To Jessica Goldman Srebnick, walls are bridges, not barriers. The Wynwood Walls — in essence an outdoor museum of highly sophisticated street art — uses walls to showcase artwork rather than shield public access.
“Museums and galleries are wonderful,” Goldman Srebnick said. “But there’s also an intimidation factor for the majority of people to go to a museum or gallery. Whereas, if you put it out on the street and you put it in an open-air place, it becomes much less intimidating, and, I hope, we have helped to democratize art and make it for everybody.”
As curator of the Wynwood Walls, Goldman Srebnick can directly communicate with the million or so people said to visit the colorful Miami neighborhood each year. Every Miami Art Week for the past nine years, Goldman Srebnick and her family have invited artists to use the exterior walls of their 80,000-square-foot, six-building complex in the heart of Wynwood to convey special messages. The theme this year: Beyond Words.
“I felt like we had this amazing platform,” Goldman Srebnick, 48, said to INDULGE during an exclusive interview in her Miami Beach home. “Why not use that platform to talk about something that was important to me, and something that was important to us as a company, something that was important to our family? So, we started this program of coming up with a theme. Super simple, and it can mean different things to different people. When we try to create themes, in some ways we leave them a little open-ended so that you can interpret what that theme means to you.”
Goldman Srebnick curated her first themed show in 2013. It was a way to honor her father, Tony Goldman, the legendary real estate developer who died the year before at age 68. Three years before his death, Goldman, along with gallerist Jeffrey Deitch, created the Wynwood Walls using the outer walls of warehouses as a blank canvas.
Tony Goldman was a visionary who revitalized distressed properties. He helped transform Miami Beach from God’s waiting room into the vibrant seaside city it is today and is hailed as the savior of SoHo, Wall Street and Center City Philadelphia. He also saw promise in Wynwood, Miami’s belle-laide neighborhood.
In 1968, he was not yet 25 when he founded Goldman Properties and purchased his first property — mostly with money given as wedding gifts. His daughter now heads the company, which turns 50 this December. In addition to her role as CEO of Goldman Properties, she also teamed up with artist Peter Tunney in 2015 to found Goldman Global Arts.
Tunney refers to his partner as “our earth mother, guiding light and patron saint.”
Get People Talking
Through their partnership, they explore ways to provide art to both private and public collections. Additionally, they established a gallery behind the Wynwood Walls in a place called the Wynwood Garden. The Goldman Global Arts gallery provides an avenue for some 70 street artists from 26 countries around the world to sell their work. The rotating exhibition mainly features the work of artists who have exhibited on the Wynwood Walls.
‘Wynwood has become radically transformed in the years that Jessica has taken over,’ says Craig Robins.
This year during Art Basel Miami Beach, the gallery is slated to host a solo exhibition by Vhils, the tag used by Portuguese street artist Alexandre Farto.
“I want to hijack Art Basel and have everyone talking about our show,” said Tunney, who also goes by his initials, P.T. “I’m like P.T. Barnum.”
He said envisions the show opening with visitors walking through one of Vhils’ creations on the museum’s outer front wall. “My vision is that Vhils jackhammers the whole wall, and you enter through the sculpture.”
Art for Sports Fans
Known for the monumental portraits he creates by chiseling concrete walls, Vhils was one of the first artists displayed at the Wynwood Walls. He also features prominently in the first major project of Goldman Global Arts — the transformation two years ago of the Hard Rock Stadium into a monumental public art venue that appeals to sports fans and art aficionados alike.
‘Do not come to me with problems. Come to me with solutions,’ Goldman Srebnick says.
The mural Vhils created outside the stadium’s 72 Club even appeals to former Dolphins coach Don Shula.
“I really enjoy seeing the chiseled, concrete art piece and am honored to have my likeness there,” Shula said in an email. “I look pretty tough! Miami is well known to the world for being a city where you can enjoy seeing or purchasing fine, contemporary art.”
He also praised Goldman Srebnick for making the mural and other works possible, lauding her for “an excellent job providing football fans the opportunity to experience art at the Hard Rock Stadium, which is unexpected and an added bonus to game day.”
