contact us

Use the form on the right to contact us.

You can edit the text in this area, and change where the contact form on the right submits to, by entering edit mode using the modes on the bottom right.

34 Oostelijke Handelskade
Amsterdam, NH, 1019 BM

+31 (0)20 2629913

Beautiful Distress was founded on the concept that there is a great deal of mental suffering, that not enough people are aware of this and that not enough is done to stop it.

The Foundation uses art in an attempt to open up the world of psychiatry and battle the stigma attached to it.

Why art? Beautiful Distress believes that art is pre-eminently capable of articulating and depicting the human condition




This Artist Residency in a Hospital Is Helping Combat Mental Health Stigma

Stichting Beautiful Distress

This Artist Residency in a Hospital Is Helping Combat Mental Health Stigma



SEP 27TH, 2017 5:11 PM

  • Marijn Ottenhof's studio at King's County Hospital. Photo by Marijn Ottenhof. Courtesy of Marijn Ottenhof.

Dutch artist Marijn Ottenhof wasn’t expecting to spend her summer in a mental health hospital. But when Fleur Kuypers invited her to participate in Beautiful Distress, a residency located within the Behavioral Health Center at Brooklyn’s Kings County Hospital, she immediately accepted.

Just weeks after Kuypers extended the invitation, Ottenhof quit her job in Amsterdam and settled into a room located in a mostly empty tower on the hospital’s campus in the Prospect Lefferts Gardens neighborhood of Brooklyn. Her spare quarters were just a short walk from the R-Building, where patients are treated for mental illnesses ranging from depression to schizophrenia to substance addiction. There, she would spend three months living, working, and interacting with the hospital’s mental health patients.

Ottenhof doesn’t have a background in psychiatry, but she is interested in human behavior—“what we perceive as normal behavior, as abnormal, or what is unsettling to us,” she told me over coffee in her temporary Kings County studio last month. Her performance-based practice often explores how humans relate to each other and their surroundings. She hoped an extended stay at Kings County would deepen her understanding of the social barriers that can make us feel alienated or powerless.

Ottenhof is one of eight artists to have undertaken the Beautiful Distress residency since its launch in 2014, when Kuypers and Wilco Tuinebreijer, a psychiatrist, founded it on the basis that “there is a great deal of mental suffering, that not enough people are aware of this, and that too little is done to offer relief,” as its mission statement reads.

The duo sees art as a tool that can tackle these issues by raising awareness and cultivating empathy around a subject that’s heavily stigmatized.

  • Sketch made by Marijn Ottenhof during the Beautiful Distress residency at King's County Hospital. Photo by Marijn Ottenhof. Courtesy of Marijn Ottenhof.

According to a recent report from the World Health Organization, depression is now the most prevalent illness worldwide, affecting more people than either cancer or heart disease. What’s more, one in four people will face psychiatric illness at least once in their life. Despite the ubiquity of mental illness, however, “it’s not surrounded by the same kind of acceptance and solidarity as other widespread diseases like cancer are,” Kuypers explains over Skype, sitting next to Tuinebreijer in Amsterdam.

“Mental health patients are often discriminated against, and excluded from society,” Tuinebreijer adds. “We believe artists have the ability, through their work, to communicate the difficulties that patients face in a different, more positive light.”

Tuinebreijer’s interest in the intersection of art and mental health goes back many years, to when he was a child dreaming about a future as either a psychiatrist or an artist. “I decided to become a psychiatrist because it pays the bills,” he chuckles. But his interest in art never waned, and he baked it into his psychiatric practice. “As Fleur says, one image can say more than 1,000 words,” he notes. “Sometimes I send patients to an exhibition or give them a DVD, because the therapy is not reaching them in the way that art can.”

It wasn’t until some 20 years ago, however, that he became involved with what is believed to be the world’s first art residency program within a psychiatric hospital. Called Fifth Season, it was introduced at the Altrecht Mental Health Institute, a clinic located in the region of Utrecht in the Netherlands in 1998.

Three years ago, Tuinebreijer and Kuypers took it upon themselves to expand the concept internationally after Tuinebreijer gave a lecture at Kings County. The visit jump-started a conversation with Dr. Joseph Merlino, formerly Director of Psychiatry and Deputy Executive Director at the hospital, about setting up a similar residency program there. While Merlino was supportive (“he is also very interested in the arts and psychiatry, and the emancipation of patients,” says Tuinebreijer), the hospital’s board of directors wasn’t so easily convinced.

