Since her tenure began in 2013, Casa Romantica Cultural Center and Gardens’ Berenika Schmitz has seen a shift in south Orange County’s perception of the nonprofit institution. Once the home of San Clemente’s founder, Ole Hanson, much of the local community assumed that the property was still owned privately, or was only used for weddings, for several years after the nonprofit opened to the public in 2004. But the institution had new life breathed into it when Schmitz came aboard, hand-picked by Board of Trustees President Ruth DeNault to spearhead a new vision for the Casa.
Raised in the Canadian province of Ontario and in New York City, Schmitz arrived in Southern California after completing the DeVos Fellowship with the Kennedy Center for the Arts in Washington, D. C., one of the nation’s preeminent centers for the arts. In California, Schmitz founded and became the Artistic Director of the Dana Point Symphony, a position honed by her decade-plus experience as an internationally-touring concert pianist. She also chaired the Dana Point Arts Commission. When she became the Executive Director of Casa Romantica is 2013, she had a vision for the institution: to transform the once-stagnant organization into south Orange County’s premier center for the arts.
Berenika Schmitz’s leadership has culminated so far in an increase of over 90% more visitors, nearly 100% more patrons, and 900% more memberships, not to mention twice as many children served with free arts education programs. VoyageLA interviewed Schmitz about her past, present, and the future of the organization.