Hello from our CACV team!
This past summer we took an arts abroad adventure with funding support from Canada Council for the Arts – Arts Abroad Travel grant. We travelled to Finland and Denmark to explore & research future artistic collaborations and programming with partner outsider arts organizations.
For context, we’ve produced the Vancouver Outsider Arts Festival (VOAF) at the Roundhouse Community Centre since 2017 and we’ve always been interested in developing new partnerships with like-minded organizations either locally in Vancouver, across the Lower Mainland and now abroad. Our “Arts Abroad” trip consisted of travels to the Outsider Arts Festival (OAF) in Helsinki, Finland, Gaia Museum Outsider Art in Randers, Denmark and Copenhagen Outsider Art Gallery. We aim to use these connects from our travels to grow our festival to a wider international audience and invite artists abroad to be showcased at our festival — overall supporting the wider “outsider arts” sector. The following are notes from the field written by our CACV team
From Kristin Cheung (Executive Director)
In August 2023, I visited the Copenhagen Outsider Art Gallery, which is the only outsider art gallery in Copenhagen, Denmark. COAG is a private art gallery organized by a small team (Lars Egeris and Kristine Kimø ) and was founded in 2016. I was able to learn more about COAG with Kristine and view the exhibition by Kenneth Rasmussen. Kenneth is also an active artist at Bifrost Art School located in Randers, Denmark. This is a wonderful space as it engages with local outsider artists from across Denmark and the COAG team are finding new ways to support their artist beyond the gallery walls.
My 2nd visit was to Gaia Museum Outsider Art. This institution was founded in 2002 and is located about 3.5 hours outside of Copenhagen in Randers (town with 40,000 residents). The entire building includes an academy, art studio spaces for 25 artists, cafe, social enterprise store, marketing office, framing, textiles and much more. Gaia is run by artistic and pedagogical educated staff together with people with various handicaps, such as Downs Syndrome, Autism and intellectual disabilities.
Artists are provided a studio workshop space and have access to materials and supplies, mentors and volunteers to support them. It’s a collaborative space with artists with disabilities, volunteers, staff and they work together for projects such as exhibitions and more. Gaia also employs people with disabilities and works with local government agencies to support people with disabilities through art making and learning. Gaia also has a real sense of “home” and provides a safe space surrounded by artists and staff with support that goes beyond just art making – but building confidence, sense of community, accommodating needs and accessibilities.
The final portion of my “arts abroad” visit was to meet my CACV team in Helsinki Finland to visit the Outsider Arts Festival (OAF). The OAF team was very generous in hosting us and inviting us to several events. I was able to attend the performance and meet and greet artist talk by “mirrored fatality” the OAF artist in residence and performances at the Oodi Central Library by the Dance Group Ihanat: Gen Z – Portraits. OAF presented events and programming all throughout Helsinki with visual art exhibitions at HAM Helsinki Art Museum & Pertti’s Choice Gallery that featured artists Alexandra Marina, Sähkökehto, Myrtillius Kauria, Christelle Mas, Mark & Potta, Maija Pilvikki Kimanen, Jaana Miettinen and Elina Hiekkavirta. It was such an educational experience to view an outsider arts festival that takes over an entire city with programming from libraries to punk venues to national scale museums and more.
As a result of the research visit we were able to visit the OAF in Helsinki, Finland, meet with their organizing team and we were able to build artistic collaborations and programming partners. In October 2023 during our Vancouver Outsider Arts Festival at the Roundhouse Community Centre, we hosted 4 films from OAF. The film screening presents four film-makers from Finland. Films included: 1) Karjalaine iäni (Karelian Voice), Directed by Anne Kalliola; 2) Kylä (The Village), Directed by Mika Ruohola; 3) You Look Like a Thought From the Past, Directed by Miska Tuononen; 4) GEN Z – trilogia (GEN Z – trilogy), Directed by Kati Kallio & Dance Group Ihanat.
Overall – A super successful trip and we hope to build on our relationships with these international arts organizations to support Vancouver artists in the future!
