In search of funding

3rd July 1998 at 01:00
Monday morning. The most unpopular part of the working week should also be a time of new enthusiasm and energy. At least that's the theory. June 22 was certainly a day for culture watchers to be firing on at least a couple of cylinders before lunch. If the topping out of the millennium dome with a roof membrane-thin but strong enough to bear the weight of a jet (actually the flying will, they say, be inside, with newly trained young circus artists showing off their daredevil skills) escaped you, something else was stirring at the National Theatre.

Sophie Dahl, rubenesque model, Philip Ridley, author of novels, plays and screenplays, and Joanna MacGregor, pianist and newly-appointed member of the reconstituted "cool" Arts Council, were among the celebrities launching an organisation designed to put arts for children on the cultural map. Action for Children's Arts, chaired by playwright David Wood, has everything in its favour - talented supporters, determination, excellent ideas and intentions - except money. Much like children's arts themselves. David Wood, author of The Gingerbread Man and The Plotters of Cabbage Patch Corner, and Mark Fisher, Minister for Culture, made passionate speeches about the importance of giving young people experience of live performance and about the unfairly low status of children's arts. Cheaper ticket prices and lack of notice by critics lead to small budgets which lead to cheap tickets . . . and so on. ACA is making a concerted effort to break the cycle: awards for excellence and a one-day conference are promised, but only if a sponsor can be found. Turn-out at the NT was impressive, but we all had to sit on the floor - providing chairs costs money. Anyone with a few thousand pounds to spare should send a fax to 0181 542 7723.

By late morning Dr Brian Lang, chief executive of the new British Library, was holding court in the splendid - and, whatever the critics say, coolly beautiful - St Pancras building. Reader numbers are up, book ordering is more efficient and digitalisation is planned. The stunning galleries are attracting visitors (try "turning" the pages of the Lindisfarne Gospels on screen), and hundreds of children are availing themselves of the education resources. But all is not well in the temple of knowledge. Government funding has been cut by Pounds 6 million and readers may soon have to pay. Otherwise, "core" activities alone will survive, which puts, you've guessed it, the educational activities in serious danger.

School music suffers from patchy funding in Scotland as elsewhere, but there was little thought of tough times at Glasgow's City Hall last Thursday. The first TES Scotland Schools Prom, organised by Music for Youth, got off to a rousing start with a set by the West Lothian Schools Brass Band. A particularly arresting moment came when a piper was heard in the distance. A slight girl eventually appeared skirling away during the traditional "Highland Cathedral" and disappeared again, scarcely acknowledging the applause. This was the first definitively Scottish moment in an evening that had a flavour all its own.

There was plenty of musical variety, although little from the youngest pupils and no full-scale orchestra. Flat Pavan, old-hands at Albert Hall Schools Proms, charmed with music from 1550 (the rustic "Bransles de Champaigne") and a piece written last year by one of the group. Strathclyde Arts Centre Wind Band attacked "Alleluia! Laudamus Te" and the raucous "James Bond 007" with equal flair. After the interval, Fife Youth Percussion Ensemble's programme included an unusual arrangement of Tchaikovsky's "Russian Dance" and "Celebration", a piece that allowed the massed xylophones, drums and other percussion full rein. The Edinburgh Schools Jazz Band play everything from Ellington to Gershwin with near-professional cool. The evening ended with a whirl of kilts and a blurr of fiddle bows as the Ayrshire Fiddle Orchestra got every foot in the hall tapping. All 75 players, some as young as 10, were shoe-horned on to the stage, and just about brought the house down. No "Land of Hope and Glory" here, but the traditional reels had much the same emotional effect. Donnie Munro, popular singer and politician from the Isle of Skye, expressed everyone's hope that this will be the first of many TESS proms. (Music for Youth: 0181 870 9624. ) Rent, the Aids rock musical at the Shaftesbury Theatre in London, is more sombre and perhaps more sentimental, but no less popular with teenagers. Teachers are being offered two free tickets on certain dates before they make school bookings. All school groups that do book are invited to take part in a workshop run by the Theatre Museum, and teachers will be provided with a CD-Rom and study guide to help prepare for the visit. Cost per child is Pounds 11. (Call the box office on 07000 211221 and quote Schools Offer.) Stop press. There's still time to book for a one-day conference, Music in the Classroom, supported by The TES, at Manchester's Royal Northern College of Music next Friday. Speakers include Leonora Davies, inspector for music and music services in Haringey, north London, and the focus of the day will be "the present and future role of music at Key Stages 1 and 2". (Tel: 0161 907 52789.)

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