The personal is professional

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Twelve years ago my mum developed a mental health disorder, which she has struggled with, sometimes acutely, ever since. But from then on, while working as an art curator and exhibition maker, I experienced a disconnect between my cultural life and the ‘real-one’ of my mum’s diagnosis. In the arts, we say that we speak to our everyday lives, and yet I was no longer seeing that. Well, at least not in my own. So what to do?  I studied psychotherapy. Of course.

Over my foundation year, I considered leaving the art world. I would become a therapist. But steeped now in Freud, in Jung, in Winnicott, I realized that it wasn't my skill to be the person in the room. So that wasn't entirely my world either. I was still drawn to culture and ideas, but now with that very urgent mental health component. I just needed to figure out how to bring them together in a way that made sense to me, and maybe even to others. 

In 2013, I spent a year interviewing artists, writers, entrepreneurs, designers, and academics about their take on mental health and from that Storefront Institute grew. The idea of this organization is to think about a cultural space as a mental health space – to explore what that means to inhabit the same location, approach, and program. What we need to do, and what we’re hoping to achieve with Storefront Institute, is to reimagine what a public space for the common good looks like. We believe that we need to create hubs of creative individuals and organizations who work within the everyday challenge we all face of negotiating complex and evolving lives.

We know that people who are depressed, anxious, stressed or lonely can be helped by building relationships and community, identifying a purpose beyond themselves, and developing emotional intelligence and relational tools. We also know that creative spaces have been shown to increase empathy by providing safe spaces for multiple perspectives and contemplation, forms of storytelling that we can relate to, experiential learning opportunities, and a sense of awe and wonder. By bringing arts and culture explicitly into the realm of mental health, we're borrowing the former’s methodology of bringing people, ideas and learning together. We’re also creating spaces and programs to contain and reflect what's happening within ourselves as well as all around us.

And happily, with Storefront, we believe we’re part of an emerging new sector that’s all about how to be a person in the world. There are increasingly places to go, people to see, initiatives to participate in, that are in community and support of one another, rather than more and more strategies for living done on your own in the seclusion of your home. People are now building frameworks for engagement, transformation, and participation, often through the filter of culture, and creating the structures to help negotiate our lives, from multiple perspectives. It’s a very different approach to what culture was supposed to do previously and how our institutions have been conceived and constructed. 

We know we've been quiet over summer, but over the next few months, we’ll be announcing details about our new spaces, programs and partnerships. Also, we'll be launching our own Side Project - our Compendium to Life and we'll need your help building that up - more soon on what that really means.

So keep in touch: You can sign up for our email newsletter here, follow us on Medium here, or our other Social Media platforms here, here or here, and even here. Or just check back occasionally to see what we’re up to.

Claire Fitzsimmons is the Director of Storefront Institute, a creative space for life, and has written widely on contemporary culture and mental health.