For Any Guelmann, a Brooklyn-based senior maker specialist at Etsy, artistic exploration is a passion that extends beyond her professional world. She’s an experienced solo traveler who prefers seeking out educational, creative outlets in lieu of “the big red bus and tour guide.”
“I always get the audio tour at the cathedral or the museum,” she told Travel + Leisure. “I’m really interested in learning the story behind the things you’re looking at when you travel.”
When a colleague introduced her to VAWAA, a startup that facilitates vacation experiences in artist studios around the world, Guelmann was intrigued. When she discovered that one of the vacations listed on the site was fileteado, or traditional artistic drawing in Buenos Aires, with master Alfredo Genovese, it seemed more like fate: She’d wanted to learn the art form for years, but hadn’t been able to find a class, let alone a master artist, to guide her.
“It’s hard to find something that you can’t learn or take a class on in New York City—but fileteado was one of those things,” she said. Over the course of a few days in Buenos Aires, not only did Guelmann learn the basics of the craft she so admired, but Genovese also invited her to contribute a few brush strokes to a commissioned piece.
“There’s a sign by Master Genovese out there that has tiny blue shadows that I painted,” she said.
For travelers eschewing traditional tourist activities, the startup offers intimate, customized studio time with creatives around the world—a fresh take on finding local perspectives. For artists, the experience elevates their work to an international stage.
Katja Špiler, a ceramics artist, has hosted three guests in her small studio in the picturesque village of Križe, Slovenia. Špiler enjoys that, through VAWAA, she can go about her everyday work in the small town and still reap the benefits of cross-cultural exposure.
“The world comes to me,” she told T+L.
No two experiences have been alike. Špiler’s first guest, Juliet Imbert from Paris, had a very specific, ambitious project in mind when she arrived: In a five-day stay, Imbert crafted a small vase in the shape of a doll’s face. A professional fashion designer, she now uses the piece in many of her photo shoots.
Alexandre Mamane, another of Špiler’s guests from France, had a completely different approach to his stay: Coming from a scientific background, he found himself drawn to clay as a medium, and approached his project with an air of experimentalism and a technical eye.
VAWAA founder Geetika Agrawal says the inspiration for the company came from a personal need.
“I love to travel and engage with locals, and I’m a creative myself,” she said. One day while traveling in Indonesia, Agrawal stumbled upon a jewelry designer crafting silver pieces by hand. “I wanted to hang out and make jewelry with her, but it was my second to last day. I thought to myself, what if I knew about her before?”
A typical experience includes anywhere from 10-36 hours of studio time over the course of three to six days. The cost of the trip doesn’t typically include accommodations or transportation unless an artist’s studio is located in a particularly remote region, such as the natural cloth-dyeing vacation with Vietnamese artist Vu Thao. Prices vary, but typically begin around a couple hundred dollars. Agrawal says that the majority of the cost goes directly to the artist, studio time and tools, plus a small service fee.
Agrawal also explains that VAWAA experiences are not intended for groups larger than two.
“This makes it less intimidating for the artists. Their art is their livelihood,” she said. “Guests are simply introduced into their everyday life and routine, without taking too much time away from their work.”
Agrawal personally vets each artist through her own travels. Not all of the vacations available on the site concentrate on “traditional” forms of art in the most literal sense: While visitors can learn a local craft, such as Japanese Ikebana (flower arrangement) or calligraphy, there are also a number of out-of-the-box experiences, such as this music production vacation in Uruguay.
Ultimately, the vacations leave lasting impressions on both artist and guest.
“The experience of learning fileteado didn’t stay in the studio,” said Guelmann. “VAWAA was a revelation for me—a whole new level of travel. You can actually visit someone who produces something beautiful and historical. You can go inside their universe and learn something.”
Now, Guelmann adds, when she visits a market or craft shop while traveling, she finds herself curiously looking around for the artist behind the counter.<?
Imbert, too, took away more from her vacation with Špiler than the doll-faced vase; the two have formed an enduring friendship and hope to collaborate on future projects together.
VAWAA is currently in nine countries and offers 26 vacation experiences. Agrawal has grand visions for the year-old company’s future, including an expanding roster of artists and cities, artist-to-artist collaborations and events, and multilingual experiences. (Currently, vacations are only available for travelers and artists who speak English.)
“The end goal for VAWAA is to create an extraordinary community of travelers and artists who are international, well-traveled and interested in adding beauty to the world,” said Agrawal.