The Glasgow Effect: compelling art project or ‘a total joke’?
Glasgow Effect lead

Unless you’ve been hiding under a mountain of greasy chips and battered Mars Bars, you will likely have heard of ‘The Glasgow Effect’ by now.

It’s the art project that has had Scottish Facebook users up-in-arms over the past 24 hours.

And we’re not referring to the actual Glasgow Effect, which is a genuine socio-economic issue related to the the lower life expectancy that Glasgow has compared to the rest of the UK and Europe, due to issues including poverty, drug and alcohol abuse and ‘violent gang culture’.

Nope, this Glasgow Effect is a “year long ‘action research’ project / durational project for which artist Ellie Harrison will not travel outside Greater Glasgow for a whole year (except in the event of the ill-heath [sic] / death of close relative or friend)” – according to the Facebook page.

And for her efforts, she will be awarded £15,000 of funding from Creative Scotland.

Ellie Harrison Glasgow Effect

Ellie Harrison – The Glasgow Effect Tumblr

Apart from it being really annoying that nobody has fixed that typo yet (‘heath’), the project has generated exactly the kind of backlash you’d expect it to.

Many feel that it is patronising and offensive to actual Glaswegians who have lived there for, well, their whole life. And the cover picture on the Facebook page displaying a pile of greasy chips just adds insult to injury.

And the point of it all? Well, so far it’s unclear, but we are only five days in. The Facebook event page states:

“By setting this one simple restriction to her current lifestyle, she intends to test the limits of a ‘sustainable practice’ and to challenge the demand-to-travel placed upon the ‘successful’ artist / academic. The experiment will enable her to cut her carbon footprint and increase her sense of belonging, by encouraging her to seek out and create ‘local opportunities’ – testing what becomes possible when she invests all her ideas, time and energy within the city where she lives.”

“Poverty Safari”

Described as being a “poverty safari”, it’s safe to say that it has not gone down well with the locals.

One Facebook user had the following to say:

“I sincerely hope this is a joke.
As an arts student myself, the only thing about this project that I can see that could be classed as art, would be the reaction it is obviously generating among those who are aware of this project.
Most people in Scotland earn under £15k after tax, from working.
To be funded £15k to exist purely on art funding for a year is a total joke and a kin to fudging the system for benefits.”

Another said:

“I have lived in Scotland my whole life and work in Glasgow and in 26 years I’ve only been outside Scotland maybe 10 times. More specifically I’ve stated within the city and Lanarkshire that whole time.
Can I get some money?”

The Glesga’ banter

Others jumped on the chance to mock the project, of course.

There was a suggestion that local silent raver Leo be awarded the money for his services to Glasgow’s arts scene…

“Art it up a wee bit hen”

Suggestions to “art it up a wee bit hen”, to wear a tag, to make sure she didn’t sneak through to Edinburgh at the weekends, reduce Glasgow’s dimensions to a disused phone booth on Sauchiehall Street so “we can keep an eye on this crazy artist” as well as recommendations to avoid any ‘schemes in Glasgow’ after announcing you have 15k in your pocket (“C*nts huv been stabbed fir a 5er in Greggs”).

“I had to start it somewhere”

Inevitable comparisons to Pulp’s ‘Common People’ were drawn. One Facebook user (Fergus Paterson) came out with the following cracker:

“I’d like to defend Ellie. After meeting her whilst studying Sculpture at Saint Margaret’s college, we played pool and smoked some fags. I remember taking her to a supermarket, I’m not sure, I had to start somewhere. She lived in a flat with roaches, which led her to develop an understanding of common people, before sadly phoning her Dad to end it all.”

“Absolute garbage”

Additionally, with cuts constantly being made to arts funding in Glasgow, there is a solid argument that the money could be better spent elsewhere. Kerrigan Renniegade commented:

“I’m infuriated by this. As someone who volunteered creatively in Glasgow for a good wee while I can’t begin to stress enough where this money could have went. I’m so so so disappointed in Creative Scotland for buying into such a pretentious and pointless facade. Absolute garbage.”

What else could the money be spent on?

