Inspiring the crafts of art

16th April 2004 at 01:00
After just months, a three-year crafts education project with residential specialists has already made quite an impact, writes Deedee Cuddihy

It took six months to write the proposal for the Ayrshire and Arran craft development project Elements of Change, which will involve 12 schools and cost pound;180,000 over three years, but half way into the first year it appears that the plan is working well.

Phillipa Aitken, the craft development officer for North and East Ayrshire, says the aim of the project is to "instill in children an understanding of the value of craft and its use as a vehicle for self-expression and creativity".

"We're doing this by organising residencies for craftmakers in schools," she explains.

Under the scheme, which is receiving pound;100,000 Scottish Arts Council National Lottery funding, four craft specialists will each be resident in a school for 10 months each year, working one day a week in the school and spending the remaining four days researching and developing new work of their own in studio space provided by the local authority.

More than 40 craftspeople from all over the UK applied for the places and had to demonstrate the highest standard of work as well as excellent communication skills and organisational ability. Twenty-five schools - primary, secondary and special needs - applied to host the residencies and two in North Ayrshire and two in East Ayrshire were chosen on the strength of their commitment to the project in terms of space, time and staffing.

Andrew Weatherhead, a ceramicist from Dumfries, is now in residence at St Andrew's Academy in Saltcoats. "Andrew has been showing pupils how to work with clay and teaching us new techniques which we'll be able to use in the future," explains Kate Dobson, the principal teacher of art. "We've been able to use Andrew for critical studies as well. The pupils interviewed him about his work and we video filmed it as a resource."

Textile artist Serena Partridge is in residence at Irvine Royal Academy.

She has been working with Standard Grade and Higher classes and on a one-to-one basis with five Advanced Higher pupils.

Frances Morrison, the school's principal teacher of art, praises her work.

"Because of Serena, the fashion project the Advanced Higher group is working on has been brought up another level. The finished result will be geared more to an art gallery than the catwalk. She's brought new skills into the department and introduced staff and pupils to new materials and new ways of doing things," she says.

At St Joseph's Academy in Kilmarnock, principal teacher of art John Grant is equally as pleased with the work being done by woodcarver Seamus O'Sullivan. "We're sharing Seamus with the technical department and the kids and staff are really enjoying the experience."

Jewellery maker and metal worker Marion Kane, who is from Ayrshire, is in residence at James Hamilton Academy in Kilmarnock, to the benefit of both pupils and staff, says principal teacher of art Charles Beadle.

"Marion has brought in ideas which will act as a springboard to invigorate the topic and she's organised a series of three professional development jewellery workshops for teachers in the area."

Although the four craftspeople have been enjoying the financial security of a monthly wage (pound;12,000 a year), none has been tempted yet to change career and go into full-time teaching. "Working in a school one day a week feels good," says Ms Partridge who, in common with the others, believes she could "never stop being a maker".

Mr Weatherhead, who at 38 is the oldest of the residents, admits the post has allowed him to escape, temporarily, from the commercial pressures of his work but says: "It's giving me time to develop and experiment." His studio is beside the beach at Irvine, where he has been excavating clay and taking plaster casts of patterns in the sand.

Mr O'Sullivan was working part-time in a bar when he saw an advertisement for the Elements of Change residencies and leapt at the chance to take part in the project. "This is a much healthier existence," he says. "It's giving me time to think and I'm learning too because the kids ask me questions that I never asked myself at art school, like why I use certain techniques and why they don't always work."

Ms Kane praises the enthusiasm of the S2 pupils she has been working with.

"They learn so quickly, I sometimes feel a bit redundant," she says.

An exhibition of work by the craft-makers and pupils involved in the project will go on show in the region next month.

For more about Elements of Change, call Phillipa Aitken, tel 01563 554341

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