With the help of a generous benefactor, some Shropshire schools had a once in a lifetime experience with artists and artworks, as Carol Overs reports
Imagine taking the class to an art gallery - it costs you nothing to get there, no risk assessment required, no entrance costs or guide fee, and interpretation and teacher's notes are provided. The children can take the pictures off the walls without bells ringing, they can lay original works of art on the floor and work alongside them. Sounds amazing, but is it too good to be true?
It could happen if you could find a benefactor like Eric Robinson.
He's an art patron who has given permission for part of his collection to tour Shropshire schools, in a project called Artbox.
As part of the event, 11 artists were also commissioned to work in 11 schools; eager headteachers sidelined the curriculum while their halls and corridors buzzed with creativity. At Claverley Primary School sculptor Johnny White helped pupils create a walking, talking robot made out of found materials, while artist Euryl Stevens helped them work on four huge textile panels for the dining hall - lunch will never be the same again.
Children were thrilled to find that some artists, whose work was part of the tour, were still alive, and some of them are female.
When the 30 original works of art arrived in the huge treasure chest, they stimulated lively discussion sessions; even shy pupils got caught up in talking about their experiences and memories after seeing the paintings.
The difference in using original art, rather than posters, slides or books, was stunning: the pupils could look at the marks the artist made, see where the palette knife had been, and get up close to the materials and processes. There is nothing like the real thing or, as one pupil from Haughton Special School says: "It was awesome, especially working with an artist."
If you put art at the forefront of the curriculum for a few blissful weeks, you can be rewarded with amazing colours and textures, while children's self-esteem will rise right up to the picture rail. And the effects are far-reaching. One parent told us: "Our kitchen table hasn't seen the light of day for well over a week as it's been covered in art materials."
Carol Overs was curator of the Artbox project for Shropshire County Council
HOW TO DO IT
* The cost of an artist in school for a day works out at around pound;200, plus expenses.
* Transport and insurance will depend on number of works, and so on. A collection of about 10 works in various styles and medium would give a good broad spectrum for teachers to work with.
* If you are lucky enough to have some works given on loan then great, you could ask a local benefactor or archive.
* A good place to look for potential funders is The Arts Funding Guide from the Directory of Social Change (it can be ordered from www.dsc.org.uk). It has masses of information on who funds what.
* Your local arts council will always be ready to advise on putting together a funding application.
* An advertisement in your local newspaper asking for works to be loaned to you might come up with something.
* Your local museum service may well have some works idling away in storage.
* Local venues may be willing to exhibit your final work.
* Ask parents and governors if they are willing to get involved, as they may also have useful contacts.