Fostering artistic creation with House of Urnebes (Alumni Q&A session)


Gina Larson and Nenad Jevtić are co-founders of House of Urnebes, a house which would combine a hostel, a café and an atelier for encouraging pictural arts creations.

In order to promote their activities and inform about their recent news, RISE Team had a conversation with them. Gina explained us what happened in the previous times for the project she leads with her fiancé, and share advice to people who would be interested in starting their initiative in social entrepreneurship.

Hi Gina, thank you for accepting this interview. As an introductive question, can you describe yourself, your professional activity, and your social company ?

I am Gina Larson, from Denver, Colorado. However, I live in the Balkans for 7 years at this point. Originally, I was a Peacecorps volunteer, helping teach English in Prizren, Kosovo*. I actually met my partner Nenad, now fiancée, during my volunteering time. We had to design a social project at this moment, and we directly headed off because he had this art-based NGO which was working in to bring music and art to the youth there, regarding the fact that afterschool programs like these didn’t exist in the school curriculum.

Peacecorps Program is usually a 2 year contract, and at the end of it, you are done and supposed to move on. It’s not a job. At the end, I was thinking of what is the coolest thing we can do next. We were looking around and see what resources we had, and Nenad family is from Kosovo*, and they had one house in Smederevo, Serbia. They had built this house during the war, but then moved, and it was left empty for 30 years. So it was available, and we wanted to use this.

We were really interested in this idea of “art colonies”. To explain it easily, I would say that multiple artists are invited and live together for 2 weeks. They can create together and get mutually inspired by others’ art. We were obsessed to this idea of seeing people from different backgrounds work together. Our idea was to organize permanent art colonies, but in a less formal way. We didn’t want them having to fill an application, formalities etc. Our idea was to make it more opened and free. The place goal was to meet other artists, get inspired by them, or by local culture.

Nenad also had a background of running a bar, coffee shop, pub in his small village. I had a background in grant writing. Mashing those perspectives, we came up with the idea of making House of Urnebes. We still have to find how to describe it, but let’s say it’s an art residency space.

To make a quick resume, on the first floor there would be a coffee shop and events venue. The second floor has hostel-style bedrooms, with bunk-beds. In the attic is the atelier, with easels, paints, shelves. Hopefully in the near future there will be a functional basement, where we would put a recording studio there.

We want to use this studio for supporting local and travelling artists. It would be a place where potentially backpacking people with artistic vibes would stop by, meet other artists, and collaborate. Or they could organize projects together. Artists from different media would meet and lead projects together. For example, what would a street graffiti artist and a classic violinist be able to do with each other ? or how would they be able to get inspired by each other while living together for a week ?

Can you describe us a typical organization plan of an event in your hostel. For example, you recently organized a concert with KoleGTH, and Menya Polubily Chervy. How did all of this occur ?

I will answer that question with a project we’ve done before. Last summer, we’ve been for about two summers working on renovations of the house, with friends, or even friends of friends. It’s been so much fun, and some people would ask to come for giving a hand.

Last year, we were led to the point of being bored of construction, and excited to find artistic people in the area. But honestly, construction is a never-ending job.

Last year we lead a project called “outside in”, where we offered graffiti and street artists a free place to stay, offering paid food and paying their paint. We also let them choose which walls they wanted to cover, and didn’t tell them what to do. They had pretty much a full liberty of doing what they wanted. In the end, we had 6 different artists, half from Serbia, half from outside of the country. One of the room they did was the basement of our house. Now, there is a big painting of a caveman scene, on a wall, and on the other you can see a Sun Goddess.

At that time, we weren’t opened yet, but in this place we were just hosting few opened public parties, like a Halloween party. We also have a projector, so we did Basketball viewing parties. We had people come through, neighbours, friends of friends, it was very nice!

One day, I got a message from a teenager from Smederevo, asking if he could use the basement for a rap concert. We were interested, but I explained him I didn’t have speakers or microphones, not the basic stuff for music concerts. He told us he had everything needed. He just thought we were cool people. I wanted to tell him he was brave to ask us. I was also proud of us being opened, fun loving people where he would feel comfortable asking.

