The Madhouse. Art Without Prejudice

The Madhouse is the first Creative Atelier, Social Hub and Raw Art gallery to promote the works of artists with mental health issues. It was created in March 2019, in Beato, to ensure that these artists benefit from the recognition and dignity they deserve. With no working hours, the Madhouse offers the best therapy: Freedom.

‘Peace. A lot of peace. Something I never had in my life,’ answers Anabela Soares when we ask her how she feels working on the Madhouse project. Having lived a difficult childhood and always believed no one would ever love her, Anabela has found a safe haven. ‘It’s rare to be able to trust someone, but Sandro and Zé made me believe it was possible.’

Anabela Soares has suffered from mental illness for decades. Working with clay gave her the opportunity to express her feelings and ‘let her monsters out’. The ceramic artist reveals that the clay monsters she makes reflect the world she created for herself, where ‘there’s no room for anyone else’. ‘I live with bad and good monsters. My schizophrenia has brought me these two gifts.’

Project founders Sandro Resende and José Azevedo encouraged the artist, who’d started by making soft toys, including a giant teddy bear representing the soft toy she never had as a child, to work with clay, a material she’d never experimented with. 

Anabela has already exhibited her works at several venues and was part of the group of Portuguese artists that participated in the “Outsider Art Fair 2020”, in New York. Her last exhibition, “The day I got out of depth”, which opened in March, includes works created by the artist during a residency at the Bordalo Pinheiro Museum, between late February and early March 2020. This was the first time the Bordalo Pinheiro Museum had a resident artist, whom they deemed ‘one of the most interesting and promising artists in today’s artistic landscape.’

Anabela Soares has found her calling and a way to remain happy and balanced: ‘Some people may be happy but, as long as I live in a world run by Zé and Sandro, I’m the happiest woman in the world. Provided, of course, they let me make my monsters,’ says the artist, laughing.

Debunking myths about mental illness

The Madhouse project was created by Sandro Resende and José Azevedo, the founders of the Association for Creative and Artistic Development P28, where they teach art classes to patients treated at the Júlio de Matos Hospital, in Lisbon. This work has resulted in several exhibitions where works by artists with mental illnesses have been displayed together with works by renowned national and international artist, namely Emir Kusturica, Pedro Cabrita Reis, Jeff Koons and Jorge Molder.

The Madhouse was created in March 2019 in order to debunk myths about mental illness and promote the employability and social inclusion of mental patients. ‘This isn’t therapy, it’s art,’ underlines Sandro Resende, despite the artists’ assertion that the facility is essential to their wellbeing. ‘I’ve never seen a medical record, what interests me are the people and what they want to do.’ 

Sandro Resende believes that the artists become more responsible when they’re allowed greater freedom. ‘The artists choose their own hours and come to work full of energy, willing to do things right. This makes them produce better works and helps then gain self-esteem.’ 

The artists receive a scholarship, which includes meals, transport expenses and a salary, in addition to 70% of the proceeds from the sale of their works and 90% of the revenues from their workshops. ‘The biggest problem is the waiting list,’ explains Sandro: ‘We have more than 80 people on a waiting list for the next spots, because they know we treat them with dignity and not as patients.’

When an artist needs a doctor, a psychologist or a psychiatrist, he or she is seen immediately, instead of having to wait six months, as happens in public hospitals. But in actual fact no patients have experienced crises since the Madhouse opened, which is remarkable, since people with their clinical history and conditions, ranging from schizophrenia to depression, normally have crises every two months, affirms Sandro Resende.

A handful of creatives

The cofounder of this project explains that one of the goals of the Madhouse is to help people get back on their own two feet and cease to depend on the project. ‘We’re a sort of crutch. The idea is to get people working more and more at home, which will allow us to treat more people.’ 

Sandro reveals that since the project started, about a year ago, two people have already started working at home and another two are creating their own start-ups, ‘so them can get out of here.’
Fighting the stigma associated with mental illness involves a refusal to depend on subsidies. In this sense, it is important to value the works produced by Madhouse artists and to get them out on the market.

