The Rise Of Art-Cations Is Elevating Conventional Vacations Into A Therapeutic Medium Of Catharsis

Growing up in a Bengali household in the 1990s, aanka shekha or drawing lessons were a quintessential rite of passage. But Gargi Sen Gupta, a Chennai-based change consultant, never quite derived any joy from the mundane lessons. Her surprise was rather justified then when she found herself picking up rocks from a stream with fifteen other strangers to create a collective artwork on a large canvas.

Today, when she looks back at the art-based retreat organised by Project Aaina in the idyllic hill station of Coorg, she realises that it was no ordinary vacation. “When we picked up those paintbrushes, we were not just painting, but rather, articulating what was going through our heads. Far removed from the gimmicks of over-crowded touristy spots, an art retreat like that truly cleanses the mind, body and soul,” she says.

Sen Gupta’s words are evocative of a larger legion of travellers seeking something more substantial from their holiday itinerary than a postcard-perfect snapshot for the ‘gram. It comes as little surprise then that art-based tourism is emerging as one of the most prominent travel trends for the year. But rather than consuming art passively at a gallery, a new wave of art-themed retreats are aiming to encourage people to reconnect with their inner selves and elevate the conventional sun-and-sand itinerary into a transformative vehicle for catharsis.

Aloha, Art-cations

For Rajvi Vats, the 24-year-old founder of Project Aaina, art retreats serve as a means for fostering holistic experiences through art and community engagement. “The purpose of this initiative is to communicate with the inner consciousness of an individual through an organic artistic process. The immersive nature of these retreats facilitates a connection with one’s inner self through consciously curated activities in the lap of the purest form of art itself: nature. An ordinary retreat then becomes a gateway for self-exploration, inviting participants to delve into different aspects of themselves and bask in the wonders of nature while connecting with a diverse community of like-minded individuals,” she shares.

Anuja Lath

So, what can one expect from the course of an average art retreat? At Aura Pottery, a Chandigarh-based ceramic learning studio, the pottery retreats offer learning sessions with global artists, yoga, meditation, nature walks, and excursions to heritage spots in the city.

Founder Anuja Lath shares, “Our biggest learning has been that it needs to be a free-flowing, non-rigid experience that allows people to learn at their own pace. The retreats often serve as a cathartic experience for our guests, and they leave feeling free, inspired and purpose-led.”

Meanwhile, some retreats are pushing the envelope further beyond trendy sip-and-paint sessions by sunset. Maria K has poured two decades of experience as a life coach and counsellor into Blássi Goa, offering a holistic roster of activities for its retreats, including conscious dance, talking therapy,
voice expression and play-shops that support strengthening self-awareness, intuition and inner resilience.

“During the pandemic, I noticed that people are in great need of human connection and are longing for natural and holistic practices to be integrated into their daily lives. This inspired me to create a safe and welcoming environment where we meet you where you are without unrealistic or harsh expectations. We will hold your hand, wipe your tears, laugh and rejoice while teaching you to accept yourself. When the time is right, we will illuminate the way for you to turn your life’s themes and experiences into something beautiful,” she shares.

Art For All

But do you have to be an artist to avail the optimal benefits of this experience? Not necessarily. Vats says, “Think of it as a journey to rediscover your creativity and connect with your inner self. We actively endorse art as a process, not a product, enabling people to reclaim their relationship with this medium.” Lath agrees and adds, “Every individual needs to acknowledge that they have an artistic side to them. Whether it is through song, dance or art a person needs a space conducive to an unfiltered expression of themselves and their creativity. Sometimes, expressing with clay, getting your hands dirty, interactions with like-minded people and spending time in a secluded environment close to nature can help acknowledge the artist within.”

With art-based retreats gaining momentum, Indian travellers are increasingly asking for more than just superficial experiences or capturing Instagram-worthy moments during their holidays, finds Vats. “There’s a growing inclination towards meaningful and fulfilling experiences that go beyond mere visual aesthetics. Our retreats cater to individuals seeking a break from the conventional touristy routes, aiming to tap into their inner creativity, find solace in nature and create lasting memories deeply rooted in personal transformation and introspection,” she says.


‘I don’t want to leave’ has unsurprisingly become a common refrain for the retreats that Maria hosts at Blássi Goa — but when they do leave, participants find that they are more grounded, energised and eager for life. “When someone first discovers their voice during our workshops, I love to see the look on their face. They go from being quiet, holding back, hiding and feeling self-conscious to being loud, proud and confident. Once the voice is allowed to be heard, it signals a transformation in every aspect of their lives,” she smiles as she signs off.

Read the full story on ELLE India’s new issue, or download your digital copy via Magzter. 

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