It was cool, they came and helped for consolidating this never-ending construction. They came up for sound check,  and we collaborated on marketing. But actually, it was their show. They did the creative part of the marketing by themselves, and we’ve pushed it through the medias we already had. I would say it was highly successful! We always wanted this space to be cross cultural collaboration space, so to have this person come to us with a project idea from the community was wonderful. He is a Serbian rapper, but there was another guy from Russia –living in Belgrade now–. It was fun to have this project fall upon our doorstep. It was a proof of concept, not only does this works but also people of this community need help supporting their ideas that are cross-cultural collaboration art.

I think especially about Smederevo’s artist culture development. It might be easier for them to lead those projects in Belgrade, but Smederevo is smaller, what can you tell us about this ?

Smederevo is this place which has pros and cons. It is close to Belgrade; it is also culture available but nothing comes to Smederevo because it’s close to Belgrade. People won’t do things they have already done in the capital city. However we had a lot of luck with artists being In Belgrade, hearing about us and wanting to come. They wanted to have a taste of Serbia, but not the capital city. Smederevo is also close enough to Belgrade for being able to travel on a day trip by bus. It feels more like traditional Serbian culture.

The fortresses of both cities are clear example of those vibes differences. If you go to the Belgrade fortress, they would try to sell you a t-shirt or souvenirs right away. Inside Smedevero’s fortress, there is a football field and a park with kids running around.

What about your recent event Elements of hUmaNITY which you called a “virtual art gallery”. You had many artists from all around the world, Indonesia, Armenia, Argentina, Nigeria, or even Uzbekistan. May I ask you how you had the idea to organize such thing ?

HoU has mostly only been operating during the warmer months, from late spring to early sall. We do not have a heating system installed yet, so when its cold, no one can come and stay. However, we still wanted to organize one cross-cultural event… so we did it virtually!

For the project “Elements of hUmaNITY”, we collaborated with a friend of mine from California who runs a small business called “Awakened Creators”, it’s a community space for artists to get over a creative blog. Our idea was to have artists from different countries create three pieces of artwork inspired by the themes: mind, body, and soul. For us, it was not only about seeing how artists from different cultures interpret these themes, but also how they express themselves through different mediums.

We invited all of them on a WhatsApp group, and these people were talking about the different connotations of their art depending on their place. As an example, Sri Lankan vision of the soul is different from the one of somebody from Texas. To be honest, one of my favourite part is when I watch nowadays those people posting on social media. Actually, I can see that the artists who participated in our project still like and comment each others posts, which is another of our mission.

Another project was “no transition needed project”, we did this one on the same basis.

I understand you, and this shows how it became a hub for all of these artists to meet! Speaking about this, do you develop your activities all alone or are you helped with volunteers ?

We are mostly developing all of the projects on our own, except when artists come with their already prepared ideas and present them. We are also happy to do things like this. Right now, we are in the middle of the constructions. Now that our house can host people and let them participate in events, we would like to improve our community building.

We want to create spaces and events at the same time, not only involving our members. I often find people who want to participate in a place they’re travelling to, not just bounce around the touristy side. Many people were being ecstatic to help with installing these things in Serbia.  Came up with most projects ideas but want to find people to collaborate with. We’re always eager to find people to collaborate with.

Taking the first step is always something you struggle with. With RISE, even having anything like a group of peers is great. People around you motivate yourself to keep on to the next step. If I could change it, I would’ve jumped there and trusted ourselves more, because you’ll learn along the way.

In the end, what do you think misses in the promotion of your concept ? What were the main issues you faced all along the concrete finalization of your project, whatever it can be.

One of the best pieces of advice to give people is just to start. We wasted a lot of time on looking in advance what problems could happen, but since we began we had a million times more problems. But in the end, we should have less feared the first step because what happens next is also a million time easier. RISE was actually really good for taking this first step, we know ourselves and we are procrastinators [laugh], it’s just a fact of ourselves. We specifically signed up for RISE because we wanted someone to kick our butts doing it. We had motivation, and many elements to begin. We just needed an organization to put deadlines to ourselves, people in social entrepreneurship whom we could be friend with, and to explain ourselves if we were doing great job or not.

