Nano Art Festival Spotlights the Invisible

2015-03-25_1022The idea of art, whether creating or interpreting it, is a subject available to people from all walks of life. However, there is a stark separation between individuals with formal training in art and those pegged as “outsider artists.”

The inVISIBLE Nano Art Festival is breaking down those barriers, and bringing art to members of the community who are all too commonly overlooked or ignored. About to kick off its second year of art festivities in the community, Nano emphasizes the inclusion of the seemingly invisible members of society with this year’s workshops and events focused around individuals considered to have intellectual/mental or developmental disabilities.

With help from many sponsors, several local artists have collaborated to put on this year’s festival, including Kaitlyn Wittig Menguc and Diana Ryan. Ryan, a ceramicist, and Wittig, a performance artist, held an artist residency at Cornerstone for six days. “We recognize there are many societal and health benefits to viewing and creating art, and research is starting to prove this,” Wittig said.

During the residency, the two hosted art workshops which included drawing and sculpting, as well as firing and glazing pottery. The project themes were inspired by local author Charles Goodrich’s book of poems titled Insects of Corvallis (2003). Goodrich’s poems explore the observations of different insects, as well as everyday occurrences like walking to the 7-Eleven to buy a beer. Because many of the poems include insects in some capacity, the art became centered around bugs. “The insect theme just seemed to work because they’re very representative of the everyday, but also invisible in their own way,” said Wittig. The participants also made a collaborative tile piece, which will hopefully be on permanent display at Taylor Street Ovens following the festival.

Although Wittig began in performance art, her medium evolved into puppets and masks. Her performance at Taylor Street Ovens will be inspired by experiences she had teaching throughout the workshops. “I’ll be exploring themes of invisibility, and advocating for people who are marginalized,” she said.

Artists Hester Coucke, Anthony Di Salvo, and Bruce Burris, who began the festival last year, were also instrumental to this year’s activities. Burris, an arts curator, is passionate about advocating for the arts, especially for people with disabilities. He was contacted after last year’s festival by Coucke, an employee at the Arts Center, to discuss how the Arts Center could become involved. This year’s art on display at the Arts Center was created by artists from Corvallis, Portland, and Eugene. All of the artists have mental or developmental disabilities.

On Monday, May 11, the Majestic Theatre will host a pop-up exhibition featuring two of three triplet brothers from Eugene. Also on May 11 at the Majestic, a discussion panel, titled inAUDIBLE, will feature artists with developmental disabilities, as well as academics and program managers. The discussion will center on the idea of “outsider art” and include origins of art language, and who coins the terms. “Hester, Bruce, and I are educated in art; we’ve seen the academy side and how exclusive it is,” said Wittig. “We would like to break down some of these barriers, and show the arts matter to every single individual.”

Wrapping up the exhibit will be two screenings of Sprout, a film showcasing people living with disabilities in some capacity or another. After the film, creator Di Salvo will speak about his experiences working with disabled people.

According to Wittig, the festival is receiving a healthy amount of support. “When taken on a national level, there aren’t many programs like this, so we’re cutting edge in that sense, which is exciting.” This year’s festival will provide necessary insight for what to do in future years. Going forward, the festival is likely to continue campaigning for the disabled community, but organizers would like to see community involvement.

Wittig has been encouraged by the level of enthusiasm of the participants. “We don’t know what we’re capable of on any given day; we should never assume that someone should or can do x,y,z, or that they can’t do them. Everyone, regardless of their position in society, should get an invite to the table. Everyone should be given an opportunity.”

By Kirsten Allen