Kislak Center

Please note that the Museum of Art and Design and MDC Special Collections, including the Kislak Center, are currently closed while the Freedom Tower undergoes renovations.

Kislak Center

The Kislak Center at the Freedom Tower opened to the public in 2018. Made possible by a generous donation by the Jay I. Kislak Foundation, the Kislak Center includes some of the most significant original source materials related to the history of the early Americas.

The gallery showcases a number of extraordinary objects, including books, maps, manuscripts, Pre-Columbian artifacts, and other historical materials that offer perspectives on the extraordinary civilizations that shaped the modern world. A permanent 2,600-square-foot exhibition space on the first floor of the Freedom Tower, the gallery realizes the vision of Jay I. Kislak (1922–2018) to establish a program in Miami devoted to the history and cultures of the early Americas. Kislak, a real estate entrepreneur and mortgage banker, came to the Miami area in 1952. Acquiring objects over the course of many years, he assembled what today is recognized as one of the most important collections of its kind in the world.

Kislak made the collection available to both scholars and the community through the Jay I. Kislak Foundation and gallery in Miami Lakes that opened in 1985. In 2004, the foundation donated more than 3,000 important items to be permanently exhibited at the historic Jefferson Building of the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. A 2010 gift to his alma mater, the University of Pennsylvania, enabled the renovation of the Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts at the Van Pelt-Dietrich Library Center, which has been named in his honor. The 2016 donation to Miami Dade College and the University of Miami enabled the creation of Kislak Centers and galleries at both schools.

In recognition of his efforts to preserve cultural heritage, Kislak was appointed by President George W. Bush to head the U.S. State Department's Cultural Property Advisory Committee from 2003 through 2008 and, in 2013, received the Encomienda of the Order of Merit Civil from the King of Spain, among other awards and appointments.

A River Runs Through It, Part 2: The Tequesta, Florida’s First Peoples

The Tequesta peoples, one of the first groups of indigenous inhabitants of South Florida, settled as early as 1200 AD near Biscayne Bay, from the mouth of the Miami River up to Broward and Palm Beach counties. On Thursday, September 22, 2022, at 6:30 PM, Kislak curators Dr. Carol Damian and Arthur Dunkelman join in conversation with archaeologist Bob Carr about early finds and how to identify the artifacts and the people who made them.

A River Runs Through It, Part 1: The Miami River, Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow

On September 15, 2022, Kislak curators Dr. Carol Damian and Arthur Dunkelman join in a conversation with Dr. Paul S. George, HistoryMiami Museum’s Resident Historian. Dr. George takes us on a memorable trip down the river, introduces us to its early inhabitants and their mysterious remains, and brings us up to the present with the remarkable new buildings that have changed the skyline of Miami.

Kukuli Velarde—In Search of a Connection: Which Aesthetics Belong to Me?

Past Program

On April 20, 2022, Peruvian artist Kukuli Velarde joins Kislak Center Curator Carol Damian to focus on three bodies of work by the artist—Corpus, Plunder Me Baby, and Isichapuitu—and to explore how her work engages the complexities of identity and cultural appropriation in the face of enduring colonization, feminist reimagination, and the challenges of envisioning universal social justice.

Traci Ardren, Carol Damian, and Arthur Dunkelman—Women of Power in the Indigenous New World

Past Program

On March 3, 2022, to mark Women's History Month, Dr. Traci Ardren joins Dr. Carol Damian and Curator Arthur Dunkelman to discuss indigenous women and their roles of power in the ancient Americas. Professor Ardren will present her research into the contemporary rituals of indigenous women as a continuation of ancient practices.

Carol Damian and Arthur Dunkelman—Kislak Treasures: Seeing the Present Through the Past

Past Program

On February 23, 2022, Dr. Carol Damian, Curator of the Kislak Center at MDC, and Arthur Dunkelman, Curator of the Kislak Collection at the University of Miami, introduce the extraordinary treasures of the Americas in the Kislak collections at their respective institutions and discuss the meaning of these objects for a contemporary audience.

Culture and Change in the Early Americas

Past Exhibition

The Kislak Center's inaugural exhibition, Culture and Change in the Early Americas, presented 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, it outlined the process of cultural change and adaptation that continues to the present day. The exhibition may be viewed as a virtual tour.

A new website for the Freedom Tower and MDC Special Collections will be launched soon. Stay tuned!