Taking the first step is always something you struggle with. With RISE, even having anything like a group of peers is great, that’s why it was cool. People around you motivate yourself to keep on to the next step. If I could change it, I would’ve jumped there and trusted ourselves more, because you’ll learn along the way. Another big thing to say is on consistency, we are actually doing well on social medias, everytime we would post TikToks we would be killing it. I don’t have experience on social medias, but our project is just something people like to follow along the way.

If I take my butt enough and post more often, maybe making it something more professional, we would do even better. It’s just hard trying to renovate a business and run it at the same time. Regardless, it’s been fun the whole time, we aren’t done renovating yet but it’s going well. To have the project under our belt even before we had a grand opening is really cool. It makes getting fundings easier for this Grand opening. I would advice people starting off, you don’t need to be all the way registered, or ready to go 100% to do a small project. Organize something at your local coffee shop, do something at the Library, there’s a million ideas you could do.




What do you plan do to next for HoU ? would you consolidate the things that you already implemented or will you try to find new horizons for it ?

New horizons, we have another project happening on this Saturday, it’s actually a kind of thing that fell on our doorstep. We have a friend, a dancer from Russia and another from France. We connected them last year because they looked to be similar minded people. And they really had the same vibes, they collaborate a lot now, and wanted to conduct a performance in their house.

Recently they contacted me to know if there were local musicians who would want to jump in and collaborate with them. I only knew a group of teenagers which had a metal band. They were still interested ! So it would actually be a Serbian hardcore metal band and a Russian contemporary artist and a French contemporary artist. All of them would come and stay at our house, practice for 2 days together, and then do a performance, whatever they come up with.

This juggs the position of metal grungy hardcore sounds, with beautiful flowy movements of contemporary dance and smash them together. It’s an experimental but creative challenge for all of them, super fun. Even the advertisement was done by the metal band. So, actually, we are coming in only as a support for those short-term projects.

An event in which modern dancers Sophie Bocquet and Olga Uzikaeva performed with Smederevo’s death progressive metal band “Refusing To Fade”


But on my personal side, I had a big twisting turn in my life. I recently had a full right scholarship to go to Arizona and get my MBA. I had essays, and exams to present how House of Urnebes has been and could be, and I will go to Phoenix for 10 months. It would then be the Grand Opening when we would come back. I think House of Urnebes could definitely become more it could be with my new education. This is the challenge we also needed, going from RISE to practice, and now being able now to apply finance and marketing skills that have been developed and make all of this better, this would allow HoU to grow and not just see as a small place in Smederevo. I can easily see it as a replicable model across the Balkans. Here, it could be used to get inspired by Serbian culture, another place could help better understanding of the Macedonian, Greece ones etc, all in different places. Something that can be helpful to communities across Southeast Europe. Wanna travel and find.

Will you delegate the activities of HoU during the time you are in Phoenix ?

We would lead some sort of virtual project and the only month they would do it is September, November, December, don’t have a heating system. Easy to organize a virtual project, only operational month is September. April May month. If somebody ask them to use the space.

Speaking of geographic coverage of your activities, do you think of any cultural events to highlight in Smederevo ?

We have some really good friends who have an organization called Breaking the silence (BTS). They have been doing it for decades, punk rock organization, and have been doing a punk rock podcast. They put so much work and effort to bring in punk rock in the Balkans, but also around Europe. They had a French band for example. We want to make a shoutout to them and give publicity and support they deserve. They are also one of our biggest supporters. When we organized the rap concert, they were here, because they care about underground communities.

The last thing I would to do it share the pictures, doing field work right now and send pictures of the concert, volunteers working on stuff and others, up and starting organization. It’s been fun, been a lot of stress but biggest success is doing what they want, have fun with it and if anyone in Rise has a similar idea.

Skip to content