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March 14, 2018 – (Key West, FL). South Florida civic leader and preservationist Rafael Peñalver shares story of the San Carlos Institute for Key West Art & Historical Society Distinguished Speaker Series

On Thursday, March 29, join Key West Art & Historical Society and South Florida civic leader and preservationist Rafael Peñalver at the San Carlos Institute, 516 Duval Street, as he shares the history of the iconic Cuban heritage center.  A champagne reception at 5:30pm in the beautiful upper mezzanine will precede his Distinguished Speaker Series presentation, with the talk starting at 6:00pm.

Founded in 1871 by members of the Cuban exile community as a patriotic and educational center, the San Carlos Institute played a significant role in the independence movement, where notable speakers like Cuban revolutionary Jose Marti and other key figures could meet and address the Key West exile community.

For more than one hundred years, the Institute operated as one of the first bilingual and racially integrated schools in the United States, opening its doors to the island’s children to take classes taught in both Spanish and English. Despite 150 years riddled with fires, wars, hurricanes, an attempted forceful takeover by the Castro regime, and abandonment, the historic San Carlos Institute still stands as a symbol of freedom and hope for the Cuban people. But had it not been for the dedication and efforts of Peñalver and other community members, the deteriorating structure and financial state could have done the institution in.

In 1985, the building had been closed for almost two decades and was in danger of demolition when Peñalver led a statewide campaign to save it. The effort raised over $3 million and culminated with the reopening of a beautifully-renovated San Carlos in 1992. Under Peñalver’s direction, it has since become one of Key West’s most important institutions, serving as a museum, library, art gallery, theater, educational center, and home to some of Key West’s most prestigious events, including the Key West Literary Seminar, Key West Film Festival, and Songwriters’ Festival. It has been designated by the Friends of Libraries USA as a Florida Literary Landmark with a plaque honoring José Martí’s poetry, scholarship, and campaign for Cuban independence, and visitors from all over the world continue to come to the San Carlos to admire the beauty of its architecture and earn about its history.

Distinguished Speaker Peñalver has a remarkable history himself.  The legal advisor to the Spanish Consulate in Miami, former chairman of the State of Florida Hispanic Commission, and Florida’s Historic Preservation Board member has been involved in the human rights movement, targeting discrimination and violations of basic freedoms in his native Cuba and the United States, and was part of the legal effort that challenged the practice of indefinite immigration detention in the United States, leading to a Supreme Court ruling that it was unconstitutional.  He also founded Little Havana’s Dr. Rafael A. Peñalver Clinic, a State of Florida Department of Health medical facility named after his late father that ensures that no one is denied medical care due to inability to pay.

Tickets are available at; $5 for KWAHS members, $10 for non-members—advanced ticket purchase is recommended.  Sponsored in part of the State of Florida Division of Cultural Affairs and the Helmerich Trust. For more information, contact Adele Williams, Director of Education, at 305.295.6616, x115. Your Museums.  Your Community.  It takes an Island.


South Florida civic leader and preservationist Rafael Peñalver will appear at the San Carlos Institute, 516 Duval Street, on Thursday, March 29, as Key West Art & Historical Society Distinguished Speaker Series guest.