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:
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: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9yhXYQ71jQ8
Tom Holland (ex-committee member of Market Gallery)