On a Different Path
In light of such monumental success, it’s almost hard to believe that Goldman Srebnick once envisioned a totally different life. After studying psychology Boston University, she planned to take a gap year working at Saks Fifth Avenue before returning to school to obtain her doctorate and become a child psychologist. Instead, she got accepted into the Saks executive training program and ended up becoming the associate fashion director for the company by the time she left, five years later.
‘In family business, you have a responsibility to contribute.’
Again, she had no intention of going into the family business. Instead, she wanted to go to Harvard for an MBA. “It was really just a conversation with my mother that changed the trajectory of my life,” she said. “My mother said, ‘You really should go work for your father and take that opportunity. He’s a brilliant thinker. There’s no one who would want to see you succeed more than him. Take the opportunity and learn from him.’”
But Goldman Srebnick was still leery.
“I told my dad that I would give him a one-year contract, because I was really worried,” she said. “I had this amazing relationship, this amazing father-daughter relationship, and I didn’t want to damage that. So I said, let’s try it for one year, because I wanted to be able to have an elegant out if it wasn’t working.”
A Family Affair
That year she worked in all the different parts of the business and wanted to make sure she was making a contribution. “I’m a big believer that family business doesn’t just mean that you have this pot to pull from,” she said. “Family business is just the opposite. You have a responsibility to contribute.”
She also believes that young people should work somewhere else before joining the family business. Even though you may know the business inside and out from discussions at the family dinner table, she warns against taking the easy route, because others likely will question whether you advanced based solely by birth.
“I think you have to go out into the world and be known for your first name and not your last name,” she said with emphasis. “I think it’s really important. I think that when you come back, you have to find your own way of contributing, different from other members of the family.”
She called her one-year experiment “going to the Tony Goldman School of Business,” and laughed, “My one year is up, and I blink and it’s been 21 years.”
Although the company has 250 employees with a combined employment of 1,251 years, Tony Goldman relied most heavily upon his immediate family — his wife, Janet; son, Joey; and daughter, Jessica. “My dad used to say we’re like a table with four legs,” she said. “And then one of the legs is no longer there, and that creates an imbalance in your family.”
Lessons in Confidence
Goldman Srebnick emphasizes the importance of family unity as part of the business model for Goldman Properties. That business model also includes injecting life into rundown neighborhoods by serving up good food. “Part of the model that we believe helps to ignite neighborhoods is to have a place to go to,” she said. “People will go into a neighborhood that’s a sketchy neighborhood for a really great restaurant. Unlike other things, that turns the lights on in the neighborhood. Then also, people want to see that somebody else is committed. Owning and operating your own restaurant shows our commitment to a neighborhood.” In Wynwood, Goldman opened two restaurants: Her brother runs Joey’s, and she runs Wynwood Kitchen & Bar.
In addition to running his namesake restaurant, Joey Goldman plays a strategic role in the company. So does his mother, who founded a successful jewelry operation called Fragments before becoming chair of Goldman Properties after her husband’s death. “Everybody talks about my dad, and some talk about me,” Goldman Srebnick said. “But I always want to be super respectful to my mother and my brother. I think that collaboration is really important for leaders. At the end of the day, somebody has to make a decision. It has to be one person. So, a lot of times that falls to me. Sometimes it falls to my mother.”
Goldman Srebnick started working for her father in September 1997. A year later he shipped her to Miami. “He said, ‘I’ve got a hotel for you to open,’” she remembered. “I knew nothing of the hotel business. He just tossed me into the deep end. There were many days that I called him up, wanting to cry. He said, ‘I wouldn’t have put you in that role if I didn’t think you could do it.’”
Goldman was training his daughter to think for herself and be confident in her decisions.
“He had really high expectations of me,” she said. “It was not easy. He always used to say to me, ‘Do not come to me with problems. Come to me with solutions.’”
She said she hopes to one day memorialize his wisdom and business acumen in a book called Lessons from a Father to a Daughter. It’s another tribute to her father, “almost like Natalie Cole when she sang that song with her father,” Goldman Srebnick said. “He had passed. It was pretty amazing at the time that you could actually do that.”
