Without controversy ‘Glasgow Effect’ art project wouldn’t have worked, creator claims


Ellie Harrison asserts importance of activism after year of work and controversy

THE ARTIST behind the ‘Glasgow Effect’ art project has told an audience at its concluding seminar at the Glasgow Film Theatre (GFT) that it wouldn’t have been as successful without the controversy which descended upon it at its launch.

The project, comprising a one-year stay for artist Ellie Harrison within the city limits of Glasgow without the use of any transportation beyond her bicycle, was designed to explore the impact of Glasgow’s transport and environment on the health and living standards of its population.

It quickly attracted criticism from figures including Glasgow City Council leader Frank McAveety and Glasgow hip-hop artists and writer Darren ‘Loki’ McGarvey, as well as a storm of protest on social media platforms when it was announced in January 2016. Complaints focused on a grant of £15,000 paid to Harrison by Creative Scotland for the year-long project and accusations that the premise, framing and name of the project were insensitive to people living in poverty in Scotland’s largest city.

Watch the full event here

Harrison attributed a public reconsideration of the way that arts are funded in Scotland with the storm of controversy.

“If it hadn’t been for the controversy, the art’s funding process wouldn’t have been demystified in the way it was,” she said.

She also expressed gratification that the profile-raising spat attracted large numbers of the public to the attention of the project. Some one million people visited the Glasgow Effect Facebook page, she told the 200-strong audience in the GFT’s main theatre, the majority of them young people – the most affected by the problems of poor transport and social exclusion explored in the art project.

A plot of Ellie Harrisons travels within Glasgow during the year long Glasgow Project

The ‘Glasgow Effect’ is the name given by academics and researchers for Glasgow’s chronic health problems, which are not believed to be reducible solely to the effects of poverty and inequality. Extensive research has concluded that the city was serially mismanaged by successive Westminster governments during its de-industrialisation and that poor city planning can account for some of the health problems of its citizens.

In defending the art project and the funding she received, Harrison outlined some of the activities she had undertaken during the year.

She said: “I could have completed Glasgow Effect as a durational performance by doing what people assumed I was doing, sitting on my arse.

“Instead I took a full year to become an active citizen, to be permanently an activist and an artist.

“Most of my time was taken up with the hard graft of organising.”

Harrison claimed she attended 221 public events during the year and organised six demonstrations among other activist and artistic endeavours.

Harrison also admitted the project and surrounding controversy had taken a toll on her.

“It was March before I regained the confidence to re-enter Glasgow city centre,” she said.

Many audience members offered their congratulations and support for the project. However, several heckled her during the event and offered criticisms.

Some also took to twitter to question the value of the art project.




Harrison concluded the year-long commitment by asserting the value of an experiment in dedicated activism.

“If people are afforded the time and resources to hold the powerful to account, change can happen.”

Pictures courtesy of Stuart Platt, Facebook

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