A lush, bushy tree with flowers that resemble yellow trumpets blooms in front of the Sanctuary of the Arts in Coral Gables. The façade of a former church stands just as stately as ever. Four tall columns with ornate tops hold up the entrance. Etched in the stone, the words "First Church of Christ, Scientist" still appear — but don't be fooled.
Principal managing director Rafi Maldonado-Lopez opens the doors to the building and reveals how immediately inside this mini Pantheon is an intimate 314-seat theater.
He removes the hanging ropes blocking the stairs and heads upstairs. The wood creaks with each step he takes. On the second floor, he motions to the view of the entire space.
Maldonado-Lopez explains how litigator Mike Eidson and his wife, Dr. Margaret Eidson, founded Sanctuary in 2019 and invested heavily in refurbishing the historic 1942 building. The venue has been retrofitted with sound panels, a proper stage with a harlequin dance floor, and a new electrical system — the whole nine yards.
"Sanctuary of the Arts hits two of Mike's loves, which are historic preservation and the arts," says Maldonado-Lopez. A small blue plastic gem left over from a recent performance lays discretely on the floor by Maldonado-Lopez's foot.
Throughout the pandemic, the cultural center began to properly develop — both structurally and organizationally. It opened in 2021 with a handful of local community events and festivals. In 2022, the programming took off with a residency by violinist Joshua Bell and an official grand-opening celebration.
acquired the old St. Mary First Missionary Baptist Church, renovating it into a performing arts space as well.
Maldonado-Lopez has known Mike for many years, so when he was approached to join the team at Sanctuary, it was an easy decision. "With Mike, you have someone who has the bird's eye view of the arts, and I had the worm's eye view of the arts."
Together, the pair make an exceptional team and share the same vision to create a cultural space that truly supports the community. They're working to bring top-tier talent to perform, train, and mentor at Sanctuary.
Sanctuary has forged partnerships with the Miami City Ballet, Cleveland Orchestra, and Miami-Dade County Public Schools.
With performances all year round, the venue is amping up its programming. This season alone, top names like flutist Nestor Torres will perform on various dates. Syncopate Collective is slated to perform during the holidays, and the venue will host the Miami Chamber Music Society Mozart Festival next summer.
Sanctuary is so much more than just a venue. In addition to hosting performances — from dance to music to book launches — the cultural space is also home to various companies.
Two dancers practicing for an upcoming performance spill out from a nearby room. As one reviews the wardrobe and runs her fingers over various dresses hanging from a rolling rack, the other sits on the floor and bends her body to touch her toes.
When it comes to the young and emerging talent at the cultural center, Maldonado-Lopez perks up as he speaks. "We provide them with space, yes, we provide them with a performance venue, but we also mentor them in administration, marketing, and everything that has to do with running their own nonprofit."
The goal, he says, is for these companies not to need the help of Sanctuary anymore because they're able to sustain themselves on their own.
As managing director, Maldonado-Lopez sees his work — and that of the cultural center — to be summed up into three tiers. "Our first tier is to provide world-class entertainment. Our second tier is to support the organizations that are already around and support the community. And our third tier is to support the next generation of artists. The idea is to stimulate cultural economics."
Sanctuary of the Arts. 410 Andalusia Ave., Coral Gables; sanctuaryofthearts.org.