What oft is thought but n’er well expressed

-Alexander Pope


Alice in Wonderland, The Mona Lisa, Carmen, the Polio Vaccine – those remarkable stories, paintings, musical compositions, scientific breakthroughs, those extraordinary creative ideas, where did they originate? What kind of people brought them to completion? What compelled Lewis Carol, Leonardo Da Vinci, Tchaikovsky, Salk, not to leave an idea alone? What drove Thomas Houlon and Patty Barnes to establish and continue to nurture their brain-child SPIRIT OF THE SENSES? What drives you to explore a particular idea? I know that when I feel an idea might have potential, I can never leave it aloneI have to find a home for it.

Artist writing at desk

Culture Impresarios Thomas Houlon and Patty Barnes established that home in Spirit of the Senses – a one-of-a-kind organization exploring a vast range of ever-evolving ideas through informal gatherings – salons. Since its founding, now, almost 35 years later, Spirit of the Senses has been recognized as a Phoenix treasure and is widely known throughout the USA as a mobile meeting arena for cultural exchange: a Social Experience of Arts, Science and Culture for Curious Minds. This is indeed a seminal ongoing cultural collaborative production. I interviewed Thomas and Patty recently about Spirit of the Senses, an organization of which I have been a member for a number of years. This is indeed a remarkable, interactive, dynamic forum for an impressive array of thinkers, creators, and for the perennially curious minds of the organization’s members:

Ellen: The Spirit of the Senses continues to this day to be a full-time job – a labor of love, really, for you both. Thirty-five years later, it is firmly rooted in the Phoenix cultural scene, a production of a unique, ever-evolving collaboration between you both and the speakers and members who value this organization and all that it offers. Each salon, hosted in different informal settings, open the curtains widely to past and new energetic ideas.

Thomas: The best is always yet to come. The salons inspire new ideas and new salons. Spirit of the Senses is a collaboration of many people’s passions, curiosity, and quest for knowledge.

Patty: It is truly a labor of love. But more than that, it’s an exploration. Two important questions that drive my exploration are “Who am I?” and “Where do I find myself?” Spirit of the Senses made me start to think more about those questions and I began to use Spirit of the Senses to help me in my quest. It became a rabbit hole and has led me to meet the most fascinating people along the way. The salons are really this quest for me and I think for Thomas too.

In the early 2000’s, I began to do much more research than I had ever previously taken on, reading at least a book a week. That continues to this day. I’m never at a loss for a good book and a good topic for salons!

Ellen: Private homes are generally your settings – intimate backdrops for your theaters of the mind!

Thomas: Hosting salons at homes, makes Spirit of the Senses special. The entire city becomes a stage. The city also becomes your neighborhood.

Patty: The settings are very important. Homes and unique settings create a comfortable environment for people to interact with the presenters and with the other members … a safe space for intimate conversation and performance.