From Pierre Leichner (VOAF Founder and CACV Board member)
Marina and I went to the OAF opening party at the National Art Museum the day we arrived. It was a festive event with a large crowd (full auditorium) attending the outsider performances of the evening. At the party, there was music and rap performances and it was sponsored by a local distillery. We were then given a private tour of an outsider art collection exhibition in that gallery. The next day we were given a tour of the outsider art exhibition and the on-going Helsinki Biennale at the Helsinki Art Museum. An outsider artist and the contemporary art curator gave the tour. The Helsinki Art Biennale is on-going and most of it is installed on a nearby (15 minutes ferry ride) Vallisaari Island. The environment is like lake regions in Ontario. There are over 25 artists installations there and most would qualify as environmental art. The ferry is by the old market and we enjoyed small fried fish, salmon and reindeer (a temporary exemption to eating less meat and fish).
We then got to visit their own Outsider art gallery [named Pertti’s Choice] and their opening curated exhibition with awards to 3 artists. Right after, Kaya and I presented on VOAF along with presentations from the New York Outsider Art Fair and Japanese enterprise (Heralbony) marketing outsider art.
Finally the last day we attended a large public concert where the opening act was a jazz Hammond organs outsider band. The main act was a local celebrity singer and band. Before leaving I had to have a sauna and a dip in the Baltic sea, The sea was not too cold but the Finnish males in the sauna were trying to cook each other…insanely hot. Seems like that is the way. We were wonderfully hosted and met several of the artists. Our accommodations were covered at a very nice hotel downtown, which had beautiful art deco buildings.
In summary, I was impressed by the broad engagement of the major art institutions and the public with the activities of the festival. The events during the 10 days occurred in a wide range of venues thus reaching a varied public. The Helsinki OAF has a slightly greater entrepreneurial feel to it and significant sponsorship.
Although their approach to outsider artists is also inclusive they have closer specific ties to some relevant health organizations. They are careful about including their artists in curatorial and award activities. The artists had a warm relationship with the organizers.
They are an organization with which collaboration could be mutually beneficial.
From Kaya Kurz, Program Coordinator – OAF retrospective blog
Over the summer, I was lucky enough to travel to Helsinki, Finland and experience their 10-day Outsider Art Festival from start to fin(n)ish. In addition to attending a variety of festival events – including visual art exhibitions, guided gallery tours, musical performances, and film screenings, I was also able to meet with their team to share knowledge, plan for future collaborations, and get a healthy dose of sightseeing in as well.
For those of us working in the arts, the professional and the personal are often closely intertwined – this is something I found to be particularly true over the course of my time abroad. The Finland OAF team exemplified this in the way that they treated their artists and collaborators. I felt that the festival atmosphere was very supportive to all involved and focused on bringing both artists and attendees together to be in community and share their experiences as folks existing in the margins. There was a great level of care put into the programming at OAF in a way that is more tangible than the average art festival, as consideration was given not only to the aesthetic curation of the art, but also to the various access and support needs of their artists.
This level of care is something that I personally strive to achieve with our own Vancouver Outsider Arts Festival, and I hope that our efforts are felt by our artists here! It was extremely valuable for me to witness another arts organization working with similar goals and considerations, as I sometimes worry that there is no blueprint for what CACV is trying to achieve. Therefore, the knowledge sharing that I got to experience was invaluable, and I am so grateful for our continued contact with OAF.
On a personal level, I returned home feeling so full from all of the beautiful aspects of this trip – the historic architecture, galleries and museums, abundant art, good food, and new friends. I stayed in a little apartment just outside of downtown that was only a 7-minute walk from a main metro station. However, as a frequent Skytrain user, I ended up utilizing their transit system much less than I anticipated due to the walkability of Helsinki. Almost every venue, gallery space, and museum was a mere 10-20 minutes away on foot, so more often than not I opted to walk. Since my apartment had a little kitchen, I found that this was true of grocery stores and other essential amenities as well!
Although every artist I got to connect with was absolutely wonderful, the artists I got to know the best are a self described “xenotr@nsbinary experimental noise punk farmer duo” based in the United States called mirrored fatality, who were the artists in residence at OAF. We quickly bonded over our shared Asian heritages and love of art, community, and snacks! After seeing the success of OAF’s international residency program, I hope that this is an aspect we can eventually incorporate into the Vancouver Outsider Arts Festival in the future.
While I experienced great growth in both professional and personal capacities, the two also served to heighten each other and reinvigorate my resolve in facilitating community-building programming in Vancouver. That is to say – as a community arts worker and advocate, my work and my personal life are often closely related. Sometimes this is a curse, but more often it is a blessing, as my circles of community often overlap, cross-pollinate, and serve to make each other stronger. Long live the arts!