As a result of the creation of the 'Hands on Clay' Program, the need for a dedicated space for research, exchange, and creation becomes evident. 'Hands on Clay' was established in 2020, during the midst of the pandemic, with the aim of promoting the use of ancestral ceramic techniques among Cuban artists belonging to the Rodriguez Collection. In May, the collector Leonardo Rodríguez, founder of the Kendall Art Center, personally invited around fifty artists who regularly collaborated with the center to create artworks using ceramics, specifically focusing on plates. The call for participation had a secondary practical intention. Beyond exploring the creative potential of ceramics beyond its purely utilitarian and decorative functions, the initiative would enable the artists to commercialize their work in the midst of exceptionally challenging circumstances due to the isolation and economic paralysis caused by the COVID crisis.
This initial call resulted in dozens of valuable artworks. The diverse group of creators, who typically worked on canvas, were able to transfer their art to a novel medium. The mere production of nearly half a thousand artistic ceramic plates drew attention to the preservation of a tradition that, while not critically endangered, is gradually receiving less attention from the new generations of artists.
The exhibition where these pieces were displayed was called 'Fine Arts on the Plate' and was inaugurated on November 27, 2020. It can be considered the foundational event of the 'Hands on Clay' program. All the artworks were created in the newly set up workshop adjacent to the main halls of the former Kendall Art Center and were exhibited throughout its spaces. According to curator Carol Damian, the exhibition "marked a continuation of Cuban ceramic traditions achieved by various artists at different stages of their careers and levels of experience" and "they used ceramics to continue their personal aesthetics and style while integrating their natural expression with the new circular supports."
This improvised workshop, set up in record time in a storage space of an electricity company, is the core of what would soon become the Fine Arts Ceramic Center: a center dedicated exclusively to ceramic production. Located a few meters away from the main facilities of the Museum of Contemporary Art of the Americas, it currently offers a specialized environment equipped with the necessary tools, materials, and equipment for specialized artistic creation. In that limited space, the plates that make up the majority of the ceramic collection of the Museum of Contemporary Art of the Americas are produced, marking one of the undeniable successes of the 'Hands on Clay' program.
This collection, which grows every year, is regularly exhibited in numerous spaces outside the museum. For example, the exhibition "Artist Set the Table" was open to the public on Sunday, February 19, 2023, at the Pinecrest Garden Art and Recreation Park. The exhibition 'Beyond the Plate' was presented for the second time at the Museum of Arts & Sciences in Daytona on May 7, 2022, and for the first time on November 5, 2021, at the Sidney Berne & Davis Art Center under the name 'Fine Arts on the Plate.'
As part of the SOFLO New Art program and in collaboration with the University of Miami, the Kendall Art Center's 'Hands on Clay' program organized 'Tautologies,' a solo exhibition by professor, artist, and ceramist Carlos Enrique Prado. Inaugurated on May 13, 2022, it was the first exhibition of an artist dedicated exclusively to the production of ceramic artworks. Simultaneously, the exhibition 'Circle of Influence' opened its doors, featuring a collective showcase by recent graduates Anthony Magnetti, Kim Bauldree, Sepideh Kalani, and Elizabeth Guignino.
'Hands on Clay' and the Fine Arts Ceramic Center collaborate with affiliated institutions, providing their facilities for ceramic art-related events such as the temporary exhibition of the Ceramic League of Miami's 'CLM 73rd Annual Member's Exhibition,' inaugurated on February 17, 2023, in the museum's two galleries. The exhibition included a featured presentation by master ceramicist Tom Coleman, who delivered a keynote lecture on his work and shared inspiring creative experiences. A significant group of ceramic artists showcased their latest creations and engaged in hours of exchange with fellow guests. On October 7, 2022, the CLM allowed its members to attend a master lecture by artist Joe Robinson, Master of Fine Arts from the Oregon College of Art and Craft and advocate for ceramic education through the continued operation of the historic Anagama kiln and studio at East Creek in Oregon. The lecture took place in the galleries of the Museum of Contemporary Art of the Americas.
In March 2023, 'Hands on Clay' and the FACC presented their exhibition "Unlikely Assemblages" as part of the 57th Annual Conference of the National Council on Education for the Ceramic Arts (NCECA), which took place from March 15 to 18, 2023, in Cincinnati, Ohio, United States. The Annex Gallery, located next to the Pendleton Art Center and directed by photographer and cultural promoter Jens G. Rosenkrantz, hosted the exhibition.
The Fine Arts Ceramic Center, following the evolution of the 'Hands on Clay' program, became an independent institution with its own distinct profile and a well-defined program of events starting in early 2023. It goes beyond the spaces of the Museum of Contemporary Art of the Americas and its complex schedule of events. The center provides its artists and residents with the freedom to explore and experiment with different techniques, styles, and artistic approaches. This diverse group of creators, having constant access to the workshop, can work on their projects continuously and without restrictions of time or space. It fosters collaboration and the exchange of ideas by providing guests with the opportunity to establish meaningful connections, creating an environment of mutual learning and enrichment. One of the key aspects that led to its creation was the ability to dynamically adapt and flexibly configure the workspace and technical resources to the needs and specific requirements of the program, optimizing the creative process.
From the Museum and its 'Hands on Clay' program, experimentation and technical development of new ideas and approaches are prioritized. The Fine Arts Ceramic Center will be instrumental in discovering and developing new creative possibilities, fostering growth and excellence in the field of ceramic arts.
Currently, the FACC is striving to expand and enhance its working profiles. It will soon welcome its first artist in residence. Ukrainian Master ceramist Boris Danilov will work at the Center for several months and conduct a series of workshops for professionals and enthusiasts, sharing his experiences and knowledge with the audience. Additionally, efforts are underway with the current NCECA executives to bring the annual conference to Miami as part of the Organizing Committee in 2026.
Taking into account the growth and expansion potential of the 'Hands on Clay' program, the Fine Arts Ceramic Center is preparing new spaces and has begun acquiring all the necessary technologies. The short-term goal is to increase the number of educational workshops for all ages, with a special emphasis on art students. It is with them that the development of innovative techniques, new creative strategies, and more will be encouraged. Simultaneously, cycles of lectures and short-duration exhibitions are being coordinated, both at the FACC facilities and in the museum galleries, in order to promote the work of ceramic artists in the community and foster collaborations between them and similar institutions.
The ultimate goal, which is possible and almost inevitable, is to bring the community closer to the enjoyment of one of humanity's oldest creative techniques and the appreciation of its differences from utilitarian craftsmanship and industrial production. This will enhance intelligent relationships between everyday objects and spirituality.