Hackney Changemakers: Sara Kärpänen

Sara is someone I’ve known only vaguely for years in Hackney Wick, but I suspected she was up to something interesting. You think you know the Wick, but there’s always so much more to discover.

A chance meeting in a Dalston social enterprise led to the blog piece below. Both Dalston and Hackney Wick are ecoysystems. One is a real hub of social enterprise, the other more the creative arts. But both places foster networks, connections and serendipitous meetings.

So enjoy Sara’s story and – if it moves you – take her up on her invitation to take part. Because one thing the Wick was traditionally about was making and creating, not consuming. The triumvirate in the above picture are living testimony to the energy and action of the Women of the Wick…

“I find myself curled up on the floor of my living room, again. I sob, it’s difficult to breathe. I tell myself everything will be okay, that I should calm down.

In despair, I grab a book I had borrowed from a friend a while back, “The Art of Happiness” by Dalai Lama. The book suggests sitting still (aka meditating) 15 minutes every day. I fail after only a couple of minutes, desperately staring at the minutes slowly hissing by.

At the age of 25, I should have been at my happiest; working at my dream job as a cultural journalist—a job I had determinately aimed for many years (in a quite unusual way, but still).

But the truth was that being a journalist at a daily newspaper wasn’t my dream. It was someone else’s dream I was trying to fulfil.
I was struggling to find my “why”—my passion and meaning for life.

It took me a looooong time to realise what was wrong with chasing other people’s dreams and filling their expectations of what ‘happiness’ should look like. Luckily, I’ve always been curious about life and had a passion for change.

What really interested me was space: how to occupy and reclaim space. As an artist, I was drawn to non-commercial art and artist spaces: street art, space occupation, art interventions, site-specific work, exhibiting outside the white-cube gallery realms.

I didn’t want to work for others day after day after day until I was ready to retire but to build something I could call my own. I yearned to create real, long-lasting changes and fight for injustice. In a way, finding the artist community in Hackney Wick responded to many of those needs, though only momentarily.

After two years of ‘full-time artistry’ (including a long list of part-time jobs) I took a hard look at myself in the mirror. I knew I wanted to become financially stable and earn my living what I loved doing the most: fighting for gender equality. Through writing, claiming space and creating a space where others and I could feel seen, heard and supported.

Another in the Hackney Changemakers series, here's founder of Women of the Wick, Sara...

And here I am; the founder of Women of the Wick, a podcast and community space that is dedicated to the work of creative women. The aim is to unite creatives together and amplify the voices, visibility and work of local women and non-binary people.

It is long overdue that we see more women, especially women from Black and Ethnic minority backgrounds, in positions of power. It is long overdue we gain financial freedom and equal pay. It is long overdue that we, as womxn and non-binary people, start supporting and lifting each other and stop seeing our colleagues and fellow creatives as enemies.

I truly believe that there’s no shame in learning, unlearning and asking. In fact, I think it is empowering to understand and become aware of our own limiting beliefs, and see where our own strengths lie. It is empowering to listen, share skills and learn from one another.

Lately, I’ve realised the two missing ingredients in my long-list of art degrees (two Master’s degrees, Bachelor in Art Education, fine art degree, and countless courses—I’ve done it all): Finances and self-confidence. For some reason, neither is taught us in school.

I hope that Women of the Wick will respond to that need and give a sense of belonging that I once felt when I moved to the Wick—a safe space that allows you to grow and be whoever you ought to be.

Now I know that I don’t only want to survive. I want to thrive. It’s time we smash the suffering artist myth—along with the patriarchy. But we can’t do it alone.

Here’s my request:

Let’s start owning our stories—no matter what they are.
Let’s start listening to one another.
Let’s start supporting each other.

That is what I call true empowerment, intersectional, inter-generational feminism, a space where we can be seen and heard.

And yes, sitting still is a lot easier nowadays. I’ve finally accepted my “why.”

Become a part of the Women of the Wick’s growing community: www.womenofthewick.com

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