Summer in the city is a Buzz for nursery kids

Judy Mackie visits Aberdeen to see how a pioneering arts programme teaches youngsters to be more creative

FOR the first time during the summer holidays, Aberdeen youngsters aged three to six are experiencing the excitement of working with professional artists in dedicated creative spaces, using materials not normally available in their early learning centres and schools.

BUZZ!!, one of the most ambitious summer school arts programmes in Scotland, offers an unprecedented variety of colourful week-long activities for children and young people up to age 18.

The pilot of a three-year project supported by pound;100,000 of lottery cash, the programme offers a choice of more than 14 different events and workshops spanning dance, drama, storytelling, multimedia and the visual arts.

Around 500 youngsters, some````` with special educational needs, have signed up this summer, with no more than 30 on each course to ensure a quality experience.

BUZZ!! has evolved from four years of work by the city council and its cultural partners - several arts agencies in Aberdeen - to extend the range of creative opportunities open to youngsters.

From a highly successful multi-arts summer school for 16-25s in 1998, provision has rapidly developed to introduce new activities, increase the amount of professional support and include a greater number of younger children.

Jacqueline McKay, arts education co-ordinator, who has been instrumental in developing summer school provision over the four-year period, says: "We have been overwhelmed by the response from nurseries and primary schools to this year's programme. There was quite obviously a gap in terms of summer activities for infants and a real eagerness on the part of parents and teachers for their children to explore new arts subjects."

Four workshops are tailored to this age group, offering different combinations of dance, storytelling, drama and visual art. By encouraging children to express themselves in a fun, creative way, these activities, together with those offered to the older age groups, help build self-esteem and complement the curriculum by developing skills such as communi-cation, team work, creativity and motor ability.

While many older primary children have already experienced summer schools over the past couple of years, this year they have far more activities to choose from. These include opportunities to work with artist David Blyth, in the studios of Peacock Visual Arts, using wax casting, collage and sculpture - and then to combine the results with new digital media through scanning, manipulation and printing.

There are opportunities to learn street dance styles such as jazz, hip hop and break-dancing. And young people will have a chance make their own short film on the theme of "Summer in the City", with the support of the council's arts development agency, White Space.

Among workshops open to young people up to age 18 are a course on creating television drama, which teaches dramatic action, use of cameras and editing, an art and design workshop which helps prospective art school students develop a portfolio and a new concept - the Tribe - which involves 8-18s working with a director to stage a commissioned play, with the additional commitment of regrouping in the autumn to produce the work in a local youth theatre festival in October.

"We have learnt over the years that the young participants are very willing to try new experiences," Ms McKay says. "They want to work with professional artists in dedicated spaces, such as theatres, galleries and studios. Being treated as professionals themselves makes a big difference in terms of their response and what they take back into school."

Over the next three years, BUZZ!! will continue to develop its activities, supported by the appointment of five new cultural co-ordinators funded by the Scottish Executive and administered by the Scottish Arts Council as part of the national cultural strategy.

Aberdeen plans to involve the co-ordinators in work on communication, evaluation, IT and pre-fives and special needs provision. This will help develop a year-long programme of holiday and after-school arts activities.

Ms McKay says: "More and more people are beginning to understand that arts education can make a difference, in terms of addressing issues such as behavioural problems, violence and drug use. In working together with our cultural partners and our colleagues in education, social work and community education, we have now reached the position of having the right people in the right place at the right time.

"And it's a very exciting time - particularly for the city's children and young people, who can look forward to an even greater choice of creative opportunities in future."

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