New Kislak Center OpensThe highly anticipated Kislak Center opens May 20

Greenstone Mosaic Mask, Mayan
Greenstone Mosaic Mask, Mayan

The highly anticipated Kislak Center at MDC’s National Historic Landmark Freedom Tower in downtown Miami, opened to the public on Sunday, May 20, 2018. The Kisklak Center is a new permanent collection space that will house rare objects from the renowned Kislak collection. Made possible by a donation by the Jay I. Kislak Foundation and assembled over the course of many decades, the Kislak collection, considered one of the most important of its kind in the United States, includes some of the most significant original source materials related to the history of the early Americas.

The new gallery showcases extraordinary objects, including books, maps, manuscripts, Pre-Columbian artifacts and other historical materials that offer perspectives on the events and personalities that shaped the modern world. The gallery, a permanent 2,600-square-foot exhibition space is located on the first floor of the Freedom Tower, adjacent to its ballroom and historic New World Mural, which celebrates Ponce de León’s 1513 landing in the place he named Florida.

The Kislak gift includes funding for construction of the center inside the Freedom Tower and access to more than 3,000 objects from the collection in the Library of Congress, valued at approximately $30 million dollars. Housing these valuable objects in a permanent collection space inside a historic building in Miami is significant because of the city’s cultural character. Miami is an important entry point for the Americas and the Caribbean. It is a city of immigrants where many residents arrive from other places through voluntary migration or forced displacement and exile. The Kislak Center at Miami Dade College will offer a unique opportunity to celebrate and acknowledge the history and communities that enrich the city.

As a leading steward of historic facilities in Miami, MDC has enlivened and activated the spaces of Freedom Tower with galleries and operating centers for some of the most impactful  cultural programs in a variety of disciplines. Housed inside the historic building are the Miami Book Fair, the Miami Film Festival, MDC Live Arts, and the Museum of Art and Design with the Special Collection Galleries, which in addition to the new Kislak Center, include the Cultural Legacy Gallery, a permanent space dedicated to the impact of Cuban culture on South Florida and the rest of the world. Long a symbol of freedom and refuge for the hundreds of thousands of Cuban Exiles who fled tyranny and embraced the American Dream, Freedom Tower is now also a thriving cultural center, providing the entire Miami Dade community with access to a treasure trove of cultural programs.

The Kislak Gallery’s inaugural exhibition, Culture and Change in the Early Americas, is co-curated by Arthur Dunkelman, director of the Jay I. Kislak Foundation and the nationally-recognized art historian Dr. Carol Damian. The exhibition presents a multidimensional view of the history of the Western Hemisphere beginning with early Native American cultures and extending to modern times. Through the lens of history, visitors will glimpse the process of cultural change and adaptation that continues to the present day.

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Highlights from the opening exhibition include:

  • A Fluted Brownware Bowl with Swirl Patterns from the Classic Maya Period, depicting the Milky Way as a sky-serpent spiraling around the bowl. (Guatemalan Lowlands, 200–400 CE). The concept of a spiral design intrigued this Maya artist, who saw the universe as an ever-changing conflict between light and dark, day and night, this world and the spirit world and fashioned this design to illustrate those nuances.
  • A Greenstone Mosaic Mask, Guatemalan Lowlands, Classic Maya Period (700-900 CE). Jade, highly prized by the Maya and associated with fertility and life giving essence, was used by priests and nobility in art, ornamentation and afterlife rituals.
  • A Fragment of a 10th century Maya Hieroglyphic Monument. The Maya carved important events such as victories, defeats, marriages and births, and the celebration of rituals on stone stelae and lintels.
  • Indian Playing Trachtli, (circa 1529), is an exceptionally rare and historically significant colored pen-and-ink drawing of Aztec jugglers and one of the earliest images of Native Americans drawn from life in Europe. Tlachtli is the Nahuatl name for a ritual ballgame that was played throughout the Caribbean and Mesoamerica. The drawing is by Christoph Weiditz, court artist of Charles V.
  • Abraham Ortelius’ Theatrum Orbis Terrarum, (1574), is considered the first true modern atlas. It contained 53 newly engraved maps of uniform size and style, arranged by continent, region and state with the intention of being bound together.
  • Corneille Wytfliet’s Descriptionis Ptolemaicae Augmentum, (1598), is the first atlas devoted to the Americas and includes the first map focused solely on Brazil. It also contains the earliest printed maps of central Canada, California, and the Southwest.
  • Fracanzano da Montalboddo’s Paesi nouamenti retrouati, (1507), is a work that more than any other, was responsible for spreading news of early Portuguese and Spanish discoveries. It includes the first printed account of the voyage of Vasco da Gama to India, the first printed account of the landing in Brazil by Pedro Álvares Cabral, all three voyages of Columbus to the Americas and the Amerigo Vespucci letters on the New World.
  • A first edition of the 1493 letter of Christopher Columbus announcing his momentous discovery to King Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabel I of Castile. The five woodcut illustrations are the earliest pictures of what purports to be the New World.
  • Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca’s, Relación y comentarios, (1555). The Spanish explorer’s account of the failed 1527 expedition led by Pánfilo de Narváez. He was one of four survivors of the 300-person expedition that began in Tampa Bay in 1528. After an eight-year, 2,400-mile journey, some members of this cohort became the first Europeans to cross North America. To survive, they learned the languages and customs of people they encountered and gained a reputation as healers.
Book, front page illustration of crest
Cabeza de Vaca, Alvar Relacion y comentarios

Getting There

Miami Dade College’s Kislak Center
Freedom Tower
600 Biscayne Boulevard, Miami, FL  33132

Regular Gallery Hours
Wednesday, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays 1 – 6 p.m.
Thursdays 1 – 8 p.m.

Entrance to the Kislak Center with Museum of Art and Design admission:
$12 adults; $8 seniors and military; $5 students (ages 13–17) and college students (with valid ID)

Free for children 12 and under, MOAD members, MDC students, faculty and staff.

For updates and a full schedule of events, please visit