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 6

This is a shorty, as we’re about to head into summer break and that means this collection of links and ideas is going to be put on hold for a while. For now, we hope you’ll enjoy what we’ve been reading, reflecting on and just getting excited about over the last couple of weeks!

Also, as a very excited aside, I’m joining the Public Imagination Fellows over at YBCA for the next year. We had our first retreat this month and  I'm looking forward to updating you as things take shape!

Ok, here we go…


The wellbeing piece:

We’re now seeing that failure as a syllabus has a place on US campuses:

“Nearly perfect on paper, with résumés packed full of extracurricular activities, they seemed increasingly unable to cope with basic setbacks that come with college life: not getting a room assignment they wanted, getting wait-listed for a class or being rejected by clubs.”

We’re now able to capture the human brain in portraiture of sorts.

We’re learning the value of emotional labor for our future work situations. All across the economy, technology is edging human workers into more emotional territory. 

We’re now realizing that behaviors, emotions and even thoughts are highly contagious. This one’s disconcerting.


The culture piece:

We love, love, love what Douglas Burnham and his team at Envelope A+D are doing in Hayes Valley and Hunters Point and now West Berkeley:

“Architects, by training, are able to see these multiple simultaneous futures. But most people need to see it and feel and touch it,” Burnham says. “It’s like a rendering, but it’s one step further.”

Building creativity and hope with Build: Not Impossible, a mobile maker station for refugee camps.

Need an Exercise in Listening? Get to Montalvo Arts Centre this summer.

The Designer’s Fund has opened their application for their new Design Management Bridge Program. Apply.

We’re intrigued by Katrina McHugh’s latest adventure The Question Everything Project

There’s a new Museum of Capitalism in Oakland’s Jack London Square.


Catching our attention:

“Things are not subjective. There’s good and there’s bad, and those things are not negotiable. It’s not my good versus your good; there’s a good that’s larger than us. And I think that’s something that people are longing for.” 

So many good things here: delve into this conversation between Ann Friedman and Chris Kraus

Modern day philosophers, “living people with ideas worth learning about”

“Britain has a cultural aversion to spelling out techniques for success; it’s considered vulgar. That must change. The convention serves brilliantly to preserve wealth and power for those born into it.”

Social mobility is on the decline not rise in the UK.


Planning ahead:

This summer: take action in the great outdoors

Pick up Teju Cole’s Blind Spot

“I see it as a unified story,” he explains, “but one in which each fragment of prose is dense in the way that a poem is dense. There are thematic breadcrumbs scattered throughout the text, but, yes, it is oblique. It’s not meant to be obvious, but a more psychologically resonant series of fragments that detonate on some deeper level.” - Teju Cole

Attend a Literary Death Match!

Can’t get to Wales (!), buy a live-streaming ticket for Do Lectures.

Planning way ahead, there’s a conference on meaning in Brighton this autumn:

:"At Meaning, we bring you bold ideas from unexpected places. We bring you thinkers and do-ers from business, activism, academia and the arts. We bring you the pioneering purpose-driven businesses innovating to disrupt not only their sectors but whole systems."

And Creative Time is hosting their 10th Summit in Toronto – the theme ‘Of Homelands and Revolution


As it’s summer, we’ll leave you with a bright spot: this month’s newsletter from The Awl. It's a gorgeous, heart-warming list of people noticing other people being kind to each other.

‘My toddler and I were waiting in a long line at Russ and Daughters this morning, and a guy gave me a much earlier number. He'd somehow ended up with an extra number right after his, and waited until he saw someone he thought needed it. I gave my number to the last couple in line, and if they did the same, it might still be going. — Annie

More soon.


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