Artists routinely see themselves as outsiders. And many offer an out-of-the-box view of the world. However, their representations often depict reality more authentically than the artifice permeating marketing and social media.
Then, there’s the word outsider itself. Should it even be applied to mentally and physically healthy artists from privileged backgrounds and living posh lives?
The seventh annual Vancouver Outsider Arts Festival aims to disrupt exclusion and invite active participation by challenging stereotypes about who can be an artist in our society. Presented by the Community Arts Council of Vancouver (CACV), this year’s event takes place from Thursday (October 12) until Monday (October 17) at the Roundhouse Community Arts & Recreation Centre (181 Roundhouse Mews). It will feature 56 performing and visual artists from across Metro Vancouver.
“It’s free to come to the festival,” CACV executive director Kristin Cheung tells Pancouver by phone. “Artists are able to sell work. Ninety percent of art sales goes directly to the artists.”
That’s in addition to fees they receiv for participating in the festival.
CACV board member Pierre Leichner, a former psychiatrist, organized the first Vancouver Outsider Arts Festival in 2017. Back then, according to Cheung, the festival focused on people with mental illness who created art as part of their recovery.
“Pierre realized there was a gap in the local arts scene to showcase the work of outsider artists,” Cheung says.
Nowadays, the council embraces a more expansive definition of outsider. It invites participation from marginalized and emerging artists who face a variety of barriers, including physical and/or mental disability.
Outsider fest helps artists with marketing
In the spring, hundreds responded after the council put out a call for artists. Then last summer, the council hosted professional-development workshops to help selected artists write a biography and artist statement. In addition, artists received assistance with marketing.
“We like to teach them the knowledge that they need to know, and showcase them for the first time at the Roundhouse,” Cheung says. “Then, they’ll go to other venues.”
For example, some will travel to the Tri-Cities early next year to show their work at the Port Moody Arts Centre.
One of this year’s artists, Vee CR, is a queer, neurodivergent Polish Canadian who identifies as “non-binary, gender fluid, kinky, pansexual, and polyamourous”. According to the artist’s biography, the Emily Carr University grad “uses their positionality as an outsider in various contexts to understand a more nuanced experience of humanity, especially as a neurodivergent queer”.
“Using art and education, they aim to create a more LGBTQ+ and (dis)ability friendly world.”
Free workshops and films
Meanwhile, one of the returning visual artists, Katalina Guerrero, grew up in Mexico.
“She learned weaving from Mayan weavers in Chiapas, Mexico,” Guerrero’s biography states. “She learned dyeing and block-printing techniques in Conakry, Guinea. Eventually, she earned a Diploma in Textile Arts from Capilano University, a Diploma from Vancouver Art Therapy Institute, and a Bachelor of Fine Arts from Emily Carr University.”
This year’s festival also includes free workshops on topics ranging from Ikebana (Japanese flower arranging) to Kathak movement. In addition, there will be a series of short films on Monday by Finnish outsider artists. This will come about as a result of a partnership between the Vancouver Outsider Arts Festival and a different Outsider Arts Festival, which was launched in 2021 in Finland.
“That festival is totally run by people with disabilities, showcasing the work of outsider artists in Helsinki,” Cheung says.
The Community Arts Council of Vancouver presents the Vancouver Outsider Arts Festival from Thursday (October 12) until Tuesday (October 17) at the Roundhouse Community Arts & Recreation Centre. Follow Pancouver on Twitter @PancouverMedia.