Draw of the artists

24th November 2000 at 00:00
Galleries and museums increasingly are setting up contacts between designers and children. Deedee Cuddihy reports on a new education programme in Glasgow and a similar one in Edinburgh.

One of Scotland's best-known fine arts organisations has launched an education programme for children at the start of its annual exhibition in Glasgow in an effort to attract more young people to the show and to get them hooked on visiting galleries.

The Royal Glasgow Institute of the Fine Arts, commonly known as the RGI, mounts a show of as many as 500 works in the McLellan Galleries in Sauchiehall Street every year at this time. It attracts thousands of adult visitors during its three-week run but, in common with most other art exhibitions, very few children.

This year the RGI is piloting an education programme with primary and secondary pupils in the hope of drawing them to fine art at an early age. Depending on the feedback, the institute hopes to run the programme every year during the annual exhibition and might extend and expand this year's workshops and gallery talks to incorporate studio visits and events for teachers.

The honorary secretary for the RGI, artist Christine McArthur, says: "The institute's annual exhibition provides a fantastic opportunity to see a huge range of work being produced by mainly west coast artists. A visit to the show is, therefore, a perfect way for younger children to become acquainted with contemporary art. And, as the Higher Still art and design course now calls for the study of contemporary artists and designers, it meets the requirements of older pupils as well."

Through the education programme, which has been co-ordinated by Alastair Laing at Glasgow University's department of curriculum studies, the RGI hopes to "build bridges between young people and adult artists to create a greater awareness and understanding of art practice". It also aims to "encourage children, through contact with artists, to identify their own artistic strengths and ways of exploring their creative abilities".

The pilot includes a workshop for primary children and student teachers entitled "Exploring Picture Making", run by Ms McArthur, a masterclass for third year pupils to explore the uses of acrylic paint with three artists, Charlie MacQueen, Christine Woodside and Archie McIntosh, and artist-led tours of the exhibition for senior pupils of visual arts.

Settingup contacts between youngsters and contemporary artists and designers is a rising priority for museums and galleries. Glasgow Museums' education officer, Anne Wallace, launched a series of talks by professionals for schools at the start of the academic year. These take place at the Gallery of Modern Art once a month on a Thursday afternoon during term time.

Last month's speaker was Avril Paton, whose finely detailed paintings of Glasgow tenements are tremendously popular. Next Thursday, November 30, Craig Mulholland will give a slide presentation of his work, followed by a discussion session. Future speakers include John Byrne and environmental artist Andy Goldsworthy.

Ms Wallace says: "Artists enjoy the sessions because they like having that contact with youngsters and the pupils obviously get a lot out of it, especially when teachers come too, and help things along by asking interesting questions."

Meanwhile, in Edinburgh, Visual Arts Scotland, which holds an annual show similar to the RGI's and at the same time at the headquarters of the Royal Scottish Academy on the Mound, is also running an education programme, which it introduced last year.

Joanne Moore, the administrator and events organiser for VAS, says: "Our inaugural education project was aimed at primary schools but this year we're concentrating on Higher Still pupils with a series of 10 talks by artists." These take place on Friday afternoons and Saturday lunchtimes.

"Sculptor David Mach is one of our first speakers and he'll be followed by people who work with a variety of media, including tapestry, wood and, of course, paint. They'll be covering a number of topics, such as their experience of art college, their careers and the materials they use, so it promises to be an interesting programme."

VAS has also produced a CD-Rom with Edinburgh University on art teaching for primary schools. Now the organisation is working on materials for a teachers' pack about the work of living Scottish artists.

"There is an acute shortage of the kind of packaged information that schools need, especially for Higher Still art and design courses. VAS is well-placed to provide exactly what is required. We do, after all, have 500 artist members," says Ms Moore.

RGI Annual Exhibition, McLellan Galleries, Glasgow, Nov 26-Dec 16VAS Annual Exhibition, Royal Scottish Academy, Edinburgh, November 25-December 17

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