Dream Vacations for Creatives Offered by VAWAA

Updated on January 14, 2024 by Meg Pier

Providing dream vacations for creatives is a calling for Geetika Agrawal, an award-winning designer and founder and CEO of Vacation with An Artist. VAWAA is an innovative start-up that enables everyday people to apprentice with master artists and makers around the world.

A native of New Delhi, India, Geetika’s brain-child is driven by one goal: helping people lead purposeful and passionate lives through harnessing the power of truth, curiosity, creativity, and human connection.

Dream vacations for creatives Geetika Agrawal, the founder VAWAA.
Geetika Agrawal, the founder VAWAA.

Geetika has been fascinated by arts and culture since her youth, and experienced at an early age how inspiring and transformational it is to work with master craftspeople. As part of her design studies, she spent her summers working with Indian artisans in Rajasthan and Tamil Nadu, and got exposure to a range of disciplines including furniture designing, ceramics, textiles, wood and metal working, photography, and filmmaking, to name a few. Geetika also saw first-hand that cultural traditions and heritage were facing an existential threat as standard-bearers aged and systems were not in place to train a new generation in age-old techniques and styles.

Dream Vacations for Creatives Inspired by Artistic Immersion

That foundational period in Geetika’s life was the spring-board to a design career that has spanned a 2005 game development gig with Walt Disney Imagineering, Research & Development in L.A. to her role from 2013 - 2017 as Creative Director of ad agency R/GA in New York. A constant throughout her professional life has been continually refreshing her own creativity by exploring different cultures through travel and learning from various master artists and craftspeople.

Dream vacations for creatives Geetika Agrawal, the founder VAWAA, working on fabric
Meeting textile designer Jigisha Unnu in Ahmedabad, India to discuss the structure for her VAWAA apprenticeship.

Geetika’s cultural and artistic immersions and discussing them with other like-minded people prompted many realizations for her. Two chief take-aways were catalytic for her. First, there is a need to preserve the wisdom and knowledge of heritage crafts artisans. Just as importantly, Geetika realized there is a market of people who want and need and will pay for the opportunity to soak up the know-how behind hand-made crafts.

Those epiphanies led Geetika to found VAWAA after a year-long R & D mission that took her to 12 countries across three continents. On her travels, she met the artists who would become VAWAA’s first mentors to creatives seeking their dream vacations. I know you’ll enjoy this conversation with Geetika about her inspired calling as a cultural match-maker.

Joy of Creating

Meg: Can you recall one or two of your earliest or most profound experiences of making art or engaging in a craft, and what the impact or key take-away was for you?

Geetika: Yes, I think I was 8 years old. I created a scaled model of what a city welfare center should look like using clay, paint, cardboard, and so on. The model was twice my size and had probably taken me a few weeks to make. I remember feeling alive – a full body experience, messy and colorful – to be immersed in imagination bringing ideas to life. There were no rules or limits. It was perhaps the beginning of when I understood the joy of creating. I believe it is one of our greatest gifts. We are all born with it – we just need to find our own tools to express it and share the immense beauty and imagination that resides within us with the world.

Guest during her Mini apprenticeship with master Gee's Bend Quilters Loretta and Marlene in Alabama, USA.
Guest Halcyon during her Mini apprenticeship with master Gee's Bend Quilters Loretta and Marlene in Alabama, USA. Image credit: VAWAA

The second profound experience was learning how to make brass lamps in Thanjavur, a city in South India well known for artistic brass lamps since 10th century AD. Nearly 200 craftspeople from 50 families are engaged in the craft in this city. The artisans produce lamps of various shapes, sizes and designs. The enormous ones dwarf the craftspeople with their golden magnificence and the tiny ones bring a touch of the divine into the most humble home.

It was life changing to immerse myself in the city, its artisans, their craft and their day to day life for a few weeks while learning the craft. No book, film, talk or class could have provided me this level of connection with history and humanity. After all, art is a metaphor for being human. It is how we've expressed ourselves – from the cave paintings that tell our stories to the objects we crafted for our functional use or decoration. Engaging in craft to me is engaging with humanity.

Seeking Something Bigger is the Key to VAWAA Dream Vacations

Meg: I personally see VAWAA as offering dream vacations for creatives. More generally, I see VAWAA as epitomizing the concept of "experience," a term I feel is vastly over-used in the travel industry. How do you define "experience" generally, as well as in the context of both travel and creating?

