This week is National Gallery Week, the national association for gallery education's annual attempt to spread the gospel of art through the kingdom. Some may question the need for such an event in times when the visual arts surf an ever-swelling wave of popularity, but as a move to reach the widest possible public it should be welcomed, especially on a local level in small galleries far away from the crowd-pulling exhibitions which dominate all the statistics.

More than 300 galleries are involved, from Belfast and Bangor to the major public museums in London, and, this year, the celebrations have a useful focus in the Tate Gallery's Centenary. On Monday (their designated birthday), the Tate will be transformed into a kind of art circus with ad hoc performances by the Spectrum Theatre Company "exploring visitor's reactions to 20th-century art", 10-minute talks by critics and curators in front of their favourite paintings and sculpture and an art trolley cruising the galleries dispensing drawing materials and free biscuits at tea time. All this in the presence of a childrens' television programme and a tour by the Prince of Wales. It sounds chaotic.

Much of what's on offer at the Tate and elsewhere is aimed at parents with young children, although there are plenty of more serious events around the country with titles like What is Contemporary Art? (First Site, Colchester) and Video Visions, a Forum on Video Art (The Fruitmarket Gallery, Edinburgh). For the most part, however, the emphasis is on light-hearted events such as Scribbles and Dribbles at the Whitworth in Manchester, Smudgy Fun at Sunderland Museum and Art Gallery, and the ominously titled Messy Arts Session at Blackfriars Arts Centre in Boston. At the Royal Academy in London, where free art packs are being given to the under-eights, the guards have been warned to watch out for crayon-wielding graffiti artists, not that they could do too much damage in the Summer Exhibition.

All of which, not to mention the tried and tested bribe of a glass of wine at Newport Museum and Art Gallery and a collaboration between artists and chefs at the Brewery Arts Centre in Kendal, should help to bring a few extra folk through the gallery doors, if only for a week. After all, as Mr Blair put it in his much-publicised Mansion House speech, "Art is not elitist. What is elitist is a society in which art is hoarded for the few and never experienced by the many. Don't blame art," he said. "Change society." Gallery Week may not manage anything quite so dramatic, but if it helps to make more people aware of the gallery in their midst, it will have served a valuable purpose.

Richard Ingleby

National Gallery Week 19-27 Jul. Information: 0171-328 0136. Comprehensive listings p30-32

Comments