This Travel Startup Lets You Vacation with Artists from around the World

In November of 2015, Geetika Agrawal launched Vacation with an Artist (VAWAA), which is a website that offers short-term apprenticeships with artists, designers, and creatives from around the world. Through VAWAA, an art-hungry traveler can book several-day workshops with artist of their choice. These artists may include a street artist in Buenos Aires, to an ikebana master in Kyoto, and even a bamboo bicycle-maker in Bangalore, which only represent a small portion of the other artisans representing a vast array of mediums.

Geetika Agrawal came up with the idea when she was at home during a winter evening. Like many New Yorkers, wanted to escape the cold winters of home, she had to come up with a plan to strike her interest. “But I didn’t just want to sit on a beach,” she says. “I wanted a transformational travel experience—something that stimulated the creative side of my brain.”

The young creative director looked high and low for a trip that fit the bill and “settled on four days of acroyoga in the Dominican Republic,” she laughs. “But it definitely didn’t satisfy my urge for an artistic experience.” That’s when she recognized a gap in the travel industry and the mission to fill it took hold of her.
Agrawal and her business partner connect traveler and artist, suggest optimal flight routes and lodging, and generally act as guides through the experience. “Luckily, I’ve now been to all of these locations and spent time with all of these artists,” Agrawal says. “So organizing the logistics comes easily to me.”

Years after her acroyoga adventure in the D.R, Agrawal has become what you can consider an expert at finding artists eager to share their skills. Agrawal took matters into her own hands and had a year-long hiatus from her role as a creative director at powerhouse ad agency R/GA to explore the world. Her goal: to locate master creatives renowned in their local communities.

She spent one month in each of 12 countries—Czech Republic, Slovenia, Croatia, Turkey, Malaysia, Vietnam, India, Japan, Argentina, Uruguay, Chile, and Peru—and landed back in New York with a network of artists skilled in bespoke shoemaking, ceramics, rattan weaving, sacred movement and healing, natural dyeing, calligraphy, woodworking, felting, tango, and more.

Today, VAWAA offers apprenticeships ranging from $300 to $3,000. Those price tags consist of a fee set by each artist (which includes the cost for materials), along with a portion covering VAWAA’s operating expenses. The experiences range from four to seven days, and from 20 to 70 hours.

To date, VAWAA has organized projects with 32 artists and an ever-growing pool of travelers. Agrawal’s clients are “tired of the typical tourist experience that’s packaged and fed to them,” she says. Instead, they’re looking at vacation time as an opportunity to “find inspiration, challenge themselves, and connect with a passion for creativity and local craft.”

The apprenticeships are often used as different tools in the client’s life. Some treat the trips as an ephemeral diversion. They come home with creative inspiration and the bounty they made (a felted scarf, a lacquer painting, a pair of leather brogues) during their stay. But that is where the experience ends. For others, though, the excursions have unlocked new paths and projects.

In one case, two VAWAA tourists discovered a passion for natural dyeing through a vacation with Vietnamese designer Vu Thao, “so they’re starting a whole brand around it,” Agrawal says. In another, French couple Franck and Christophe embarked on several-day stint with Kimiko Yamamoto, an artist trained in ikebana, the ancient art of Japanese flower arrangement. After the trip, they used the skills they’d honed to design the interior of a chic Parisian guesthouse.

This past December, a musician from New York apprenticed with Uruguayan music producer Francisco Lapetina. The rendezvous resulted in a collaborative album by the two men, slated for release later this month.

Although VAWAA has begun to gain more popularity, unfortunately it has yet to drum up enough business for Agrawal to give up her day job and devote her full attention to the tourism start-up.

Airbnb recently launched its “Experiences” initiative, which encourages users with specific skills to host workshops and tours. One such event came in the form of a tour of Parisian street art with the street artist Shiry, culminating in the collaborative creation of a wheat-paste mural. However, Agrawal is determined in setting VAWAA apart from the competition by relieving artists of logistical responsibilities and pressures, so that they can focus on individualized instruction for each traveler.

 

She explains the importance of the VAWAA experience:

“That’s the biggest benefit of not traveling as a group with a fixed itinerary,” she says. “It allows us to create experiences for travelers that are more spontaneous, more personal, and based on the relationship you end up having with the artist.”

This week, Agrawal plans to introduce a new group of artists from Spain to VAWAA’s community. They include a sign-maker and a photographer from the Canary Islands. Soon after, she’ll add creatives from Scandinavia, Portugal, and Morocco to her roster.

If you are a person who is open to a new experience, VAWAA may be just the thing for you. Keep a look out for opportunities to join the apprenticeship experience.

Ladi Akande

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