This summer, Outside In Artist Coordinator Hannah Whitlock ran Artist Support Days across the south west to coincide with the call out for submissions for our upcoming exhibition Alternative Visions: Undiscovered Art in the South West. Outside In, Arts & Health South West (AHSW) and Bristol Museum & Art Gallery are working in partnership for this touring exhibition. The venues that the exhibition will be touring to next year are Bristol Museum & Art Gallery, Poole Museum, The Wilson in Cheltenham and Falmouth Art Gallery. We asked Hannah to share her experiences of this process.
Artists Support Days are a unique experience that Outside In can provide for artists who feel they face barriers to the art world due to health disability, social circumstance or isolation. Artists can book an hour-long session to meet with one of the team and get support to create their own online gallery within our website. Some artists may not have access to a camera or a computer so we provide the necessary equipment. We help artists to photograph their work and write an artist statement. This one-to-one artist support is such a vital part of the project. Sometimes it is the first time an artist has shown their work to someone within the ‘art world’; we create a safe space to speak about something so personal and often lifesaving. We want to encourage their personal, creative and professional development.
The Outside In website acts as the heart of the project, now with over 2,400 artists showcasing their artwork through their own individual online galleries. We aim to create a fairer art world which rejects traditional values and institutional judgements about whose work can and should be displayed. I’ve been able to meet a vast amount of people and see wonderful art. I leave learning something and feeling inspired. One of the best parts of a session is when the artist sees their work online – they view it with a new confidence and a sense of achievement. To be a part of a positive change and a building of self-confidence is such an honour.
A recent message I received from an artist about these sessions was:
“I just wanted to say a big thank you for the time that you spent with me yesterday. I have to admit that I was a little nervous and apprehensive about the meeting and almost cancelled on Monday. I am so glad that I didn’t – you put me at ease straight away and my fears went to the back of my mind. I am really pleased with how my artworks look on the outside-in website and I am excited about adding more images soon”
During my travelling around south west England, I visited Hannah’s at Seale Hayne in Newton Abbot. Hannahs at Seale-Hayne is an amazing place for the community, for people of all abilities, where they can train, learn, have fun and fulfil their true potential without judgement or limit. A place where disability is incidental. The grounds are beautiful and there are lots of different activities at the centre, including art groups. Here is a piece work by some of the artists I met there.
In September I ran an Artist Support Day at the Redwing Gallery in Penzance, Cornwall. Redwing Gallery is a not-for-profit social enterprise which aims to represent art and artists excluded from the mainstream commercial art world. Since my visit the year before, there has been extra developments on the venue. There are now two floors of space, performance and rehearsal space, open access non-toxic printmaking and book arts studio, affordable artist’s studios, a second-hand book shop and a vegetarian and vegan Cuban coffee shop. The gallery feels like a safe place for artists to drop by and get support from founders Peter Fox and Rosleyne Williams who are artists themselves. I met artists who spoke positively about the organisation.
Outside In volunteer Becky McCardle came with me to visit Artist’s First in Bristol. Artists First is a group of disabled visual artists with learning difficulties. They have been working together since 1988 and have organised many exhibitions, residencies and open studio events. It was brilliant to visit the Artist’s First studio – each artist was passionate about their paintings and supporting each other as artists. They told me how art makes them feel happy and I think this shows in their vibrant art works.
Some artists created their own online galleries by accessing the website from home and following the step-by-step process. We have how to guides to support this process which can be downloaded from the website or sent via post.
Look out for news on the Alternative Visions: Undiscovered Art in the South West exhibition and we hope to see you there!
As a side note, we received some feedback about the name ‘Surgery Days’, the term we previously used for Artist Support Days. Some artists felt it sounded too medical and were often put off by it. As a project, we listen to what artists say in order to allow us to continue to question our practice and break down any barriers that there may be. Through discussions with the team and artists, we wanted the name to reflect what the sessions were about: providing support based on how the artist wants the support. For some people they wanted a way into Outside In, or wanted to update an existing online gallery. So, we decided on Artist Support Days and so far have had good feedback.