Vancouver Outsider Arts Festival showcases unknown talents

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      With its combination of live performance and visual art, the inaugural Vancouver Outsider Arts Festival last year was undoubtedly, Eric Rhys Miller says, a success.

      “We were really, really happy with how it turned out, and really gratified by the response from the artists and the public both,” the Community Arts Council of Vancouver’s executive director says, on the line from his part-time home on the Sunshine Coast. “I think there was a level of surprise from the artists at how supportive the whole structure turned out to be and what a generally positive experience it was, whether they sold work or not.…And from the public I think there was a level of surprise at the quality of the work and the breadth of the kind of work that was there.

      “The atmosphere,” Miller adds, “was really welcoming.” And so this year the festival will return to the Roundhouse Community Arts and Recreation Centre, with more artists, more workshops, more collaborations—and perhaps just a little less surprise on the part of the public, now that it knows what to expect. For while outsider artists might be self-taught or working independently of the gallery system, and while many struggle with addiction or mental-health issues, there’s at least one important quality that they share with their more established peers.

      “On the whole,” Miller explains, “they’re making art because they need to, because it’s part of their healing and their survival and their thriving.”

      One of the main aims of the Outsider Arts Festival is to introduce the public to the many gifted artists—mostly painters, but also musicians, dancers, ceramicists, and more—who make their homes in this city but who generally don’t show their work in such a public setting. The event’s 2017 debut has already had ongoing results, most notably in the establishment of two outsider-art gallery spaces at Vancouver General Hospital. “Having come out of the festival with a lot of relationships and interested artists and artists who were ready to exhibit, we were able to put together an exhibition at the hospital which was up for six months,” Miller says. “It was a nice boost.”

      This year's Outsider Arts Fest includes Twilight Forest by Colleen Soo.

      This year, a further boost will come through a collaboration with the Vines Art Festival, which is programming ecologically themed performances at the Roundhouse on Friday (August 10). Both Vines and the Outsider Arts Festival share a mandate of inclusion—manifested here by All Bodies Dance, which offers dance classes to people irrespective of their physical ability, and by a Disability Justice Workshop that will bring artists and activists together to discuss how they can effect social change. Other festival workshops, Miller says, will focus on “the business of selling your art, and on writing grants”.

      “There’s definitely an appetite to learn these things,” he adds, “and of course, like the rest of the festival, it’s all free.”

      But the art itself remains at the centre of the festival, and Miller has a few words of advice for possible attendees.

      “You probably won’t find yourself responding to all of the work, or necessarily all of the performances,” he cautions. “But give yourself an hour or two to take it in, and I think you’ll undoubtedly discover something that you do respond to—and then you can take it home, if you like.”

      The Vancouver Outsider Arts Festival takes place at the Roundhouse Community Arts and Recreation Centre from Friday to Sunday (August 10 to 12).