Imagine scheduling an arts event right after September 11, 2001. Certainly not the brightest idea. Crowds, frightened for their safety and feeling a bit guilty, wouldn't be in the mood to whup it up and have fun. But some presenters like artist/gallery owner Franklin Goldman, director of The Spanish Monastery Arts Festival, which had its debut around this time last year, felt they didn't have any choice but to go on. At a meeting of the Greater Miami Events and Festivals Association, when numerous of his presenter brethren moved to cancel their happenings, Goldman opened his mouth: "I stood up and said, 'You people don't understand that the artists and the church, we're the leaders of the community, we have to be the first people out because everyone will come out if the artists come out.' Artists and the church rebuild communities; it's been going on throughout time."
The show went on, and for two days small groups trickled through the gates of the monastery in search of distraction and something artsy to decorate their lives. A good idea after all, but one for which Goldman can't claim credit. The job of running the fest was thrust upon him when a member of the vestry at the monastery (a.k.a. the St. Bernard de Clairvaux Episcopal Church), who had been a reader of an arts column Goldman wrote for an Aventura publication, came into his North Miami Beach shop one day and tapped him for the position of director. "I said, 'Where's the camera? Am I on Candid Camera?' It was like a beer commercial," recalls Goldman. "It was so strange. I had to really think about it because it's an enormous amount of work."
The work pays off for the artists, who reap profits from their sales, and the church, which reaps rental fees from the booths. The community benefits as well, since one of the many good works done by the church is to feed the homeless on a regular basis. That it provides nourishing meals to the less-fortunate is a surprise for most people, who consider the monastery nothing more than a tourist attraction or popular place to hold a wedding.
The monastery's long and tangled history began in Segovia, Spain, where it was built during the 1100s and occupied by Cistercian monks for nearly 700 years. Bought by William Randolph Hearst in 1925, the buildings were dismantled stone by stone, packed in hay, and brought to America. Quarantined due to a Euro outbreak of hoof-and-mouth disease U.S. officials feared might be spread, the jumbled boxes remained in a warehouse for 26 years. In 1951 Hearst died, and one year later two men named Moss and Edgemon bought them to create a tourist attraction.
Sightseers have been flocking there ever since. This year an added bonus is A Taste in Aventura, which will feature an array of local restaurants offering samples of their cuisine to raise funds for area scholarships. "It's really about helping the artists and helping the community to understand the arts are cool," Goldman says. No matter when and where they're presented.