23 July 2016
Centre for Contemporary Arts, Glasgow

Harrison outlines the vision, mission and values of the Radical Renewable Art + Activism Fund at the start of its Founding Symposium at the Centre for Contemporary Arts in Glasgow on 23-24 July 2016.


Ellie Harrison: Thank you so much Cecilia. OK, so I was just going to speak for 7-10 minutes [laughs]. Just to… give us a few things to think about in terms of the vision, the mission and the values of RRAAF. I realise that I didn’t properly introduce myself before… My name’s Ellie Harrison. I’m an artist, and I have received a research grant from Creative Scotland, which I should probably acknowledge, this year, which is funding me to work in the city and to develop lots of projects and activities and RRAAF is of course one of those.

I’m also an activist and for the last seven years, one of the big projects I’ve been working on is the Bring Back British Rail campaign – I’ve got my t-shirt on today, but it’s a campaign for the public ownership of the railways. And… it’s mainly online, it has a huge network on Facebook, but I try to do as many actions in the real world as possible. So there will be an action at Glasgow Central Station on the 16th August, if anyone wants to come.

So… I guess one of my catchphrases as an artist, and also something that I pass onto my students I suppose is this idea that: “you need to learn to play the system as much as you learn to fight it!”

So RRAAF, in its crudest sense, is about making money. But if that was all we cared about, there would be much easier ways of doing it. We could be investing in the arms industry, we could be investing in oil, we could be investing in all sorts of things [laughs] But we instead are choosing to invest in renewable energy, because it has other intrinsic goods. So the other intrinsic goods are obviously, that it helps to reduce carbon emissions, but more importantly, reduce our dependency on fossil fuels.

But then of course, it’s about what we want to do with this money. And it’s about using the money to fund radical art-activist projects. The sort of “politics, dissent and noncomformism” – that essential resistance which is marginalised by other funding streams in the arts and also elsewhere, particularly as we become increasingly dependent on corporate sponsorship or on the philanthropy of wealthy individuals. So, it’s because of RRAAF’s model, that is that it intends to use:

“the production of one sort of renewable energy to support the generation of another sort of energy, one that provokes and challenges.” Chris Fremantle, RRAAF Report, p.6

It’s because of this model, that I think RRAAF is able to demonstrate an integral understanding of the interconnectedness of social, environmental and economic justice. And it also has a belief in the need for creative action and resistance to help inspire and initiate a shift towards achieving a more just world. So one of the questions that I think we’ll need to think about today, is how we balance our local and global responsibilities – how the project balances things as it moves forward.

RRAAF is a very ambitious project, and as Georgy said [at The RRAAF Report Launch], it is a challenging time to be starting out on a renewable energy project. But I believe it’s also a really urgent project for so many reasons. Firstly, because of the rising greenhouse gas emissions and rising global temperatures – and I’m sure a lot of you saw… data about June showing it was the hottest June on record, the 14th consecutive hottest month that we’ve had. But also because of the cuts to subsidies for renewable energy that we had last November (the cuts to the Feed-in Tariff rate). It’s because of those things that RRAAF becomes ever more urgent and necessary.

But it’s also because of rising inequalities, it’s because of cuts to public funding for the arts, it’s because of cuts to public services in general, that the RRAAF project becomes ever more urgent and necessary. Not only, because it can fill the gaps in the interim, before we get to that more just society, but far more importantly, because it can fund activity which will actually challenge austerity policies in the future.

So the challenges that… society faces are so huge, that we need to go into this project with a view that it will grow and expand. And that we will use some of the money that we generate to invest in more renewable energy, so that RRAAF to continue to grow. So, it’s my dream that in fifty years time, not only is RRAAF still going, but RRAAF is one of the biggest investors in renewable energy in the UK!

And that it could play a significant role in shifting towards the green economy, which is so urgently needed. But unlike those big players – so Scottish Power, which isn’t Scottish at all, it’s owned by Iberdola of Spain, which owns the biggest wind farm just south of Glasgow. Unlike those big players, we will be redistributing that wealth to fund the sort of creative activity, which we hope will create the sort of world, which we want to live in.

radical adjective
1. relating to or affecting the fundamental nature of something; far-reaching or thorough.
2. characterised by departure from tradition; innovative or progressive.

So I just want to finish up by… focussing in on this word “radical”, which is obviously in the title of the project. And anybody who listened to the RRAAF Debate, which we had at Beaconsfield last November, there was a small discussion about what this actually means and how it can be interpreted.

But if you’re going to use this word radical, in the name of your venture, then I really feel that you need to try to embody it in every aspect of what you do. And this question which Mika from Platform in London raised at the debate… I think we need to asking ourselves this throughout the weekend: “How are you building the future, as well as dismantling the past?”

So I believe RRAAF is already radical in its central proposition to use the proceeds from renewable energy to fund creative action. Because this is a departure from the mainstream funding systems that we all know about – public funding or private trusts which distribute private wealth. But we need to ask ourselves, how every other aspect of RRAAF can and should be radical. How is our governance structure radically different from traditional funding streams? And I know that this is something that Edge Fund have really developed.

We also need to ask ourselves, how will our approach to developing a community energy project… well it will have to be innovative and radically different from what’s been in the past because of new climate of subsidies that we’re going into. And some of the proposals laid out in the Business Cases in the report, talk about us building strong relationships with local communities, so using local grids and selling energy directly to a partner. If that is a school for example, I’m really interested in how our activity feeds back into education within that school.

And how will RRAAF be radical in the way funding is applied for and awarded? And again, this is something that Edge have really developed, and something I’m sure Alison [Future’s Venture Foundation] will give more of an insight into. It was one of the things in the short trailer that was made for the kickstarter campaign – RRAAF was pitched as being radically different, in that it would be very simple for people to apply for; that because it wouldn’t have to answer to the state in the same way that public funding does, that it would not require so much bureaucracy – it would be interesting to hear your thoughts on that! But how will it be radical in the decision making process, in terms of how you award grants? I know that it something that Edge have really developed in their member-led model.

But finally and most importantly, how will we be radical in the work that we choose to fund? And we’ll have a session later, in which people can bring their views about what constitutes a radical art or activist project. But for me, it has to be the antithesis of the elitist art world. It has to be free and accessible to everybody. It has to be work which doesn’t happen behind closed doors (in places like this); work that happens in public spaces…

Francis McKee [CCA Director]: This is a public space… You paid for it! [laughs]

Ellie Harrison: …but that happens… out in the realm of everyday life. So that’s… everything that I’ve been thinking about over the last six months as I’ve been putting together plans for this symposium. So I thought it would be good to sort of throw it all out there at the beginning to give us plenty to think about.