The Madhouse has already won creativity competitions, received a Merit award from the Ministry of Health, is developing several art projects and is sponsored by the Lisbon Tourism Office, the Lisbon City Council and several Parish Councils, as well as brands such as Central de Cervejas, Fidelidade, Herdade da Malhadinha Nova and Arcádia.

‘We work with the brands as creatives and not as patients. We look for brands with history, with a strong presence; our goal is to transform the brand to make it a bit our own. This idea is proposed to the artists and they choose the brand they want to work with. The brand makes money with us and we benefit from working with them. It’s a win-win situation,’ explains Sandro Resende.

A good example is Portuguese chocolate maker Arcádia, whose new labels and packaging were designed by artists managed by Sandro.

The new chocolates are produced in the shape of tablets and come in glass bottles with cork tops, reminiscent of old medicine bottles. Package illustrations were created by Madhouse artists. The medication theme has been chosen by Madhouse artists as a form of irony, in an attempt to fight the stigma and break existing taboos about mental illness.

Sandro Resende dreams of extending this project to other areas of the country: ‘There’s great interest in this project; therefore, I believe it makes sense to take it to other locations, outside the capital.’

For now, the founders are working on new partnerships and projects for the near future. A magazine, a radio station, new partnerships with bands and the opening of two additional facilities, including a ceramics production site where people who are still hospitalised will be able to work. ‘Employment opportunities for mental patients are scarce, which is why we’re working in this area.’

The project was founded by the P28 association, which manages Pavilion 31 of the Lisbon Psychiatric Hospital. It appears at a time when one fifth of the Portuguese population suffers from mental illness and Portugal is the fifth European Union country with the highest number of cases of mental illnesses, the most common of which are anxiety and depression (data from Health at a Glance 2018, a report produced by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development – OECD).

Average waiting times at the National Health Service are 6 months for a psychiatry consultation and 5 months for a psychology consultation. A private psychiatry consultation costs 75-120 euros; a psychotherapy consultation costs 60-100 euros. A consultation at the Madhouse costs 30 euros and is booked directly.

The founders of the Madhouse

Sandro Resende
Born in Lisbon, Sandro Resende completed a Degree in Painting at the Lisbon School of Fine Arts and a Painting Course at the Ricardo Espírito Santo Foundation Institute for Arts and Crafts. Sandro Resende works for the Lisbon Psychiatric Hospital Centre as the manager of P31, an artistic expression and rehabilitation facility where a widely publicised collaborative project was developed with several renowned artists, namely Jeff Koons and Pedro Cabrita Reis. Before managing P31, Sandro Resende worked as artistic director of Raw Art exhibitions at P27 and P28, also part of the Hospital Centre known as Júlio de Matos. At Espaço3, Sandro Resende took contemporary art to the Alegro Alfragide Shopping Centre and created exhibition venue “Contentores” (Containers) at the Alcântara Docks, a project shown at the Liverpool Tate Gallery.

José Azevedo
A professor at the Portuguese Institute of Photography since 1988 and monitor at the Lisbon Psychiatric Hospital Centre, José Azevedo manages training courses in photography and video. At Júlio de Matos, José Azevedo submitted designs for Pavilions 27 and 28, and was the co-creator of P28. José Azevedo co-authored the Surrealist Painters Catalogue and “Portadores da Luz” (“Torchbearers”) together with the Paralympic Teams that participated in the Sidney (2000) and Greece (2004) Olympic Games.

June 2019 – Corpcom – Gold & Silver Awards.
Lusophone Creativity Awards received by Corpcom – Gold Award for PR – Public Relations Campaign Efficacy; and Silver Award for PR – Corporate Social/Environmental Responsibility.

Honour Mentions
Abril de 2019 – Ministry of Health – Recognition of twenty years of work at the Lisbon Psychiatric Hospital Centre (CHPL), where Sandro Resende and José Azevedo founded Pavilion 28.

Contact information
Rua do Grilo 135, Lisboa
Facebook - @manicomio.portugal
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Rua do Grilo 135, Lisboa
Facebook - @manicomio.portugal
Instagram -