Jan-Patrick Schmitz is the modern businessman. He’s not stuffy and serious, unable to see anything beyond corporate jargon and boardroom settings: he’s a happy, excited guy who is passionate about his work and about figuring out ways to make his job–and his company’s job–more creative. Schmitz serves as the President and CEO of Montblanc North America, the luxury watch, jewelry, writing instrument, and more manufacturer from Germany. You would never guess this about him because nothing about him is serious or with the baggage of “businessman.”
Schmitz exudes this positive need to share and to do more than what is expected of him. He’s a passionate photographer, teacher, and arts supporter and is the reason why Montblanc is often doing curious, arts minded collaborations: he’s brought an unexpected element to the brand. Schmitz has positioned his company to push arts education beyond it’s current status of being cut and tossed away: he’s doing what he can to keep kids creative. He was recently in Los Angeles to support the third annual 24 Hour Plays, a day long event intended to challenge and entertain through theatre and to benefit arts education nonprofit Urban Arts Partnership.
The event took place Saturday at Santa Monica’s Broad Stage and had artists working to create new, original plays in a day. The grand finale was a performance of the works, which attracted a diverse crowd of performers, arts patrons, educators, theatre lovers, and any supporter of getting the arts back into schools. Schmitz stands at the center of a shuffling crowd, near a few displays of Montblanc goods and blown up photos of previously presented 24 Hour Plays.
“For us–for Montblanc–and for myself, this is the eleventh time we’ve done the 24 Hour Plays. I did eight in New York and three in LA, which we brought to LA not knowing if it would take off. It’s bringing theatre and bringing that experience here: that was a big question mark for us. How will Los Angeles react to plays? But, it’s also about what we really are doing here: bringing Urban Arts Partnership to LA.”
During the partnership’s handful of years in the city, the effort has been provided sixteen hundred Los Angeles students the chance to participate in the Urban Arts program. He’s also placed himself in a position to provide artistic knowledge, too. “I’m a passionate photographer,” he says. “I actually give master classes: I’m going into public schools to do that! I gave my first Urban Arts masters class in photography. I went to a school of culture and arts in South Central LA, one of Urban Arts partner school. I got to work with the students and I love that. We support education because of who we are. For over a hundred years, we’ve been the purveyor of writing culture. Education is really not what we do: it’s who we are. We are very involved.”
The relationship between the three organizations has yielded very special results. On the surface, Saturday an audience got to experience the overwhelming creativity of writers, directors, actors, and more who created six unique shows in a day. The actors involved brought a prop, a costume, and a special skill–and that is what the plays are built from, a tight intellectual basis that led to many funny, happenstance overlaps in the works from marital themes to literally reusing a wedding dress in several plays. It assembled a cast of actors like John Hawkes, Melanie Griffith, Molly Sims, Jack McBrayer, Seth Green, and more in addition to the inclusion of two students from San Fernando Valley’s ArTES High School. This is the first time that has happened in the LA presentation too.
“This does two things,” Schmitz says of including the students. “Not only does it give these children an amazing life experience–which I think will show them what education can do positively–it has a big impact back into the school. It shows that if you work hard and believe in yourself, everybody has an opportunity. That’s what it’s all about: providing opportunity. I’ve had many opportunities–and that’s what we provide for many of them.”
As far as being in Los Angeles, bringing Urban Arts out West is extremely obvious since Schmitz and Montblanc have a clear foundation already built. The program is thriving in New York so why not share the love out West? They also wanted to ensure the boosting of arts in Los Angeles schools and to aid using creativity as a tool to raise the LA high school graduation rate (which, FYI, is at a shocking sixty percent).
In terms of Schmitz’s visit on the surface level, we had a brief conversation about what he thinks about the city.
“I love this city,” he says. “Montblanc is strongly linked to the community because we have stores around here: we have had a relationship with the city and the people for a long time. Today, it’s all about the 24 Hour Plays and what we do with Urban Arts to provide art to the schools.”
“How long are you here for?”
“I came yesterday and I’m leaving in the morning: it’s truly a twenty four hour thing!”
“What part of town are you staying in? What do you think of that part of town?”
“I’m in Santa Monica. I think it’s the perfect place for this because its full of creativity. I’m also staying at The Shore Hotel, two blocks off Third Avenue where you find creativity and young people from around the world.”
“What’s the best part of your trip thus far?”
“The best part is still ahead: in an hour from now, we’ll see some amazing performances! And you’ll only see these once: if you’re not here in the audience, you’ll never have a chance to see it again.”
“Could you see yourself living here?”
“Yes!” he says with a smile. “There’s sun, there’s fun, there’s creativity, it’s cosmopolitan: it’s a fantastic town and a fantastic area.”
You can get more information on the Urban Arts Partnership here and more on 24 Hour Plays here. Montblanc has two shops in Beverly Hills and at the Beverly Center and you can also find Jan-Patrick on Twitter, too.