Juilliard at age 12. Then Harvard, Oxford and London’s Royal Academy of Music. Mix in world-tour solos with her piano for a decade-plus, work at The Kennedy Center and a spot among the elite in Australian author Ida Lichter’s latest release, The Secret Magic of Music: Conversations With Musical Masters. But for Berenika Schmitz, still in her early 30s, all of that has been a precursor to what she’s doing now: planting the seeds of an artistic Renaissance as executive director of Casa Romantica Cultural Center and Gardens. “The first time I saw Casa Romantica, I thought: What a beautiful place,” she notes. “I could see great things can happen here.”
The hilltop San Clemente venue was built by city founder Ole Hanson as his family home almost 90 years ago. The Spanish facade was saved by preservationists in the 1990s, when a proposal threatened to turn it over to chain-restaurant developers. Those who fought the plan hoped to draw the arts there. But few could envision what Schmitz has done with it in three years: theater in the gardens, a ballet on its terrace and exhibitions in the gallery.
Schmitz (who had already made a name as the founder of the Dana Point Symphony and chair of the city’s Arts & Culture Commission), also has brought a children’s music festival and a dance workshop. Then there’s the 8,000 blooms from London artist Rebecca Louise Law that will go on exhibit next year. The installation is unlike anything seen before at SoCal museums, and the petals will give the plush gardens a new touch.
Another sign of her leadership: Membership from local patrons has tripled since she came aboard. She’s turning South County into a must in the arts world. And Casa Romantica, she says, is at the core: “History and culture and arts can be intertwined to be a vibrant and meaningful experience.”
Up next? Schmitz is tacking on a law degree from the University of San Diego to her résumé.
The SoCal coastline, impactful art, exquisite table settings, family life, can-do attitudes
Traffic, formulaic music, not enough hours in the day, dogmatic attitudes, injustice