throwing a pot and agreed it was harder than it looks but fun, nonetheless.

Claire French, the audience development manager for North Lanarkshire Council's creative services department and spokeswoman for the festival, had gone along to the studio to try her hand at pottery too.

"That was a first for me and I really enjoyed it," she says.

"I've always loved the arts. There is something magical about them. But for many people, their appeal seems to fade when they reach 14. That's why the Youth Arts Festival is so important. It's aim is to keep that interest going and to rekindle it by offering taster sessions for a wide variety of arts.

"In North Lanarkshire, we're currently working with six groups of teenagers who have identified themselves as non-users of the arts," she says. "We're listening to their ideas and have organised trips to see how theatres operate back stage, set up interviews with bands and got some of the most unlikely boys you could imagine trying out and really enjoying contemporary dance.

"The project is going so well, we've applied for national lottery funding for a youth arts magazine and website that these six groups will write for and they will be in charge of it."

Pather Artworks itself offers proof that an interest in the arts can be rekindled at any age. Mr Ross, who works there part-time, dropped out of art school in Aberdeen in the 1980s. After 12 years working as a cable layer, he applied to study ceramics at the Glasgow School of Art and is now in his final year.

Christine McConaghy, another part-time worker at the studio, decided on a career change in her thirties. She swapped dog grooming for a three-year diploma course in ceramics at Cardonald College in Glasgow, which she completed last summer.

Pather Artworks, tel 01698 351559

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