“It was very difficult to convince them that the project was interesting, positive, and not risky for the hospital,” Tuinebreijer explains. Among the board’s initial concerns were that the program could disrupt daily procedures, breach rules around patient privacy, and damage the hospital legally in some way.

  • Annaleen Louwes, Black and White and (some) kind of blue or I only want to be happy. © Annaleen Louwes. Courtesy of the artist.

  • Annaleen Louwes, Black and White and (some) kind of blue or I only want to be happy. © Annaleen Louwes. Courtesy of the artist.

This cautiousness wasn’t surprising: When the discussions began, the hospital was still battling negative press related to the 2008 death of a patient in the psychiatric emergency waiting room. The hospital, one of few mental health providers for Brooklyn’s poor population, was promptly investigated for neglect. The tragedy stimulated sweeping reforms—and greater discretion—across the hospital, especially in its Behavioral Health Center.

Beyond logistical and legal concerns, however, Tuinebreijer notes that the hospital also wanted to safeguard against patient exploitation by outsiders: in this case, artists. “The staff is protective of patients, because they are also sensitive to how excluded and discriminated against they are,” he explains.

Tuinebreijer and Kuypers had already designed the Beautiful Distress program to ensure that residents would be respectful of patients—both in interactions within the hospital, and in artistic responses to those experiences. They proposed that artists be selected for the quality of their work and its sensitivity to social issues. Artists would also be required to sign a document agreeing to respect patients’ privacy.

By 2015, Tuinebreijer and Kuypers, with support from Merlino, convinced the board to bring Beautiful Distress to the hospital. Annaleen Louwes, a well-known photographer, would kick off the residency. During the time she spent at Kings County, she observed group therapy sessions—or at least, those in which all patients felt comfortable with her presence—and took portraits of those who offered to sit for her.

The resulting series, “Black and white and (some) kind of blue or I only want to be happy,” coalesces images of patients—some staring straight at the camera, others lying in bed—with shots of hospital details like houseplants, blue plastic chairs, and doctor’s gloves.

Kuypers remembers the hospital staff recounting a particularly memorable experience from Louwes’s stay. “No one had been able to reach one patient: not the doctors, not the nurses, not the art therapist…nobody,” she recalls. “But Annaleen had been able to open him up. It impressed them.”

  • Annaleen Louwes, Black and White and (some) kind of blue or I only want to be happy. © Annaleen Louwes. Courtesy of the artist.

When I ask what it was about Louwes and her work that the patient connected with, Kuypers speculated: “She asked him if she could take his photo. I think the fact that someone was interested enough to take his photo was a factor,” she says. “Also the fact that she is not part of the system—just another person—probably helped, too.”

After the hospital’s positive reaction to Louwes, Beautiful Distress invited more residents. The program is now three years old, and Ottenhof is its eighth resident.

Like all Beautiful Distress artists, Ottenhof was provided an apartment and studio in the hospital, and access to group therapy sessions attended by mental health patients for a span of three months. Artists are not required to engage with patients directly while there—Ottenhof recalls hearing about one resident who spent his time shooting the abandoned nether regions of the hospital at night for a film project—but Ottenhof, like Louwes, chose to interact.  

She spent most of her days observing the group sessions, which ranged in focus from drama therapy and journaling to discussing coping mechanisms and medication management. Over time, her focus became issues surrounding anxiety. “I thought it would be an interesting emotion to focus on, in light of what’s going on in the world,” she says. “Anxiety affects so many of us, but it’s such an intangible emotion—so I thought, ‘How can I make it more visible?’”

Ottenhof interviewed several patients about their anxieties, and gave them a ball of blue clay to play with or use like a stress ball while speaking to her. The resulting bits of matter bear deep fingerprints and dents where palms pressed hard into the soft clay. One patient rolled the material into a long strand, then twisted it into a looping, tightly wound knot. These vestiges of the conversations are an “imprint of that intangible feeling,” says Ottenhof, “a clot of condensed emotion.”

These clots, and the many issues that mental health patients face, are what Kuypers and Tuinebreijer hope to bring to light, and simultaneously destigmatize, through Beautiful Distress and its participating artists. Right now, they are in the process of establishing two additional Beautiful Distress residencies at hospitals in Belgium and Japan.

  • Annaleen Louwes, Black and White and (some) kind of blue or I only want to be happy. © Annaleen Louwes. Courtesy of the artist.

