Artist Defends Controversial Project to Stay Local in Glasgow

Those calling it “pretentious shite" are missing the point.

Ellie Harrison, left.
Photo: via Kickstarter.

Ellie Harrison may have a tough time in Glasgow over the next year, where she’ll stay as part of an art project that has offended some Glaswegians. But she’s standing by her project, called The Glasgow Effect, as is the public body that funded it.

Harrison got a £15,000 (about $22,000) grant from Creative Scotland, a public agency that supports art and filmmaking ventures with funds from the government and the national lottery. The organization gave out about £31 million (around $45,500,000) in 2015 to visual and performing arts in 2014–15.

The project is titled for an expression that refers to low life expectancy and high rates of disease among Glaswegians compared to the rest of Europe, a phenomenon that epidemiologists have been unable to explain.

Many Brits have taken to the project’s Facebook page to criticize it. One poll, from January 4, found nearly 7,000 voters calling it “pretentious shite and a waste of money.” (Nearly 700 voted for the response “How the fuck do I buy tickets to watch someone stay in Glasgow for a year?”)

“You have given me so much material to digest,” the artist said in a Facebook post to her not-so-loving public, “that it will take the whole year to do so. I hope to follow-up by meeting many of you face-to-face, when all the fuss has died down.”

Creative Scotland has put out a statement defending Harrison, calling her “a recognised artist with an MA with Distinction from the Glasgow School of Art.”

“Ellie’s project is based on the premise that if society wishes to achieve global change, then individuals have to be more active within their communities at a local level,” it goes on.

“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.”

Harrison’s intent is partly to cultivate her connections to local arts and community organizations and to reduce her carbon footprint. But the project is about more than that, the artist pointed out in the post, saying that it also intends to “highlight the absurd mechanisms at play within Higher Education,” adding that that was actually the “initial impetus for the project.”

Harrison isn’t actually cashing the check, she points out. The funds will go to Duncan of Jordanstone Art College in Dundee, where she is a lecturer, to cover the costs of hiring a replacement while she is on leave.

“I have been careful to stipulate that the money be used solely to cover my teaching responsibilities and that a post be advertised externally, in order to: a) create a job opportunity for a talented artist in Scotland b) provide the best possible experience for my students in my absence,” she said.

“The fact that this University,” she said, “like most others in the UK, now requires its Lecturing staff to be fundraisers and is willing to pay them to be absent from teaching as a result, should be the focus of this debate.”

She has published the full text of the application that helped her obtain the grant on the project’s Tumblr page.

She ended her Facebook statement on something of a cheeky note, pointing out that even the harsh criticisms of the project have helped her to earn the public funds.

“At least now, thanks to you all, I have ticked Creative Scotland’s ‘Public Engagement’ box and fulfilled the University’s ‘Impact’ agenda and so can get on with the real work.”

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