Matchmaking for a Muse with Geetika Agrawal and VAWAA

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VAWAA founder Geetika Agrawal

Exploring culture is one of the most exciting parts of traveling, but wouldn’t you love to see the local arts and crafts up close and personal? Here’s where Vacation with An Artist, VAWAA, comes in. VAWAA provides a platform where vacationers get to meet, interact and learn from artists worldwide as part of their travels.

Several years ago, Geetika Agrawal, herself an arts and culture aficionado, wrapped up her life as a creative professional in New York and traveled to 12 countries in three continents to network with artists and build her website. The website currently hosts 112 artists in 27 countries. With VAWAA, you can try everything from Japanese calligraphy to mandala weaving with veteran artists. VAWAA curates several artists and their distinct art forms worldwide. In this interview with SEEMA, Agrawal, designer, founder, and CEO of Vacation with An Artist, VAWAA, explains her journey of building her dream project, the challenges she faced in building it and how it is helping people around the world.

Tell us about yourself. Where did you grow up and how did you come to develop such a deep interest in visual arts and a passion to preserve them?

I’m a designer, founder, and CEO of Vacation with An Artist, VAWAA. I was born in India, grew up in New Delhi and went to architecture school in Ahmedabad. And that is where I developed a deep interest in visual arts as part of my college curriculum, where I studied everything from furniture designing, graphic designing, ceramics, textiles, wood working, metal working, photography, filmmaking, and pretty much every art form you can imagine.

As a design student, I spent my summers working with craftspeople and India. And these experiences really taught me the value of crafts and their direct connection with natural materials. The artists and masters behind them and how they inspire humanity. I’ve always believed that artists are the fingerprints of humanity who shape our culture in real-time.

The entire experience was very enriching and transformational. And over the past 20 years, this is how I have explored different cultures through traveling and learning from various master artists and craftspeople. In the process, I have explored my own creativity and have been inspired by it.

During these experiences, I observed the existential threat these cultures face due to the lack of apprentices and aging artists. And that’s where I took it upon myself to help preserve their crafts.

Over the past few years, I have observed a huge cultural shift. We’ve all realized that we exist to do more than just work; we are more fulfilled when we live a purposeful life aligned with our passions and values. People are looking for ways to reimagine themselves. They’re seeking guides and creative experiences to explore and learn new things. However, it is tough to find artists, as most of them do not have an online presence, and it is also hard to get access to them and convince them to teach. So, connecting people to artists and providing a platform for artists to share their knowledge really became my mission. And that’s how VAWAA was born.

Somewhere in 2015, you took off to travel for 12 months. At the same time, you also conceived the idea for VAWAA. Why travel?

In 2015, I lived in New York and worked as a creative director for a global digital agency called RGA. Based on my personal experiences of working with artists worldwide and learning new skills, I already had this dream of wanting to build VAWAA. So, I took a year off from work to build it. The best way I could dream of building VAWAA was by traveling to different countries and finding the artists in each of these countries, because it’s really hard to find them online as they don’t have a digital presence.

Along the way, I also explored different cultures, documented them, and built, developed, and launched the site. So, I would say I was traveling for inspiration for my project and to focus away from my job and to find the time to get inspired to take risks. Just logistically, I needed to find the first set of artists. And this was the most effective way.

It was a wonderful year of travel; I went to 12 countries across the world. I covered three continents, Europe, Asia, and South America. And I spent a month in each country and found these artists and built VAWAA on the road.

I think just being able to travel and build this gave me a higher appetite for risk and a higher dose of inspiration to build something like VAWAA. And I don’t know if I would have been able to build something like this had I been just sitting in New York. So, I believe travel is, as always, a great inspiration to do anything.

When I think about VAWAA and reflect on my experiences attempting immersive travel, what immediately strikes me is how tough it must be to source a) artists; who are b) willing to spend time and energy on dilettante travelers who are essentially learning their life’s work while on vacation; at c) the kind of places travelers like to go to.

How did you overcome the sourcing challenges in the initial stages of VAWAA?

It is absolutely hard to find artists, but also artists who would want to teach. On top of that, we were also looking for the right kind of master artist who had the depth of knowledge to be able teach people from around the world at all levels; from beginner to advanced.

So, in each country, by walking around and talking to people on the ground, I would meet these makers in their studios and explain what I’m doing. I would also shoot videos with them. And I was doing all this by myself. So, it was quite a lot to accomplish in a month in each country, but it was also super fun. Once the year ended and word about VAWAA began to spread, it was easier to source artists as we also had a way on the site for artists from around the world to apply.

So, if any artist wants to become part of VAWAA, they can go to our website and can apply to be a VAWAA artist.

What sort of people usually take up a vacation with an artist? How have they responded?

Anyone can go on a vacation with an artist. We’ve designed it to be inclusive for people of all age groups, all demographics, all countries, all skills, and interest levels. So, people who usually go on a vacation with an artist are looking to get inspiration and be creative. They may be burnt out at work and want to explore their passions, or they are in their mid-life and looking to reimagine their lives. Or maybe they are artists themselves who wish to expand on their skill sets. Or they are offered creative getaways once a year from their jobs as a way for personal growth. We also see empty-nesters who have time on their hands. They can finally spend time on themselves, traveling and exploring, and pursuing all their life’s passions because they now have more time and money.

People have just responded so well; we have 98% five-star reviews. If you look on the site, people have described the experience we provide as transformational, as a once-in-a-lifetime experience. It completely expanded how they think about themselves.

Where are you in your career now? Is VAWAA your main focus, or are you working towards anything else?

VAWAA is a hundred percent focus. I’m working towards helping the company grow, helping expand our mission, adding new artists, and just serving more people who are choosing to go on a vacation with an artist.

Tell us about the Old Girls Club. How does the Old Girls Club work? What’s been its impact so far?

The OGC community is a group of women in tech and venture. The goal of this community is for women to come together and support each other just the way men have done so in the past to create opportunities for other men.

But it’s not about prestige or status. It’s truly about coming together in sisterhood and really helping each other to work at a personal level, and help with the issues we’re dealing with, emotionally or anything else. Anyone can join OGC; they can get a referral invite or go to the website and sign up, and then there’s a screening process. Then you get invited if you are selected.

Its impact has been incredible. There are women who have been able to fundraise for their companies, hire people, get advice on whatever aspects of the company they need help with, and even share personal problems and get support for things like fertility and relationship issues. Apart from the support, It also gives a chance to hang out with other smart women. So, we’re building a local social community as well.