You won’t see the art on display at the Roundhouse Community Arts and Recreation Centre this weekend at any civic or commercial gallery—and that’s just the point. The Outsider Arts Festival, a new initiative from the Community Arts Council of Vancouver, is a survey of painters, photographers, and performers whose work falls outside of the gallery system—and sometimes outside of easy categorization.
Some of it is visionary, and some of it is mundane. Some reflects an intense, even obsessive focus on technique; some is intentionally slapdash and immediate. But it’s all being made by people on the margins of society—and, as CACV executive director Eric Rhys Miller says, their work deserves recognition, too.
“Vancouver has this huge number of artists who are excluded in various ways,” he explains, checking in with the Straight from Roberts Creek. “It’s a difficult city in which to crack the art market or get connections. So we thought, ‘There’s an enormous pool of talent here. Let’s help these people get out into public view and connect them with one another.’ ”
The festival, Miller adds, was the brainchild of CACV board member and former president Pierre Leichner, a psychiatrist who gave up his practice to pursue art full-time. And rather than being a purely Vancouver-centric undertaking, it’s part of a larger movement to acknowledge that there are ways of making visual art that don’t require a diploma or a dealer.
“Traditionally, mental illness has been where the outsider art movement kind of began,” Miller explains. “It came out of asylums in Europe, where self-taught artists with a lot of time on their hands would work, often obsessively, over many years and create these bodies of work that were really distinctive and quite different from anything going on in the art world.
“But the definition is quite broad, now,” he continues, adding that for the festival, the CACV decided to let exclusion be reason enough for inclusion. “Some of these people are immigrants and have language barriers; some of these people are older; some grapple with various emotional and cognitive challenges that just make it harder for them to deal with the business side of it. And we have a couple of artists who are homeless or precariously housed.…So, really, the big criteria were if you self-define as an outsider artist and if you’ve really been working on your art.”
In addition to the approximately 75 artists whose work will make it onto the Roundhouse walls, the inaugural Outsider Arts Festival includes a workshop performance of Illicit, which looks at creativity and addiction from the inside, and a Lively Arts Showcase featuring artists whose work goes beyond canvas and paint.
“It’s going to be in a variety-show format, it’s going to be fast-paced, and you’re going to get everything from clowns to spoken word to experimental, ambient-type music,” Miller promises. “It’s going to be a pretty wild few hours, I think.”
The Vancouver Outsider Arts Festival takes place at the Roundhouse Community Arts and Recreation Centre on Friday and Saturday (August 11 and 12). For more details, visit the Vancouver Outsider Arts Festival website.