Dream Vacations | Japanese Master Calligrapher Chikako in Kyoto, Japan.
Japanese Master Calligrapher Chikako in Kyoto, Japan. Image credit: VAWAA

Geetika: Words come and go in popular culture, usually driven by marketing trends, so I don't necessarily attach myself to any definitions. I believe the word "experience" got popularized as an antidote to our obsession with "things". It was an easy way to communicate that "things" bring temporary or surface level happiness, versus "experiences" have the power to bring deeper, transformational and more long lasting fulfillment. Unfortunately, marketers found a way to stretch its use to differentiate every moment or product. I don't blame them. It is a limitation of language. One word cannot really capture the depth of an "experience" and its impact on us. It also tells us that we can engage with limitless "experiences", each with merit.

For me, and what we strive for at VAWAA in the context of travel and creating, is the idea of looking inwards and seeking something bigger than us – to push our imagination and understanding – and become better.

Apprenticeship Brings Us Closer to Our North Star

Meg: You've said that while working with craftspeople as a design student in India that you observed the existential threat that cultures face due to the lack of apprentices and aging artists. This is so true, and the decline of the apprenticeship model seems to be a step backward for humanity. What does the term "apprenticeship" mean to you generally and could you envision it becoming re-adopted?

Geetika: "Apprenticeship" to me is the simple idea of mentorship. My colleague Kat articulated it beautifully in this blog. I'm going to paraphrase her. Once upon a time, apprenticeships were commonplace, a rite of passage for anyone interested in practicing a craft. It was very different from today's often highly theoretical systems of education. Instead, knowledge seekers were completely involved from their first day, working alongside the craft master. It was verbal, practical, and undocumented. An apprentice was a vessel, receiving all the secrets and knowledge of the trade.

Dream Vacations | Native Fiber Arts and Basketry with Nancy Basket in Walhalla, South Carolina.
Native Fiber Arts and Basketry with Nancy Basket in Walhalla, South Carolina.

Today we're used to information always being at our fingertips. With the way technology accelerates, modern life is increasingly fast-paced, so the traditional model of apprenticeship has fallen behind. But our need for mentors to help us navigate, learn, and be inspired hasn't changed. In fact, as we realize that the modern lifestyle is not serving us, we need mentors to guide us. A good mentor can support you in many ways, whether through inspiration, encouragement, or skills. Even a few days with a mentor can bring us closer to our north star. So, I believe that the "apprentice" model could benefit society and be shaped to fit the current times.

At VAWAA, we believe artists are the best mentors. And an "apprenticeship" or a "VAWAA" with them for a few days of learning and exploring can be deeply inspiring.

VAWAA Dream Vacations for Creatives Fueled by Curiosity

Meg: I came across a description of your mission as seeking to "unlock profound human experiences that promote curiosity, deepen human connections, and preserve time-honored wisdom." This is very much my own motivation, so this resonates with me quite a bit. Can you share how VAWAA experiences accomplish these objectives?

Learning the Art of Karakami in Shiga, Japan from master printmaker Takuma Noda.
Learning the Art of Karakami in Shiga, Japan from master printmaker Takuma Noda.

Geetika: They say curiosity is the mother of invention. In fact, curiosity leads to creativity. Humans are curious by nature. So when everything is predictable, there is no room for spontaneity, discovery, nor making something our own. And that is why no two VAWAAs are the same and why we let each studio session unfold organically between the artist and the guest. There are no set itineraries, no rules on what you can learn, things you can explore. We create a safe and personalized space by curating artists who are masters of their craft; not only are they willing to teach and guide you one-on-one, they are also happy to let you experiment and lead with curiosity.

Rebecca Rose, a VAWAA guest and founder of vintage clothing store Preloved explains her experience:

I had planned a trip to France and found Andrea’s textile printing experience on the VAWAA website, and it seemed perfect for me, calling to me - and it was!

Dream vacations rebecca andrea in France
Image credit: Rebecca

I always enjoy traveling alone and meeting new people, learning about different cultures, and acquiring new skills - and VAWAA made all this possible. Upon arrival in Bayonne, I was a little nervous. There was a considerable age difference between textile designer Andrea and me, I thought there might be a language barrier, and I had decided to stay in her home instead of a hotel so if it was awkward - there was no escape.

When I arrived at the train station I got my first happy surprise - no language barrier! Andrea was British, and although Spanish is my first language, I feel just as comfortable speaking English - so we got to talking straight away! Andrea took me to her beautiful home, where I met her family, her husband Andrew, her daughters Grace and Hannah, and their pup Scott. From Day 1, I felt super comfortable and at ease with all of them; when you share passions and common goals, everything seems to fall into place.

We spent four days in Andrea’s studio learning how to upcycle textiles using different fabric dyeing techniques. We started using small squares of fabric Andrea had at home, then went to a “kilo shop” to get vintage pieces that needed a little extra love. This was her special treat for me since I told her what I did and why I was interested in up cycling and fabric dyeing.

