END OF AN ERA FOR CRAWFORD ARTS CENTRE

THIS weekend (June 3 and 4) marks the end of an era in the arts in St Andrews and the beginning of a new one

The Crawford Arts Centre, based in North Street for nearly 30 years, closes its doors there for the last time on Sunday.

It's seen as a very positive move by director Diana Sykes who has steered the centre through some stormy waters in her 18 years in charge.

Two years ago the Crawford was at the centre of a media storm when independent student company, Zooloo Productions, staged Terrence McNally's play 'Corpus Christi' in its 66-seat theatre.

Also in 2004, there were fears the centre would close after it was announced that core Scottish Arts Council (SAC) funding would cease from 2005.

The rollercoaster ride continued right up to last month, when the SAC announced a grant of 90,000 for the centre ensuring its future for 2007-08.

Recalling some of the centre's successes, such as the strawbales project (making art out of piles of bales in fields around the area) and the Light Labyrinth in St Andrews Cathedral Diana said she thought the Crawford Centre had reached a natural conclusion.

"In order to develop the public activities, we had to think what was most important...not necessarily a building, but the activities. For these to develop and flourish, it really needed a re-thinking of how we work,'' she explained.

Some auspicious names in the art world, including Peter Howson and Nathan Coley, have been artists in residence at the Crawford. Eduardo Paulozzi also exhibited there in the 1970s.

"Working with artists is definitely one of the biggest privileges and joys of working in contemporary art,'' said Diana.

The centre has worked closely with St Andrews University museums and gallery students over the years and she aims to build on that across Fife.

"Corpus Christi showed how strong a small independent organisation can be in facing up to issues of censorship,'' she commented.

"It is more the positive things that I would remember. All the different artists we have worked with, artists in residence being a particular joy, just seeing them gaining something from being in this environment here in Fife and how they have worked with different groups of people.

"Without the artists and crafts people, we wouldn't be here and we have been trying to make their work reach people who might not come across it otherwise, including the children coming to art classes who have done great work.''

She said the "fantastic support from Fife Council'' for the centre was down to the local authority's recognition of the role the Crawford could to play within Fife.

"It can be easier for us, as a semi-independent organisation, to be more experimental and introduce work that might be more difficult for a local authority to put on. That's the benefit of us retaining independence as an arts organisation, while still being very accountable to all the funders who require an ever-more thorough assessment of what you do,'' explained Diana.

Recalling the campaign to save the Crawford Centre two years ago, Diana said: "The support was fantastic.

''We always felt we were something significant in St Andrews and the number of shops and people who got involved was heartening.''

Under the new name of Fife Contemporary Art and Craft, (FCA&C) the former Crawford will operate from an office in St Andrews Town Hall, in Queen's Gardens, from July 1.

While FCA&C will continue to exhibit and sell applied art in the town, in venues like the Byre Theatre, this will be the final weekend when collectable jewellery or ceramics will be available from the North Street building.

Next year, the first students on the St Andrews University masters in creativity management course will move into the North Street building.