4 August 2016
ITAC3, Edinburgh

Harrison was invited to introduce the Radical Renewable Art + Activism Fund project as part of this panel discussion chaired by Anna Cutler at the third International Teaching Artist Conference (ITAC3) exploring ‘Best, next and radical practice in participatory arts‘. (Timecode 00:56-09:05)


Anna Cutler: So, we’re going to start with… the first panellist, which is Ellie Harrison… She’s not here today, part of her practice for the project she’s doing at the moment is to be in Glasgow and to stay in Glasgow for a year. So there’s clearly a politics to her practice. She describes herself as an artist and activist based in Glasgow as she ‘investigates, exposes and challenges’ as she describes ‘the absurd consequences of our capitalist system’. In 2015, Harrison initiated the Radical Renewable Art + Activism Fund project, which is what she’s going to talk to us today about. And we’re going to see a little film to begin with about the project and then we’re going to Skype. What could possibly go wrong? [audience laughs] So I hand over to the film and then we’ll do Skype.

[screening of 10:10 #itshappening film]

[audience applause]

Anna Cutler: Ellie, hello. Thank you so much. I wonder if you would be good enough to just take us through the vision and the idea behind this project to get us started.

Ellie Harrison: Yeah, sure. So first of all, sorry I’m not there. When I was chatting to Alice about the conference yesterday, I was really gutted that I couldn’t be in the room to meet you all. But, yeah I’m halfway through my Glasgow Effect project where I’m attempting to actually ‘think globally and act locally’, by not leaving the city at all [audience laughs]. And I am being funded by Creative Scotland, which means that I can work full time on lots of different projects and campaigns, and the Radical Renewable Art + Activism Fund is one of those.

We held the Founding Symposium in Glasgow two weeks ago, and it’s an incredibly ambitious project what we’re attempting to do. We are attempting to set up an alternative funding scheme, an alternative arts funding scheme, which will be funded from the proceeds from renewable energy

But the bigger aim of the project is create systemic change within the artworld; to create a shift towards more radical, politicised practice. So the idea is that if you have a funding stream that is totally dedicated to supporting that sort of work, then you begin to counter the alternatives, and the alternative sources of funding are increasingly coming from private and corporate sponsorship. And we saw news earlier in the week that five big arts venues have signed a new five-year deal with BP, to get sponsorship from them.

So the push is really towards getting funding from private companies, fossil fuel companies, which inevitably leaves artists compromised in what they can say. So that’s what RRAAF wants to avoid altogether. So we’re using renewable energy as a kind of way of creating a relatively autonomous funding stream, so that artists and other people can actually speak up about issues in the world, and actively try to address them through their work.

Anna Cutler: So Ellie, can you just explain to us how it funds it. Do you get money from this? Are they an organisation themselves? What is the kind of purchase we’re getting? What is the currency that you are kind of drawing down to fund the art?

Ellie Harrison: OK, so RRAAF is in very, very early stages at the moment. And that’s actually one reason why I was so keen to talk to you, because we’re looking for people to get involved. So if there’s anybody in the room who’s interested in joining any of the working groups for the project at the moment, please get in touch. Hopefully the website and email address is in your programme.

But the aim is to find a site in or near Glasgow, to start off with, and to either put up a wind turbine or a different type of renewable energy generation like solar or hydro or any of the new innovative things that are being developed at the moment. And we will use the RRAAF network, which is UK-wide at the moment. There’s a lot of support for the project at the moment from all corners of the UK – we’ll use that network to fundraise… all the capital costs of the installation. We’re going to be set-up as a Community Benefit Society, which is a form of cooperative, which will be constituted so that all the revenue generated from selling that electricity is ring-fenced for social ends. So it would go out in the grant scheme.

So it is epic, but the aim is also to use some of that money that we generate from selling electricity to build the project in the future. So that we can continue to invest in more renewable energy, so that we’re helping to shift towards a green economy and reduce carbon emissions and to reduce dependency on fossil fuels as well. But so we’re also creating more and more and more revenue which can be invested in radical art practice, in acts of creative resistance, all sorts of stuff which will actually get out on the streets and hopefully challenge vested interests and challenge cuts to public spending, which means that the Arts Council and Creative Scotland are having to make do with less and less money.

Anna Cutler: So the invitation is for us to buy your energy?

Ellie Harrison: Eventually yes, because unfortunately it’s one of our basic human needs. That’s the invitation eventually, but there’s lots of work to be done before that! So if anyone’s got a specific interest in arts and activism, get in touch. If anyone has got and interest in renewable energy, or any of the things that I’m talking about, get in touch. We’re looking for as many people to get behind the idea, to build the network that we need to fundraise to set it up in the first place.

Anna Cutler: OK, and if there was one thing that you feel that it would be great for people in the room today to learn from in terms of your practice. You know, are there things that you’ve learnt that you’d like to share or that you think people here could get from what you’re doing?

Ellie Harrison: Well I think what I’ve been trying to do over the last five or six years. Because also, I’ve got my Bring Back British Rail t-shirt on today, because I spend a lot of my time doing direct political campaigning, in this case for the public ownership of our railways. So I’ve learnt to try to kind of invest as much of my time as possible, and creative skills and enthusiasm in projects that will actually have a direct impact. So that’s what RRAAF aims to encourage. RRAAF is an example of that, because it will be a real working project, but it also aims to liberate more artists and to give them a support structure to be able to use their skills, utilise their skills in more practical, positive solutions, that can help improve the world.

Anna Cutler: Well I think that very much fits… resonates with what people have said yesterday. We’ve now come to the end of our moment here. So I would like to thank you. And to say, brilliant to speak to you. Thank you for sharing that.

[audience applause]