A prominent feature of Glasgow’s 1911 International Festival was the ‘Auld Toon’, a replica of a city quarter as it would have appeared in the Jacobean era. There, spectators were offered an opportunity to vicariously encounter life in a pre-industrialised Glasgow, set in an architectural vernacular that had been all but erased by the urbanising projects of the 19th century. The buildings that made up this settlement were not constructed in their original materials, but in wood, plaster and fabric, ingeniously painted to resemble the originals.¹ These ghostly facsimiles served as a theatrical setting in which a form of bygone civic life was acted out for the benefit of visitors.
As with all expositions of this sort, the perceived audience for the 1911 festival was twofold. It was intended by its organisers to communicate to the world at large the power Glasgow held as an industrial manufacturer. The approval of Royal visits and foreign delegations were highly sought after by the city’s burghers and formed a large portion of whether the event was deemed a success. However, despite such global pretensions, the bulk of footfall to such festivals was drawn from the local population. To these throngs of Glaswegians, the festival was part education, part entertainment. Attractions were designed accordingly, intended to inculcate in local audiences an authorised message about their own civic identity.
Although dramatically diminished in terms of scale and the amount of financial support it receives, the contemporary Glasgow International Art Festival arguably operates on many of the same principles as its Victorian namesake; seeking to address both local and international interests while looking to frame the city as somewhere that is at once culturally productive and outward-looking. It is worth considering the way in which Glasgow International has exerted a determining influence on the image of the city held by local practitioners. Here, one might point to the refined sensibility that marked Katrina Brown’s programmes in 2010 and 2012, the sense of up-to-dateness that typified Sarah McCrory’s curatorial selections, or the more egalitarian attitude adopted by Richard Parry, the festival’s current director, as cues to this composite image. These have, year on year, assumed a greater degree of institutional coherence when compared with the inaugural 2005 festival, organised under the auspices of Francis McKee.² Through both its curated and accompanying programmes, each iteration of GI has articulated its own worldview, and presented a model of what the city is capable of becoming, by providing a guide to the kinds of artistic activity considered germane to its institutions at that moment.