Let's hit the jackpot for arts in school

1st November 1996 at 00:00
The arts are populist. That's official. It appears that as many folk play a musical instrument (5 per cent of the population) as play football. As many paint or draw as play golf or darts (8 per cent in each case). This serendipitous intelligence leaps from the pages of the Department of National Heritage document, sadly applicable only in southern parts. It has a particularly strong focus on schools and young people, exploring the potential of Lottery largesse for the arts in education.

This consultation paper follows the Government's decision that the ever more fruitful harvest of the National Lottery should be extended to include revenue projects. In England, schools are certainly in the central sightlines.

The weekly flutter is to transform the arts facilities available to and in schools, allowing the development of buildings as a base for arts activities for both pupils and the local community. English proposals include musical instruments for young people; improved arts education in initial teacher training; money for artists in residence; arts training for school governors through the Valuing the Arts initiative (nothing parallel in sight for school board members).

Networking and the creative potential of business sponsorship and the Voluntary Arts Network are upfront south of the border. Most imaginatively, an (English) Artsmark Award is proposed, to celebrate good practice and high standards achieved in schools. The potential of information technology for arts and young people - multimedia centres, CD-Rom, interactive programmes, the Internet - is imaginatively explored.

So what's on offer from our home-grown Scottish Arts Council? What innovative approaches are envisaged to transform with lottery loot the role of the arts in Scottish schools?

Don't hold your breath. Vision is not the first word which springs to mind from perusal of The National Lottery: New Directions Consultation Document. Altogether a more bureaucratic mindset prevails. Emphasis is given to programmes with such riveting titles as "New Work" and "Stabilisation and Advancement". Those now at school, the audiencesperformerssponsorscreators of the future, do not exactly figure centre-stage.

The SAC's record under its lottery capital projects programme to date is interesting. Since April last year, Pounds 38 million has been distributed to worthy projects, mainly housing the arts, under such headings as building projects, equipment grants, art-in-public-places, feasibility studies.

Under the council's rules, school arts projects must contain a substantial intention for public as well as school consumption, a fact which should fit glove-like with the Scottish "community school" approach. So why are Scottish schools so conspicuous by their absence from the lists of awardees? All of three secondaries have indeed made it with small lottery awards: Kingussie (disabled access); Queensferry (feasibility study); Ardrossan (brass band support group).

One answer could be plain ignorance. It is significant that the recent SAC consultation with schools on current proposals to extend funding to revenue projects was limited to a sample of just one in ten schools. Hands up if it was the hot topic in your staffroom.

This difference in emphasis north and south of the border is not merely a question of drafting. The SAC document appears more than a mite school-unfriendly compared with the "come to the party" atmosphere emanating from its Department of National Heritage counterpart.

Why no Artsmark Award Scheme for Scottish schools? Why no proposal for an annual national art competitionexhibition? Both surely would be more imaginative uses of lottery loot than the proposed cultural cheques, which sound like a recipe for money falling into a black bureaucratic hole to me. Surely there is a ministerial opportunity here.

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