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An artistic, social, and political project
Created in 1979 by Luc Boulangé, the Créahm is an association whose objective is discovering and displaying art forms produced by people with mental disabilities. To do this the Créahm has set up creative workshops run by people involved in the plastic and living arts, so placing its project firmly within an artistic framework, and not within a therapeutic or occupational one. The originality and importance of this approach, from an artistic, as well as a social and political point of view, is nowadays still at the core of the objectives pursued by the Créahm. The structures that have been created from it, the Créahm Liège Day Centre (1994) and the Madmusée (2003) make up, with the workshops, what we call the “Grand Créahm” and are all part of the same project.
An artistic project
The definition of “outsider” or “alternative” art fortunately remains imprecise. In truth, the art which is created and practiced at the Créahm does not “define” itself, but is mainly characterised by the workshops’ own creation and mediation methods.
It is not “art of the mentally ill” (Prinzhorn for example), nor is it “raw art” (Dubuffet), such as was thought for a long time during the 20th century as an expression of an absolute otherness, foreign to the codes of art and the world of culture. On the contrary, Créahm’s workshops make new forms of creation possible that at first sight start to resonate with the whole artistic field. These forms of creation are at the margins of the standard models, of course, but in the fully assumed perspective of a mediation, for which the cooperation between the artists running the workshops and the people attending them is one of the main methods. Not “radical exteriority”, so, not “exoticism” and not imagination of an expressive world that would be foreign to culture, but systems of creation, but methods of expression, but artistic identities of an extreme richness and for which the singular character – beauty, strength and energy – shows as much of the difference as the links that nourish them. The cultural periphery where the creations of the Créahm appear to stand is also the privileged space from where the centre is questioned and made visible!
With same will for an artistic deployment, the Grand Créahm distributes and promotes, not just works produced within its organisation, but also outsider art in general. Créahm’s exhibitions and shows, the activities in the Madmusée, the publications, the Rencontres Internationales du Créahm, the numerous partnerships that set themselves up and which are renewed year after year, are the instruments of the essential promotion and distribution work. This corresponds to a new form of mediation in which the “alternative” arts become interlocutors that are entirely separate from the art world.
A social project
The objective pursued by the Créahm is obviously artistic. It is also inseparably social as it is aiming for a better integration for the disabled person in the social field.
Créahm’s action belongs to the perspective of an overall support for the disabled person. From this point of view, the work in the workshops, although it does not respond to a therapeutic function, does however take a full part in the development of the person and their fulfilment regarding the subject. It calls on a long term commitment to take part in a personal project of creation; it strengthens their self-esteem; it makes the internal construction possible of an identity in which the disability is no longer a brake, or a stigma, but the proper place for an individual deployment. Since 1994, the creation of the day centre associated with the Créahm (CJCL) has constituted, along with the workshops, the ideal framework for allowing this support to be provided and reflected on in the best conditions.
The attention given by the Créahm to the distribution and promotion of the works themselves, by creating the social and cultural conditions of a real recognition, is a very powerful contribution to this process of creating and strengthening identities. No doubt, not all are invited to exhibit their work and not all will become actors. Aptitudes and strong artistic sensibilities are, here as everywhere, shared out unequally. But, it may through the privileged intermediary of the renown of some people, and this wider movement of recognition very favourably affects the self-awareness of all the people taking part in the Créahm workshops. More generally, it contributes to considerably changing the collective perception of the disabled person.
A political project
Finally, for all the reasons that have just been said, the objectives pursued by the Créahm are also political, within the widest meaning of the word. They are in fact based on the will to defend the rights of the disabled person, especially their rights to culture, to expression and to the defence of their creative aptitudes. More widely, they correspond to the hope and wish for a society where difference can really be accepted. Not in a conventional way, nor vapid, nor blindly, but on the contrary, in a lucid, responsible and united way: a society where the difference – here it is a mental disability – is not ironed out or banished, but fully manifested in its power of creation and questioning. Each of Créahm’s actions is the militant illustration of this project and, for thirty years, the place where the tools for mediation that make it possible invent themselves.