  • Annaleen Louwes, Black and White and (some) kind of blue or I only want to be happy. © Annaleen Louwes. Courtesy of the artist.

This December, they will hold a large-scale conference in Amsterdam, titled “Beautiful Distress Conference on art, mental health and stigma,” where psychiatrists, doctors, policy-makers, artists, and patients from around the world will discuss “how we can open up society to fight stigma around mental illness—and how we can find new solutions in how we can work with each other, live together, and make a better world,” says Kuypers.

While Kuypers and Tuinebreijer’s objectives are lofty, their passionate belief in art’s power to heal continually drives them toward their goals. “We’ve been working for years now with this question: Why art and psychiatry?” she continues. “And a quote from Gerhard Richter—‘Art is the highest form of hope’—always comes to mind when I consider it. Art, after all, has the power to make mental suffering visible and visceral.”

—Alexxa Gotthardt

Read More

Debat vrijdag 15 september - Nieuw Dakota

Stichting Beautiful Distress

Debat vrijdag15 september Nieuw Dakota

Naar aanleiding van HOME IS WHERE YOU FIT van MG&M Collective, een tentoonstelling over en met vluchtelingen, organiseert Nieuw Dakota op vrijdag 15 september een debat over de vraag of kunst van therapeutische waarde is voor de problematiek van vluchtelingen en nieuwkomers. Met Wilco Tuijnebreier, Hilde de Bruijn, Mosab Anzo, Gil&Moti. Gespreksleider is Katayoun Arian. De tentoonstelling is nog tot 8 oktober te zien.

Read More

7 december - Save the date

Stichting Beautiful Distress

Graag willen we u attenderen op het Beautiful Distress Symposium over kunst, psychiatrie en stigmabestrijding dat op donderdag 7 december 2017 plaatsvindt in De School te Amsterdam.

Het doel van deze dag is het uitwisselen van succesvolle initiatieven, vinden van nieuwe oplossingen en formuleren van concrete aanbevelingen om in de samenleving meer begrip en compassie te kweken voor mensen met een psychische ziekte. Het vernieuwende symposium wordt georganiseerd voor en samen met vertegenwoordigers uit alle belangengroeperingen: cliënten en hun naasten, beleidsmakers, vertegenwoordigers van de geestelijke gezondheidszorg en kunstenaars.

Het symposium is onderdeel van de Beautiful Distress Kunstmanifestatie over waanzin: een initiatief van Stichting Het Vijfde Seizoen en Stichting Beautiful Distress. Beide stichtingen hebben een artist-in-residency programma in een psychiatrische instelling. Samen met hedendaagse kunstenaars wordt een vertaling gemaakt van de wereld van de psychiatrie naar die van mensen die daar niet dagelijks mee te maken hebben. De kunstmanifestatie bestaat uit een manifest, een tentoonstelling, een symposium en diverse randprogramma’s, onder meer gericht op jongeren.

Read More

Marijn Ottenhof

Stichting Beautiful Distress

Marijn Ottenhof is de nieuwe kunstenaar die vanaf mei dit jaar zal verblijven in de kunstenaarsresidentie in Kings County. Marijn Ottenhof is een jonge kunstenaar die in haar werk bijna als een onderzoekster patronen in de samenleving, menselijk gedrag en de kunst exploreert. Enerzijds is haar benadering speels en open, anderzijds gaat haar kunst steeds over angsten en trauma’s die mensen gedurende hun leven oplopen.

Gedurende haar verblijf in New York post Marijn regelmatig op dit blog en op haar eigen Instagram account en het Instagram account van Beautful Distress.

Read More

Stigma Column 3 - Vier de verschillen!

Stichting Beautiful Distress

Welke managementgoeroe roept tegenwoordig niet op om in alle echelons van een bedrijf vrouwen aan te nemen? De gedachtegang hierachter luidt: teveel grijze mannen in eenvormige pakken zorgt voor te veel eenzijdige input en ondermijnt zo de concurrentiepositie van het bedrijf..
Zijn we dus echt op zoek naar diversiteit? Ik betwijfel het.

Read More

Radio-interview met Annaleen Louwes

Stichting Beautiful Distress

Radio-interview met Annaleen Louwes over haar verblijf in een psychiatrisch ziekenhuis in New York en de kunst die daaruit voorkwam en nu te zien is in het Dolhuys in Haarlem.

