Streetland taking art to the streets at Glasgow International
As funding dries up and arts budgets are slashed, artists and performers in Glasgow’s Govanhill are bringing work directly to their community. Neil Cooper reports
Time was, the streets seemed paved with community artists, purveyors of grassroots festivals in neighbourhoods well beyond the centres of excellence that stole their thunder. The swingeing funding cuts of the 1980s that attempted to stamp out people-powered art was the death-knell of many such initiatives, while others burrowed even further underground.
While the gentrification of once vibrant manors sent artists in search of cheap studio rentals, however, a DIY community spirit has prevailed. And, since the recession, lo-fi carnival, by the people and for the people, is positively de rigueur. Even before the advent of Streetland, the GI-endorsed three-day happening designed to transform Glasgow’s Govanhill district into an artistic fun palace, something was definitely stirring in Westmoreland Street.
‘The term “community art” is often looked down upon,’ explains Streetland programmer Lucie Potter, ‘but if you look at what’s going on in Govanhill, the majority of events generated are by local artists. That’s something that’s happening all year round, with lots of local people doing lots of different things. The idea of Streetland is to celebrate that in the broadest sense possible.’
The result, which kicks off with a parade led by junkyard indie orchestra The Second Hand Marching Band, is some 25 events that run the gamut of exhibitions, installations, screenings and interventions including the likes of DIY social networkers Ganghut, poet Nick Sims and the ongoing struggle to reclaim the now closed Govanhill Baths. Such creative fecundity may have something to do with the area’s diversity.
‘Govanhill is one of the poorest areas in Europe,’ Potter explains. ‘It’s an area of extreme deprivation that used to be part of Renfrewshire, and which has always been an area of high immigration, from the Irish, Jewish and Pakistani communities to the recent influx from central and eastern Europe. There are also people who maybe can’t afford to live in the West End for whom the south side is a cheaper option, so Govanhill exists in this constant state of flux.’
While there is clearly a social and political function to Streetland, the artists’ responses aren’t simply some parachuted-in polemic. Instead they reimagine the city playfully enough to recall the most idealistic of 1960s counter-cultural thought.
As history and cynicism has taught us, however, where self-determined artistic idylls in Greenwich Village, Hoxton and Hulme flourish, property developers will surely follow. Before long, once vibrant ad-hoc speakeasies have been developed into overpriced des-res loft-apartments for upwardly mobile types for whom the word ‘creative’ is just a job description on a business card. The artists move on somewhere cheaper, and so the cycle begins anew. Streetland, however, is planting roots of its own in Govanhill.
‘I see Streetland as a pilot project,’ says Potter. ‘It explores the potential of what you can do on the street, so rather than just being a thoroughfare you pass through, it becomes a meeting place where people can have a completely different set of expectations.’
Streetland, various venues in and around Westmoreland Street, Govanhill, Glasgow, Fri 30 Apr–Sun 2 May. Part of Glasgow International.