1 March 2016
Cross-Party Group on Culture, Scottish Parliament, Edinburgh

Harrison was invited by the Scottish Artists Union to speak via Skype to the Cross-Party Group on Culture at the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh on 1 March 2016. She screened The Glasgow Effect by Wee D before discussing his arguments in relation to wider debates about arts funding, economic policy and social change.


[screening of The Glasgow Effect by Wee D]

Ellie Harrison: Hi everyone!

Audience: Hi!

Ellie Harrison: Can you hear me OK?

Audience: Yes

Ellie Harrison: Amazing. Well, thank you Janie. Thank you so much for inviting me to speak to you tonight. I’m sorry I couldn’t hear what you were saying in your introduction. Um, my name is Ellie Harrison and I’m an artist who’s been living in Glasgow since 2008.

So what we were just listening to there was a track The Glasgow Effect by Wee D and it’s hot of the press. It’s released on the 18th February as a direct response to The Glasgow Effect project which I’m currently undertaking, which I’m sure you’ve all heard, has been funded by Creative Scotland and is an experiment to see what happens if I refuse to travel outside my home city for a whole year.

So that explains why I can’t be there in person this evening, and I’m sorry about that. Well you shouldn’t have put the parliament in Edinburgh! [laughs]

But, to go back to Wee D. If you put aside his overly personalised and sometimes aggressive tone, I wanted to show the track, to play the track tonight and to examine the two key arguments that he’s making, which I think echo a lot of the criticism that The Glasgow Effect project has received and two things which I think are relevant to tonight’s discussion.

He’s got two main criticisms. They’re slightly contradictory, but I do have some sympathy with both of them. So, the first is that this money – £15,000 – should not have been spent on art at all. But instead, it should have been spent on food banks, it should have been spent food parcels, it should have been spent on nappies even. It should have been spent on paying for… the basics of day-to-day life that so many people are struggling to afford.

Now, given the harsh realities that 35 plus years of neoliberal policy has left us with:
for one, hugely increased social inequalities, for two, catastrophic environmental destruction, and three frequent financial instability and uncertainty. Given all of those things, then it is hard not to agree with Wee D that we should be investing time and money in addressing the causes of those problems directly, rather than fannying around making art.

And this was the conclusion I reached myself, after spending two years studying for my Masters at Glasgow School of Art, when I made the decision to invest a good proportion of the time, that I might have spent on self-indulgent art, on direct political campaigning instead.

But I never stopped making art completely. It would have driven me totally crazy not to have a creative outlet… for my anger. And, I really do see the value of art as an essential antidote to consumer culture, which should have the ability to enrich people’s lives by enabling them to critically analyse the world around them and to see things in a new light. And, most importantly, to provoke and inspire healthy debate. Without any art as light relief from the harsh realities of the world and with the ability it has to help us imagine something better, then we really would all be doomed.

But, I don’t think Wee D does really want the outcome of The Glasgow Effect to be that public funding for the arts gets cut. I think that Wee D, probably like most people in the room there I hope, would probably like to see public funding for the arts increased.

But the second argument that Wee D is making, is that if we’re going to have public funding for the arts, then we need to ensure that it is distributed in a far more equitable way. So that it can have most benefit to the least privileged people in society, and I totally agree with this as well. Because a lot of art is pretentious and ineffectual and is completely disconnected from the real world.

And I am sad that I was used as an example of this sort of art, as it’s always been part of my philosophy to try to make my work playful and as accessible as possible, and also to challenge unethical practices that I witness in the artworld. I do know why it happened in the instance of The Glasgow Effect, and I am sorry about that. But I don’t regret having made myself into a scapegoat, if it has enabled important questions to be raised about conduct in the artworld.

Because the initial motivations for this project came last May… from my shock at witnessing the decadence of the Venice Biennale first hand, I went to Venice last year. And particularly the huge amounts of public money that is being wasted, particularly on international flights, shipping already high-profile artists and their bulky artworks around the world, which of course also adds lots of unnecessary carbon emissions. And also on alcohol for all of those exclusive parties which help maintain a certain lifestyle to which privileged artworld people have been accustomed.

So, I am totally with Wee D and I do hope to meet him sometime this year too. Because, I think what we both want to see is arts funding, increased arts funding let’s say, that is distributed more equitably. And, arts funding that is available and accessible to people from all sorts of backgrounds, and, most importantly, I think we both want to see art that is for everyone and that is connected to the reality of most people’s lives.