Piece presented by Billy at the European Outsider Artists Conference on the theme of The Artist's Voice, May 2018, hosted by Outside In
Outsider art, also known as art brut or raw art, is defined as art made by self-taught or naïve artists, working on the edges of society and unable to access mainstream art opportunities. Outsider artists often have physical disabilities or mental health issues which present significant barriers in everyday life.
As part of my research into the issues faced by contemporary naïve artists in 2016-2017, I became interested in outsider artists and the more I found out about them the more kinship I felt. It was a slow journey though. Looking at the outsider art I first found online and in galleries (i.e. Scottie Wilson and Alfred Wallis) often left me struggling to see connections between my work and theirs. It was only in researching their lives and getting to know more about the practices of contemporary outsider artists that I began to make connections.
Increasingly aware that many of the issues I felt I faced as a naïve artist were relevant to outsider artists, and vice versa, I made contact with Marc Steene, Director of Outside In.
Founded in 2006 as a community art project based at Pallant House Gallery, Outside In grew from Marc's own experience of working in a day centre for adults with learning differences and significant social care needs. In 2017 Outside In was awarded national charity status, yet despite its reach and ambition it stays true to its origins by working at a local level with community groups across the UK. Marc's support for my naïve project wasn't enough to ensure I secured funding (for which I take all responsibility), but the more I found out about Outside In, the more I wanted to support their projects.
And the most obvious place to start was in their office: I wanted to browse their archive and they needed their archive, well, archived! As a once-upon-a-time-bookseller, ex-librarian, and compulsive cataloguer - the match was perfect and since February 2018 I have been going regularly(ish) to organise their archive of exhibition notices, invitations, books, and monographs.
In addition, that first conversation with Marc gave me the confidence to say 'yes' when Mid-Sussex MENCAP approached my local art club to ask for judges for their annual Mary Wheeler Art Competition and to make my own application to become an Outside In artist. As a result I have found myself more actively involved with outsider artists closer to home and part of a network of Outsider artists stretching across the UK.
Inspired by my fellow artists, and those working to support us and promote our work, I took advantage of a scheduling quirk and also booked a ticket to the European Outsider Art Association conference in May 2018, which was being hosted by Outside In at Pallant House Gallery in Chichester. With luck, timing, and geography on my side, it proved to be an amazing opportunity to meet a range of talented artists and those supporting them from the UK, across Europe, and as far away as Australia.
Of all the things I am passionate about, access to the arts at all levels of society, for all ages, and for all abilities is one of the most important to me. The speakers, the artists, and the projects presenting during the conference were just as passionate about their work and, again, it made me want to get even more involved. Having already gained experience working with carers, I am now waiting for the next Step Up: Workshop Leaders Course to run so I can join it. It's part of the training offer Outside In has established to develop their artists' skills, from leading and supporting other artists to developing curatorial experience.