In the early 2000s, Kristina Wilson was balancing a day job and a leading role in the original off-Broadway production of Pinkalicious the Musical. It wasn’t easy.
“I was really overwhelmed trying to perform in a show and pay my bills,” Wilson recalled. “I thought there has to be a better way for artists to be supported in our country.”
Around the same time, she’d heard coworkers griping about how tough it was to find good babysitters. Wilson realized she had friends—fellow artists, including former classmates she’d studied music with—who were more than qualified to babysit, and began referring them. Soon, it clicked: She would create a business that would fill a void for both parents and artists.
In 2006, Wilson started Sitters Studio, a caregiving agency that offers artists stable, flexible, part-time work, and, in turn, provides parents with reliable, creative-minded sitters. Twelve years on, the company has a rotating group of around 100 artists in New York and Chicago on its roster. The company also operates in Washington, D.C. (though on a smaller scale), and runs a preschool in Brooklyn.
“Artisitters,” as they’re called, do many things an average sitter would, like handle after-school pickups and provide in-home care, but they also share their creative passions. The company aims to match caregivers with children, ranging from newborns to teens, based on their creative interests, like piano-playing or painting. The sitters arrive with a tote of art materials—markers, crayons, egg shakers, dancing scarves—and do activities with kids that draw from their own expertise. “If you’re a theatrical performer, the parents aren’t expecting you to come color with the kids—in fact, that’s not what they want you to do at all,” Wilson noted. “They want you to create characters and worlds.”
At the company’s Brooklyn preschool, which follows an arts-based curriculum, children learn the basics, like colors, shapes, counting, and vocabulary, but do so through works of art—like
drip paintings, the Metropolitan Museum of Art
’s unicorn tapestries, Vivaldi’s Four Seasons
, or the Broadway musical Bring in ’da Noise, Bring in ’da Funk
. This past winter, coinciding with ’s
show at David Zwirner
in New York, the Artisitters created a miniature “Infinity Room” that kids could peek inside.
The majority of those Wilson hires as Artisitters have degrees in the visual arts, theater, music, or dance—but all have robust prior experience with childcare (at least three years). The application process is rigorous, with only 1 in 75 applicants hired, according to the company’s own statistics. In addition to the field’s standard interviews, reference calls, and background checks, there’s also another level of vetting, to ensure that the applicant is actually an artist—not just someone who likes the arts or considers themselves crafty.
Artists stand to benefit from the ability to work the hours they need, according to their own schedules. The company asks sitters how many hours of work they need to support their art career, and records that in a scheduling program to make sure the company is meeting those needs. Additionally, artists find that it’s rewarding work to care for kids and share their artistic expertise with them (some, Wilson noted, go on to pursue jobs as teaching artists, educators, or art therapists).
Families, in turn, benefit from the opportunity to introduce their children to creative people, who can teach their things that they personally cannot. Wilson gives the example of a parent of a musical-loving child, who might be at a loss after playing their kid the soundtrack from Hamilton. An artist pursuing a career in musical theater can foster acting and singing skills with that child.
Importantly, the company is tapping into evidence that early exposure to the arts
can help children develop social skills and self-expression, while also fostering creativity and problem-solving skills. Ultimately, regardless of whether a child grows up to pursue a career in the arts, having an artist spend time with them after school a few times a week is certainly beneficial.