One Giant step for cultural activities

29th September 2000 at 01:00
When the Year of Culture departed from Glasgow, it left behind a raft of activities for children called "A Child 1990", in the media-speak of the time. The children involved thought this label was decidedly uncool, and renamed it "Giant Productions". Next week they celebrate their 10th anniversary.

Directing the Giant for the last decade has been "the best job in the world", says Phyllis Steele, and that is no slight on her years with Hugo Gifford at Strathclyde Drama Centre, her four years with Mayfest, and with Peter Brook at the Tramway.

Now she is marking the 10th birthday of the organisation in the best way possible, with work and a conference looking forward to the next 10 years.

Working with children in Glasgow makes her only too well aware that for a sizeable proportion of the population, arts is a four-letter word that rhymes handily.

"We don't call ourselves an arts development organisation, though that's what we are. 'Arts' puts people off before we start. We try to be more of a chameleon, changing the name to suit whatever market we are going for."

To prove the point, she slides across the table a copy of Costa del Clyde, a leaflet for this year's October Week activities.

For years, Giant has been running October Weeks for Glasgow children under the name of "Action Factory".

The leaflet in my hand resembles in every way a holiday brochure in its sunny photographs, colour printing and temperature chart. Costa del Clyde is a children-made beach with real sand in the Arches, and all the arts activities get the sea, sun 'n' sand spin.

"The holiday idea is for the parents, really," she explains. "Teachers are great, they are always interested in what we do. But parents are difficult, they don't think it's for their child."

The main thrust of Giant's work has been targeting children with learning, pysical or social disabilities, so easily left out of mainstream arts. They have investigated ways in which children with hearing and sight problems can use the sense of smell and touch as a means of interacting with theatre.

Giant actress and director Katrina Caldwell has headed up a team of musician, drama worker, puppeteer, visual artist and dancer on "Adventure Weeks" in three schools and centres in Glasgow, Renfrewshire and Lanark.

They would arrive at the school at the beginning of the week in the guise of a band of travelling characters, bringing a magical world for the children to share, built round their "Musical Garden", instruments that opened up the whole range of arts.

The adventure weeks and the musical garden will figure in "Winning Hearts and Changing Minds", a day event on October 4 that Giant is holding to advance the development of a "genuinely inclusive" arts strategy for children and young people in Scotland. The "genuine" bit is to side-step so-called "integrated workshops" where able and disabled children work together in the same room but on two different projects, and Steele knows that one of the problems will be agreeing on a definition of "inclusion".

Also on her invitation list are the funding bodies: mainstream arts comes from the education budget; arts for the disabled is paid for by social work.

Steele quietly fumes over funders' attitudes to the extra expense of paying the helpers in disabled arts work. "Defining the language, devising the methodology, organising the funding - it's an enormous problem we've set ourselves," she admits. "I'm looking ahead to three or four conferences. I just want to put it on the agenda for the arts workers who come after."

"Winning Hearts and Changing Minds", October 4, 10am-3.30pm at Partick Burgh Hall, contact Giant Productions on 0141 334 2000

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