This article is sponsored by RWJBarnabas Health.
As a teenager in her native Ghana, Efe Cierkowski dreamed of being an entrepreneur. After graduating from Mt. Holyoke College and NYU Stern, Cierkowski worked in the corporate world; juggling motherhood with New Jersey-based office jobs. The desire to run her own business, however, never wavered; a desire that soon became known as A Sip of Art.
In the summer of 2016, Cierkowski sought out a career with more flexibility—and more fun! With the support of her husband Greg, Cierkowski opened A Sip of Art, a ‘paint and sip’ studio in West Orange, which hosts painting classes and events for adults and kids.
The concept is simple: Attendees enjoy wine and/or beer in an upscale, inviting studio setting – with some cool music playing! – while an art teacher demonstrates, step-by-step, how to paint a professional-looking picture on canvas. Everyone paints the same picture, but puts their own twist on it; no artistic experience whatsoever is needed to paint. (The same setup goes for kid’s classes, obviously sans wine!) One aspect of A Sip of Art that stands apart from other painting studios is the focus on charitable donations, but more on that in a bit.
Best of NJ spoke to Cierkowski, a South Orange resident, to discuss how her studio differs from others, why philanthropy is important to her family, and her (new!) life as a mompreneur.
Best of NJ: So…why a painting and sip studio?
Efe Cierkowski: I opened A Sip of Art last year, after I had my third child—I have four kids under age eight! I wanted to do something creative. I went to a few of these parties on my own and I loved them. I’m actually not a painter by any means, but I’d come out with a painting I was so proud of. It’s so relaxing, too. For two hours, you’re just really focused on painting. However, I wanted my studio, which is spacious, clean and inviting, to have a “giving back” aspect; and that’s one of the ways it differs from other studios.
BONJ: Please talk about the charity side of your business.
Cierkowski: My daughter Maya was born very early, at 27 weeks, and the team at Saint Barnabas Medical Center’s NICU saved her life. Partnering with them was a no-brainer. My father always instilled in me that when you have, you give, and I wanted to do something bigger than myself by giving back. Anyway, if you enroll in one of our public art classes, a percentage of the fee is donated to Saint Barnabas NICU. If you choose to host a private party at the studio, you select the charity that will receive a donation from the party proceeds.
BONJ: The charity aspect alone must be a huge draw for customers.
Cierkowski: Just in the past year alone, we donated $8,000 to local charities, including the Saint Barnabas NICU, of course, West Orange Relay for Life, Autism Speaks, a few charities in Africa and more. My family also participates in the Saint Barnabas NICU Miracle Walk, which is held in October. Last year, we ran into Maya’s doctor at the walk and it was such a great moment where they hugged and my daughter, who is now 5, ‘got’ that that’s the doctor who helped her when she was born.
BONJ: At A Sip of Art, you also do PTA fundraisers, right?
Cierkowski: Yes! If you host a kid’s party at the studio – and we are currently working on various party packages – a percentage from the proceeds can be donated to your kid’s PTA. Parents love this. You throw a party and give something to the school as well. Redwood and St. Cloud Elementary Schools have received donations, for example.
BONJ: Tell us more about the space itself.
Cierkowski: It’s in a large shopping center with a Whole Foods and ample parking. The studio was empty for a few years and it’s close to 2,000 sq. ft. We provide everything you need from the smock, to the canvases, to the paint. But it’s BYOB (adults only, of course); so you bring your own wine and there’s actually a liquor store very close by. Guests comment all the time on how nice the space is, and we have real wine glasses with gold rims. I want visitors to feel both creative and pampered here. We also have 7 to 10 wonderful, professional artists who teach the classes for kids and adults. Also, the studio can be rented out. Recently, a local organization held a meeting on-site during the day, and then kicked back and painted as a group afterwards. Guests have even expressed interest in having their rehearsal dinner at A Sip of Art and we even had a ‘Gender Reveal’ painting party.
BONJ: Do your children enjoy hanging out at the studio?
Cierkowski: I wanted A Sip of Art to be a space my kids could also use; they were a huge factor in why I pursued entrepreneurship. My older daughter enrolled in summer camp classes there; and says she wants to be an artist. They give me ideas for kid’s classes, too.
BONJ: You offer a variety of classes and events, such as ‘Mommy and Me,’ ‘Paint Your Pet,’ and ‘Ladies Night Special.’ However, one unique class offered this summer was painting at the Turtle Back Zoo! How was that?
Cierkowski: We had classes this summer at the zoo for kids and adults where participants painted pictures of the giraffes, observing them walking around. When painting at the lion exhibit one of the male lions was literally lying right in front of everyone! There were kids as young as 5 in these lion zoo classes.
BONJ: What’s next for you, professionally?
Cierkowski: I’m looking to launch a coaching piece of the business. Friends and locals ‘pick my brain’ about launching a business, asking how I manage my studio and my life. My husband and I do this with no help! I’d like to help others open up their own studios or any other business that aligns with their missions in life. I’ve learned a lot starting this business; both the good and the bad! I’ve learned to be more organized and also learned all these new tips. I’m interested in talking to, and coaching, other potential mompreneurs.
A Sip of Art is located in West Orange. Register online for classes/events; VIP perks packages are also available. Drop-ins are welcome, but calling in advance is recommended to be sure the class is not full. For more info, click here.