Jeroen Smeets, the owner of The Jaunt.
Genies in lamps, fairy godmothers, the Easter bunny – in stories, they make our dreams come true. But this is real life. And in real life, it’s hard to believe that anyone could be that generous. It shouldn’t be. There are people who make it their mission to help you share your gifts with the world. Most of them work for foundations, offering grants and fellowships. Then there’s Jeroen Smeets, who has adopted the rather modest job title of Art Curator and Travel Planner. In reality, he’s a dream maker.
Smeets, who defines art as “an expression of creativity that’s sparked through exploration,” is the creative force behind The Jaunt, an innovative business with a shockingly altruistic goal. Smeets invites 10 artists each year to take an all-expenses paid trip to seek new inspiration. In return, they create original work that reflects their experience. They make it, and this part is key, after they return home. That way, they’re free to fully immerse in their unexpected adventure.
“If you’re a painter who travels all over the world to paint murals, you’re basically just standing in front of a wall the whole time. There’s no downtime,” Smeets says. “In those situations, you’re always in the city with little escape. With a Jaunt, I can send an artist to places they normally wouldn’t go,” he says.
“And then you’re freeing them from working while they’re there.”
One Jaunt artist had previously traveled to Antwerp with a long list of planned meetings and destinations. When he returned with The Jaunt, he sat down and created. “He hadn’t had the time to just go to a cafe and draw for hours,” says Smeets. “And this trip made that possible for him.”
The funding strategy for The Jaunt lets art enthusiasts participate in the creation process by funding the inspiration. In return, they receive a limited print of the work.
“In essence, The Jaunt is a super simple thing – person goes to place, finds inspiration, and creates,” says Smeets. The results range from pretty to poignant to disturbing. Some tell stories, others ask questions, and some seem to scream. A few surprise you with a gut punch you didn’t know you had coming. You can peruse the archive to get a feel for the art that’s created. Artists post travel updates on their social media channels throughout the trip and The Jaunt shares their photos as well.
Smeets doesn’t fund the trips by selling the art after the fact. He asks you to buy in before the artist ever packs their bags. The funding strategy lets art enthusiasts participate in the creation process by funding the inspiration. In return, they receive a limited print of the work. Artists reserve all the rights. The Jaunt asks you as a patron to believe that each journey will bear fruit, and that you will want to see it. That faith is compelling. It’s almost asking you to believe in art itself.
Or maybe it asks you to believe in the transformational power of travel. Smeets himself has experienced how life-changing it can be. He and a friend once spun a globe and blindly stopped it with a single finger, vowing to visit whatever country it pointed to. It was Belgium. Since Smeets is based in nearby Denmark, they spun again, this time hitting Guatemala.
“That was my first time out of Europe. And I really remember seeing, it doesn’t matter where you are, and it doesn’t matter if you speak the language, you can laugh with anybody on a bus,” he says.
Human connection is universal. “Coincidentally, I also met my wife on that trip,” says Smeets. “So that was also nice.”
That’s not the only love match Smeet’s travel plans have made. “We had one artist who traveled to Seoul, in South Korea, and found love. He emigrated from the Netherlands to South Korea and lives there now,” says Smeets. That’s his favorite Jaunt trip story. There will be 100 of them by September if all goes to plan.
The Jaunt asks travelers to document their impressions in sketches, photographs, and journals. “That storytelling to me is the real value, and I almost see the silkscreen prints that we make as delux oversized postcards.” Right/bottom: Jordy van den Nieuwendijk at work on location in Los Angeles.
Smeets refuses to single out a piece of art as his favorite. “I think all of them have done exactly what I hoped they will do, become inspired by a new location,” Smeets says. The Jaunt also asks travelers to document their impressions in sketches, photographs, and journals.
Lisa Congdon went on a Jaunt in March to Kyoto where she was inspired by everyday scenes like this one. Congdon’s prints inspired by the trip sold out.
“That storytelling to me is the real value, and I almost see the silkscreen prints that we make as delux oversized postcards.”
You can see the results from artists 11 through 50 in The Jaunt’s second book, bluntly titled The Jaunt Book 2. Smeets is also planning a third book, covering trips 51 to 100. All proceeds from book sales fund The Jaunt.
By now, you may be wondering how The Juant finds its artists. “I don’t curate on themes, particularly,” says Smeet. “There are a few boxes that I need to check, and the first and foremost, is can I do the artwork of this artist justice with the silkscreen print.” Practically, that often means working with a limited color palette to keep costs reasonable. He also tries to include a balanced mix of early, mid-career, and established artists.
It’s also a matter of taste. He asks himself, “Would I like artwork from these artists up on my wall?’” He believes that alone creates a throughline.
“If you put two artists next to each other, they can be completely, completely different,” says Smeets. “But I do hope, and I think, that there’s a real thread throughout the creation from trip number one to almost 100.”
After he selects an artist and they accept the invitation, they collaborate to select a destination. Some know exactly where they’d like to go, and some are open to suggestions. “Sometimes I do have a very clear idea – ‘Oh, I think this location would be really interesting, or I would love to see how you would get inspired by this location.’” Try it. Think of your favorite artist, then choose a destination you would love to see them interpret. Intriguing, yes?
Smeets has long run in artists’ circles, discovering early on that he most enjoyed planning and organizing opportunities for others to showcase their work. But then, as now, creating art can be a hard way to make a living. Smeets consistently heard his friends discuss their dreams of exploring distant destinations to find inspiration, space, and time for their work. So he set out to do something about it.
Smeets invites 10 artists each year to take an all-expenses paid trip to seek new inspiration. In return, they create original work that reflects their experience.
The Jaunt launched in 2013, and Smeets spent much of the year prior thinking about how to put the pieces together. At the time, crowdfunding (Kickstarter was founded in 2009 and GoFundMe in 2010) was starting to emerge in the tech and art worlds. The two ideas “merged.” A decade on, it’s his full-time job.
And he has more ideas as well. He’s interested in connecting artists with other professions to see where inspiration takes them. “We sent an Italian artist to an Italian winery,” Smeets explains. “He wanted to get to know the whole process of making wines, so they did as much as they could in the week.” The wine will be bottled this spring. “And then we’ll have this limited edition Jaunt wine created by the artist who’s going to make labels or paintings on the bottles.”
Smeets seems to have carved a path in life that he loves dearly and makes a tangible difference in the lives of artists he admires.
“The real value is in these artists making trips,” he says. “Sometimes it’s just one trip of many. And other times, it’s a really profound, life changing experience like, like emigrating to new country and starting a new life.”
The most memorable lesson the journey has taught him is, “Enjoy the process.”
L. Clark Tate
Clark Tate is a freelance writer and lifelong knitter. After graduating from never-ending scarves to more complex projects, Clark also graduated with a Master’s in Environmental Science. She then worked as a restoration ecologist for six years, before moving on to an obsession with braided hats and writing articles about people and the environments they live in. She’s written for Hakai Magazine, Summit Daily News, Salt Lake City Weekly, and GearLab.com. You can find further examples of her work at lclarktate.com.