When your feet get sore, a foot spa would be an excellent treat. Day in and day out, we see stress and tiredness written across people’s face as they hurriedly walk along the busy streets minding their own business like there’s not enough time to even stop and breathe. While you can get a Thai massage to bend your body aches away, your mind and soul are not tangible muscles that you can pinch and press. Carol and Jem of Artist Madhouse believe that this is why they exist. They are here to help people release emotions – happiness and tensions alike – through art, take a short break from their busy lives, and ease their tired souls for even just a bit. I am fortunate to learn all about this faithful endeavor from an afternoon interview with the masterminds and by experiencing first hand the Expressive Art Meditation during their Artist Madhouse Session that was conducted last March 1, 2014. This is a walkthrough of my journey in realizing and appreciating the advocacy of the organization and why I believe that reading through this text could only describe but never replace the pivotal experience that this stopover could possibly offer.
Why was I intrigued about Artist Madhouse’s Expressive Art Meditation? That catchy name is the giveaway. Who wouldn’t be intrigued? Their continuous promotion through Facebook also kept me reading and checking out their fun activities. I met Carol and Jem during college and started following Artist Madhouse ever since it was founded. We all started as idealistic art students. But as I pursued a corporate life, I continued to look up to Carol and Jem’s passion for the fine art. Brave souls. So when I was tasked to study an organization, this was my top-of-mind – an advocacy that is my first love but is far from my daily work life. A passion that I can only daydream about while they ardently live by.
What’s In The Name
The name Artist Madhouse is inspired by Vincent van Gogh’s “The Yellow House”. The yellow house is where van Gogh thought would be the place for him to paint and to welcome other artist friends. Carol and Jem are so inspired by van Gogh’s philosophy that they even patterned the Artist Madhouse logo with van Gogh’s painted yellow house.
To quote Carol and Jem, “Artist Madhouse, is a place where we want people to experience doing art as a non-threatening form of self-expression. Madhouse here does not connote an asylum with a sad and hopeless atmosphere, but a place where everyone is free to express, without the fear of judgment or ridicule.”
Artist Madhouse Arts and Crafts Co. was officially registered on January 16, 2013. Carol and Jem started working together to sell handmade arts and crafts in bazaars. With this humble beginning, they continued to look for more meaning in what they do. They looked for opportunities, inspirations, and for a unique product to offer. Third quarter of 2013, they started to shift from selling arts and crafts to conducting arts and crafts workshops for 5-20 year-olds. This new opportunity was greatly influenced by their volunteer works for Kythe. Broadening their horizon, Carol and Jem also attended several workshops that include therapeutic play, inner dance, and storytelling. With all these inspirations combined, they were able to come up with what they call today as Artist Madhouse Sessions on Expressive Art Meditation.
When asked about Artist Madhouse’s mission, they shared these two things: (1) Listening, being emphatic, and helping people reflect on their lives and (2) Creating a sanctuary with a supportive and accepting atmosphere. They describe themselves as, “artists who are passionate in creating a venue for empathy, acceptance, and understanding in trying to help people be empowered in self-direction through Expressive Art Meditation.” But because the duo is just a duo for now, they have to focus their energy to a smaller target audience. As of this writing, they offer their sessions only to 13-30 year-old males and females from upper C class.
Artist Madhouse is an organization that has a very informal setup, flexible, and has high regard for innovation and individuality. While it is still very young and consists only two people, it is evident in Carol and Jem’s actions that what they say about Artist Madhouse is aligned with what they truly believe in. Somehow, this is an advantage of a small and starting organization. While Carol and Jem are both artists that have varying views and working styles, they also try to make things work systematically sans the tedious formalities. Working closely together, they are forming a culture for Artist Madhouse that is uniquely their own.
