Each year, we ask locals to nominate Hunterdon County’s most influential people – men and women who are shaping the community, influencing their industries, and making a difference. Dozens of amazing stories were submitted about passionate and committed locals. At Hunterdon Happening, we salute all those who wake up every morning with the intention of leaving the world just a little bit better.
10 outstanding individuals have been named the Top 10 Movers & Shakers of the year, and we have the honor of sharing their stories on Hunterdon Happening. Meet Valentina Jotovic, a Clinton resident alongside her husband Dr. Antonius Bittmann, and the co-owner and C.E.O. of Flemington-based Hunterdon Academy of the Arts since 2007.
Her work has improved the lives of thousands of Hunterdon families and children who have attended HAA to benefit especially from its outstanding early childhood curricula–MusikGarten and ActinGarten–and music lesson program. Offering instruction customized to the students’ individual learning preferences, HAA has redefined educational standards and customer expectations especially for afterschool music lesson providers. Jotovic’s educational philosophy, which is based on the “multiple intelligences” concept, not only makes learning a musical instrument more enjoyable but it also has led to a number of amazing student achievements in recent years: more than a dozen HAA music lesson students–all children and teenagers–have won music competitions and/or performed in prestigious concert venues such as Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center in New York City.
Hunterdon Happening: Where did you attend school?
Valentina: I received my Master’s Degree at Rutgers University (Mason Gross School of the Arts), while my Undergraduate studies were completed in Europe (Belgrade, Serbia and Budapest, Hungary)
Hunterdon Happening: What motivates you every morning?
Valentina: I love learning–which is probably why I chose to work in education. I’m passionate about discovering new and exciting ways to motivate people to learn and develop their potential.
Hunterdon Happening: What would you say is your idea of a perfect day?
Valentina: Being surrounded by people I love and care about is, of course, the best. Additionally, any day when I get to discover something new about the world, about people, or about myself, is very fulfilling. And lastly, there should be good food. A perfect day should be tasty. 🙂
Hunterdon Happening: Who inspires you?
Valentina: People (my friends, relatives, employees, students) and their incredible unique personalities. I love diversity and I enjoy helping people discover, embrace and celebrate how original and special they are.
Hunterdon Happening: How did you decide to go into your business/profession/service?
Valentina: I’ve always loved music. It’s such an integral part of who I am that I can’t even remember the day when I “decided” to pursue it as a career. As a little girl I remember wanting to own a music school, but I never seriously believed it would materialize (I also wanted to own a toy store). I was teaching at a music school–then called Cooper Music Studio–when the owners approached me and my husband with a proposal. They were retiring and they wanted us to take over their life’s work. We were very honored by that request. The rest is history, I guess.
Hunterdon Happening: Which achievement are you most proud of?
Valentina: Building a really amazing and diverse community of performing arts lovers in our county. I still can’t believe that we have over 600 students attending our school. All these unique and wonderful people chose HAA to pursue their passion for the arts. It’s so flattering, I often have to pinch myself.
Hunterdon Happening: What has been the biggest challenge you’ve had to overcome?
Valentina: I think the economic challenges in 2008 and the Great Recession, in general. Running any business is tough during such difficult times, but working in the arts and making the case for the importance of arts education seemed nearly impossible at times.
Hunterdon Happening: What is the biggest accomplishment that you’d like to achieve over the next 5 years?
Valentina: I’d like to enable others to be leaders in arts education. I would like to see more of our students and teachers grow and pursue their dreams. Being an artist doesn’t mean you have to be struggling or starving. I would like to keep growing this community of like-minded people and helping them become as successful and fulfilled as possible.
Hunterdon Happening: How do you think your friends & coworkers would describe you?
Valentina: That’s a really difficult question. I think they would say I’m stubborn and determined, but also loving, patient and nurturing. I am very protective of people I care about, but I also challenge them to be the best they can be as people and as professionals.
Hunterdon Happening: Where’s your favorite place to go in Hunterdon County?
Valentina: The High Bridge Falls. Nature in this county is just amazing.
Hunterdon Happening: You can take a time machine back to visit yourself 10 years ago. What advice would you give?
Valentina: This is not original at all, but so true: “Don’t sweat the small stuff.” and “Less is more. ”
Hunterdon Happening: Same question 10 years in the future.
Valentina: “Stay out of the sun?” Haha. I don’t really know. Ask me in 10 years. 🙂