Robbie Seath’s own ‘art project’ entitled, provides a comprehensive list of things the money could be better spent on…

  • 8,824 2l Irn-Bru bottles from Tesco
  • 66.6 tickets to private box at Celtic Park
  • a private parking space in the west end
  • a donation to Yorkhill Children’s Hospital
  • the council removing “the cone” for 1.5 years
  • a heavy good time in Poundland 
  • 3,000 Saturday entries to the Garage
  • 1,154 hours of bouncing time at Air Space 
  • 750 score bags of weed
  • 1,500 Abandon Ship sale T-Shirts
  • Stay at eurohostel for life
  • 300,000 plastic bags
  • 18,987 copies of Darude Sandstorm
  • …an actual art project

But some are on the artist’s side…

“You have every right to challenge an artwork and question the artist’s intentions, and I agree that the title and photo doesn’t give the greatest first impression (but it’s less offensive than telling someone to kill themselves). However, funding for an art project doesn’t go straight into the artist’s pocket. It’s not a wage. More often than not the money goes to all sorts of other costs, and the artist ends up cutting their own fee to practically nothing.

“So most of this outrage is based on a false premise. Another false premise is that poverty in Scotland is the direct consequece of arts funding. It is possible to care about both. Questioning the artwork aside, the majority of the comments here are absolutely disgusting, hateful bile, and you should be ashamed of yourselves. You probably won’t be though, you’re just bullies, bored and feeling shitty because it’s January.”

Creative Scotland had the following to say on the matter:

Creative Scotland

As well as a rousing debate on Scottish arts funding, Ellie’s project has also inspired a couple of spin-off ideas…

The Alternative Glasgow Effect

Glasgow Effect

“The Alternative Glasgow Effect is a year-long durational performance in which Scottish normal person Gordon Scott attempts to spend one year without being a posh, egocentric and delusional w*nker.

“This event has the monetary backing of 15 hours a week work at minimal wage.

“Gordon’s charity of choice is Alzheimer Scotland.”

The West End Effect

“Art that empowers itself on the broken backs of voiceless unfortunates”

From Scottish artist known as Loki, comes The West End Effect…

“A decade long ‘action research’ project / durational performance, in which artists Darren ‘Loki’ McGarvey and Becci Wallace will investigate what living in a ‘posh’ area does to a person.  Among other things they will live in Glasgow’s West End for at least a year at some point in the next decade to gain a true understanding of how this hostile environment affects people.”

The West End Effect has already raised £50 and has proved more popular than the real thing.

But good luck to Ellie. We look forward to seeing the results of this controversial project.

All quoted comments were posted on the official Facebook event page.

Update: Ellie Harrison has posted the following message on Facebook in response to the reaction to The Glasgow Effect:

Hi everyone, thanks so much for your interest and engagement in the project: both positive and negative. Glasgow has been my home for seven-and-a-half years and to suddenly have a response like this to one of my projects has been quite overwhelming. You have given me so much material to digest, 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.
Before I sign off Facebook for a while, I would like to address the important questions raised about the money. Anyone who’s done any research about me will know that I am interested in the undesirable consequences of certain funding systems, and, I am working to set-up a radical alternative: the Radical Renewable Art + Activism Fund. This will form the bulk of my workload in 2016 whilst in the city…
Like any provocative artwork, The Glasgow Effect has been devised to operate on many levels at once, and the questions about ‘community’ being raised on/off social media these last few days is certainly one of them. As much as I do care sincerely about the environmental issues raised by the project as my previous work should testify, I also want to highlight the absurd mechanisms at play within Higher Education which were its initial impetus.
In the interests of transparency and to provide a more detailed context for the project, I will shortly publish the full text from my Application to Creative Scotland on the Tumblr. The Application was written over the course of one month in June 2015, in order to fulfil one of the criteria of my 3.5 year ‘probation’ for my Lecturing post at the University. I was required to “write and submit a significant research grant application”. After one unsuccessful attempt, on 20 October 2015 I was awarded the grant. Since then, I have been negotiating an Agreement with the University to ‘donate’ the £15,000 to them in exchange for paid ‘Research Leave’ in order to undertake the project.
In this Agreement 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
The fact that this University, 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.
At least now, thanks to you all, I have ticked the Creative Scotland’s ‘Public Engagement’ box, I can get on with the real work.