Carolyn Tongco and Jem Marie Benzon are friends since college. They both took up Bachelor or Fine Arts major in Advertising Arts at the University of Santo Tomas where both graduated with honors. After graduation, they went their separate ways searching for the career that would satisfy their enthusiasm and idealism. By now, you know how that story ends. 2013 was an exceptional year for Carol and Jem because it was the year when they officially started their business and found their “purpose in life”. Because Carol and Jem started as friends, coming together seems to be easy. Despite having different personality, sharing a similar passion helped in making their collaboration smooth and exciting.
They are both volunteers and are both inspired by their volunteering experience with Kythe, which also opened a lot of doors in their eventful journey as Artist Madhouse. Carol dreams of becoming an Art Therapist and a Social Entrepreneur. She is currently taking a graduate certificate course in Art Therapy at the World Education University. She is also an international student member of American Art Therapy Association (AATA). Jem, in pursuit of her dream to study social work and life coaching, is also taking up a graduate certificate course in Expressive Art Therapy also at the World Education University.
I’ve known Carol and Jem for many years and meeting them again for an afternoon interview was a breath of fresh air. Our interview was casual and mostly fun but listening closely to Carol and Jem, I could hear the seriousness and passion exuding from within. Their eyes glow as they patiently explained the things that they do and plan to do in the future. Having something to call your passion is one thing and being able to live by that is another. This is why I find this duo extremely admirable. They make me wonder sometimes whether I too should rethink the things I do (but that would be an entirely different topic).
Kythe is one of the major influences of Artist Madhouse. Carol and Jem continues to do volunteer work for Kythe while Kythe also commission Artist Madhouse in some of their activities. It’s a partnership not only of two organizations but also of individuals with shared advocacy. Aside from the Expressive Art Meditation, Artist Madhouse is busy with several activities. Some of their recent activities are clay baking and Valentine’s Day card making at the Philippine Heart Center and mural painting at Quirino Memorial Medical Center. Last year, I was able to join them in Kythe Ateneo’s event called I Am Hope conducted in the University of the Philippines College of Science Amphitheater and it was an awesome event! We had a booth where kids can choose and build their paper necklaces for their souvenir.
Because Artist Madhouse is a small organization, internal communication is very simple. If they can’t meet in person, they use the most accessible communication tools that could help them work remotely such as text, call, Facebook, email, and Google Documents. While in communicating with partner organizations, they prefer email, text, call, and face-to-face. In trying to reach out to their target audience and because money is not an abundant resource, Artist Madhouse relies on pure talent and more affordable resources.
They use social networking sites to promote their activites and are continuously building up stronger online presence. Their website is accesible via artistmadhouse.com and they’re also present on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, and LinkedIn. Aside from social media, they also utilize email marketing. Because their service is all about art and meditation, you’ll find no hardselling of their services. They rely mostly on testimonials of previous attendees, like a digital word-of-mouth.
Expressive Art Meditation
Expressive Art Meditation does not claim any therapeutic results and it cannot address any psychological problem or personality disorder. Carol and Jem facilitate the session but they shall give you neither any diagnosis nor advice. What the session offers is purely a venue for self-expression and meditation. It’s not a therapy.
What exactly is Expressive Art Meditation? As defined by Artist Madhouse, “Expressive Art Meditation is a process where a person uses art as an outlet to meditate and to convey emotions that were suppressed because of fear of judgment or due to lack of venue to do so. In the end, its aim is to help individuals in connecting to their core, be able to have clear self-direction, cast all the negative emotions away so that a person feels peaceful deep inside, and to be able to create a community that has empathy, acceptance, and understanding.” The impact of Expressive Art Meditation varies from person to person. Whether the session is a good or bad experience, that realization is dependent on the attendee’s intention and interpretation.
Because art is like a vast universe that is free from the gravity of rigorous rules, the session is not comprised of a tight and strict programme. The series of activities during the session are like events of a short journey. The two-and-a-half-hour Artist Madhouse Session that I attended was conducted at the Philippine Partnership for the Development of Human Resources in Rural Areas (PhilDHRRA) in Loyola Heights, Quezon City. The venue was a medium-sized room, which gives all eight participants enough space to move around and work on their artworks. Chairs and tables were pushed to the side. Paper, paint, and other coloring materials were placed on the floor and were arranged to form a big circle, like campers around a bonfire. The next few paragraphs are my interpretation of how the session went.
First, there were introductions and basic house rules. A short video was shown to help attendees make sense of how the session’s going to be like and then everyone was asked to pick their comfortable place around the circle. As the painting activity began, soft background music also helped in setting the mood, calming our senses, and pacing the session. If there’s one moment that made me feel at ease and really comfortable it was when Carol said, “This is a safe place…” and then it really was.
So everyone started reflecting and painting for an hour or so. Honestly, I’ve lost track of time. The session is open to male and female participants but it just so happened that the people who signed up for this session were all girls. Artists or not, everyone is welcome to join the session. We all know how to color after all. The girl who sat next to me was actually a chemist, and I find it rather interesting.
I’ve decided to paint a specific thought or an emotion that I rarely talk about. Though art is my way of releasing emotions, I do not have the luxury of time to always find a canvas and paint so I see this session as a very good opportunity for me to paint again and relieve myself from some tensions. I took my brush and made my big white paper colorful with the homemade, water-based paints. For the first time, I painted without thinking about the composition or the aesthetic of my artwork. It was a liberating moment.
Time passes quickly when you enjoy what you do and this is very true for the session. To begin the next and final part, everyone was asked to stop painting and one by one, we were given a time to share what we’ve done. I used a brush, some used their hands while others used both. As a common denominator, I’d like to believe that all of us have used our hearts. Sad and happy thoughts filled the room but if there’s one that we all agreed about, it is that the art meditation session has helped us express and realize things. It was a short session that I wished could be a little longer. Nevertheless, it was enjoyable and fulfilling. It’s like a pit stop from our life’s race – a much needed break.
What Happens Next
While the sessions that are being conducted right now are still at an exploratory stage, Carol and Jem plans to fine tune the sessions and open it to a wider audience in the future. Learning while conducting each session, Artist Madhouse continues to improve their craft and their programme. Carol and Jem are studying and attending sessions to build on their expertise which they could further value-add to their current service. They continue to invest time and talent in this organization.
It’s obvious that they are not focused on making this as a profit organization but any organization would need some cash flow to survive. At this point, they’re working on a minimal budget which they are able to manage by maximizing their resources. They are also continuously looking for ways to keep the ball rolling. Carol and Jem humbly share that they are facing several challenges in their organization and this is an uphill battle. But they also share that because of the community they’re in and the support system they have from Kythe and its members, a lot of things seem to fall into place at the right time.
Artist Madhouse also aims to slowly gain their grounds and strengthen their reputation. While they rely mostly on word-of-mouth, they are also looking at how they can improve what they offer and expand their reach. I can see from how they talk about Artist Madhouse that they are not about to easily give up. No challenge will be greater than their passion for as long as they continue to believe that this is their life’s work.
New Beginnings After A Stopover
The Artist Madhouse session I attended was short and sweet and to say that I enjoyed my stay is an understatement. It was a complete encounter of colors, expressions, and interactions. I began with an inquisitive mind, getting myself intrigued with what this organization offers, and got so much more than I expected in the end. I’d like to believe that what Artist Madhouse truly offers is not a meditation session but a chance to connect to ones self and others through art. For Carol and Jem, it’s an advocacy more than it is a business. It is a calling more than it is a service.
Artist Madhouse describes their Expressive Art Meditation sessions as stopovers. It’s a stopover from your extremely demanding life. It’s about taking a moment to stop and breathe, to get in touch with your emotions, to dig within your cluttered mind, to give yourself a chance to express your deepest feelings without fear of judgment, to speak what you cannot say, and most of all, to simply appreciate life. The world is mad and so are the people who live in it. Life would be drab if we aren’t. There are many ways to express oneself and some may find it elsewhere while Artist Madhouse chooses to express it through art. While spas can relieve some points in our body, art can relieve some points in our lives. And this is priceless.