VAWAA apprentices rebecca and andrea in France.
VAWAA apprentice Rebecca with textile designer Andrea in France. Image credit: Rebecca

Despite our age and cultural differences, Andrea and I clicked over our love of art, nature, and fabric. We worked long hours in her studio every day and then went out for fun! We went to an Indian restaurant with her husband one night, to San Sebastian with one of her friends - who was also really into vintage clothing and had amazing style. We also went to Biarritz for wine and pizza; never a dull moment!

Handpicked Curation of Master Artists

Meg: VAWAA offers experiences with 126 artists in 27 countries. What is your criteria for selecting artists/teachers to work with? Do you have an "audition" experience with each of them?

Geetika: We believe there are thousands of artists, makers, and craftspeople in the world who have a wealth of knowledge to share. However, the world only knows about a few because they are spread across the globe, and aren't always easy to discover online. We want to find hidden masters and create access to learn from them. We select artists that represent the diversity of global arts and culture, have the highest level of craftsmanship, and a genuine connection to local culture. They also believe in sharing knowledge and align with our values of promoting curiosity, creativity and connection.

Dream vacations for creatives | Guest Jen with her Teachers, Hosts and Friends - The master quilters of Gee's Bend.
Guest Jen with her Teachers, Hosts and Friends - The master quilters of Gee's Bend. Image Credit: VAWAA

We have a very hand picked curation and vetting process where we look at each artist's work, their studio, and personality alignment. We also help each artist in designing the experience and provide them guidance at every step as they onboard. It is a very personal relationship with each artist and we put a lot of care and love into it.

VAWAA Dream Vacations Span Wide Spectrum of Crafts

Meg: VAWAA offers experiences with artists who work in Ceramics, Culinary, Fiber & Textiles, Floral Design, Jewelry, Leatherwork, Metal Crafts, Mind and Body, Music, Dance, Theater, Painting & Illustration, Paper Crafts, Photography & Film, Printmaking, Sculpture, Tattoo, Wood & Furniture Crafts, and Writing. I also saw on the VAWAA website diverse experiences that include sacred adornment, regenerative beekeeping, cultural food preservation and street art.

How did you identify the different disciplines you offer experiences in and are there a couple that you engaged in yourself that yielded a particularly surprising or meaningful result?

Native Fiber Arts and Basketry with Nancy Basket in Walhalla, South Carolina.
Native Fiber Arts and Basketry with Nancy Basket in Walhalla, South Carolina.

Geetika: Yes, it is a wide spectrum. That's the beauty of craft. It touches us everyday in our living spaces, body and environment so the disciplines are kind of endless. We started with some of the standard ones like Ceramics, Textiles, Photography, but also Calligraphy, Rattan and Bharatanatyam that represent global crafts and artforms. Overtime, we added more emerging categories like Beekeeping and Food Preservation as people are developing a deeper connection with land and food. We want to curate diverse artforms that give us a wide variety of ways to engage with the world.

I think I've engaged in all these crafts in some way or another over the last 20 years. I also traveled for a year to 12 countries across 3 continents finding artists and curating the first few VAWAA experiences in person. Since then I've done quite a few of them – Photojournalism with Manoocher, Perfume Making with Persephenie, Painting with Beverly and more. Each one opened me up to new ideas and skills.

Dream vacations | My first attempt at making perfume during a VAWAA with Persephenie.
My first attempt at making perfume during a VAWAA with Persephenie. Image Credit: VAWAA

For example, I was drawn to perfume making with Persephenie because being a visual person, I don't get to exercise my olfactory senses often. I am also sensitive to synthetic perfumes so I wanted to learn how to make perfumes with natural ingredients that won't throw me in a sneeze frenzy. After going over tools and materials, distillation processes and extraction methods, I learnt that perfumes are made up of scents from three different “notes”: Top Notes, Mid or Heart Notes, and Base Notes. Notes are based on volatility: top notes have the brightest yet shortest-lasting scent as they evaporate faster; and base notes have the slowest volatility, lasting the longest on the skin.

I smelled 50 essential oils one by one that Persephenie had laid out and ordered by note. Finally, picking oils to make chords that would all come together into a perfume. It was a beautiful experience developing my sense of smell, learning about the art of making perfumes and developing a better understanding of all the plants used in making oils. It definitely brought me closer to nature.

Is There a Distinction Between Artist & Artisan?

Meg: One of my favorite questions when I interview people engaged in crafts is whether they see their vocation as "artist" or "artisan". Do you see a distinction? Why or why not?

