MORE THAN 2,000 children and young people from Edinburgh and the Lothians have taken part in the Fruitmarket Gallery's education programme since its launch in April 2005.
The brainchild of education officer Tracey Morgan, the programme offers young people the chance to engage with contemporary art through a series of projects run as collaborations between artists, primary and secondary schools, youth groups and the young people themselves.
Each project begins in the gallery, taking its direction and inspiration from whatever exhibition is on, and is then developed in a series of workshops onsite or back in school, often over an extended period.
The initial looking, discussing and interpreting in the gallery is all-important. This is led by Johnny Gailey, the project co-ordinator, whose skill in guiding uninitiated pupils through the often complex ideas in contemporary art is obvious in the success of the lively, ideas-packed exhibition on show.
Opt in For Art presents the work of more than 91 young artists, aged seven to 18, in a range of projects from the two-year programme. It has been hung and curated with the same care and attention given to international exhibitions, and the young people have been involved in every stage.
Fiona Bradley, the Fruitmarket's director, says: "It's very important to me to have this work in the main gallery, to interpret it and present it in the same way as other exhibitions, to be able to show and experience it just as great art."
The level of ambition and confidence in the work is as impressive as the range, engaging with film, podcast, animation, painting, printing, photography, audio and graphic design. Inspired by last summer's exhibition Dada's Boys, it also uses readily available materials.
Katie Munroe and Sarah Lawrence's sculpture is made from white pan loaves, leading the visitor into the gallery space past Cally Tomlinson's witty Biscuit Wars piece, where bourbons appear to be conquering the custard creams.
In the centre of the gallery is a wool sculpture by 12 pupils from Kaimes special school, made onsite during the installation of the exhibition. For the original project, involving nine primary schools and inspired by Fred Sandback's three-dimensional drawings in space, these pupils had transformed their classroom by wrapping chairs and tables with wool.
Mary Walters, the art teacher, says: "The involvement in the whole process has been so stimulating, and to be part of an exhibition here is great for the pupils."
Newbattle High in Midlothian is represented by The New Battle (ROMCOMZOM), two title sequences filmed and animated by media-study pupils in an extended in-school project exploring the film genres of horror and romantic comedy. Led by film-maker Duncan Nicoll, this highly successful project formed part of their exam coursework.
Mr Nicoll also worked with Craigroyston Community School on its animation project, Short Cuts, shown in the exhibition in the full-size projection space. These short films arose from visiting the Louise Hopkins exhibition in 2005 and meeting the artist, who gave them some of her materials to use.
This inspiring project shows what can be done in the spirit of innovative collaboration.
Second-year pupils were selected from across the spectrum of the year group and taken out of the curriculum for two weeks. The English, art and music departments were all involved, alongside the two professional animators who supplied the software and laptops.
Karen Smart, depute head at Craigroyston, is an enthusiast: "It was challenging organisationally, but justified by the undoubted success of the project, both academically and socially."
Her pupils agree. Jessica Airlie loved being part of it: "We got our own DVDs of the films, and learned so much. Now I visit the national galleries with my pals when we're in town shopping."