The Glasgow Effect: artist causes controversy over taxpayer-funded ‘action research project’

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The Glasgow Effect

Lauren Holt
News Editor

An artist has been given £15,000 to spend a year without leaving Glasgow, a move defended by Creative Scotland.

London-born Ellie Harrison’s project is called the Glasgow Effect – a term commonly used to describe unusually poor health in parts of the city.

The project is described as a year long “action research project” in which Harrison will not travel outside Greater Glasgow. She intends to challenge the assumption that artists must travel in order to be successful, reduce her carbon footprint, and use local creative community opportunities, as well as recording the impact of investing all her time and energy in one city.

The Facebook event, however, created for the project has attracted thousands of critics who describe the project as a waste of money, but Creative Scotland, the arts body which awarded Harrison the £15,000 grant, said that her proposal had qualified for funding.

Critics of the project have described it as a “poverty safari”, arguing that the £15,000 grant is “a waste of money”, and that many people in the city survive on much less, and are not considered artists.

On Facebook, Alex William McRobbie posted: “The funding of such a project both patronises and insults the poorest living within the city of Glasgow. I know of several young artists who haven’t left the city in the past year as a result of financial pressures”.

Opinion polls created on the page by angry Glasgow residents show that 428 people agree that the £15,000 should go towards local food banks, and 6,830 agree with the statement that “the Glasgow Effect is pretentious shite and a waste of money”. It has been alleged that the project lacks creativity; others are angered by the artist’s choice of photograph for the Facebook event – a plate of chips.

Critics have argued that the 36-year-old artist is being given £15,000 of taxpayers’ money, despite recent statistics which show that one in three children in Glasgow live in poverty (as of 2014), and that this Christmas a record number of Glaswegians relied on food banks.

Others have defended Harrison, arguing that whilst the project may not meet with everybody’s approval, it is important not to be prejudiced against all modern art projects.

The Glasgow Guardian spoke to Marc David Jacobs, who has worked for organisations funded by Creative Scotland in the past, and is currently a Film Festival Worker. He said: “If someone’s writing a book, you understand that they’ll have a book at the end of it, and so you don’t ask them to show it to you a few days into writing it… If we knew what Ellie was going to learn at the end of the year, there’d be no point in her going through this. As I understand it, that process of discovery is the point.

“There are so many people who seem so certain that they know The Glasgow Effect is going to be useless or rubbish… so why pay money for it? Which is like folk who haven’t seen the film who tell you that it’s rubbish and they wouldn’t bother with it, so you shouldn’t either. And in this case, it’s a film that hasn’t actually been made yet!”

In response to the question of whether or not this project should be considered artistic, Jacobs said:  If you’re a writer, you need time to write… If you’re a musician, you need time to listen. […] Maybe it’s all just a matter of perspective”.

In a Facebook post yesterday, Ellie Harrison thanked people for their interest in her project, and said that she would release her full application to Creative Scotland shortly. She added that, in turn, she is “donating” the £15,000 she received from Creative Scotland to Duncan of Jordanstone College, where she lectures in contemporary art, in exchange for paid “research leave” for her to undertake the year-long project. Harrison also states the project is part of her three and a half year probation for her lecturing post at the University of Dundee.

In response to the criticism she has received on Facebook, Harrison concluded her post by saying: “At least now, thanks to you all, I have ticked Creative Scotland’s ‘Public Engagement’ box and fulfilled my University’s ‘Impact’ agenda and so can get on with the real work”.

In a statement, Creative Scotland said that Harrison was: “a recognised artist with an MA with Distinction from the Glasgow School of Art […] her idea, articulated in a strong proposal which met all the criteria for open project funding, focused on exploring whether it is possible for an artist to generate an existence for themselves by living, working and contributing to a single community, as opposed to being constantly on the road because of the need to earn money from commissions from different places that incur costly travel and accommodation costs and high carbon footprint usage.

“In restricting herself to staying within the city boundaries she is keen to explore what impact this will have her on her life and on her work as an artist with national and international commitments.

“Our funding will support Ellie’s creative practice in Glasgow and we will be interested to see how the project progresses. As part of our funding conditions we will require an evaluation of the project once it is completed”.