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Miami Emerging Arts Leaders - Leading Forward: 7 Miami Creatives Share Their Emerging Perspectives on the Role of Arts in our Community

How can the arts help build community? How can cultural engagement move social movements forward? How are Miami's artists and creatives leading the way toward more diverse, equitable and sustainable practices? Join the Miami Emerging Arts Leaders for a conversation about the role of the arts and culture in our community with seven outstanding arts innovators. Panelists bios available below. All are welcome as we come together to share lessons learned, insights, and ideas.

Moderated by Ashlee Thomas, Miami Emerging Arts Leaders Steering Committee Chair and Artistic Director & Co-Founder, Miami Urban Contemporary Experience (MUCE). Followed by an interactive Q&A.

Wednesday, April 12, 2023 at 10-11:30 AM

Register here 

(Free event on Zoom)


Panelist Bios

Ashlee Thomas

With a professional career in theater & dance and a stellar academic focus in marketing and public administration, Ashlee has seamlessly integrated her creative passion and professional career. She is an award-winning grant writer and co-founder of MUCE, an arts production company that brings brands and ideas to life with art. Upon her graduation from Florida State University, Ashlee relocated to Los Angeles for six years where she danced professionally with Los Angeles based company, CONTRA-TIEMPO Activist Dance Theater. Independently, she created full length choreographic works workshopped at Disney Concert Hall and premiered at the prestigious Highway Theater in California.  She has written and produced three original plays, three children’s shows and served as a lead choreographer in Latin-Grammy nominated music video, “Licenciado Cantinas” for Enrique Bunbury. She also served as co-founder and festival director of Melbourne Webfest, Australia's first web-series festival.  In 2014, she returned to Miami and developed her career in arts administration and education, serving as the Marketing Manager at the African Heritage Cultural Arts Center, the Manager of Education and Community Outreach at the Adrienne Arsht Center and as the Drama magnet teacher at Charles Drew K8 Center.  She is a published blogger and Host for creative and corporate events and credits much of her success to her training at the African Heritage Cultural Arts Center, a cultural gem that fostered creativity, discipline, identity, and ownership in her life.

María Carla Chicuén

María Carla Chicuén is the Executive Director of Cultural Affairs at Miami Dade College. At MDC, she is responsible for providing leadership and operational oversight for the College’s acclaimed cultural programs, including the Miami Book Fair, Miami Film Festival, Freedom Tower, Museum of Art & Design, Koubek Center and Live Arts. She also works to expand collaborations with partners throughout the community and beyond, while representing the College as an ambassador for cultural affairs and policy in national and international forums.  María Carla has over a decade of experience inspiring excellence in individual and institutional performance across the fields of higher education, cultural programming, and international development. Her career trajectory spans the United States, Europe, and Latin America and is distinguished by her development of strategic partnerships and collaborations with a wide range of notable organizations, as well as her successful fundraising track record and her ability to transform teams and early-stage ventures into high-performing operations that deliver a positive impact in the broader community. María Carla most recently served as the founding Executive Director of CasaCuba, where she led the effort to build a premier Cuban cultural center at Florida International University to preserve and celebrate Cuban heritage. Previously, she was Assistant to the President, Special Projects at Miami Dade College, focusing on implementing high-level initiatives that aligned with institutional priorities. María Carla holds a Bachelor of Arts with High Honors in History and a Certificate in Latin American Studies from Harvard University, and a Master of Science in International Relations from the London School of Economics and Political Science. Upon graduation, she launched her professional career as an Education Consultant for the World Bank in Washington D.C., followed by her tenure as an Organizational Management and Strategy Development Consultant for the Inter-American Development Bank in Central America. María Carla is the author of the book Achieve the College Dream (Rowman & Littlefield, 2016). As an advocate for education access, she has been a frequent speaker and regular media contributor on the topic for national and international outlets. She has been actively involved in multiple civic initiatives, including the Leadership Miami program of the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce and the World Economic Forum's Global Shapers. She is a current Term Member of the Council of Foreign Relations. María Carla has been named among the Influential Latinos of Miami by Latino Leaders Magazine.

Edward C. Garza

Edward C. Garza, the son of migrant farmworkers, was born in Homestead, Florida. At an early age, Edward has been a tireless advocate for youth and issues facing the South Miami-Dade community. A graduate of Miami Dade College, Edward has served as CEO of the Mexican American Council since 2017, where he champions the mission to ensure farmworker youth have access to education, technology, and the arts. At the beginning stages of the COVID-19 Pandemic, Edward was instrumental in establishing partnerships to leverage local, state, and federal resources and increase access to life-saving medical care and equipment. Through community partnership and collaboration, thousands of PPE, COVID-19 test kits, and vaccines were distributed and administered. Under his leadership, the Mexican American Council launched the nationally recognized “VACUNATE!” Educational Awareness Campaign to increase health equity and combat vaccine misinformation in Miami Dade County’s farmworker families against the COVID-19 Pandemic. Edward currently resides in Homestead, Florida, and is the proud father of Leonardo Garza.

