This is the last Art Beat of the term and, if it still seems some time before we have to decide between saying "2000" or "double O" when giving the new date, there are already plans to cross the great divide. Welfare State International, the well-known Cumbrian community arts company, for instance, is living up to its reputation for the unexpected. Letting Go: a rite of passage across the millennium includes "an enchanted beach garden offering evocative sounds and images, tiny cities on satellite pulleys struggling through space to small shacks at the end of jetties signalling with delicate prayer flags".
This installation, we are told, will follow "the natural cycle from preparation in darkest winter, through vigil and stillness across the millennium to the new expeditions in the New Year". It's not easy to imagine what is going on here, but Ulverston is the place to find out. There will be storytelling tours around the garden and a daily ceremony of lamp-lighting. Tel: 01229 581127.
Hans Andersen's The Snow Queen comes ultimately, no doubt, from dark European folk-memory and is a popular choice at the turn of the year. There will be a spectacular installation by Andrey Bartenev from December 14 and performances based on the story at the Royal Festival Hall, London, from December 21 until January 1. Children can join in free, pre-booked workshops (wearing suitable clothing so that they can jump, spin, slide and dance in bare feet) on December 28, 29 and 30. Somehow a special millennium performance called The Year of the Headless Chicken fits in with all this on January 3. The new era seems to get stranger by the minute.Tel: 0171 960 4242.
But artists should always nudge us out of preconceptions and, although participants in Year of the Artist, which begins in June 2000, are planning some extraordinary things, many will be used to giving people a jolt already. Tim Fleming, for instance, joint artistic director of Whitewood and Fleming Theatre and Music, actor, musician, composer, performer, has been known to drag a giant snail around Ireland. This left a glistening trail, symbolic of bringing communities together, and allowed opportunities for impromptu story-telling sessions. Based in Brighouse, West Yorkshire, Whitewood and Fleming acts as a kind of agency for 40 artists who specialise in working on arts projects with schools and whole communities. Next year Tim Fleming will mastermind a piece which includes music written by children as young as seven and 150 performers in his area. For information about Whitewood and Fleming: 01484 717173.
There will be "1,000 artists in 1,000 places" between next June and May 2001, including Kate Tierney whose medium is sound and who has, appropriately, been assigned to the BBC's Today programme. She will work with news and create it by making sound "pictures". For information on appointing an artist in residence and on the Year of the Artist, contact your local arts board or telephone 0114 279 6511.
Other planning for next year might involve a visit to 1900: Art at the Crossroads which will run from January 15 to April 3 at the Royal Academy of Arts in London.The exhibition will bring together 250 paintings and sculptures, including works by Degas, Cezanne, Renoir, Rodin, Matisse and Picasso and will be organised into sections, including landscapes, portraits, nudes and interiors. There will be evening lectures and four student seminars. Information: 0171 300 8000.
There is just time to catch a prize-winning millennium musical in Dorset. M.AD again won the Festival of Culture award in Cherbourg. A rock musical which begins in a world of homelessness and despair, it nevertheless includes comedy and rousing choruses to tell the story of the second-coming. More than 100 students from Corfe Hills school will perform the piece at Poole Arts Centre until Sunday. Arts Centre: 01202 685222; Corfe Hills: 01202 697541.
But, whatever the date, some things seem never to change. There is always a need for more good writing for young audiences. A three-day conference run by the London Lab brought together some imaginative pieces recently at the New Ambassadors Theatre in London. Writers had been given the opportunity to develop new plays by Performing Arts Labs. These were then given rehearsed readings before an audience of delegates which included writers and workers with young people. The poet Glyn Maxwell and the verse playwright Peter Oswald contributed new work, but among the ones I saw was Electric Halos, a touching piece by Helen Adams which captured the anxieties and new emotions of a time when playful group fantasy involving racing cars and space ships begins to turn to interest in the opposite sex. PAL: 0171 839 5677.
Enjoy the end-of-term events and look out for information about seasonal shows in the next few weeks.