As you may have noticed, the selling of art isn’t entirely recession proof, nor is it Brexit proof. Many galleries are reporting declines in sales in this climate of economic and political uncertainty. So what should an artist do in order to stay afloat? Organisations such as The Jaunt are supporting artists in creative ways, such as offering travel and work opportunities in exchange for limited edition Screen Prints. I interviewed The Jaunt’s Founder Jeroen Smeets in order to find out whether his pioneering company heralds a new way for artists to make a living.
Lisa: Can you explain what the Jaunt is and how you came about founding the project?
Jeroen: The Jaunt is a travel project that sends out artist on trips all over the world, with the sole purpose of creating the opportunities for artists to step outside of their comfort zone and get inspired. Each trip is concluded with an exclusive artwork that the artists create, inspired by their trip and their experience. These artworks are available as limited edition silkscreen prints through our website. The project was founded by myself, Jeroen Smeets, 6 years ago. I was working as an editor and journalist at the time, and was talking with a lot of artists. In each conversation I was having travelling came up as one of the main sources of inspiration. Artists had either just came back from a trip, or were longing to go on a trip. I wanted to create the possibilities for artists to go and do that, and that is what eventually become The Jaunt.
Lisa: Can you tell us about some of the artists you have supported to date?
Jeroen: So far we have sent out a total of 55 artists on trips all over the world, and by now we send about 10 artists on a trip per year. We work with a broad range of different artists, with different aesthetics, concepts and mediums, but I do like to think that there is a shared creative energy throughout our entire roster of artists.
Lisa: The world increasingly seems like a place where there is not enough time and money for arts practitioners – we offer a luxury that there is not enough money to afford! The Jaunt seems to be totally at odds with the mindset, and is a breath of fresh air. Is it a struggle to keep ‘The Jaunt’ thriving in the current political and economical climate, and if so are there ways to make the venture ‘climate-proof’?!
Jeroen: That’s an interesting point and it our project is definitely against the mindset today, also considering the instant gratification factor we have these days.. We actually work with a pre-order system, where people can order a print of our first upcoming trip before it is made. So we announce an artist is going to a certain destination, you order your print, and then you have to wait for the artist to go on their trip, experience their trip, and then wait for the creative process of the artists once they come home. It might be two or three months before you receive the artwork that you’ve ordered. But to come back to your question, keeping a project like The Jaunt sustainable is always a challenge, and like any other business we have our ups and downs. We value our audience immensely for the support that they are giving us, because it is our audience only that keeps our project going. We don’t have any sponsorships or other funding. In the end we try to keep focus on our project and our artists, to keep surprising and challenging our artists and our audience. That’s the only thing that we have within our control, politics and economies come and go.
Lisa: How important is travel to the creative process?
Jeroen: To us and to our artists it is an essential part of the creative process. We believe that once you step out of your comfort zone your senses are heightened and you take in more, you notice the small things around you, personal interaction with people, local design and architecture, smells and tastes. It is endless. What we are trying to do more and more with our project is connect the travel with a purpose and an experience. You don’t always have to travel far away in order to step outside of your comfort zone.
Lisa: How hard has it been to sell work ‘sight unseen’? Have you found the public willing to buy into the idea of supporting an artist as they venture into their residency?
Jeroen: We first launched our project 6 years ago with our first artist and we actually only told friends, family and our personal network about the project and the trip. We had no clue if people would like to order an artwork that wasn’t created yet. But to our surprise we sold out the first print (edition of 50) within two weeks, and we’ve been keeping going ever since. In our belief you support the creative process of the artist when you order a print, you’re not just buying a print, but you are investing in the artist’s vision for years to come. Ideally the artist experiences his or her trip in a way that has a lasting impact on a personal level.
Lisa: The Jaunt and crowdfunding ventures such as Patreon seem to be a relatively new and popular way for artists to gain support for their work, prior to projects being realised. Do you think crowdfunders and online patronage is here to stay?
Jeroen: Patrons of the arts go back thousands of years. Back in earlier times it was the churches, and after that the wealthy few took it upon them to become patrons of the art. Nowadays through crowdfunding and online tools it has become easier for everybody to get involved, it has become easier for artists to reach out to their audience directly, and it has become easier for young collectors and art lovers to reach out and support their favourite artists. Patronage is here to stay, it’s form might change, but I believe it will only become bigger and more widely available to all people.
Lisa: How do you select the artists you work with and do you have any involvement with the creative process?
Jeroen: We are a curated project, so we do not have an open-application process for artists to apply to. We are always looking everywhere we can to find new artists, online, magazines, exhibitions, or recommendations from the artists that we’ve already worked with. When we find a new potential artist we follow them for a while before we invite them to our project and ask if they would be interested in participating. On the creative process we try to have as little involvement as possible, we never join the artist on their trip, and there is no briefing or agenda while the artists are on their trip. They are free to make their own plan and schedule as they see fit. It’s also up to the artists how and where they start their creative process, some artists start drawing or sketching during their trip already, while other artists wait until they get back to their studio to work on their artwork.
Lisa: How do you hope The Jaunt will develop in the future?
Jeroen: As mentioned before, we always try to surprise and challenge ourselves and our artists, and I think this is the most important thing in developing our project. Right now we’re actually developing a new type of trip, that we’ll launch later this year in September. I’m really excited about this, and hope the artists will be excited about it as well. Furthermore I would love to host more extended artist residencies on different locations throughout the whole world. Hopefully in the future!
Header image: Cody Hudson, Participating artist of The Jaunt #50, January 2019