The year of the artists

20th October 2000 at 01:00
School residencies are bringing out the creative side of designers as much as pupils, writes Deedee Cuddihy

As an example of what budding young artists can aspire to, the Outside Influence exhibition at Gracefield Arts Centre in Dumfries could hardly have been better. The exhibition, which finishes tomorrow, was an end-of-year show highlighting work produced under Dumfries and Galloway's Creative Education project.

The three-year scheme, funded through the National Lottery, puts four young professional artists into four local schools for 10 months, where they work with pupils and staff on a variety of craft projects.

The artists, who come from all over Britain, get free studio space in the school, plus living expenses and optional business training. The residencies give them a year in which to raise their professional profile, undertake commissions, explore new techniques and markets and produce work to sell.

This show was the second Outside Influence exhibition and twice the size of the first. It featured the work of sculptor Dan Reid, textile artist Suzanne Langston-Jones, jeweller Teresa Moore and ceramicist Kate Thompson.

Dan Reid, who describes himself as a "scavenger and collector of discarded and lost objects", worked with first, second and third year pupils at Dumfries Academy on badges and small wire and junk sculptures, with remarkable results. They echoed his own idiosyncratic metalwork interpretations of greyhounds, "space dogs" and goldfish.

Suzanne Langston-Jones, working at Kelloholm Primary with dozens of P5 and even younger pupils, possibly faced the biggest challenge. Nevertheless, the school produced an impressive body of work, including a child-sized fantasy costume decorated with butterflies and flowers, a book of poems and pictures and a huge, colourful wall hanging for the school entrance hall, showing portraits of pupils and teachers worked in felt and wool.

Kate Thompson's biggest project involved 68 S1 pupils at Sanquhar Academy producing millennium mugs; some have feet, some lids and there are even double decker mugs. A selection was on show at Gracefield. The second year pupils decorated ceramic panels for a display cabinet for their school. These were shown along with clay models of mobile phones, jeans and cola bottles.

Kate Thompson, who enjoyed her year so much that she has decided to train as a teacher, exhibited delicate abstract figures.

The stunning jewellery that S4 and a sixth year pupil at Douglas Ewart High produced when Teresa Moore was in residence was of an exceptionally high standard and stood up to comparison with their tutor's work.

Pupils and parents have been delighted with the exhibition. Toni Collier, now in the third year at Sanquhar Academy, said: "I really like art, so it was great doing the project at the school. I liked being in the studio and I got to help some of the younger kids with their work."

Louise Martin, one of the four artists involved in the first year of the Creative Education project who helped to organise this year's show, said:

"The project has been a great success so far. The kids really take to it and the headteachers who have been involved are obviously keen.

"The artists are contracted to work only one day a week on their schools' projects but inevitably you spend much more time than that towards the end of the year."

Now four more artists - the third and final batch taking part in the Creative Education project - are finding their feet as resident artists at Penninghame, Gatehouse and Lincluden primary schools and Stranraer Academy.

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