¡Olé, Madrid!

Group of NWSA college students posing with their teacher in front the Royal Palace, Madrid Spain

by Don Lambert and Melissa Wallen

Continuing a tradition of more than ten years, the New World School of the Arts’ visual arts graduating college students continued its established arts-immersion international trip, this year traveling to Madrid, Spain, accompanied by their professor Donald Lambert. The NWSA international travel program offers BFA students a unique artistic and cultural experience that allows them to explore and appreciate the vibrant cultures of other countries to augment and enhance their own artistic outlook.

The NWSA study abroad program, created by NWSA faculty and Miami gallerist Fredric Snitzer, has received significant support over the years from Miami art collectors Carlos and Rosa de la Cruz (de la Cruz Collection) who have helped fund the effort since its inception, and the Knight Foundation.

“The class of 2023 BFA graduates are culminating their arduous artistic training by using the city of Madrid as an extension of our classrooms here in Miami. This is a priceless opportunity to enhance their knowledge and gain worldwide perspective and outlook in the world of the arts.”

O. Gustavo Plascencia

Upon their return, NWSA faculty member Donald Lambert, sculpture, and Melissa Wallen, Director of the de la Cruz Collection, offered the following testimonial about their invaluable travel experience:

“Our time in Spain was filled with incredible art, architecture, and landscape design from Western art history. The central location of the hotel gave students ample opportunity to explore the city on foot, with daily walks to major sites and institutions along the tree-lined streets of Paseo del Prado and Parque del Buen Retiro – both UNESCO world heritage sites.
These walks to the nearby museums functioned as organic learning opportunities punctuated by the numerous public sculptures, fountains and monuments nestled in the parks and the Prado, and gave our students a physical context to contemplate the cultural and political shifts that took place in Europe in the 15th century and into the contemporary era.

A major highlight was the Museo del Prado, a treasure trove of artistic masterpieces. Among the countless masters in the collection, the timeless works of Goya, Velázquez, and El Greco transported us to Spain’s Siglo de Oro. The museum’s rich collection encouraged NWSA students to delve deeper into their own creative practices and examine the principles that have shaped generations of artists.

