A remarkable story of success lies behind Outside In’s tenth anniversary show at Chichester’s Pallant House Gallery.
But as Outside In manager Jennifer Gilbert admits, there is still a long way to go in the fight to gain full recognition for the nation’s outsider artists.
Plenty of prejudices still remain and stigma still attaches.
In the meantime, and with a decade of achievement behind it, Pallant House Gallery is proud to lead the way.
Over the past ten years, Outside In has worked with more than 2,000 artists - from prisoners and mental-health patients to people with learning disabilities or physical-health issues.
The organisation has also held more than 30 exhibitions and spread its influence the length and breadth of the country – work which was rewarded three years ago when Outside In won the Charity Award in the Arts, Culture, and Heritage category.
The new tenth-anniversary show, running at Pallant House Gallery, Chichester until October 30, pulls it all together and suggests all that remains possible, the perfect opportunity to shine a light on the work of the organisation so far and tell some to the stories of those who have been involved in the project and benefitted from the opportunities it has offered.
Jennifer, who has been part of it all for the past five years, is delighted at the way many of the scheme’s artists have gone to exhibit in main-stream galleries. Artists have joined in from around the world, but are mostly UK based: “They sign up themselves or come to our of our artist support days where help is offered in creating an artist statement and setting up an online gallery of their work.
“A lot of our artists don’t have access to a computer so the artist support days that we run are very important.”
It is also a case of finding the right venue: “If we are working in London, we run one at the Royal Academy and some of the artists love that! But for other artists, it is just too terrifying to enter the Royal Academy, so we provide somewhere else. We do them everywhere. This year there are 27 artist support days around the UK.”
Outside In was founded in 2006 by Pallant House Gallery’s then outreach officer, Marc Steene, now the gallery’s executive director. Outside In has developed to become the gallery’s flagship project, growing hugely in recent years. Later this year Outside In will present a selection of work at the Paris Outsider Art Fair for the third year running.
“Marc had been working at a day centre, and he saw how fantastic the work was, how raw and how fresh. He saw that it was offering something really new but only seen within the walls of the day centre. Marc decided he wanted to break down the stigma that these artists had in promoting their really good art.”
The point is that promotion comes with a huge increase in self-confidence: “When people see their work online for the first time, their confidence is massively boosted. They feel really proud of themselves. Seeing something on screen is very different to seeing it in the flesh. It’s a big moment. It is really exciting for them, and they come to the exhibitions, and you can see the difference it makes for them.
“But there is still a lot of stigma around people with disabilities. I think some people are afraid. I think it stems back years and years, the way the media presents things, if someone is stabbed, for instance. But I think we are making headway. This does change people’s views. People will think that if the work is hung on the walls of Pallant House Gallery, then it will be worth seeing.
“Some people still look at some works and say ‘A child could have done that’, but if they get to know the artist’s disability, it changes the way they look at it.”
And the good news is that Pallant House Gallery is encouraging other galleries to change their thinking too: “We don’t want them to just think they are ticking a box, working with people with disabilities. We want to set up a legacy so that they strive to work with the artists in their own area. Without Pallant House Gallery, some of them would not be doing anything. What I really want to see is that they continue to work with the artists near to them...”
Other ambitions include Outside In one day having its own gallery space: “We only have an exhibition every three years in the main space. But the idea would be to have something permanent where we could permanently have work on display.”
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