Sarah Carpenter opened her gallery, open studio and research space Fourth Wall Folkestone in the Old High Street at the end of November 2021. A graphic designer, photographer, potter, print and collage maker, she describes herself as an artist researcher, working to give the voiceless – especially those with mental health problems – their chance to speak.
We asked her about how her work can benefit people’s mental health.
“I use Fourth Wall Folkestone as a space for transparency about what it means to be an artist, and indeed an artist with mental illness. You will see me completing all elements of work that an artist might have to do on a daily basis.
“I also practice self-compassion, have working hours to suit a work life balance, and am very open about how I am feeling / what energy I have on any given day. By eating in public view, I show that we are all human and have needs – a big deal for someone with a history of disordered eating.
“I work alongside researchers in mental health, using my creative practice as a way to open up my creative thinking – finding problems and possible solutions as a form of action research. This helps to show the importance of art to question and disrupt as a critical friend.
“I opened Fourth Wall Folkestone in order to share this important and exciting work happening within mental health with the public working on similar projects and now I am able to invite people into the space and share this with them.
An example is her recent collage workshop, where passers-by could just drop in and add to the creations displayed on the gallery walls. “I was overwhelmed by the interest” Sarah says. “I think part of it was how accessible it was – there was no pressure on anyone to buy or pay anything, and being able to see their work displayed for others to see gave an immense sense of achievement for many people.
“There is of course, artwork to buy, but rather than put a price on it I asked for ‘offers’ or donations instead. This meant that many people who would never consider buying art actually found they could, and I had people who had never sold anything before finding themselves to be actual artists!”
“As a neurodivergent individual I have experienced feeling on the outside. Fourth Wall Folkestone is about being inclusive and accessible. It relies on honesty and trust. I operate a “pay what you can afford” policy for talks, events and workshops, trusting that those who can afford to support will do so which in turn ensures that those on low or no income can also be in attendance.
“As well as sales made through the space and crowdfunding, I hope to continue funding the space mainly through grants and other external projects, meaning that the community can continue to enjoy the space and others’ wellbeing and my own can continue to be nurtured.”
Sarah’s role as an artist researcher is in high demand, and she works with prestigious institutions such as the University of Kent and Bethlem Royal Hospital, the oldest psychiatric hospital in the world, dating back to 1247 which is now part of the South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust (SLaM). She has been commissioned to make a permanent public piece for the Maudsley Hospital by working closely with those who work in and use the space, to establish how they would like to see it used.
Sarah’s work ‘Emerging’ has appeared on the front cover of the Lancet Journal of Psychiatry for the course of a year, and she has been interviewed several times for academic journals – helping break down the boundaries between academia and art.
She is passionate that everyone should try and create some art – even those who think they don’t have an artistic bone in their bodies! “The art scene can be quite unkind and anxiety-inducing for those of us trying to make a living in it” she says. “I have another vision: we should all access our inner creative, just give it a go – there is no failure in art, only in not trying.”