In a controversial move, the Scottish Government has decided to grant Ellie Harrison, a Glasgow-based academic, £15,000 ($22,000) just to continue living in the city for a whole year.
The generous amount is a grant for an ‘art project’ during which London-born Harrison will not leave the city unless she’s unwell or a close relative dies. The goal, according to her, is to find out how “your career, social life, family ties, carbon footprint, and mental health will be affected” by not being able to leave a city. To figure that out, she’s also being given 12 months off work.
Harrison, a lecturer in contemporary art-practices at Dundee University, won the jackpot offer – funded by the National Lottery – after she pitched the idea for an “experiment” called The Glasgow Effect that would “challenge the demand-to-travel” placed upon her as a “successful” artist. Her idea is to explore sustainability by traveling less and focusing more on local opportunities.
The exercise began on January 1, and as the year goes by, she will report her findings as she attempts to “increase her sense of belonging” in Glasgow by investing “all her ideas, time, and energy within the city.” Harrison promises that she will keep a blog of her experiences, but the updates to her website have reportedly been slow.
Many Scots are outraged about the idea of paying someone so much money to figure out something they already know. And they’re doing everything they can to express their displeasure. Facebook user Kenny Leckie wrote on the project’s page: “I know literally hundreds of people (including me) who’ve been creating art of all descriptions in Glasgow for years and funding it from our day jobs or from hosting fundraisers.”
“Doesn’t this disrespect everyone who doesn’t have that luxury of being funded to create art and who lives here because they can’t afford to move away?” he questioned.
Photo: Glasgow Women’s Library
“I haven’t left Glasgow in nearly four years living on benefits and raising a child at the same time can do that to you,” wrote Laura Walsh. “There have even been times I couldn’t even afford the bus to travel to the next town. My life is not your art concept nor do I need you getting £15k to try to.”
“I feel like I’m missing something here,” Ruaridh Ian McGrath posted on the page. “Are we actually paying someone to just… exist? For a year? Can someone please confirm/deny that for me because I just don’t know what feels to feel yet. Can’t see them being good feels though.”
Several spoof websites have also been set up, mocking the government’s decision to spend money on Harrison’s project. One of them, created by Glasgow resident Robbie Seath, is called ‘15k better spent in Glasgow’. He posted a link to the website on the project’s Facebook page with the caption ‘This was my “art project” this evening.’ His list included items like ‘10,000 Jagerbombs in The Cathouse’, ‘60,000 packs of Tesco Saver noodles’, and ‘an actual art project’.
Photo: Robbie Seath
According to Eben Wilson, director of the campaign group Taxpayer Scotland, “This is what happens when the state decides what art is. Glasgow is one of the most exciting cities in the world, full of character and life. The intervention has managed to celebrate this with one of the dullest and undaring projects ever conceived. It feels like a committee attempting to have a sense of humor.”
“When the public sees its taxes wasted on such silly projects so devoid of ambition and adventure, it only encourages a jaundiced view of art and what it can achieve, which is a shame considering the genuine talent that exists within Scotland,” he added.
Creative Scotland, the organisation that awarded Harrison with the funds for the project, hasn’t said much in its defence. “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,” they said in a statement. “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.”
Photo: John Lindie/Wikipedia
Harrison herself said she is rather taken aback by the negative response her project has been receiving. “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,” the artist said. “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.”
She also revealed that she intends to publish her “full application” to Creative Scotland in the interest of transparency, and to give people a more detailed context of what she’s doing.