mental health

The personal is professional


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.

this & that: edition 5


This week has been overwhelming. Too, too much is happening. Too, too much to find our feet. We’re holding onto wise words from last weekend’s Art + Race Conference at Impact Hub Oakland - a rare smart, insightful gathering that also centered on kindness, empathy, and love: “Be kind. Be Careful. Be Uncomfortable.” 

"I want people to be ok with feeling something", stated co-host Holly Murchison at the start of the day and we’ve thought often of her words as we negotiated the last few days.

In amongst the major shifts and happenings in global, national and yep, still, personal events, here’s what we’re been thinking about, reading and stumbling on over the past couple of weeks.


The wellbeing piece:

I feel like we know this in our heart of hearts, but it’s interesting to see the evidence coming out to support this: The lasting mental and physical adverse effects of the 2016 Presidential election.

 “A man with a conviction is a hard man to change. Tell him you disagree and he turns away. Show him facts or figures and he questions your sources. Appeal to logic and he fails to see your point.” 

The hard truths of cognitive dissonance and confirmation bias, and the best way to change someone’s mind.

Apparently, there are two types of popularity, one based on status, the other on likeability. Care to guess which is better for you? As you read this keep in mind that Popular People Live Longer

This is not a piece on lipstick, but you should read it anyway.

Vox’s take on Brian Resnick’s widely disseminated idea of the power of placebos.

As our mental health landscape changes, AI has just entered the field with Woebot. More like a 'choose your own adventure self-help book'. Still, need something IRL, we’re huge champions of the movement in the UK around Happiness Cafes. Or you could check out Cup of Comms if you need help with communication and your EQ. Or for a much deeper dive, check out 1440 Multiversity – learning about life while hanging out in the redwoods near Santa Cruz.


The culture piece:

A wonderful way to bring together music and neuroscience, in intentional collaborations that can impact people’s lives.

Can we weave museums more closely into our urban landscape? See what’s happening with The Shed in New York and consider the responsibilities of our arts philanthropists to address both funding gaps and social justice.

There’s an interesting program around Tools for Resistance at the Queens Museum, and another one around the Art of Change at the Aspen Ideas Festival

We are loving Molly McLeod’s Analog News Feed and intrigued by The Analogue Foundation’s Listening Station.

Like everyone else, we’ve been obsessing over 13 Reasons Why too and wanted to share this resource guide from Teen Vogue in case it’s triggering anything for you. “Tell someone how you feel.”


Catching our attention:

We didn't have a big plan, we just wanted to help feed our neighbors…” A community cupboard out of Winnipeg.

Our latest political crush (did we have those before?): Maggie Haberman

And a long-time one:

“I couldn’t help but wonder how things might have been different if we hadn’t all moved West to write magazine articles and select the music for Apple commercials and design websites. What if we’d stayed in our hometowns and cast our lot with—and our votes in—the counties that raised us?” Ann Friedman

Love this idea coming out of Oakland: Try Studio  “Try something creative taught by someone local.”


A little transparency, what we’re learning to make things happen in our world:

We’re learning all the time about how to straddle our worlds of culture/mental wellness, and that of entrepreneurship. Looking to these resources at the moment for advice, advice, advice. 24 best podcasts for entrepreneurs


And planning ahead:

Some summer reading:

E.M. Wolfman’s new publication Black Aesthetic comes out on 23rd June.

Female essayists telling it like it is:

And some positive psychology for on the beach, by the pool, or just in your-not-quite-long-enough lunch hour:

We’ll leave you with this: Get together on one of those hot days (who are we kidding – foggy) and summer (read chilly) nights outside in the Bay Area.

More soon.