6th July 2001 at 01:00
It is the season for holiday plans, for end-of-term school journeys and cultural outings. So where better to begin than Trafalgar Square? Which has its charms. And its pigeons. And a Rachel Whiteread sculpture. Despite the suggestions from some newspapers that pigeons have shown excellent taste in disdaining her commission for the Fourth Plinth, I have to report that they have colonised it with gusto.

The empty plinth has been the site for various experiments by contemporary sculptures, including Mark Wallinger's touchingly unassuming Christ figure, "Son Of Man". Whiteread has mirrored the plinth itself in glass, a giant Glacier mint, which reflects the weather and changes with the light.

The Serpentine Gallery, which is showing an exhibition of Whiteread's work, has combined with the Royal Society of Arts to give students from two Westminster secondary schools - Grey Coat Hospital and Quintin Kynaston - the opportunity to participate in Art on a Plinth. They have taken part in eight practical workshops, led by artists Hannah Bryan and Ben Johnson, in the gallery, their schools and Trafalgar Square. They have considered the role of public sculpture through history, and contributed their own ideas for the fourth plinth. The resulting sculpture, photography, performance, video and digital technology solutions can be seen next Friday afternoon at the RSA, John Adam Street, London WC2. These, as well as lesson plans developed during the project, will be available on the National Grid for Learning. RSA: 020 7451 6869.

Queues for Vermeer and the Delft School, the new exhibition in the Sainsbury Wing of the National Gallery, may soon wind far enough for those patiently waiting to contemplate Whiteread's plinth. The popularity of one artist over another is sometimes difficult to fathom, but it is easy to see why so many people respond to the humanity of Vermeer's luminous compositions, with their elegant figures and brilliant deployment of light. A young woman going about a daily task was a frequent choice of subject.

Examples here include the familiar "The Milkmaid" and "Young Woman with a Water Pitcher", showing women of different classes, but both thoughtfully engaged and facing the source of light from a window. There are 13 Vermeers in this exhibition, shown in the context of other painters of the Delft school. Pieter de Hooch's geometric courtyards and interiors are well known, but for me the revelation of this exhibition was Carel Fabritius, a pupil of Rembrandt who died in his thirties in the devastating gunpowder explosion in Delft in 1654. Only nine of his works survive and four are shown here. They are earthy, direct, subtle and full of life, including two self-portraits which gaze frankly at the spectator. There is a programme of study days and lectures. For a booking for 12 or more, including a slide lecture, 020 7747 2888. Information: 020 7747 2885,

The new exhibition in the Sackler Wing at the Royal Academy, Ingres to Matisse: masterpieces of French painting, gives an account of the progression to Impressionism and Post-Impressionism, and includes examples of work by some of the most popular 19th-century artists, from Millet to Renoir, Sisley to Gauguin, Cezanne to Picasso. It is also a celebration of the art of the collector. The first of the key figures in accumulating this splendid collection, based in two Baltimore museums, was William T Walters (1819-1894), who made his fortune in whisky and railways. His son, Henry, expanded the collection of French 19th-century paintings; George Lucas, an engineer, and sisters Claribel and Etta Cone (sometimes advised by Gertrude Stein) acquired later works. This is a fascinating way to understand the development of a movement. Just look at the debate between the classical and those moving towards Impressionism, the choice of subjects, the treatment of sky. There will be related events in September. More information: 020 7300 8000,

Those with memories of the National Theatre's nationwide celebration of youth theatre, BT Connections, will be pleased to see that this year's variation, International Connections, reaches its climax next week. Between July 11 and 14, the Cottesloe, Theatre Square (outside the theatre) and the Olivier stalls foyer will ring to the sounds of students and young people's theatre groups from Scotland and Leicestershire, San Francisco, Belfast and Florence. There will be puppets, hip-hop, skateboarding, and plays about love, deception and revenge. Next year, another festival will feature new writing for young people. Tickets: 020 7452 3000.

Drama will be centre stage on July 12 when Time 2001 (Tamasha Intercultural Millennium Education) holds a conference designed to place teachers' voices "at the centre of intercultural debate for the first timeI changing the culture of the drama classroom". There will be keynote speeches, performances and a masterclass, all organised by Tamasha Theatre Company at the Central School of Speech and Drama. Information: 01747 858776,

Theatre Centre's latest tour is a multicultural affair, with African drumming, Jewish laments - and "a cutlery cacophony". Jumping on my Shadow, by Peter Rumney, inspired by the history and communities of London's East End, has been developed by children from schools in east London and Aylesbury, Bucks. The story of Josip and Anna, who are fighting for asylum, is set in a bakery. Ghostly stories, smells and music are stirred into the mix. Available until December. Information: 020 7377 0379,

Heather Neill

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