Matt Retallick Research Questionnaire 8: Sarah Gilman

Name: Sarah Gilman
Location: St Helens


1. What is your relationship to Merseyside?

I moved to St Helens from Crewe in 2005 and have studied and worked within the area since then. I feel that having now spent so much of my life in St Helens, it is my home.

2. How does Merseyside impact or shape your practice?

I am an artist in residence at University Centre St Helens and this small community of students and tutors is and has been important to the development of my practice. I have had three solo exhibitions within the past three years and they have all been in the Merseyside area, one in St Helens and two in Liverpool. I hope to continue working with and alongside other artists and organisations within Merseyside.

3. What are the positives and negatives of living and working in Merseyside?


St Helens is a fantastic commuting location between two major cities.
The house prices within St Helens are some of the lowest in the country.
Having Liverpool as our city means an abundant supply of wonderful art and culture.
St Helens Libraries have a fantastic team of people working both in literature and the arts.


Public transport could be a lot better.
More support for homeless people needed.
Car parks should be free or at least have lower fees to encourage more people to visit the town (St Helens).

4. What does independence / being independent mean to you?

Being independent within my practice means, to me, being able to produce the type of work that I want to make, from my own research and in my own way. I do, however, feel that being completely independent can cut you off from opportunities, discussions and help that you get from being associated with organisations or social groups. I value the support that I have from other painters within my studio and from connections that I have made through visiting galleries and studio spaces.

5. Is Merseyside a good place to be independent?

I’m not sure how to answer this. As an organisation and if based in Liverpool maybe yes. I’m not sure that smaller working class towns are as able to support small organisations as well as more affluent towns and cities can. As an individual, I think many people working independently struggle to keep afloat and it is a continued effort to stay independent. There is some support within the arts and many great people doing their best to help artists but maybe not enough to provide a constant level of financial security.

6. What are your favourite examples of independence / the independent in Merseyside?

Locally, in St Helens (I’m hoping they still exist after Covid-19):

Momo’s Cafe
Phoenix Plant Based Eatery

In Liverpool:

R. Jackson and Sons (art supply store) The Egg Vegetarian Cafe

7. What is your favourite cultural organisation in Merseyside and why?

I don’t think that I have a favourite. I admire artist-led gallery spaces such as Arena Studios, Bridewell Studios and the painting research project Refractive Pool but I feel there’s a lot more in Liverpool that I haven’t yet explored or had access to.

8. What is your favourite place in Merseyside and why?

(this doesn’t have to be a cultural organisation, just somewhere that you love / means something to you) Can I have 2 favourites? My home and my studio because I belong in both.

9. If you could make Merseyside different, what would you change, and why?

I’d make it easier to connect with artists throughout Merseyside. I think being based in a town that borders onto other counties sometimes leaves me with a feeling of being disconnected to the main hub of Merseyside. I often feel like I have one leg in Liverpool but don’t quite fit in. Having said that, the people I do know and have worked with have been very welcoming so maybe it’s me that just has an outsider complex.

This year has been a particular struggle for independent businesses. It would be great to see support within the town centre for businesses affected by covid and for new businesses. There are lots of empty shops that need filling but towns need to rethink what is needed and what will bring in visitors.

10. Describe Merseyside to someone who’s never visited

Hmm, this is a tricky question. It’s an area of contrasts and diversities. These can range from the poorest of communities to vast wealth and idyllic locations.

A predominantly working class area with so much history and culture connected to it. World renowned art galleries and the home of The Beatles!