The Knight Foundation provides seed funding
A group of Cuban-American community leaders has stepped forward to support “CasaCuba,” an initiative that brings together all things Cuban at FIU.
The initiative will harness FIU’s prestigious scholarly and cultural resources to activate its extensive Cuban collections for scholars and the public, with the eventual goal of constructing a 50,000-square-foot facility on FIU’s campus.
“The CasaCuba initiative formalizes what has been true for many years: Cuba is in FIU’s DNA,” said FIU President Mark B. Rosenberg. “Almost one million Cubans call Miami home with Cuban immigrants making up one-third of Miami-Dade County’s population. There is no location outside of Cuba with a greater connection to Cuban and Cuban-American people than Miami and no university with greater expertise in the study of the island nation than FIU. This new center will be accessible to our students, the larger South Florida community, and visitors from around the world.”
The academic pillar of CasaCuba will be the Cuban Research Institute (CRI), in the Steven J. Green School of International & Public Affairs, the nation’s premier center for academic research and public programs on Cuban and Cuban-American issues. CRI offers a certificate in Cuban and Cuban-American Studies and more than 70 courses focused on the island and its diaspora.
“Communities that shape their futures most successfully know where they come from,” said Alberto Ibargüen, president of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, which contributed $200,000 to launch the project. “CasaCuba will be a place to engage deeply with Cuban culture, so Cuban-Americans and everyone else can borrow the best of it for our American home.”
FIU also has significant resources related to Cuban art, history and music, including the Darlene M. and Jorge M. Pérez Art Collection at FIU, which documents the historical trajectory of Cuban art since the late 1800s, and the most extensive publicly available collection of Cuban music, the Diaz Ayala Cuban and Latin American Popular Music Collection with more than 100,000 items.
In addition to CRI and the Diaz Ayala music collection, CasaCuba will house oral history recordings, searchable genealogy records, exhibitions, meeting spaces, classrooms, and other Cuban collections.
The idea for CasaCuba began at an FIU Foundation board meeting last year, during which board members discussed the extent of FIU’s Cuba-related resources. Things evolved and a small group formed an advisory board and recruited others, eager to advance the initiative that grew into CasaCuba. CasaCuba advisory board members represent business; fashion; entertainment and the arts; communications; and legal and public affairs. The full board met for the first time on March 24, 2016 and elected a chair and vice chair.
The board members are:
- Agustin Arellano, Sr., chair of construction firm NV2A Group, board chair
- Ray Rodriguez, former president and chief operating officer of Univision Communications, vice chair
- Cesar Alvarez, senior chairman of Greenberg Traurig and member of the FIU Board of Trustees
- Nestor Carbonell, Sr., former international public affairs and business leader at PepsiCo
- Alfonso Fanjul, Jr., chairman and chief executive officer at Florida Crystals Corporation and Fanjul Corp.
- George Feldenkreis, executive chairman of the board of Perry Ellis International
- Andy García, award-winning Cuban-American actor and director
- Alberto L. Ibargüen, president, chief executive officer and a trustee of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation
- Jorge Mas, chairman of the board, MasTec
- Lily Prellezo, author
- Claudia Puig, senior vice president/eastern regional manager of Univision Communications and chair of the FIU Board of Trustees
- Mark B. Rosenberg, president of Florida International University
- Eduardo M. Sardiña, former president and chief executive officer of Bacardi U.S.A.
- José J. Valdés-Fauli, private investor and former banker
Over the past year, quarterly meetings have been held and the board developed the vision for CasaCuba. In keeping with FIU’s unique position as the epicenter of the Cuban community, the mission of CasaCuba is “to create the world’s premier research, education, and cultural center designed to preserve and promote the history and contributions of the Cuban diaspora.”
“CasaCuba’s mission is close to my heart,” said Agustin Arellano, Sr., the advisory board’s chair. “We want to inspire and educate in an atmosphere that promotes freedom and goodwill.”
In May, the CasaCuba initiative received initial seed funding from the Knight Foundation to hire an executive director for the center. Among other early priorities, the executive director will refine, develop and implement the strategy of the center. In addition, the executive director will work directly with other community organizations focused on Cuba.
Established in 1950, the Knight Foundation, which has the goal of fostering “informed and engaged communities,” has previously supported several FIU projects. They include FIU Miami Urban Future Initiative, a joint project of FIU’s College of Communication, Architecture + The Arts and the Creative Class Group at Mana Wynwood, as well as a grant to The Wolfsonian–FIU to support programs that provide greater public access to the museum’s collection of art and design.
“Thanks to the Knight Foundation, CasaCuba can move ahead with its mission to educate and engage the Cuban community,” Arellano said.