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Lucky for some. . . .
As a spokesperson for the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts set up in 1998 to distribute 200m worth of lottery funding said: "Some of the work is truly amazing (and) there's been great interest from places like the Royal Academy (of Art)." NESTA was so impressed, in fact, that it invited an application for the funding, which it then awarded.
It's education, but not as we know it
So, what's so special about ? There are plenty of other school art studios about, but none of them are run as autonomous business units, particularly by management teams of 8 to 11 yearolds. The fact too that pupils at Caol pronounced 'Cool' Primary School are free to leave their lessons whenever they want (providing their classwork is uptodate) to go to Room 13 is hardly conventional. Yet the results and indeed the pupils, speak for themselves.
As Managing Director Danielle Souness, 11, says: "Previously, my experience of art was colouringin books. Now we exhibit our work all over the country." Using oil or acrylic paint, drawings, digital prints, sculpture, performance art, photography, mixed media collage and now film, the pupils create artwork of such imagination and sophistication that it has won national awards and been exhibited at venues across the UK, including the , Inverness Museum & Art Gallery, The Open Eye Gallery in Edinburgh, The Royal Society of Watercolourists and the Royal College of Art in London.
Room 13 explores creativity in its widest sense. As well as producing their own artwork, members hold debates, give talks and go on expeditions. This Easter, for instance, a group of last year's management team is going to Kathmandu to work with an orphanage and see how the new Art College is progressing. The pupils are also curators of the Thirteen Hands touring exhibition of contemporary crafts. Not only did they select the 34 makers taking part, they decided on the colour of the plinths, produced the catalogue and designed the .
So, surely their schoolwork suffers? No, not a jot. As artistinresidence Rob Fairley points out, "Room 13 is all about developing the next generation on every level, about educating rather than teaching. The children here are gaining fantastic results in national tests, as well as producing artwork of immense quality".
So what's the secret to Room 13's success? It all started over a decade ago when painter Rob Fairley took up a brief stint as artistinresidence at the West Highland Museum in Fort William. He began working with two girls at Caol Primary School who were being bullied, organising for them to take the school photographs. They made a brilliant job of it and the following year Rob was invited back by the girls and given a room of his own Room 13.
That was ten years ago and Rob has never looked back.
Today, Room 13 is run by the children as an autonomous republic, independent of the school. It elects its own officials, keeps its own accounts and pays Rob Fairley his salary. The school photograph project is still one of the biggest earners, though it has a number of other revenue streams: pupils design and print their own Christmas cards and Tshirts, paint murals and obtain grants. They've created advertising banners, helped with the design of a book for the British Mountaineering Council and been asked to tender for Stirling University design work.
NESTA's 200,000 worth of support over three years will provide ongoing financial stability, enabling the children to continue to pay artistsinresidence and begin the task of rolling out the Room 13 model. The pupils hope to expand the scheme to neighbouring primary schools and eventually to the High School. Already there is a satellite branch at nearby Lochyside RC Primary School and another Room 13 scheme 500 miles away at Hareclive Primary School in Bristol.
Reward where it's due
NESTA isn't alone in its admiration of the Room 13 project. Last year, Caol Primary won the 20,000 Barbie Prize the children's version of the Turner Prize and one of its pupils, Jodie Fraser, won the 1000 prize for the most outstanding individual artwork. Jodie created a matchstick collage based on September 11, with burnt matches for each victim.
Among the 37,000 other participants from 550 schools, who together have made the largest and most successful Awards scheme for young people in Europe, was another Scottish winner the Croileagan Uig Playgroup on the Isle of Lewis. These 35 year olds worked with artists Iain Kettles and Susie Hunter to design a giant inflatable sculpture, Ban ZaBan.
Returning to Room 13, the Judges were just as impressed by the children's understanding of art, and their ability to discuss projects at a sophisticated conceptual level, as they were by the quality of their work. One of the first things pupils learn in Room 13 is that art isn't about making pretty pictures. In the pupils' own words, "It is about asking and answering questions about the things that are really important. Most importantly, it is about thinking, and art is not art if it doesn't make people think." Out of the mouths of babes . . .