Bridge that gap

24th October 1997 at 01:00
The first arts education co-ordinator in Scotland is a former art teacher. In a pioneering scheme initiated by the Scottish Arts Council, Brian McGeogh took up his post with South Lanarkshire Council in 1996. His remit is to bridge the gap between the arts and schools, in the belief that this will be beneficial to both, but with the main emphasis on enhancing the curriculum.

A second arts education co-ordinator, Norma McCrone, has recently taken up her duties with North Ayrshire council and four more posts are likely to be created with other councils over the next two years.

The pilot scheme is a partnership initiative, the posts being jointly funded by the SAC and the local councils. Fifty per cent SAC funding in the first year provides initial stability, reducing to 30 per cent in year two and 20 per cent in year three, the councils' input increasing accordingly. Thereafter, total funding has to be borne by the councils.

It is a testament to the quality of both the idea and the incumbent that McGeogh's South Lanarkshire post has already been made permanent before even his second year has been completed.

In South Lanarkshire, McGeogh works closely with the expressive arts adviser on curricular targets. "It's about project work that is curriculum-based. Obviously, I have to fit into the curriculum targets as they are, but it is up to me how to address them," he says.

Taking the example of the council's equal opportunities policy, he describes a project involving the musicdance company Paragon Ensemble, South Lanarkshire's social work department and Hamilton School for the Deaf.

"They worked on a 10-week programme to devise a production with pupils with hearing impairment. The aim was to encourage the pupils' development and to expand their world. The outcome was broad-based and to do with social skills. In fact, they performed in front of hundreds of people at the end of the project," he says.

A similar project tackled the issue of gender, with pupils from one secondary and five associate upper primaries taking part in weaving, "normally thought of as a female art form. The outcome was a public exhibition at East Kilbride Arts Centre where the sexes were equally represented".

McGeogh's own background is very much in the visual arts. A former art teacher and curator of the education museum at the Charles Rennie Mackintosh Scotland Street School in Glasgow, he spent 10 years in the city's museum education service before taking up his present position. A great deal of his work is co-ordinating different educational, community, artistic and funding bodies.

"The cash for the work I do comes from three main sources, the SAC for individual project schemes, the council's support for learning grant fund, which enables individual artists and groups like Scottish Ballet or TAG to make bids for projects which are curriculum-targeted, and Lottery grants."

A sculpture project involving Cathkin High School in partnership with Lanarkshire Construction Consortium, who donated Pounds 1,000, has been awarded Pounds 15,000 from Lottery funds. "The project will involve pupils in developing structuring and building techniques and skills from quantity surveying to craft and design, which was why it has been supported by the LCC," says McGeogh. "The school, which is housed in a 30-year-old building, wants an entrance sculpture. It's very much about the school ethos and the environment, and the project will involve tree planting, murals and possibly wrought-iron work on new school gates."

With McGeogh co-ordinating, the biggest Lottery funding in local arts education (Pounds 50,000) has been awarded to the Hamilton Ahead Project for a school media studies project which will involve at least one primary school initially in making a movie and coming into contact with the film world.

"The Glasgow Film Theatre is the main partner here and it will provide a lot of curricular material," says McGeogh. "The intended outcome is that over three years there will be a number of schools producing their own films and then coming together for a media festival.

Through projects like these a considerable amount of work is generated. South Lanarkshire funds specialist tuition in music and dance through to minor projects in individual schools. But the key thing for the job is that everything is done on a partnership basis. "For example, Fablevision, the drama-based multi-media company, and a consortium of six schools, including three special needs schools, are presently working together to mount a Lottery bid to produce a theatre-based, multi-media event."

With the current emphasis on environmental studies, McGeogh's art strategy will still play a central role. Using the resources of an environmental artist, Chatelherault Primary School hopes to transform its unused central courtyard into an area which the pupils can use in tandem with planting a copse of trees around the school to enhance the ethos and environment of the school.

"The outcome here is, therefore, environmental as well as artistic. Our overall strategy is about learning through the arts as well as in the arts. It's about enriching the curriculum through a co-ordinated approach."

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