Two members of the Neurodivergent Artist Collective look forward to connecting with others at the Vancouver Outsider Arts Festival, especially members of their own group, since they’ve mainly talked to each other online.
“It’s been really great to see other neurodivergent people thrive with their artwork,” said Syilx Okanagan artist Jasper Berehulke.
With funding from Disability Alliance BC, the Community Arts Council of Vancouver (CACV) created the collective, inviting its artists to join the arts festival. The seventh annual Vancouver Outsider Arts Festival is open at the Roundhouse Community Arts and Recreation Centre from Oct. 12 to 17.
It’s the biggest showing yet, with six days instead of its usual three-day weekend.
Run by CACV, the festival supports artists who have felt socially excluded, have felt “outside the margins” or have other visible and/or invisible barriers.
The broad definition of “outsider artists” ranges from marginalized identities to disabled artists to self-trained ones to ones with language barriers who live in the Downtown Eastside.
CACV executive director Kristin Cheung said some examples of barriers some artists have include colour blindness, dyslexia, wheelchair access, and being hard of hearing.
Cheung noted that, in past years, the highest percentage of festival participants were people with mental illnesses or disabilities.
“In the history of participating artists, we realized there was a gap in the community,” she said.
“[But] there was enough programming to support specifically neurodivergent artists so we developed this project.”
Art is 'everywhere I go,' says Indigiqueer and neurodivergent artist
Last spring, the arts council received over 100 applicants for the neurodivergent collective and selected 13 artists.
Berehulke, an Indigiqueer artist, is part of the festival with eight two-tone pencil drawings under the collective and 12 pieces as one of the festival artists.
The drawings feature his current interests: human bodies, marine life and bugs.
Out of all the showcased artworks, his favourite piece is “Lover Boy,” a painting of a cat with a heart around his neck.
“I love him so much. I think it really shows, kind of, me," Berehulke, president of the Pride Collective at the University of British Columbia (UBC), said. “The way he looks up to the viewers. He just wants to be loved," the artist added.
“Lover Boy” was created with some leftover paint from another painting but it ended up speaking to him afterwards.
Compared to past shows, this outsider arts festival is his first “bigger” show. Previously, Berehulke had one or two artworks shown alongside other artists. All 20 of his pieces in this year's show are from the last three years as he studied for his Bachelor of Arts at UBC. The Indigenous student hopes to be a full-time artist after he graduates.
Berehulke also wishes for more art opportunities in Kelowna so he can go back to his Nation in the Okanagan. It seems like most opportunities are centered in cities, the 27-year-old said.
Art is a big part of his life. “It’s everywhere I go.”
His “one day” dream is to run an art gallery in the basement of his house, hosting gatherings and shows similar to those within the queer community.
“I think it would definitely be for a type of community that I’m in. To bring in certain types of people.”
“It would be pretty private, but it wouldn’t be exclusive," said Berehulke.
Interactive public access a theme of sculptor's work
Amy Yun Ru Bao’s dream is to have a massive outdoor sculpture. She wants something anyone could visit and experience, whether it’s 3 p.m. or 3 a.m.
“Whenever I go to a gallery, it always feels like there’s a level of gatekeeping. The delicateness of everything," observed Bao. “Stuff is behind glass. You can’t stand too close. You definitely can’t touch it.”
Interactive public access is the main theme in her work.
Her current pieces include painted benches explicitly meant for sitting in Richmond public spaces and a painted piano for a community centre in Surrey. They are also on the larger side when it comes to physical scale. She said it stems from her background in architecture. Bao graduated from University of Waterloo in 2019 with a bachelor’s degree.
For the festival, Bao is presenting “Jacob’s Ladder,” a kinetic and interactive sculpture.
The sculpture is based on a wooden toy her friend once had that she was enamoured with.
“As a kid, I couldn’t figure out how it works at all," Bao recalled.
When she flipped the top block 180 degrees, the wooden block would cascade down, still attached. Clickety clack, clickety clack. Flipping it back and forth, Bao was fascinated.
If she were to do a personal project, the Neurodivergent Artist Collective member would do one on kinetic toys and work out how each one operates. “I also like Slinkys," Bao added.
With this opportunity, the 27-year-old made a giant version of that wooden block toy with four painted images that participants can uncover.
This festival is Bao’s first “professional” show outside of school.
“Everything that was in a school setting was organized by other people. It wasn’t me actively seeking those things.”
Cheung said the arts council provided free workshops on information such as how to write an artist bio and how to prepare for a gallery show.
When: Oct. 12-17, 2023. Thursday-Monday noon-8 p.m.; Tuesday noon-5 p.m.
Where: 181 Roundhouse Mews
Cost: Admission is free; some events require RSVP (see VOAF website)