Whilst government funding and budgetary decisions rightly face criticism every day, creative and cultural grants do not often top the complaints list for many but those involved in such industries. Enter Ellie Harrison with her 2016 Glasgow Effect project.
With almost two thirds of the year-long project funded by Creative Scotland, the public response has been phenomenal. As only a cursory scroll down the Facebook page or #GlasgowEffect Twitter feed proves, the majority of this response has been negative.
I do not doubt that there are genuine concerns that should be raised here – not least the choice of name, which has been fairly interpreted by many as rather blasé and insulting to Glaswegians. Yet, if more than 10 per cent of the individuals so quick to denounce Harrison on social media raise an official complaint to Creative Scotland or follow the project’s progress for more than a month I will be more than surprised. I shall be down right astounded.
The truth is that Harrison’s Glasgow Effect project has provided a perfect outlet for people to rant about public funding and poverty. Social media makes it all too easy to care – or at least appear to do so – about issues today and not tomorrow. We share a link, post a status or a tweet and we feel that we are engaging in the debate but often we fail to direct our opinion effectively or appropriately.
Many of us, who feel such outrage towards Harrison this week, will not be able to list many – if any – other people or projects receiving funding from Creative Scotland in 2016. The body was formed in 2010 to replace the Scottish Arts Council and is funded by both the Scottish Government and the National Lottery. Creative Scotland offers Open Project Funding grants of up to £150,000. To provide some perspective, the budget for the current financial year – ending in March 2016 – plans to grant £33.6m in regular funding to cultural organisations across Scotland. Harrison’s project does not fall under regular funding but rather open funding, which was forecast to receive £10.5m in the 2015/16 financial year. This £10.5m was to be predominantly provided by the National Lottery.
This does not lead me to conclude that therefore Harrison’s £15,000 is ‘clearly trivial’, to use some accountancy jargon, but rather that our concerns are disproportionate and reveal a general lack of understanding of the scope of Creative Scotland. Yes, £15,000 is a wage above that of many in both Glasgow and the rest of the UK. But why do we not care about where these other millions are being spent and the community benefit of them? None of the social media posts and articles I have read about Creative Scotland’s so-called disastrous choice to fund Harrison have seriously considered the organisation’s spending.
If we really believe that Harrison should not be receiving £15,000 for her project, does it not stand to reason that much of the other £10.5m of Open Funding might also be badly allocated? I – cynically – find much of the outcry against Harrison to reveal a slightly savage and almost mob-effect-like enjoyment of abusing an individual simply for the sake of it rather than being rooted in a genuine care for investigating the expenditure of creative funds.
So yes, I find the name of Harrison’s project to be in slightly bad taste and I am still suffering from some confusion as to what the project is all about. However, I am more saddened by my suspicion that this ‘scandal’ is unlikely to induce many of those that apparently care so much about Harrison’s grant to actually research Creative Scotland and offer constructive feedback to the organisation before it enters a new financial year in April 2016.