Bart Mervil

Father of 4 and co-founder of The Miami Urban Contemporary Experience, Bart Mervil has been at the forefront of cultivating Miami's urban art scene in areas known as Heritage Neighborhoods. His company has produced programing, festivals, and exhibitions for organizations that include the Miami-Dade County Black Advisory Board, Jazz In The Gardens, Macy's, University Of Miami, St. Thomas University, Commissioners, and Community Redevelopment Agencies. Bart truly believes in the economic power of the arts and is very aware of the 1.1 billion dollar arts industry in South Florida. He is also aware of the lack of access to this industry by people of African descent. He is committed to ensuring that the Diaspora is a part of the economic engine - as generators and benefactors. With MUCE as a platform for the community, Bart will transform the artistic landscape of the western world as a cultural ambassador for arts in heritage neighborhoods.  His extensive experience in broadcast, film, and production at WPLG Channel 10, MTV, BET, and Warner Music Group, alongside his collegiate studies in film and photography, provide him the knowledge and passion to run a successful social enterprise. MUCE addresses issues Bart is most passionate about: preserving Miami's Black heritage, cultivating talent from inner cities, and providing economic opportunities to members of the community. With Fervor, Mervil works tirelessly organizing art initiatives in the heritage neighborhoods of Liberty City, Little Haiti, Overtown, and Little River, and soon, in global communities that mirror these neighborhoods. His mission is found on the principle that we owe it to our community and families to commit to unwavering support and conservation of the arts while creating accessibility & economic opportunities through the arts. He lives by the ideal that, "There is no such thing as when will  'they' do it?. It is I who is responsible for my community; the question is - when will I do it?" Learn more about Bart's company MUCE @muce305.

Marissa Alma Nick

Marissa Alma Nick was born in Miami, Florida, and lives and works in Miami, Florida. Nick recived a high school degree from the New World School of the Arts (2003), and received her BFA in Dance-Performance from the University of South Florida (2007), as well as continuing her education through the Creative Capital Education Program (2016 - 2019). Her practices include choreographing and directing for live and immersive dance-theater, writing (books and screenplays) and directing screendance (specifc dance-for-camera projects). In 2015, Marissa established her own dance performance company, Alma Dance Theater, which has produced four full-length live and immersive shows in Miami, Florida: “Flowers” (2015), “Cask”(2018), “Rebel In Venus”(2020), and most recent, her adaptation of “Giselle” (2022) ; as well as collaborating with notable Miami, Florida venues like Showfields Miami (2021) , Faena (2019 - 2022), Vizcaya (2019) , and Perez Art Museum Miami (2017 - 2023). Marissa was also the original founding Artistic Director of Screendance Miami, under the direction of Mary Luft and Tigertail Miami (2014 - 2016), and she is an adjunct professor at the University of Miami's, Musical Theater Department (2020 - 2021) ; as well as a guest choreographer at Nova Univeristy (2018, 2019), and a guest instructor at Miami Dade Community College (2015 - 2017). Marissa’s premier novel “Rebel In Venus” will be released in April 2023.

Geraldine Toussaint

Geraldine Toussaint is a Cultural Projects Administrator for the Miami-Dade County Department of Cultural Affairs and she manages the Community Grants Program. Geraldine has more than five (5) years of experience in the public sector in municipal government (City of Miami Beach and City of North Miami) in grants management (federal and local), arts, culture tourism, and event planning (administering, organizing, and facilitating special and cultural events). Geraldine has always been fascinated by the power of culture to bring people together and create meaningful change in the world. As a Cultural Projects Administrator, Geraldine's work includes helping nonprofit cultural organizations present community-based projects that address indigenous cultural neighborhood activities and projects encouraging the preservation of heritage, traditions, and culture and social service organizations and cultural groups developing collaborative intervention projects. Geraldine holds a Bachelors in Public Administration from Florida International University, Steven J. Green School of International & Public Affairs.

Pioneer Winter

Pioneer Winter (he/they) is a Miami-based choreographer and artistic director of Pioneer Winter Collective, an intergenerational and physically integrated dance-theater company, rooted in social practice and community, queer excellence, and beauty beyond the mainstream. Recognized in Dance Magazine's 25 to Watch in 2019, Pioneer Winter's work democratizes performance in public spaces, museums and galleries, stage, and film. Pioneer has been commissioned by Miami Theater Center, Karen Peterson and Dancers, Tigertail Productions, Jacksonville Dance Theatre, FundArte, and the Adrienne Arsht Center, where Pioneer was the first Artist-in-Resident in a decade. Pioneer has been a guest artist at universities, including Miami Dade College, Nova Southeastern University, Broward College, Florida State College, and teaches full time at Florida International University. An extension of his creative practice, Pioneer has curated and directed ScreenDance Miami Festival since 2017, presented by Miami Light Project; Pioneer’s own films screen internationally. Pioneer's work is made possible through the support of the National Dance Project Award (NEFA), MAP Fund, Knight Foundation, Andrew Mellon Foundation, Creative Capital, and the Miami-Dade County Department of Cultural Affairs. Pioneer serves as Assistant Teaching Professor in the Honors College and College of Communication, Architecture + The Arts at Florida International University. Pioneer is affiliated faculty at the Center for Humanities in an Urban Environment (CHUE) and an inaugural Fellow in the Miami Studies Program.

Hosted by the Miami Emerging Arts Leaders, a program of the Miami-Dade County Department of Cultural Affairs, with support from the Arts and Business Council of Miami and the Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau.

The Miami Emerging Arts Leaders is an initiative of the Miami-Dade County Department of Cultural Affairs to identify and cultivate the next generation of diverse arts leaders in our community. The Miami Emerging Arts Leaders Program provides networking and resource sharing opportunities to encourage diverse, young/new arts administrators to explore professional development issues and opportunities. All arts professionals are welcome. Find out about upcoming events by subscribing to the email newsletter: