Laurie Macfarlane’s story of privatisation began by tracing the roots of neoliberalism and the beginnings of the free market ideology. He clearly described the historical shift from the Keynesian economic model (regulated markets and state intervention to curb the instability of the capitalist system), to the final overcoming of this system by a previously marginalised group of free market economists, consisting of figures such as Friedrich Hayek, and Ludwig von Mises. Although for many, the birth of neoliberalism came with Thatcher and Reagan’s implementation of these radical free market Hayekian doctrines within the 1970’s political sphere, it actually has a longer, more calculated history. As an economist giving a presentation about privatisation, its relationship to property, and finally, to Market Gallery’s property predicament, it’s understandable that the more pernicious aspects of the neoliberal project played only a background role in Macfarlane’s story. But it’s important to remember the class dynamic that propelled the doctrine, and the vested financial interests that enabled the Chicago School neoliberals to fund the creation of think tanks and lobby groups. It’s this aspect that is frequently left out of common definitions and uses of the term neoliberalism. Macfarlane rightly pointed out that it’s necessary to clearly define terms like neoliberalism, since it’s almost become jargon, lazily quoted in newspaper columns or blog posts such as this one. He called upon David Harvey, author of the influential A Brief History of Neoliberalism (2005) for a precise outline, which alluded further to the multidimensional functioning of the neoliberal project:


“Neoliberalism is in the first instance a theory of political economic practices that proposes that human well-being can best be advanced by liberating individual entrepreneurial freedoms and skills within an institutional framework characterized by strong private property rights, free markets, and free trade. The role of the state is to create and preserve an institutional framework appropriate to such practices. The state has no guarantee, for example, the quality and integrity of money. It must also set up those military, defence, police and legal structures and functions required to secure private property rights and to guarantee, by force if need be, the proper functioning of markets. Furthermore, if markets do not exist (in areas such as land, water, education, healthcare, social security, or environmental pollution) then they must be created, by state action if necessary. But beyond these tasks the state should not venture.”*

While there can hardly be any argument with this precise and encompassing description, the segment is abstract and does not answer the question of who is pulling the levers of state in this way. After all, the markets don’t function by themselves, nor are they in fact free in any strict sense. Infamously the state bailed out the banks during the 2008 economic crash for example; meaning that markets are able to be free for periods of time, until they need a cash injection from the taxpayer. Who benefited from this market rejuvenation? Who pulls the levers? Macfarlane pointed to how the Chicago School’s ideas were “adopted by the business community and wealthy industrialists.” He explained their relationship to neoliberal thought, that they “saw a way in this philosophy to relieve them of the tax regulations prevalent under the Keynesian model post-WWII. It provided an intellectual cover for them. So with the help of these industrialists the economists were able to form think tanks, and an international intellectual hub which came to be referred to as neoliberalism.” These few sentences revealed something about the enduring nature of power, and the ruling classes ability to eventually reconstitute itself and adapt in the face of state regulatory adversity. When so called liberal democratic parties, or even parties posing as “social democratic” embody neoliberal principles they almost by default uphold this contemporary ruling class of financiers. David Harvey refers to this relationship as “the state-finance nexus.” As it turns out, Harvey still offers one of the most scathing critiques of neoliberalism and its renewed forms of rampant capital accumulation and wealth extraction. During a recent panel discussion at The World Transformed Conference in Brighton, he provided a much more straightforward definition of neoliberalism than Macfarlane’s, and his own prior definition for that matter:


“Neoliberalism for me is very simple. It is a class project, and it was a class project from the very beginning, it was not about the market, it was about consolidating class power. It’s very interesting what’s happened, I tried to write that out in my Brief History of Neoliberalism, and there are lots of books coming out on neoliberalism right now; one tries to treat it as an ideology, another tries to treat it as about the market, about this and that, to the point where the concept becomes incoherent and half the people say you shouldn’t use it anymore. Which means ‘great, we don’t have to talk about the concentration of class power anymore’… Well fuck you that’s what we’ve got to talk about!”*


Laurie Macfarlane’s talk:

For David Harvey at The World Transformed:

Tom Holland (ex-committee member)


Given the spatial cutbacks facing the gallery the name sort of worked as a bad pun, implying liberation from a bad situation: to avoid becoming victims of the Royal Mail’s property profiteering in the Dennistoun area. In terms of the forums actual content, both Neil Gray our first speaker, and Laurie Macfarlane on the last day can be said to have considered free market economics in different ways. Gray’s talk was titled Between Art, Rent & Urbanism, which provided a historical, highly critical perspective on the wider social and economic issues of culture in Glasgow. Macfarlane, an economist at the New Economics Foundation, also provided a bigger picture context in his talk Privatisation: The story so far, the journey ahead. If the forum can be described as having multiple layers, then for me these two talks provided the bedrock, the intellectual framework for the rest to work within (which is only to say that they were more abstract and academic). Gray’s analysis of local governments’ successive profit driven urban redevelopment strategies, and it’s unseen negative impact upon local communities made for a sober starting point. His class based Marxist critique indirectly implicated the audience and the gallery committee as members of the “creative class”, who are in one sense unbeknownst actors, instrumentalized by aggressive private enterprise and gradual gentrification. Gray traced the roots of this part-governmental, part-private urban regeneration back to the Glasgow East End Renewal project in 1976, through to the 1988 Myerscough report, and other policy reports surfacing around the time Glasgow won the 1990 European Capital of Culture. He spoke of how these reports argued for “the economic capture of Glasgows cultural assets”, and were inspired by similar U.S-based redevelopment methods that entailed highly segregated, uneven development across rustbelt cities like Baltimore and Detroit. He convincingly described the negative consequences that occur when governments and local councils replace long-term structural, socially oriented investment with short-term free market fundamentalism.

Neil Gray’s talk:

Tom Holland (ex committee member)


The following six blog posts are an attempt to summarise, explore or collate what I believe to have been some of the most important points and ideas raised at FREE MARKET: A Forum on Cultural Resources in Crisis. These views are my own, and are not representative of the committee as a whole.

The three day forum took place at Market Gallery, Glasgow in May 2017. It was convened as a response the gallery losing two of its spaces due to their privatisation by the Post Office.

A comprehensive review of the forum can be found here, penned by Chris Sharratt from A-N:


1. Limitations

It seems important on reflection to define the limits of the Free Market forum and the external limitations that sparked its organisation. We were relatively limited by funding, capacity, reputation and experience. As a small artist led publicly funded gallery with a biennially rotating, relatively young committee, we had neither the time, funds or capacity to organise a forum similar to those of say, the ICA, Tramway, or the Centre for Contemporary Arts in Glasgow. It may seem like a simple matter of unavoidable compromise to say, but in this particular case neither would we have wanted to emulate these institutions’ style of forum. Market Gallery is a different, smaller kettle of fish. It’s run by volunteers, usually artists, curators or writers, who do things like work on funding applications and plan the programme of exhibitions and events. It has a different audience, location and cultural environment to work within, and its own set of (as in the case of the Free Market forum) volatile circumstances to confront. The ICA in London may invite arts and cultural heavyweights such as Boris Groys, Hito Steyerl, or Franco “Bifo” Berardi to discuss current international “crises”, utopian intellectual concepts, or contextual questions surrounding specific artists or art movements, for example. But rarely is it able or willing to publicly confront any political “crisis” unfolding on it’s doorstep through the medium of a forum or openly political discussion about the very same crisis. Rarely would an institution the size of the CCA, for example, be able to convincingly politicize any spatial, financial or cultural threats it faces as an institution directly or locally. Aside from a potential petition, or closed door council meeting it might seem out of place, or, given it’s popularity and funding capacity, even self absorbed for such an institution to examine its own position within it’s own local social and economic context. These potentially thorny political discussions are perhaps left to the private board meetings of directors and patrons. Market Gallery on the other hand, exists comparatively under the radar, and operates as a less bureaucratic, less self conscious, less hierarchical organisation. Organisationally it uses the classic template artist led model of Transmission, a gallery that exists somewhere in between Market Gallery and the CCA in terms of scale. So what were these “volatile circumstances” facing Market Gallery anyway? I’ll try to sketch out a very basic outline.

The problem facing the gallery at the end of last year was the loss of two out of it’s three gallery spaces due to their effective privatization by the Post Office. The local Dennistoun postal branch had made the decision to sell their ‘crown property’ premises, and move into the two shop front spaces then occupied by Market Gallery. The local housing association, Reidvale, had loaned the shop front spaces to Market Gallery free of charge for around 20 years, part of a wave of investment strategy to ‘inject culture’ into the deindustrialized Dennistoun area in the east end of Glasgow. After talks with Helen Moore, a member of Reidvale’s management committee, and a few emails to our potential speaker; author of the book Private Island and London Review of Books editor James Meek, it was decided that the important thing for the committee to critique was not this specific act of privatization itself, but rather the more general problem of cultural resource allocation, and the question; who gets to decide? In a genuinely email response that simultaneously explained why he could not attend the forum, James Meek wrote had the following suggestion:

“Surely your situation doesn’t so much relate to privatisation and the Royal Mail specifically, but to the divvying up of resources for the arts? What I mean is that even if every commercially run or profit-making venture in Scotland belonged to the state, decisions would still have to be made about how best to use this or that building. As an artist myself, and at least partially a Scot, I don’t feel there’s been enough discussion about this. This is what it comes down to when trying to build a better country – how does society determine who gets what resources for what activities? The market? The state? Both? Neither?”



The Market Gallery committee collectively agreed that instead of protesting or placing blame, we would create a public forum to debate and explore the connections to wider related issues affecting the arts, culture and the economy. It’s important to note that the reason Reidvale Housing Association were able to make the decision to hand over the spaces to the Post Office was because of the PO’s obvious role as a functioning community asset. Members of the local community rely heavily upon the Post Office for reasons to do with banking and the receipt of Universal Credit, which, no matter how aesthetically enriching, art works cannot hope to match in value – nor are they for the most part intended to play the same kind of ethical role in society!

The only way to adequately politicize this property predicament, then, was to extend invitation to speakers, artists, activists, economists, academics, and Helen Moore herself as a Reidvale rep, to explore over the course of three days the multiple and complex layers of Market Gallery’s problem from a semi-abstracted level. I say “semi” here because Helen Moore delivered a fascinating talk which covered the history of the immediate local area, Reidvale Housing Association and its original relationship to Market Gallery. In short then, we subsequently organised a forum that was open to the public, and, by the diversity of the speakers invited, were able to assemble an audience decidedly more diverse than the typical Glasgow ‘contemporary art crowd regulars.’

Helen Moore’s talk can be accessed here:

Tom Holland (ex-committee member of Market Gallery)