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It's not often that somebody seeks you out to offer money, but that is what the Scottish Arts Council is trying to do with schools and education departments.
Historically, schools have had little contact with the Arts Council, and when they have applied for funds - perhaps for a writer or artist to come in for a reading or workshop - it has been a one-off application for pound;50 or so. For the past year, however, under the New Directions branch of National Lottery funding, schools have been eligible to apply for more substantial sums for arts-related projects. But very few have done so.
New Directions, as its name implies, provides funding for new projects that add to or support the existing curriculum. "It's about adding that extra professional dimension that can't be provided by the teacher in the classroom," says Sylvia Dow, the SAC's senior education officer. "It's the difference, if you like, between reading Macbeth and going to see it in the theatre."
Arts organisations have been quick to seize the opportunities offered by New Directions, and applications massively exceed the funds available. Yet, as education is such an important element of the New Directions programme, the message is that applications from schools will still be welcomed. "It enables schools to think in an innovative and imaginative way," says Dow. "Not that they don't do that already, but New Directions lets them think big."
Schools that have successfully applied for funding show a range of inventive project ideas, small and large. St Ambrose High School in Coatbridge has secured funding to buy instruments and provide tuition for a jazz band. It is a project that expands beyond the curriculum and even the school itself, offering tuition to school-leavers, and to late starters in music who may have missed out on instrument tuition. St Jude's Primary in Barlanark has been awarded pound;32,000 in lottery funding to continue a school environment design project begun in 1996. Working with professional architects and designers, the pupils have been redesigning their surroundings, hoping to improve both the appearance and safety of their environment.
Chatelheraut Primary in Hamilton has pound;13,000 to commission an artist to work with the pupils to create a sculpture in the school courtyard.
The SAC can award New Directions funding of anything between pound;1,000 and pound;500,000. "We can look at fast-tracking smaller applications," says Cindy Sughrue, senior performing arts officer. "A small application, say for pound;4,000 to pound;5,000, can make a huge difference to a school."
She also suggests that a joint application from a group of schools can make good sense, for example in sharing the skills of a group of artists in a year-long programme of workshops. Dumfries and Galloway Council has just received an award towards the cost of a three-year programme bringing artists and craftmakers into classrooms across the region, to share their expertise and experience with the children.
"It's all about living arts," emphasises Sylvia Dow. "Children usually think artists are dead. If it's a painter, it must be somebody like Van Gogh. But there is a mass of work going on out there that can enhance education.
"These are living, breathing artists who can share their art with children. And it works both ways. Artists can get a lot out of working with children. Just one event can raise huge expectations and waken up potential. But New Directions can take it on, it allows the work to be sustained." The point of New Directions, says Dow, is to make a lasting difference to the culture of the school, in its widest sense.
In Glasgow, funding has allowed primary pupils to take part in the Landwise Environmental Storytelling Challenge, which combines puppetry, drama and script-writing with an environmental message. Fife schools will be part of the New Makers project to encourage the composition and performance of songs within the local idiom.
"The reason we want schools to apply," says Sughrue, "is because it gives them a degree of empower-ment. They make the decisions about how they want to employ art within the school rather than waiting for the ideas to come to them."
HOW TO GAIN NEW DIRECTIONS FINANCE FOR YOUR SCHOOL
New Directions funding can be applied for under three headings: * New Work, such as the sculpture project in Hamilton; * Access and Participation, for example workshops, artists in residence. Most schools applications would probably fall into this category; * Talent, Skills and Creative Abilities, offering career development to particularly talented young artists.
It is important to show that the school community will benefit from the project. "The most convincing applications are those where support has been gathered across the school," says Dow, "and it's not just one person's brilliant idea".
There must be an element of partnership funding. Up to 85 per cent of the project costs can come from the lottery; and of the partnership funding, a large proportion can be in kind. Of the remaining 15 per cent, only 5 per cent need be cash. The project must supplement the existing school curriculum.
Basic information about your idea's suitability, or advice on your application is available from the SAC Help Desk, open Monday to Friday, 10am-12 noon and 2-4pm on 0131 243 24434.
Application forms and guidelines from the Scottish Arts Council, Lottery Department, 12 Manor Place, Edinburgh EH3 7DD. Tel: 0131 226 6051 Fax: 0131 477 7240.