I recently visited Vizcaya Museum & Gardens for the first time since the pandemic. I had forgotten how peaceful and energizing it is to walk around those beautiful grounds. Vizcaya is our tiny Versailles in South Florida, a breathtaking Gilded Age estate on Biscayne Bay surrounded by ten acres of formal gardens, a mangrove shoreline and rockland hammock.
It’s the perfect place to spend an entire day in the serenity of the gardens or enjoying the view of the water. Vizcaya is such a beautiful backdrop for photos you are sure to bump into a couple taking their engagement photos or a quinceañera photoshoot. If you haven’t been, add this place to your bucket list. It’s an experience you don’t want to miss.
Meet Charlotte Donn the Marketing and Communications Director at Vizcaya Museum and Gardens.
I had the opportunity to chat with Charlotte Donn the Marketing and Communications Director at Vizcaya Museum and Gardens. Thank you so much for taking the time to chat with me. I wanted to talk about what it’s working for Vizcaya Museum & Gardens and how locals can be more involved or take advantage of this national historic landmark.
How did you become involved with Vizcaya Museum & Gardens?
I was looking to leave my previous employer. At the time, the employees at Vizcaya were still county employees. I applied to the county, interviewed and was hired. As it turned out, when I was interviewing, the archivist ran across a picture in the archives of someone who had the same last name. They emailed me, sent the picture and asked, “Do you know who this person is? Are you related?“
My father was still alive. I showed him the picture and he said, “Yeah that’s my uncle Alec and that was from when they were building Vizcaya.” The photo was of him driving the company truck and delivering palm trees to be planted. They were part of the landscaping side of Vizcaya.
Did you know that there was that connection to Vizcaya in your family?
I did not know that. I have had family members who got married here; but I didn’t know it went all the way back to when it was actually being constructed.
Does that make it a little more fun to work there?
Oh, yeah. Especially to be in the gardens. I just look at the trees and I wonder. You know many of these trees are original. How many of them are ones that maybe they brought over and planted because Alec was listed as the first gardener for Vizcaya.
That’s incredible and is such a nice story to have for the place that that you spend so much time in.
Yes because my family’s been in Miami a long time. It’s happened that a number of the places that I’ve worked in that I’ve had a family member that was an early board member or something else like that.
What is your favorite thing about your job?
I think probably the favorite thing, about what I specifically do, is when we have something really interesting happening and we do the research with the media as to who might be interested in covering the story. And then they actually want to come and do cover the story.
We had The Miami Herald out this week because the waterfront has a lot of restoration happening. Well, that’s coming to an end. The Herald came out to cover the restoration of the work. We’re looking forward to it hopefully publishing next week.
That’s great news! Actually, I was going to ask you about the restorations taking place. I saw that there was construction going on in different places and was wondering when those projects are going to be completed and are they going to be reopened to the public?
The waterfront features we’re estimating they’ll be done by the end of July. A lot of the work is done. A few months ago we had cranes and barges out there. Those things are gone. Now they’re down to really detailed work.
The second floor of the house had been closed because we replaced the roof. That roof project is done. They had to cover everything on the second floor from dust and potential damage that might have happened. That opened this morning a half hour ago.
Vizcaya is consistently rated one of the top Miami attractions. What do you think attracts the tourists to Vizcaya?
I think it’s a combination of things. One is that it’s absolutely beautiful and certainly in an Instagramable world people want those beautiful shots. We’re on the bay. You couldn’t find a nicer place to visit Miami. It’s also very close to downtown. We’re about 15 minutes from Miami Beach. We’re just very conveniently located for both tourists and for locals.
Also because how long the history is, there’s a lot of people that have connections throughout their life here. People have connections because they visited when they were in a school group trip and then then they come back with their kids or they come back with their parents. A lot of families come in that way.
Also of course when tourism, which is picking up again, happens we have a lot of international visitors. It’s kind of like this microcosm of the history of Miami. Miami’s not old as far as being you know settled by the non-native population. Being able to come here and look at the world that the exceedingly wealthy from 100 years ago lived.
One of the things that we’ve been working on is starting to tell the story of the back of the house, the staff. My office is in Vizcaya Village. Right now we have our farmers market on Sundays over here. There’s 11 historic buildings in the village, which were really the functional side of the estate.
This is where he had his agricultural part of it. He had his cows, he had his chickens, he had his vegetables and his herbs growing. The superintendent was here. Most of the male staff was over on this side. Anyone who was on staff with a family lived on this side. The only staff that really lived in the house would have been the single females.
They had bedrooms that right now aren’t open to the public. But once we get the village completely renovated and reopened, we’ll be moving the current staff that’s in the main house. Most of that staff will move over to the village and that allows us to then start to open up some of that back of the house space and to tell more stories to the public.
Vizcaya has always been supportive of the community. You’ve hosted poetry festivals and all kinds of community events. Do you have any of those upcoming partnerships on the schedule?
Usually in the summer we do a big thousand person event. We create with the community these illuminated structures. Covid had changed that of course. We still did an illuminated event but it was done in the gardens. The numbers were around 300 instead of our usual thousand. The illumination was projected onto the main house and through the gardens rather than there being things that people held and walked through the gardens. So we made an adjustment through Covid.
We’re looking forward to being able to go back and have the community in and help create these pieces and be part of the show. As well as just to come and watch and observe. We’re still working with Miami-Dade County public schools with school tours.
We’re going have to see how that goes with how many schools are going to be able to do school groups both from a Covid perspective but also with summer learning loss. Where we can be most helpful with helping them with that. It may end up being remote in that we do remote tours with them and maybe a variation of our school program which we’ve been doing through the summer and summer camps.
What are different ways that locals can enjoy the gardens in the museum? I know you used to host yoga classes and you have the farmer’s markets. Do you have any other ways you like to share that locals can be involved with the museum?
There are volunteer opportunities with the garden on a regular basis. On our website you can look and see the volunteer opportunities there. We also have memberships. If you want to come really more than once, it’s worth getting a membership. Especially people like to use it over the holidays when they have visitors that come in. Granted the holidays are real busy here; but if you have a membership you can come anytime. Such as you just decide to take a long lunch break and come over and spend some time here.
Then, the community events that we do that’s primarily the local community. There aren’t many tourists that come necessarily to those.
The Vizcaya Lates, gardens by the moonlight, that we’ve been doing have actually been really popular. Certainly during the last year because people want to be outside and because we’ve been limiting the number of tickets. It’s very spacious because there’s 10 acres of gardens that 300 people can spread out in.
Can you tell us a little more about Vizcaya Lates?
Imagine gardens by moonlight and we have some feature aspect whether it’s music or it’s artist on site or something like that but it’s more to enjoy the gardens at night and to have this more intimate experience.
Is the ticket price the same for participating in this evening event as regular admissions?
Normally there is a separate ticket price but if you were already on the estate, because we started it at 5:00pm, if you’re on the estate by 4:30pm then you can just stay. But normally what we would have done in non-Covid times we would have shut the estate down and then started again at 6:00pm.
Wonderful, that’s a great tip! Well that’s pretty much all the questions that I had. Thank you so much for taking the time to share this with our Coral Gables Love readers.