OUTSIDE IN / An Interview with Marc Steene

From an interview conducted in 2018 DSC_5307

Marc Steene

Hello Marc, you’re the founder and head of the arts charity Outside In that supports artists who face barriers with the established notion of the “Art World” …..how did you get here?

I am the Director of Outside In a project I founded in 2006 as part of Pallant House Gallery and now an independent charity. Over 25 years ago, my life changed forever when I began working as a volunteer at a day centre in Hove and had the good fortune to meet and discover the talents of a group of learning-disabled artists. Having been trained at the Slade School of Fine Art and having an Italian mother passionate about art, I have always had a clear sense of what I like and value in art and knew that these artists were some of the most original and talented I had ever come across. Inspired by their work, I sought to organise an exhibition at a local library. On returning to collect their work to frame, I was informed by the day-centre staff that the work was no longer available and that it had all been pulped to make papier-mâché for the artists to model. I still remember my shock and outrage. The staff were blind to the value and talents of the artists they were working with; their art-making was seen as a mere containment activity, which led to this routine act of creative abuse.

This incident left me with two ongoing and profound questions: ‘How do I enable artists, such as the ones at the day centre to get their work into settings were its true value will be seen?’ and ‘How do I enable and influence audiences, such as the day centre staff, to understand and appreciate the talents of the artists before them?’

My experiences at that day centre have, in one way or another, shaped the rest of my life and led to the creation of Outside In twelve years ago.


Since starting Outside In, do you think Outsider Art has changed in terms of people’s perceptions?

Working within a system of traditional categories and art historical thinking, it is obvious that there is a problem when looking at artwork that comes from outside the mainstream. A search of labels to describe non-traditional art can throw up a confusing and contrasting list including the following: Accidental Art, Art Brut, Disability Art, Marginalised Art, Maverick Art Naive Art, Outsider Art, Patient Art, Primitive Art, Secret Art, Self-Taught Art, Visionary Art, alongside many more.dig

Venture Arts artists collaboration/ performance  at European Outsider Art Conference 2018

These labels can hold non-traditional art work outside of debate, exhibition programming or sales. However, if we sidestep the art historical model when talking about art, we enter a world of individuals who create for any number of reasons. Outsider Art is not an art movement or category that equates to others, like Expressionism or Impressionism. It is a collectivising of difference, highlighting the need to find new ways of describing art on a broader setting.

The only way, I believe, to address this issue is to be led by the artists themselves, the true authorities and experts on their work. As a Charity, we have chosen not to label artists work; instead, we enable artists to describe the work themselves and to move away from a system of labels to self-definition.

Things have changed over the past 12 years, often for the better, but I feel there is still a class divide to culture in the UK. We like our artists to have been schooled, to be articulate and charismatic, this is seen as being as important, if not more important, than the work itself. If buying art is seen as an investment, as it often is, then the people that can afford to buy art want to be convinced that they are making a wise investment and sadly the nature of the artist and their work is a large part of this.

The same could be said for some curators and directors working in the sector, they have been schooled in a  particular way of looking at art using accepted labels and terminology. We sell a lot of our artists work to Europe and some collectors and individuals in the UK.


Outside In workshop based on the work of Nek Chand

How do you think this compares to say perceptions in other parts of Europe or America in terms of galleries and institutions?

There is a wider understanding of ‘Outsider’ and other non-traditional art in Europe and America and there are many museums and galleries and art institutions supporting the work. I am not sure why this is the case, but it might be due to an openness to the unconventional and a more liberal approach to society. They also have a history that has accepted and valued creativity more widely, artist such as Jean Dubuffet did a lot to champion the work of self-taught and outsider artists, as did the COBRA group, Paul Klee, Picasso and the Surrealists.


                                              Jean Debuffet

jean d

                                               Jean Debuffet /Etre  et paraitre (To Be and to Seem)

How many members are now involved with outside In ?

We currently have 2600 artists with galleries on our website

Whats been happening lately and in the near future, exhibitions ?

Our hosting of the European Outsider Art Association Conference, The Artist’s Voice was a great success. We had over 90 delegates attending over the five days from all over Europe and as far afield as Australia. The two-day VIP programme included visits to the Bethlem Museum and Gallery, Action Space, ‘Spring Syllabus’ exhibition at J Hammond Projects in London as well as visits to Rory McCormack’s beach environment, our trustee Rose’s private collection and house and the Royal Pavilion in Brighton. We opened our first Pallant House Gallery and Outside In co-commission exhibition, Colliding Worlds: Greg Bromley, on the Friday night of the conference at Pallant House Gallery. Greg was present and the evening was a huge success. Our second co-commission by Laila Kassab opened on June 13. We launched successful crowdfunding campaign to raise the funds needed to get Laila’s work from Gaza to the Gallery which more than met its target.


Laila Kassab / Mayhem Of The Senses 3_guardian_of_the_lost_city__jerusalem.jpg1024x413_Q90
Laila Kassab / Gaurdian Of The Lost City Of Jerusalem

We have an exhibition opening September in Mayfair of three of our artists and will be working with the Bethlem Gallery and GGP in Southwark Park to support two artist residencies in spring 2019. We are in conversation about an exhibition at Hastings Museum next year working with some of our Step Up trained artists and using their collections as a focus and we will be holding an exhibition at Lightbox in Woking next November focusing on the work of artists outside of the mainstream lending works from private and public collections.

Finally, we have started a new close working partnership with Fabrica in Brighton and will be working in partnership with Fabrica to deliver aspects of our Artist Development and Exhibitions Programmes.


Greg Bromley

So how can other people get involved

Artists can join Outside In through the website and we are also looking for people to take part in our Step Up Programme and to become Ambassadors for the charity. Please do get in touch if you are interested.



Many artists particularly those who find it difficult to find a platform are individuals but can a self-formed artists group join Outside In

We do have groups joining Outside In to support their artists get online, we have a special membership for organisations.

Are there any boundaries as to who can and not participate?

Outside In provides a platform for artists excluded from the art world, whether due to disability, health, social circumstance or isolation, to engage with the art world. Artists need to meet these criteria and evidence it in a confidential statement when signing up. We place no restriction on the type or content of the work uploaded to the artist galleries.

 Now for a more random question  what 5 tracks would recommend or that have pulled you through or inspired .

Joy Division – Disorder

Glen Campbell – Galveston

Also the trees – Rive Droite

Jack Jones – The Impossible Dream

Keaton Henson – Healah Dancing

Some great track there Marc , Many thanks . 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *