Miami Dade College's robust cultural affairs programming is a year-round affair, and leading the charge is María Carla Chicuén, who took the reins as the college's cultural affairs executive director earlier this year.
One of Chicuén's first major events was in March for the 40th anniversary of the Miami Film Festival, and coming up in November is the Miami Book Fair's 40th anniversary. One of her department's biggest events, the Freedom Tower's centennial celebration, will be held in 2025.
"This role connects all those pillars in the community. At the Miami Film Festival's 40th anniversary, we had so many special moments, particularly when actor Nicolas Cage, a special guest at the festival, engaged with students throughout different campuses during the Miami Film Festival," Chicuén says.
As MDC cultural affairs executive director, she also supports the leadership overseeing the Freedom Tower's renovation and transformation. "I feel honored to be entrusted with that role," she says.
Chicuén's full-circle moment began as a dual enrollment student at MDC during high school. She then had her first tenure as an employee in 2015 as a special projects assistant to Miami Dade College's president. "That helped me learn so much for my current position," she adds.
As head of the cultural affairs department, Chicuén oversees the Miami Film Festival, Miami Book Fair, Freedom Tower centennial celebration, and the college's other varied cultural venues, including Koubek Center, Museum of Art & Design, and Live Arts Miami.
Equally important to her is MDC's long-standing commitment to education for all individuals.
"I think we have an incredible opportunity, perhaps unique in the city, to reach every household in Miami and offer both a quality education and foster cultural awareness. Both are equally important to the growth and development of our community," Chicuén says.
Her rich and varied background, both educationally and professionally, has prepared her handsomely for her current role.
Since childhood, she has been curious and excited about the arts and its forms. Her grandmother was a pianist, and the piano was the center of all the family gatherings. "We always came together around music, it was by far the most powerful force bringing us together," she says.
Arriving in the United States from Cuba as a teenager, she recalls adapting to life here and having to learn English. The arts played a significant role in her learning a new language.
"I remember enrolling in theater classes and it being an incredible experience, finding a personal space but also a way to improve my English," she explains. "And as a lover of the arts, I was also involved in different dance groups and wrote poetry. I participated in scholastic during high school and was a founding member of the Hispanic theater troupe in college at Harvard University."
Her writing eventually led to her publishing Achieve the College Dream, which she presented at the Miami Book Fair years ago. "I also enrolled in workshops which helped me engage with the creative community," she adds.
She's already excited about the Miami Book Fair in November, where they've already announced another stellar lineup of writers, including award-winning Poet Laureate Richard Blanco, award-winning author and Miamian Edwidge Danticat, and actress Kerry Washington.
"We're anticipating another incredible fair and are excited to have unveiled our poster. We're calling this the next page of our book fair," Chicuén says.
Along with the three major milestones of the film festival, book fair, and Freedom Tower, she also has her eyes on Koubek Center, the multicultural center by and for the community presenting a consistent schedule of Spanish programming, and Live Arts Miami, where they showcase a rich diversity of performers.
"Both Koubek and Live Arts are very accessible and truly showcase the diversity of our community. Koubek reflects Little Havana's community heritage," she explains.
The future looks brighter than ever at Miami Dade College under Chicuén's directive."We have incredible artistic talent at MDC and are a pipeline for our students, and that's what I hope to foster, ultimately providing more collaboration in the field of arts and culture between our college and our partners."
For Chicuén, this role is truly a dream come true and a real privilege in her goal to ensure everyone in the community has access to the arts.
– Josie Gulliksen, ArtburstMiami.com