Geetika: Isn't it a never ending debate? Tomato. Tomaato. I know some people will go up in arms for me saying this but I don't see a big distinction between the two. Artist, artisan, designer, craftsperson, maker – I could keep defining them if I was a lexicographer, but I'm more concerned with overall creativity and the act of making so I don't spend much time thinking about the distinction. For simplicity sake, I gravitate towards the basics.

Being an artist is a creative mindset and you can have your choice of expression, tools and technology to express it. It is a spectrum that stretches from pure expression to function. One can be anywhere and everywhere on the spectrum. It is not binary. As a student of Bauhaus, my personal vocation falls somewhere in the middle, where form follows function, so I see it more as a "designer" but I easily oscillate across the spectrum. In the end, both artists and artisans stretch our imagination, and that is what matters.

A beautiful wooden bowl crafted by Laurie during her VAWAA apprenticeship with one of Mexico's prolific sculptor Julio.
A beautiful wooden bowl crafted by Laurie during her VAWAA apprenticeship with one of Mexico's prolific sculptor Julio.

Meg: Do you envision offering more experiences in indigenous arts?

Geetika: Yes we have a few apprenticeships in indigenous arts and we'll be adding more as we go along. We are very excited to announce a new VAWAA soon with a Cherokee basketmaker. Keep an eye out for it.

Entrepreneurship as Art

Meg: You founded VAWAA after a very successful creative career in the corporate and agency sectors. How is your creativity employed and developed differently as an entrepreneur?

Geetika: As an entrepreneur, there are just a lot more things to think about and solve. As a designer, I was primarily focused on creating a beautiful, useful and interesting experience for the user or viewer. This could be a brand, space, game, product, app, website or event. I still do that at VAWAA, but the types of problems and complexity has increased. I think about how we can achieve our vision of bringing artists from around the world on one platform so they can get global visibility and share their knowledge. And anyone who wants inspiration can access it. Hopefully making a small impact in preserving global arts and culture.

An apprenticeship in stone sculpting with Julio in Mexico.
An apprenticeship in stone sculpting with Julio in Mexico.

I also think about the experience of everyone involved in making this vision come to life – from artists, guests, team members, investors, our community and friends. There are a lot more "users" to think about and the scale of problems is much bigger. They need different creative muscles. It has been thrilling (and frustrating sometimes!) to develop these new creative muscles.

Connection Between Risk-Taking & Creativity

Meg: What is your POV on risk-taking--in the arts, with creativity, and in life generally? Can you share a risk-taking experience that was a game-changer for you? How would you respond to anyone who might see participating in a VAWAA experience as risk-taking?

Dream vacations for creatives ramakrishnan nataraj
Image Credit: Ramakrishnan Nataraj

Geetika: Risk-taking is a way of exploring your edges, and expanding them. It means getting out of a rut and trying something new because you never know what you might discover. You might find inspiration or expand your imagination of what is possible or what you are capable of. Arts and creativity are all about risk-taking. You have to dig deep within and inside your imagination to create a path that no one has ever walked on. You become an explorer connecting new dots, playing with different ideas, slowly stretching your own limits. Personally, I've taken a lot of risks in life and I feel grateful for how they've changed my life.

Building VAWAA is a great example. I had a great job working with some of the most talented people and a comfortable life. I had been dreaming up the idea of VAWAA for a few years and finally decided to risk my US immigration status, job and financial stability while I set off on a year long mission traveling to 12 countries to build VAWAA. It was an idea and I did not have a plan, but I had a burning desire to explore. The risk paid off and I have the best job in the world now that is fully aligned with my purpose and passion. It stretches my limit everyday but I wonder if I would've been here if the 8 year old me hadn't discovered the joy of creating. I think one of my biggest fears is to lose creativity.

I believe, engaging in arts helps us get more curious and comfortable with the unknown, improving our risk-taking abilities. It is a good skill to have as life is not predictable and it would be pretty boring without some adventure.

Going on a VAWAA is a safe way to practice risk-taking. You get to explore with the guidance and friendship of the artist.


More Articles on Visual Arts

For more on Cultural Immersion, check out these posts!


Header Image: Learning Paper Clay Sculptures during VAWAA with Iria in Galicia, Spain.
Image credit: Jose Trotino

Meg Pier

Meg Pier

Publisher and editor of People Are Culture (PAC). This article was created by original reporting that sourced expert commentary from local cultural standard-bearers. Those quoted provide cultural and historical context that is unique to their role in the community and to this article.

Previous

Documenting Indian Art is Calling for Benoy K. Behl

Glamour of Traditional Indian Clothing Goes Global

Next

Leave a Comment