HOW would your career, social life, family ties, carbon footprint and mental health be affected if you couldn’t leave the city you live in?

This is a reality for many Scots. It’s also the elevator-pitch for artist and activist Ellie Harrison’s latest venture: The Glasgow Effect.

Just five days old, and it’s already caused a bit of a stooshie.

The project will see the artist confined to Greater Glasgow’s limits for a year – save for death or medical emergency – with £15,000 of backing from Creative Scotland. Taken at face value it’s not hard to see why it’s caused a bit of a stink. Many don’t have the luxury of ever setting foot outside of their locale.

When you consider this project’s backdrop – a city with a tapestry of complex social issues – you’d be forgiven for thinking that money could be better spent elsewhere.

This story broke in spurious red-top headlines, and predictably, the public scolding followed.

If you were to take the temperature on social media now, you’d likely conclude this is a culturally-insensitive vanity project. The title is loaded. The imagery is choice. Phrases such as “poverty safari”, coined by critics, have served to conflate the project with national pride and a misplaced sense of social justice. Very quickly we’ve muddied the original idea: how do self-imposed limitations affect art?

The premise only sounds outlandish if your baseline involves the high-octane lifestyle that propels you beyond the city. For plenty, that’s not reality, and not worth a mention – let alone a grant. Frankly, given the city’s artistic heritage, there are far worse places to be grounded for a year.

But however pointless it looks, or however you think that money should be spent, this funding shouldn’t be confused with careless government misspend. That £15k was locked up. It was never going to make its way to the people on the street. It’s hard to know where to direct your rage when you witness the scars of inequality and this seems so frivolous, but dismissing the arts in the name of the social cause is misjudged.

No amount of personal disagreement is an excuse for the level of vitriol directed at the artist. The overnight shaming and abuse of Harrison – on whom we have scant information – is a far bigger stain on Scotland than any funding gaff.

Sure, we like to take a side on things. And art is particularly deft at wheedling out our inner-cynic. We’ve all stood beside a piece, brow crumpled in indignation: “This is isn’t art. I could do that”. (Unmade Bed springs to mind).

When you take that same sentiment, and invoke the public purse, we imbue ourselves with an instantaneous expertise in what does and doesn’t constitute worth, and how arts funding should be distributed. Really this is something few of us can claim any jurisdiction over. How much will the project actually tell us? We can’t say yet because it’s brand new. But let’s not automatically recast this lack of output as vain until we have something tangible to judge. By clambering aboard the castigation bandwagon, we’ve created a mythology around the artist and her work. We’ve deemed it offensive and worthless, before a single piece has been created. How many of the outraged masses have actually read the funding application?

As delicious a headline as it made, Ellie Harrison isn’t a poverty tourist. The Glasgow Effect hasn’t been designed to dabble in being skint. She’s not pretending to be poor on the taxpayer’s penny. We’ve fabricated this idea because it’s easier to appoint a bogeyman than to get drawn into Scotland’s broken relationship with arts and funding.

This project was applied for under the title “Think Global, Act Local”, and was conceived to deepen a connection to Glasgow and its artistic opportunities – a city that Harrison’s lived in for seven years. By all accounts, she’s a local artist. She studied for her masters here. And she lectures at Duncan of Jordanstone College in Dundee. She’s also started a fund that uses renewable wind energy to provide arts grants for others. Her work examines democracy, climate change, capitalism, immigration, health and extremism. How many artists can you say that of?

Of course, you’re absolutely welcome to think it’s pretentious toss. You can deem it farcical and worthless. You can entirely disagree with the premise, and even hate the end result. But right now this poison is premature and disproportionate. Ellie Harrison applied for open funding, with a suitable proposal that secured a snifter of a

£10.5 million pot that bankrolls everything from conference trips abroad to solo albums. The online disdain surrounding an artistic idea is precisely the sort of attitude problem that hobbles the arts and stymies creativity. When you consider the colour of that disdain – English-bashing and outright misogyny – we do Scotland’s cultural outlook a disservice.

As yet, no art has been created. We’ve judged Harrison’s straight out the starting blocks and in doing so have discounted The Glasgow Effect’s ability to do anything of worth. As our hackles spring up, we’ve recognised art has always been used to fuel social discourse. Just look at Guernica or Dismaland: two well-known pieces of different magnitude, but the point remains.

Art is how we respond to the world around us and the injustices we see in it. Not only that, it’s a universal language that leapfrogs barriers and encourages everyone to think about issues they may have otherwise ignored. How many other mediums can we say that of? How many people are now thinking about poverty, when they previously kept quiet?

Yes, the name is insensitive. And the greasy chips Facebook header is inflammatory. But before we tie ourselves up over stereotypes, we should at least give this project a chance. That includes a chance to fail on its own terms, if that’s how it goes. And even if it runs its course and melts into nothingness, as many pieces do, it could still be the catalyst for someone else’s work.

When we erect walls around Scottish poverty, we stop the world from seeing in. We need to bring the world in if we want things to change, and art is and always has been a means of shouting back. The Glasgow Effect has certainly aggravated many – now we have to see if it delivers. So wait.

Follow it. Counter it, and if you can’t extinguish your own anger – create something.

The National View: A serious side to arts row

Arts agency defends ‘poverty safari’ project

Picture of the day: The Glasgow Effect on Ellie Harrison?