[Written by Gabriela Saldanha Blackwood]
‘Glasgow In Conversation’ is an online series seeking to profile socially, politically and/or culturally engaged figures and spaces within the Glasgow context. The premise is simple – 10 questions, which remain more or less the same, put forth to interesting people doing interesting things within our city.
The CCA is a well-established Glasgow art space. It opened in 1992 right on the Sauchiehall strip. It was affected by the recent GSA fire so has been closed since summer- caught in a temporary space of between (fitting with this season’s theme). Ahead of its reopening on the 20th of October, I spoke to Francis McKee the CCA’s warm and charismatic director. Both a tutor and research fellow at GSA, his drive to challenge archetypal gallery formats is both refreshing and reassuring. We covered his views on the Glasgow art scene, funding, diversity (or lack thereof), and the changes that the CCA is currently undertaking to secure its place as the stimulating and boundary breaking institution that it is.
- Could you briefly outline what your space and practise is and your position within the CCA?
I’m the director, part time, three days a week. I oversee the core program of the CCA and the open source program where we offer the space to other partners and individuals who want to use it; we try to make it as free as possible.
- What are your opinions of the art scene in Glasgow right now?
It’s very strong, it has been strong for a long time and that’s partly because it keeps attracting people. Especially with London becoming virtually unliveable for artists. Glasgow is a great alternative in the UK. It’s the second largest art scene outside of London. It’s cheaper, it’s easier to work, it’s small and so you can really do a lot really quickly here. So, it’s a good alternative and a lot of people come over seas as well because of the art scene, to the Glasgow school of art, so it just keeps its own momentum growing.
- So how do you think the CCA feeds into this scene that’s developing in Glasgow?
I think it’s always had a role within it. There’s an ecology of galleries for instance within Glasgow. Transmission market gallery are where artists emerging begin to establish themselves. CCA is somewhere in the middle, tramway’s slightly bigger. The CCA is a good space for actually introducing art to the public, which is maybe the difference that it has from a place like Transmission, which is more for the art community itself. So, we are a kind of interface between the general public and the contemporary art scene.
- What do you think is a priority for the CCA, what goals is it working to achieve?
Very simply to support the economy of the local art scene. We want to give people spaces for residencies, for exhibitions, for workshops. We want to bring people in that will contribute to that as well. And secondly to present that to a wider audience and try to show local art from the local art scene and contemporary art to an audience in Glasgow.
- How do you go about implementing that? How do you find the artists, how do you create those events?
Several ways. One, we’re very close to the art school—I actually teach at the art school. So in that respect I keep very much in touch with what’s happening on the art scene at that level and keep track of those artists when they leave—if they stay in Glasgow or go abroad. Also studio visits to meet artists and find out about their practise, update us on what they’re doing and going to shows as well. Curators are constantly going to shows around Glasgow to see works and to see what’s happening and further afield not just Glasgow. Trying to collect intelligence, in a sense, on what’s happening and keep in touch with that and see who’s ready to move up to a larger space as well. We have very large spaces so it’s kind of the trajectory of the artist following that as well.
- What in Glasgow needs developing and changing, in terms of the art scene?
Well there’s the perennial question of money, funds, which can’t be overlooked.
The second thing would be joined up thinking. There are a lot of good things in Glasgow but there’s very little sense of an overall strategy for that or to promote that in the way say Manchester or Bristol or Edinburgh promotes itself. So, a lot of good things that aren’t tied together but a lot of mutual support that could happen but maybe don’t happen.
Thirdly I think questions of diversity for instance. How do you change the art centres how do you change the galleries in the way of more representation and that’s an interesting problem in a sense: psychological problems, legal problems at times, just in terms of employment? But actually…how do you begin to open up the centres and for audiences as well? That’s a big thing—the audiences need to grow. The demographic is changing rapidly and I don’t think the centres are necessarily keeping up with it. I think with the open source program we’re keeping up with it in a sense because we are offering the space to other people and they come and use it and we support them. But I think, in general, the art scene has an issue there.
- Leading on from that, were there any institutions the CCA is trying to replicate in terms of achieving this kind of diversity?
No (laughter, acknowledging the huge lack of representation). I don’t think anyone is coming to grips with it very easily. I think everyone is struggling with it across Europe and America for instance. There are different issues within it and I think everyone is struggling. Also, its local here, I think even with London there’s a difference where London has a very different population, which has been much more established for a long time so the issues are slightly different there. It would have to be a local solution that works for Glasgow.
The open source puts us out on a limb; there aren’t many people we can replicate because we’re fairly unique in that at the moment. So, in a sense it’s the opposite. You know it sounds daft given that we are in Glasgow that we are trying to lead as much as we can.
- Would you say that when you do host these more diverse artists there has been generally more positive feedback or a negative backlash from anywhere?
No there hasn’t been negative backlash. Even “hosting” sounds dangerous; it sounds like we have too much say in the matter. We offer the space—if it seems good we give the space and step back. So, what is programmed we have very little control after that point. We don’t desire control. We simply try to facilitate every group to do what they want to do in the way they want to do it. It’s more of a handing over some of the ownership of the building in a sense. Even being a host is a power position so trying to hand that over as much as we can. I think our audience has welcomed that, and there’s a lot of cross over between the different audiences as well, different communities. I think we’ve always had that reputation; we call our audience “early adaptors”—they come to us to try things they didn’t know they wanted. People go to other venues to get something that they already know they want.
- So you’re reopening soon, after your closure due to the fire. This is a moment of transition for the CCA. Do you think the reopening is sort of instigating a new feeling, a new sense of direction? Is there anything specific in the future that the CCA is moving towards?
I think for us yeah. I think for the public perhaps we are simply re-opening but for us, with four months off—we were already in process of rethinking the program-having the open source program we then thought how can we make our program more in line with that.
It’s easier to talk about these things then to do them. But how do you reduce the hierarchies of an organisation? How would you put more open source into the core programme and also just questions like why do we do exhibitions? This format is almost unquestioned: we do six exhibitions a year, we ask an artist to do an exhibition, and we put the exhibition in the galleries. But we’ve done some exhibitions that have been different and more open and maybe with the audience having more control or a shifting backwards and forwards, the control or attention between the audience and the artist and us. Could we do a longer and more fluid program that doesn’t necessarily run in terms of exhibition, exhibition, and exhibition? Which again is very easy to say but is very difficult to do.
We are trying to think if there are any kinds of models that we can begin to play with. Because in terms of the scale of the art scene, if you do six exhibitions a year, you don’t get through many artists. You know there’s maybe 500 artists and you do six shows a year so what else can we do? How else can we talk to the public in that space with artists—all of us in conversation?
We’re looking at some traditional exhibitions and some experimental exhibitions that may or may not work.
- Glasgow is a very student dense area, and we write for Glasgow University Magazine, so we were just wondering specifically for students, do you think there is a way of becoming more involved, keeping up to date with things. Are there any student specific initiatives the CCA has?
Probably through marketing but we are moving more towards total digital with a very small brochure. We’re trying to find the money to redo our website to make it more flexible. I think for students though the thing is there’s two ways. One is to come and just engage with the stuff that is there and the second is to look and the space and think is there anything you can do in the spaces and we’ve had students, lots of students, more from the art school maybe but also from the university, do programmes in the spaces—we have cinemas, we have performance spaces. It’s a question maybe of thinking…apart from enjoying the stuff, maybe would you want to do something.
The CCA re-opens this Saturday at 12pm. You can find out what’s on at the CCA on Facebook as well as on their website.