Article in De Nieuwe Muze, March/April 2022 (published in Dutch, translated to English)
Story: Paul Janssen, interview with the founder Janina Lorenci
'Art makes children think differently and, above all, more creatively'
It is an ingenious and obvious solution for art and music students looking for a side job that is related to their field. In addition, it offers a way to bring art and culture to the attention of young children in a good way.
Founder Janina Lorenci has every confidence in her model. "It's great when kids can explore art. That produces skills for life that you don't get in regular lessons at school.'
It is that simple - Let students at conservatories, fashion and art academies, drama and dance school to look after children and at the same time initiate them without obligation in the art of playing an instrument, designing fashion, painting, writing, acting and what not. It also offers regular art lessons at home (which can of course also be given online). Parents get a good and trusted childcare, children can taste different art forms from their own safe environment without being permanently attached to anything, and art students earn some extra money in an area where their greatest expertise lies.
Although the underlying business plan seems self-evident, initiator Janina Lorenci traveled a long erratic road to arrive at her Artsitters.
Her story begins at home with her parents in Slovenia, where as a little girl she and her siblings were obliged to practice one sport and learn to play one musical instrument. "A musical
playing an instrument teaches you to have patience in mastering a craft, my parents thought', Lorenci explains this parenting ideation. "And they're right about that."
Little Janina chose swimming and the saxophone. “I actually have no idea why it became the sax. I fell for the look. The instrument was gold and shiny. I already played the recorder, which was a normal part of childhood upbringing in Slovenia, and the sax was a magical instrument by comparison. I could barely hold it, but I was in love.”
She proved to be a natural talent and soon her teacher was taking her to competitions around Europe. "I didn't study hard, but I always won. I liked that, although I had no ambition to become a musician. The reason I went to the conservatory after high school was because I had no idea what else I wanted to do. I just happened to be good at playing the saxophone.”
The reality check came at the Ljubljana Conservatory. “I discovered there that I was really not the best at my instrument. There came the fire. I became obsessed and wanted to be the best.”
After graduating in Ljubljana, she chose to continue her studies in Versailles at the age of sixteen. “It became a major turning point in my life. I thought I was following my passion, but after six months I was all alone in a country of which I did not speak the language, at a conservatory where technical perfection was preferred above all else and I was also completely broke. I only had one thought at the time: 'This is me now, and I alone can make this work.'"
Finally she also completed her further studies in Versailles and listened to her saxophone heart. Lorenci moved to the Netherlands to study with Arno Bornkamp. "Arno Bornkamp had already indicated that he would like to teach me, and I actually already wanted to study with him when I went to Versailles for personal reasons. It was a good choice: Arno gave me a lot of freedom and helped me develop my musical personality.”
Lorenci also found in her roommate and percussionist Lola Mlacnik a 'sister in crime'. Together they started the Duo Ikt. that wanted to deal with chamber music in an innovative way. “We created a lot of new repertoire and we were successful. The exclusivity only started to feel more and more like a limitation. I've always wanted to create my own possibilities, but I had the idea that there was little room for me in the saxophone world.
That feeling became very strong when Ikt. was offered a scolarship for the Artist Diploma program at the Boston Conservatory at Berklee. I had many friends who wanted to make music despite any circumstances. They were happy just by playing. I didn't have that feeling.”
She made a dramatic decision and declined the scolarship. “I learned to listen to my heart again through the scolarship. Which was very difficult, because it also immediately meant the end of the duo Ikt. But I really couldn't and didn't want to go on like this.”
The decision that the profession she was trained for no longer offered a future, left a lot of emptiness. But also a new determination. “I had to justify my decision to stop playing the saxophone with a meaningful action. This is how Artsitters was born.”
Lorenci was already earning money during her studies by babysitting. “I love children and their fearless approach to life. I always loved having that openness of children around me. I also gave music lessons. Often to children who were sent by their parents and didn't really care much for the instrument. I also met parents who wanted to introduce children to other instruments. I had several music friends who played different instruments and were able to teach. In 2019, after my decision not to accept the scolarship, the penny dropped: I can turn this into a business.
During their studies, artists in training often do not have a job where their interests and expertise lie. I wanted to create opportunities for artists to do what they do best. On the other hand, Artsitters is not binding on parents. It's a great way to let kids explore different art forms and instruments. The performers bring everything, instruments, art materials, props for drama lessons... Children can explore and learn in the comfort of their own home.”
The business model turned out to be a bull's eye.
‘I started babysitting and teaching saxophone myself and gradually a group of friends joined, all students or alumni, whom I introduced to the families where I babysat. Today Artsitters consists of a team of about fifty artists working in many art disciplines and I am mainly the 'CEO' of
the company. By now I'm so busy keeping so many other people at work that I don't have time to teach and surround myself with children. I miss that sometimes, but I consider myself lucky that it turned out this way. And now that I have a baby of my own, I can deal with children every day again…”
Meanwhile, her enthusiasm is continuously fed by the stories that the artists of Artsitters come up with. "It's great when kids can explore art. As soon as they have found something that suits them, we encourage them to continue with it. It provides skills for life that you don't get in regular lessons at school.'
Lorenci is feeling very comfortable in the field of art, music & education management and art stimulation, because Goodmesh, the organization behind the Goodmesh Concours, which had its second edition at the end of last year, also comes from the former saxophonist. How can we make art more meaningful in society? And how can we bring together more arts from different disciplines? Three years ago, these were the starting points for the establishment of Goodmesh, in which 'mesh'
denotes a mat or network in which all nodes are connected as much as possible and where an open structure prevails, so that there is always room for new ideas. After Lorenci won the Grachtenfestival Audience Award with Duo Ikt., she came into contact with entrepreneur Jacques Goddijn, who, like Lorenci, wanted to make art more creative and interactive. One thing led to another and in the end Goodmesh created an 'Artist Agency' that not only organizes an annual competition, but continuously brings art forms together and creates opportunities for artists throughout the year to develop their programs.
It's a different angle from Artsitters, but above all another aspect of Lorenci's interests. Goodmesh is mainly there for the artists, Artsitters focuses more on the education of children. Goodmesh is running well, so most of my focus at the moment is on Artsitters. An important lesson
what I got from my music study is: if you don't focus you will achieve nothing.'
Moreover, Lorenci is convinced that with Artsitters at the grassroots level, she can contribute to a more balanced society in which art and culture play a natural role. ‘The importance of Artsitters is not only that we let the children discover their talents and support the artists of today, art also makes children think differently and above all more creatively. It stimulates problem solving skills and makes children a part of something larger than themselves. And since everything starts with children, I think Artsitters can make a good contribution. The only thing I struggle with now is the way in which I can make Artsitters accessible to everyone. Creative lessons through Artsitters cost thirty-five euros per forty-five minutes, only babysitting, which is also possible, costs fifteen euros per
hour. “I still have to explain the difference in fare between an art class and babysitting. I find that a pity. Thirty-five euros isn't much for an artist when you consider how much study and preparation time goes into it. At the end of the day, I don't want to be there just for the happy few. I don't want to regard art and culture as a luxury, but as a necessity.'
That is why she is investigating whether a foundation is the form in which she can accommodate Artsitters. ‘ArtSittes not only offers a good entrance to art and culture, it also makes clear why such a thing is necessary. Life is enriched by art. You learn to appreciate new art forms, not to mention the life lessons. It would help enormously if we could create funds so that we can do even more. My dream is to organize many more events and opportunities in order to reach more people, more children. Children are willing, they are naturally very curious. Our greatest challenge now is educating the parents. They must be made aware of the need for art and art lessons.