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The People's Bank of Govanhill

Last year, Open Project Funding went to support Glasgow-based visual artist Ailie Rutherford and her socially engaged work, The People’s Bank of Govanhill. Aiming to explore new and alternative forms of local currency for Govanhill, members of the community were invited to re-imagine the local economy and re-define notions of value, worth and distribution. We caught up with Ailie to find out how it's gone.

4 People's Bank of Govanhill - Discussion Booth

Tell us about the project and how it has developed?

The People’s Bank of Govanhill grew out of a residency at Govanhill Baths in Glasgow in 2015. My residency was focussed on creating a “Future Archive” for Govanhill Baths; a series of future-dated archive exhibits illustrating conversations I’d had about possible alternate futures for Govanhill. Through this I began to talk to people about how a local currency might impact the Govanhill community.

Initially I printed a set of Govanhill notes to be issued through an exchange booth at Govanhill Baths, later commissioned for Glasgow Tramway. As the conversations about local currency continued, the project evolved from a series of currency experiments into a long-term research project on ideas of community currency; looking at what we have to exchange and where we place value.

In an area frequently described as deprived, the project takes the diversity and richness of the local community as a form of wealth.

People's Bank of Govanhill - Iceberg

What has been the most challenging aspect of the project?

Govanhill is an amazing place to work. As Scotland’s most diverse community there are something like 60 languages spoken locally and a really exciting mix of people and cultures. While that doesn’t come without its challenges, it also opens up a lot of possibilities. This year I began working with some fabulous local women who speak multiple languages and together we’ve managed to do a lot of cross-cultural work, incorporating ideas of language exchange and culture as currency into the project.

Have there been any unexpected outcomes?

The project has very much evolved in an unexpected way from the beginning. As an artist I tend to work by suggesting starting points and allowing things to be shaped by the people I work with. I’m interested in how we can find new ways to collaborate and collectively build alternative systems.

Everyone is an expert on something, and the most exciting collaborations might be with the people you least expect.- Ailie Rutherford, Visual Artist

The exchange experiments I’ve initiated with The People’s Bank of Govanhill have been designed to generate unexpected outcomes. The Timebank Tumbola I’ve taken out on the street combines the idea of a traditional time-bank with a tumbola game. As well as to some unusual exchanges it’s initiated a lot of new connections between people.

5 People's Bank of Govanhill - Tumbola

How have the community responded to the project and what do you think the impacts will be in the longer-term?

I'd say it's the other way round: the project has responded to the community.

We created a manifesto and crowd-sourced our constitution on the streets of Govanhill, recently setting up a constituted community group. As the work becomes increasingly collective the long-term the intention is that the project is run by and for the local community. We hope to open a more permanent Swap Market in Govanhill; a space for multiple forms of exchange and sharing of resources.

I’m also really interested in the potential to collectively develop a new form of digital community currency.

How has the project impacted on your practice and do you think it will have a bearing on what you do next?

Having been lucky enough to receive Open Project funding for a full twelve months has really allowed me to develop The People’s Bank of Govanhill as a social artwork and collaborative research project. This has been about embedding my practice long-term in one specific place (rather than the constant traveling artists often have to do to maintain their practice). It has also allowed me to thoroughly follow a line of enquiry, continuing to research ideas of alternative and feminist economics by putting things into practice locally.


Moving forwards, I am looking at how we establish wider networks of alternative currencies and what the role of artists might be in a shift away from the dominant economy to create these new community driven networks. I’m very interested in how small-scale projects begin to connect up on a national or global scale. The next step will be international collaborations with other artists, economic researchers and activists looking to create these types of networks.

Do you have any advice for other artists who want to influence social change through their work?

I think one of the most important things to remember when you’re working in a social context is that everyone is an expert on something, and that the most exciting collaborations might be with the people you least expect. Be willing to let the work evolve and change as it develops, lose control and let go of your artist ego. A sense of humour and a brass neck are also useful.

People's Bank of Govanhill - photo by Bob Moyler, provided courtesy of Ailie Rutherford

What’s next for the project?

Over the past twelve months I've been working with local women's groups to put on a series of events looking at some of the specific economic issues women experience, bringing together women from quite diverse backgrounds. Next week (Tuesday 27 June 2017) we are hosting our final event at Govanhill Baths: Mapping A Women's Economy. We aim to map the diverse ways women contribute to the local economy and to plot out how we'd like to see this grow and develop. We are inviting women who live or work in Govanhill or have an active interest in community currency to join us for tea and to take part in the mapping process.

You can register for the free event here https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/mapping-a-womens-economy-tickets-35008360950

Find out more about The People's Bank of Govanhill on their blog and Twitter.

The People's Bank of Govanhill was supported by National Lottery funding through Creative Scotland's Open Project Fund.

Images of The People's Bank of Govanhill by Bob Moyler.

This article was published on 22 Jun 2017