The permanent collection at the Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza propelled us through the Middle Ages, Renaissance, and Enlightenment, to engage with vibrant paintings from the Impressionist era and thought-provoking Modernist works. The museum’s current survey also includes work from their contemporary collection. During their visit, students had the opportunity to see a retrospective of Lucian Freud, which includes over 50 paintings from his oeuvre.
After a week exploring the art and culture of Madrid, the participating New World School of the Arts visual arts students set out on their first day trip, visiting the historic city of Toledo.
Toledo is a vibrant tapestry of three cultures—Christian, Jewish, and Muslim. Each has left an indelible mark on the city’s identity, blending harmoniously to create a unique cultural mosaic visible in the art and architecture of its streets, ramparts, fortifications, and places of worship. The architecture of the Sinagoga del Tránsito features exquisite Mudéjar flourishes, blending Islamic and Christian influences. Intricate plasterwork and geometric patterns adorn the ceilings and walls. This historic synagogue served as a poignant reminder of the multicultural heritage that shaped this city.
Like all surviving synagogues of its time, the Sinagoga del Tránsito was converted to a church after the expulsion of Jews from Spain in 1492. This complex history seems as if to be quietly woven into the festive garlands and banners still hanging for the festival of Corpus Christi, the city’s oldest and most important festival held just a few days before our arrival. It’s as if the city itself remains as a solemn reminder for us today of the importance of compassion and empathy.
The majestic Catedral Primada de Toledo is considered one of the finest examples of Gothic architecture in the world and stands as a testament to the city’s glorious past. The intricate details of the stained-glass windows and the imposing high ceilings left us in complete admiration.
Winding through Toledo’s narrow streets we arrived at El Greco’s masterpiece, “The Burial of the Count of Orgaz,” located in the Iglesia de Santo Tomé. This large canvas captures the celestial and earthly realms in a single awe-inspiring composition.
Toledo was a welcomed retreat from the density of the city and gave many of our students their first experience in a mountainous landscape – a delightful contrast to the flat shorelines of Miami.
Arriving back in Madrid for the second half of our trip, the NWSA students continued their exploration of the remarkable art and cultural treasures of Madrid with a visit to the Museo de Reina Sofía. Pablo Picasso’s masterpiece, “Güernica,” did not disappoint! This monumental painting is a powerful depiction of the horrors of war and is as poignant and relevant now as when it was painted.
We spent the remainder of the day immersing ourselves in the modern art of the collection, with prime examples of Surrealism, Cubism, Bauhaus, and conceptual art.
A visit to the private collection of contemporary art at Espacio Solo served as a refreshing juxtaposition to the wealth of historical works we had seen up to this point in the trip. This blend of the contemporary and the historic continued to challenge the students as they considered how their own histories manifest in their work and practice.
Repeatedly, we found ourselves challenged by the grandeur of historically significant sites such as the Palacio Real de Madrid and El Escorial – the two palaces presenting a stark architectural contrast through which to examine the differences in politics and philosophy of Spain’s past monarchs.  
A day visit to the vivid gardens of Joaquín Sorolla at Museo Sorolla offered repose, and a quieter pace for the day, while the exhilarating rhythms of Flamenco lit up the evening. To be in Madrid was as much an opportunity to be present as it was to walk through history. Madrid is a vibrant and bustling city.
Our final day trip led us to Segovia, another UNESCO World Heritage site, located in the Castile and León region of Spain, just northwest of Madrid. We entered the city through the tall archways of its ancient Roman aqueduct built in the 1st century A.D., which were still bringing water into the city as recent as the 1970s. As we walked in line with its rhythmic shadows, the students marveled at the sheer scale and engineering – a standing testament to the ingenuity of the Roman Empire.
Segovia played an important role in the development of the Spanish Renaissance and the Alcázar de Segovia served as a prime example, dating back to the 12th century A.D. with additions and renovations continuing for centuries. Walking through the halls and passageways of the Alcázar allowed us to walk through history yet again, particularly as we toured the throne room with its imposing stained-glass windows and its majestic kaleidoscopic light beams vibrantly reflected onto the stone floor at the feet of the two thrones of the Catholic Monarchs. These were the same stones on which Christopher Columbus stood centuries earlier as he asked Queen Isabella for funds for his expeditions to America. Moments like these reminded us we were not in a fairytale castle, this was not Disney, nor were we in someone else’s story. For us in America, in the Caribbean, in Miami – this is our story.
Our last stop before leaving town was the Catedral de Segovia, a Gothic masterpiece begun in the 16th century that took nearly 200 years to build. The cathedral is notable for its elegant spires and intricate carvings, as well as its collection of religious artifacts and artwork. And yes, once again the scale, artistry, and craftsmanship blew us away.
It’s hard to describe the breadth and depth of the art we saw and the culture we experienced during our 12 days in Madrid. The numerous spontaneous conversations that evolved over “chocolate y churros,” “tapas,” or “Tinto de Verano” can only be seen as the start of a much greater movement happening in each of the students. Their eyes were opened, their senses, questions, and curiosities peaked. And all of this seemed so fitting for the art we are still unpacking, having just landed back in Miami. If I were to choose one word to describe the effect this trip has had on our students, it may not be hyperbole to suggest – Renaissance. For us, it is the same.”
Thanks to the generous support of Carlos and Rosa de la Cruz, along with the Knight Foundation, New World School of the Arts graduating college seniors have had the life-changing experience of visiting countries such as France, Spain, Germany, Italy, England, and China to expand their artistic ideas and viewpoints. A special thank you for their generous support of the students at NWSA and for making this invaluable journey a reality.

“Traveling, experiencing different cultures, and seeing significant historical and the most current works of art in another country is a life-changing experience. The Knight Foundation and the de la Cruzes have together been the catalyst for these experiences that open the walls of our classrooms and take our students out into parts of the world they wouldn’t otherwise have the chance to experience.”

Dr. Jeffrey Hodgson