Op uitnodiging van stichting Beautiful Distress, die kunst inzet om het lijden van psychiatrische patiënten zichtbaar te maken, trok fotograaf Annaleen Louwes naar New York. Drie maanden verbleef ze in een psychiatrische inrichting, waar ze zich een indringer en outsider voelde. Tot ze bij wijze van experiment de kleuren van haar foto's omdraaide: van positief naar negatief. Daardoor worden alle huidskleuren blauw. Dit bleek de manier om elkaar te vinden. Hieruit ontstond de fototentoonstelling 'Black and white and (some) kind of blue or I only want to be happy', die nu te bezichtigen is in museum Het Dolhuys. 

Read More

'I only want to be happy'

Stichting Beautiful Distress

Door: Jenny Smets, Vrij Nederland april 2017

Koste wat het kost probeerde Annaleen Louwes door te dringen tot de patiënten in een psychiatrische inrichting. Contact maken ging maar moeizaam, totdat ze de kleur blauw introduceerde.

Het was de wanhoopskreet van een cliënt van de afdeling psychiatrie van het Kings County Hospital Center in Brooklyn NYC die bleef hangen in het hoofd van fotografe Annaleen Louwes: ‘I only want to be happy’.

Read More


Stichting Beautiful Distress

VAN 14 APR TOT 15 OKT 2017

Het Dolhuys I museum van de geest presenteert de fototentoonstelling ‘Black and white and (some) kind of blue or I only want to be happy’ van fotograaf Annaleen Louwes. De tentoonstelling omvat indringende beelden die Louwes maakte als artist-in-residence op een psychiatrie afdeling in New York. Zij was daar op uitnodiging van de stichting Beautiful Distress.


Read More


Stichting Beautiful Distress

One of the objectives of Beautiful Distress is to fight stigma. Therefore, from now on, we will publish a regular column about stigma on our site. Read the second contribution by Vos Beerthuis, psychiatrist in Amsterdam. You can find the first column by Wilco Tuinebreijer here


‘Have you ever met a normal person? And, liked it? ‘This slogan could be seen in the Netherlands in the seventies. It hasn’t lost its poignancy. Almost all of us have a screw loose. And this makes us interesting. That is, theoretically. Because in reality we don’t readily admit if there is something wrong mentally. Nowadays we are allowed to speak out on most physical illnesses. But a mental disorder is a different story. Doctors first started to describe psychiatric impediments in specialist literature. Next to come were novels, plays and movies, and peers started to share their experiences. In the past decades we saw ego documents: patients, who described their illnesses, told their stories in books and on television. But still it is quiet rare for a patient to tell the story of his or her malady in public. On Facebook I recently read the story of a student who had been diagnosed with a panic disorder.  He had to overcome a lot to dare to ask if someone else was having the same disorder.  Shame, ignorance and lack of understanding still lead to patients suffering in loneliness.

Read More


Stichting Beautiful Distress

Een van de doelstellingen van Beautiful Distress is het bestrijden van stigma’s. Daarom publiceren we regelmatig een column over stigma’s op onze site. Lees hier de tweedebijdrage van Vos Beerthuis, psychiater in Amsterdam. De eerste aflevering kunt u hier teruglezen.


'Ooit een normaal mens ontmoet? En beviel het?' Deze slogan uit de jaren '70 is nog steeds actueel. Aan bijna iedereen is immers wel een draadje los. En dat maakt ons juist interessant. In theorie dan. Want in de praktijk komen wij er niet zo makkelijk voor uit als ons iets mankeert op het geestelijk vlak. De meeste lichamelijke ziekten mogen we inmiddels hardop hebben. Maar met een geestelijke kwaal is het een ander verhaal. Eerst beschreven artsen de psychiatrische stoornissen in de vakliteratuur. Daarna volgden de romanliteratuur, toneel en film en kwamen er verslagen van naasten. De afgelopen decennia verschenen ego documenten: patiënten die zelf in boeken of op TV verslag deden van hun ziekte.

Read More

Na Nederland en de VS, nu ook Japan!

Stichting Beautiful Distress

Op uitnodiging van de Nederlandse Ambassade nemen Het Vijfde Seizoen en Beautiful Distress deel aan het forum Socially Engaged Art in Tokyo. Op de tentoonstelling daar is werk te zien uit het residency-programma van Het Vijfde Seizoen. Parallel daaraan vindt er vandaag een panel-discussie plaats: ‘Challenges of the Mind and Creativity: A Deep Look into Fifth Season of The Netherlands’ met o.a, Esther Vossen en Wilco Tuinebreijer. 

Read More