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Scots Are Angry Because an Artist Is Getting a $22,000 Grant to Stay in Glasgow for a Year

Ellie Harrison's art project 'The Glasgow Effect' is a complex "'action research' project/durational performance," but for some people it seems like she's getting money to live where she already lives.
January 7, 2016, 12:00am

Image via Facebook

"Stick this 'project' right up your middle class chuff!"

That comment—one of the first on the Facebook page for "The Glasgow Effect," a project by London-born, Glasgow-based artist Ellie Harrison that will see her spend 2016 within the confines of greater Glasgow, given £15,000 [$22,000] by arts quango Creative Scotland to do so—pretty much sums up the current mood of the Scottish public towards her endeavor.

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The reason for all the online vitriol is both the fact she's being given taxpayers' money to continue living where she's living, and the title of her project. The term "the Glasgow effect," according to the Scottish government, is the phenomenon that has led to "higher levels of mortality and poor health [being] found in Scotland and Glasgow beyond that explained by socio-economic circumstances." In this particular case, those "socio-economic circumstances" refer to nearly half of Glasgow's residents living in some of the most deprived areas of Scotland.

The project, therefore, is at best badly named. Explaining further in a post addressing the online furore that has erupted around her work, Harrison wrote: "Like any provocative artwork, 'The Glasgow Effect' has been devised to operate on many levels at once." By not leaving Glasgow for a year, "she intends to test the limits of a 'sustainable practice' and to challenge the demand-to-travel placed upon the 'successful' artist / academic."

She also added that the £15,000 grant from Creative Scotland is going to be "donated" to the university where she lectures to cover the salary of her paid research leave, and has also provided access to her Creative Scotland application, which details the full breadth of her project and has gone some way to placating many of her critics.

Despite all this, many believed her original post about the project insinuated, perhaps unintentionally, that to live in the city for a year would be a chore that would leave her open to the very real deprivation that many Glaswegians face. The banner photo on the Facebook event page, a picture of some greasy chips, isn't helping much either. The page is littered with disparaging comments, ranging in levels of misogyny and nationalism, mainly from Glaswegians who are "pure raging" at the artist.

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"You're not fucking worthy enough to stay here. To feel the acceptance you get from the Glaswegian people regardless of culture or background is a privilege, something you don't take lightly and condescend upon with something as ridiculous as this," wrote Cameron McGrath, a creative living just outside of Glasgow.

Later, in a phone conversation, he said that his rage had cooled, but that Harrison "should be aware that there's more to Glasgow than the Glasgow effect." He still felt uneasy about how deep her knowledge of the city could be as an English person. "It's a very cultural city. There's plenty of opportunity," he added. "There doesn't need to be a 15 grand research grant to discover that."

McGrath's problem is that, so far, Harrison has failed to state that Glasgow, while it has its problems, is a city brimming with all sorts of opportunity and creativity. This neglect means that, for many, the project represents everything they hate about the arts and the way it is dominated by the middle class.

Scottish rapper, Loki, has also waded in on the debate by writing a Tumblr blog and creating a satirical counter-crowdfunding campaign dubbed "The West End Effect."

"This project is the absolute epitome of the increasing gulf between a would-be arts establishment and the reality of life for urban Scotland," he wrote in his blog post, adding on Indiegogo that "The West End Effect" will investigate how living in a "posh" area affects people.

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Mark MacNicol, a writer from Glasgow, is aggrieved for a different reason. He complained that while Creative Scotland are essentially paying Harrison £15,000 to live in Glasgow as an art project, when she already lives in the city, they had stalled him for years in his own artistic endeavors.

"I've been trying to create a project to subsidize theater tickets for residents of socially excluded areas," he said.

The original lack of information on the project has led to plenty of conjecture floating around, not all of it negative. McGrath originally suggested that "The Glasgow Effect" could be some kind of meta-social project, a hoax intended to test the reaction of the Scottish people to an outrageously unsophisticated venture, but said Harrison's update on the project changed his mind, adding that her past work suggests she is no stranger to getting stuck into local issues.

One of her more recent projects, "This Is What Democracy Looks Like," involved members of an east London community at a local level. Residents were given the opportunity to meet their newly-elected politicians at a roundtable discussion on a seven-seat bicycle.

Looking closer at her funding application, it's hard to asses what the ultimate worth of the project will be. Her motivations seem to be vast, with varying degrees of value. It's reiterated that localism can essentially be seen as the basis of the project ("The aim of the Think Global, Act Local! experiment is to attempt to re-channel all my ideas, time, and energy into the region where I live, in order to bring the greatest possible benefit to the people in Scotland"), but while Harrison does recognize her privileged position, there's a healthy dose of grandiose bullshit in there, too ("This project is of huge importance to the development of my current thinking and will have lasting impact on my creative practice and my profile as an artist").

Creative Scotland have said in a statement that they continue to be supportive of Harrison's work, stating, "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."

Perhaps the problem with this project is not so much the artistic worth of what Harrison will be doing this year, nor the funding she's received, but rather the way in which she's gone about framing it.

"She shouldn't really be congratulated on getting funding because she is already successful, and I don't really understand her struggle because you can easily generate artistic practice in one place," said Georgia Thornton, an art student studying in Glasgow who has participated in some of Harrison's past work. "But getting funded by the arts is important and should not be ignored. It's integral to be at the forefront of discussion because it's an industry consistently and brutally slated in the UK as pointless."

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