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The term “Outsider Art,” coined in 1972 by writer Roger Cardinal, has plenty of critics. Used to describe art created by marginalized people outside the mainstream art establishment, some say the term is stigmatizing. And it’s arguably been overused, applied to anyone from work by psychiatric patients to prison inmates to any vaguely eccentric self-taught artist, leading some to question what “outsider artist” even means.
But Dana and Josh Kretzmann, founders of Providence, Rhode Island’s newly opened Inner Space Outsider Art Gallery and Store, defend the contested term. “By using the term ‘outsider,’ we are not trying to be exclusionary or stigmatizing,” they write on the gallery’s recently funded Kickstarter campaign page. “We use the term because, in our experience, it is the most widely-accepted way to talk about this area of the art world.”
“This area” refers to art made by people with physical or mental disabilities, which Inner Space Outsider Art Gallery and Store will showcase year-round. The gallery’s mission is to help these so-called “outsiders” who make art access the privileges and achieve the recognition that less marginalized artists more easily enjoy.
The Kretzmanns worked for years at day programs for adults with developmental disabilities. “We were constantly inspired and blown away by the artwork these individuals made,” Josh Kretzmann tells Hyperallergic. But compared to, say, art students at the nearby Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), where Dana Kretzmann earned an MFA in sculpture, most of these artists lacked the resources needed to make their work visible to the public, let alone profit from it. “There are ways to see this great artwork, and there are many programs supporting these individuals throughout the country, but you generally have to go to a program’s space or a specific ‘outsider art’ show at a gallery,” Kretzmann says. Though Outsider Art is making its way into insider-y circles in big cities, it’s still, by definition, more difficult for the public to access than mainstream art.
“We decided to create Inner Space to provide an outlet for these artists to display and sell their work in an “every-day” setting, not just gallery shows geared toward this specific population,” Kretzmann says. The gallery works with 11 arts-based day programs for people with disabilities and mental illness throughout New England. It will sell a constantly updated selection of new art and products made by their residents. Their first year will be funded by their Kickstarter, but their goal is to apply for 501(c)3 charitable status in 2016.
The gallery is not the first of its kind. Creative Growth Center, in Oakland, California, is perhaps the most famous gallery/studio that works with artists with disabilities, known for its work with acclaimed sculptor Judith Scott. Pure Vision Arts, founded in 2002, was New York’s first specialized art studio and exhibition space for people with developmental disabilities. But such galleries still aren’t commonplace — Inner Space is the first gallery in the state of Rhode Island to intentionally focus on the work of artists with disabilities — and Kretzmann argues that we need more of them.
“There should be a store like Inner Space in every city, or ten stores like it,” Kretzmann says. Maybe once artists with disabilities are treated as equals instead of as outsiders, we can finally retire the term “Outsider Art.”
Inner Space Outsider Art Gallery and Store is now open at Providence Share Space, 140 Broadway, Providence, RI.
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