No culture vouchers

22nd November 1996 at 00:00
The Scottish Arts Council has withdrawn its plan for vouchers to help children visit arts events. Raymond Ross reports. The Scottish Arts Council's recent proposals for "Lottery cultural cheques" for schools, outlined in its New Directions document in April, have been shelved. Details of new proposals will be made public in January.

The use of cultural cheques, vouchers of around Pounds 3 per pupil which schools could use to bring companies or artists into their buildings, or which they could spend on visits to theatres, concerts or exhibitions, is "an idea whose time has not yet come," says Sylvia Dow, SAC's senior education officer.

In spite of the popularity of the scheme among many of the one in 10 Scottish schools which were consulted this autumn, it was felt by several local authorities that the proposals would be neither workable nor equitable.

"They raise problems of both administration and quality assurance," says Ms Dow. "Added to which there might be possible inequities where, for example, a small rural school would not have equal spending power to a large urban school."

While Fiona Hamill, senior press officer of SAC, says there was "a degree of support" for the cultural cheque scheme, "we had to take into account the technicalities of how to do it. We may yet find a way of dovetailing it into New Directions. But it's a possibility rather than a probability."

In its place, SAC will launch a new programme on January 27 which, Ms Dow says, "will provide an interface of professional artists or companies and schools to enrich the curriculum through those artists going into schools and other educational establishments. This would be for curriculum enrichment specifically and not to do with the delivery of the curriculum. The proposal is certainly not to replace teaching staff or resources that are the statutory duty of the local authority."

Giving the example of a visual artist visiting a school at present only once, Ms Dow argues that under the new scheme the school could apply for funds to bring that artist in for a year-long project or bring in three or four different artists over the year.

Stressing that this is only an example of the kind of thing that may be considered by SAC when disbursing National Lottery funds to schools, she says, "This is not just about the arts themselves, but also about science and environmental studies - which can be enriched through the arts. In keeping with 5 to 14 guidelines, we are talking about learning through the arts as well as learning in the arts."

The shelving of the cultural cheque scheme, however, will mean the loss of potential subsidy for "go see" visits to theatres, galleries and so on, which SAC admits are of "equal value".

SAC will not yet be drawn on the specific criteria for applications for "interface" funding, which will be published in January, but says that it would operate "a strict policy of equal opportunity" that would not lend itself to either social or regional bias.

"The award of Lottery funding is by its nature application-driven. Our effort goes into drawing up the criteria. There is no numbers game and no region game. It's the merit of the application that counts. We are publicly accountable and any grant-giving system has to absolutely transparent - and will be," says Ms Hamill.

After the January 27 launch, SAC will "roadshow" its final New Directions proposals to the Scottish public from Inverness and Aberdeen to Galashiels and Castle Douglas. It will be accepting New Directions Lottery funding applications from January 27 and will make the first awards in the new financial year (April 1997).

SAC has a total of Pounds 26 million to disburse through this scheme and its capital projects scheme which covers buildings, equipment, art in public places and film production. There will be no set division of monies between the two schemes. Rather, all applications submitted will be dealt with on their individual merits.

uThe New Directions Roadshow will visit: Inverness, January 28; Ayr, January 30; Glasgow, January 31; Aberdeen, February 3; Galashiels, February 5; Oban, February 7; Dundee, February 10; Edinburgh, February 12. Details: 0131 226 6051. A Guide to National Lottery Funds from the Scottish Arts Council, 12 Manor Place, Edinburgh EH3 7DD.

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