Friend and Collaborator
Craig Robins, who developed the Miami Design District, was close with Tony Goldman and remains close with Goldman Srebnick. Tony Goldman was his first business partner and “an important teacher,” he said. While his former partner saw the potential in Wynwood, he credits Goldman Srebnick for expanding on a good idea.
“Tony was definitely a catalyst for putting Wynwood on the map,” Robins said. “But it’s become radically transformed in the years that Jessica has taken over. It’s become a much bigger, more solid place. She’s really managed to continue and nurture that area and bring it to another level.”
Robins and his family hold a special place in Goldman Srebnick’s heart. Robins’ sister, Stacy, introduced Goldman Srebnick to her husband, Scott Srebnick, a Harvard-educated criminal defense attorney.
Built to Last
“She fixed us up on a blind date,” Goldman Srebnick said. “He picked me up and we went to lunch. I would not give him dinner, just lunch.” They dined on Ocean Drive and played tennis afterward. “I wanted him to see me in a tennis dress,” she said with a sly grin. Seven months later, they were engaged.
“When you know, you know,” she said. “We got married at Vizcaya. And we will be married 18 years. I love him more now than ever. I’m very lucky. We have a beautiful, beautiful marriage.”
They have three sons, ages 11 to 16, and live in a house filled with art that reflects Goldman Srebnick’s work with the Wynwood Walls. In the living room, near the grand piano and conga drums, hangs a word painting by Tunney: LOVE MORE. Just off the kitchen is a large mandala mural by Cryptik that covers an entire wall. Hidden inside the calligraphic design is the Gandhi quote: “Where there is love, there is life.”
When asked if her husband might one day become the fourth leg of the table at the family firm, Goldman Srebnick looks heavenward. She smiles and raises both arms high in silent ecstasy.
Six Years of Themed Wynwood Walls
Every year, Jessica Goldman Srebnick brings in artists to create works on the Wynwood Walls that revolve around a theme.
* 2013: Women on the Walls. “As a new woman CEO, it was important for me to shine a light on women artists and push the discussion on women’s leadership,” Goldman Srebnick said.
* 2014: The Art of Collaboration. “It was putting together artists who had never worked together before, because I feel that when we collaborate it brings out the best in us.”
* 2015: Walls of Change. “Wynwood was really an incredible example of how taking a gravel parking lot and turning that into one of the most beautiful outdoor street art museums in the world was so simple, but transformed the community.”
* 2016: Fear Less. “For me, that resonates not just with the general feeling that I was feeling at the time in our country, in our cities, in the world. I also recognize that what we do as a company — Goldman Properties — what we’ve been doing for 50 years now is that we go into neighborhoods that people fear. In order to fear less, you have be fearless. So, since I was 7 years old, we’ve been going into neighborhoods and we don’t think twice about the fact that they are dilapidated or crime-ridden or hopeless. There is that element of fearlessness that’s necessary to be a pioneer.”
* 2017: humanKIND. “I just felt like people needed to be kinder to one another.”
* 2018: Beyond Words. Peter Tunney texted this year’s theme to his partner, noting the theme is apt on so many levels. “I think that we could talk about politics – anyway you want to slice it, it looks beyond words,” Tunney said. “For me, one of the heaviest parts of Beyond Words is the violence and man’s inhumanity to man. I always thought, and was hopeful, growing up in the ’60s, that we would get smarter and more peaceful and give peace a chance. It doesn’t quite look like that to me. So, it’s beyond words.” —SM
Words by Siobhan Morrissey
Photography by Nick Garcia
Fashion Direction and Styling by Elysze Held
Hair by Danny Jelaca
Makeup by Osvaldo Perez
Story Design by John Michael Coto
Story Editing by Evan S. Benn
Photography Production by Angela Bonilla
Photography Assistance by Ricardo Mestre
Styling Assistance by Angelica Poise Ziegler
Fashion Assistance by Samantha Torres, Simone Ganthier and Elisa Ramirez
Photographed on Location at Wynwood Walls, Goldman Global Arts and Goldman Properties