Creating a level playing field for visual artists is the aim of online gallery Outside In. Kate Davey tells how its surgery days show artists how to display their work online.

Image of Pat Mear's drawing
Pat Mear's 'Feeling water'

Outside In, a national project founded by Pallant House Gallery in 2006, provides a platform for artists who find it difficult to access the art world either because of mental health issues, disability, health, social circumstance, or because their work does not conform to what is normally considered as art. Our overall aim is to create a level playing field for all those who create, with our main vehicle being a triennial open art exhibition.

For our national and regional open art exhibitions, artists need to submit their work via the online galleries on our website. Because we do not want to increase the barriers facing our artists, we host what we call ‘surgery days’ at partner organisations and venues all over the country. During an average surgery day we might meet with ten or more new artists looking to create an online gallery on our website. We go through the online form with them, discuss their artist statement and photograph any work they have brought along. We also give the artists tips on how best to photograph their work, discussing lighting and camera angle.

Sometimes it is not just technology that can be the barrier, but low confidence when it comes to displaying work

We work with a variety of organisations when running our surgery days: from the Royal Academy of Arts in London to smaller, regional centres such as Barrington Farm in Norfolk. The artists leave with an online presence on our website and the opportunity to enter our competitions. They will also have become part of the Outside In community, they can contact other artists through the comments section on their pages, and are encouraged to get in touch with us for support.

We usually take an Outside In Ambassador, an artist who has gone through our Ambassador training. Carlo Keshishian, one of our long-standing artists, says of the experience: “The process provides a friendly environment for artists to have their work photographed and uploaded to the website. If an artist cannot access or use a computer, these surgery days are scheduled to take place on specific dates around the country, and we make sure anyone who might need help is able to have their work shown online.”

One of the biggest outcomes of the surgery days is that the new artists get to meet staff and volunteers. Because we are a national project, we have to make good use of online resources, but the surgery days enable us to bring our work back to a personal level. The days can also mean a lot to our partner organisations which often do not have the time or resources to help all of their artists get their work online. Additionally, the bigger galleries that we work with might not have access to local artists on the same level as more regional, community arts organisations do, so our surgery days can open up their space to new audiences and new ideas.

Sometimes it is not just technology that can be the barrier for artists, but low confidence or concerns about displaying their work and exposing themselves and their art to a large number of people. Our Ambassadors help greatly with this, as they have all been through similar experiences themselves. Jill, a Project Worker with partner organisation Portugal Prints in London, says: “For many of our artists it’s not just that they don’t have ready access to computers but that they have a myriad of reasons why the whole idea of showing their art in a public forum is difficult. For some it might be that they feel exposed, or they might feel that their work isn’t good enough to be on show. The Outside In team are able to help artists navigate that minefield of insecure feelings and do so with great sensitivity and skill. Each artist is given ample time to present their work and discuss any anxieties they might have before setting up their personal gallery.”

By rolling out our surgery days across the country – we have held 45 since 2010 – we have enabled 451 artists (almost a quarter of the total number of artists who have galleries on our website) to feel well-equipped enough to start getting their work out there online. This pushes us and our artists one step closer towards that level playing field and equal access to the art world for all who create.

Kate Davey is Communications Officer at Outside In.
www.outsidein.org.uk

A recent competition is now on show at CGP London in Southwark Park: The Inner Self: Drawings from the Subconscious, which runs until Sunday 21 September.

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Image of Kate Davey