Here’s a sneak peek of the Caribbean museum coming soon to Broward County

A report by Rod Stafford Hagwood for The South Florida Sun Sentinel.

The Caribbean diaspora is finally getting a cultural home here in South Florida.

Billed as the first Caribbean museum in the U.S., the Island SPACE Caribbean Museum will have a soft opening in the Westfield Broward mall in Plantation Oct. 29 and 30.

SPACE is an acronym for the Society for the Promotion of Artistic and Cultural Education. The grand opening will be in January 2021. For more information, go to IslandSPACEfl.org or Facebook.com/islandspacefl.

“People can see the work in progress,” says Calibe Thompson, executive director of Island SPACE. “We’re not locking people out, but we’re still very much a work in progress.”

Located at the northeast main entrance of the mall where Red Robin Gourmet Burgers used to be (next to Buffalo Wild Wings), the museum is broken into three spaces covering 5,500 square feet.

“You’ll see in our archives the story of the Caribbean unfold from the indigenous people to the colonial period to emancipation to independence when these islands began to come into their own with their own … cultures,” explains Thompson, who was born in Jamaica.

There will be sections and displays exploring arts and entertainment. “Like the music: rumba, reggaeton, calypso and soca as well as TV and literature and sports,” she says.

Also included will be religions of the Caribbean such as Voodoo and Santeria. “Things that Americans are typically afraid of, but that have roots in Christianity,” Thompson says.

Other sections will look at notable expatriates and people of Caribbean heritage such as vice presidential candidate Sen. Kamala Harris, U.S. Founding Father Alexander Hamilton and the first Black woman elected to the U.S. Congress, Shirley Chisholm.

The Island SPACE Caribbean Museum will have a grand opening in January 2021 at the Westfield Broward mall, but South Floridians can get a sneak peek starting the end this month.

How COVID-19 led to a Caribbean museum

Thompson’s other job is co-owner of Island Syndicate, a media and design company that, among other projects, is known for mounting the annual Taste the Islands Experience food festival.

Her business partner, photographer David I. Muir, recalls that they started staging a sort of “museum pop-up” of Caribbean history and heritage during the festival.

“It was so successful we got invited by … Eddy Edwards, who does the Grace Jamaican Jerk Festival in Miramar, to bring it to them back in November of 2018,” explains Muir, a fellow Jamaican.

Seeing the popularity, Muir and Thompson landed a grant from the Community Foundation of Broward County, which allowed them to take their show “on the road.”

Throughout 2019 until January 2020, they made stops throughout Broward at places such as History Fort Lauderdale, Gallery 6 at the Broward County Main Library, Bailey Contemporary Arts Center in Pompano Beach, the Tamarac Main Library and the West Regional Library in Plantation.

But then the coronavirus pandemic hit in March and suddenly all the festivals and other events that Island Syndicate was doing came to a grinding halt.

“So we refocused out energies toward our non-profit work,” Muir says.

First bringing aboard sponsors Grace Foods and Florida Power and Light, the two then spent their down time lining up a permanent home for the traveling exhibition. After weeks of phone calls and hundreds of emails, Westfield Broward mall stepped up.

“This is the continuation of that story,” Muir says. “There is no heritage Caribbean museum in the world that celebrated my people. People see the Caribbean on the news or something and they think that is Caribbean culture. I’d rather the history be told by my people rather than by people who do not have out best interest at heart.”

Thompson says she asked Dr. Claire Nelson to be on the advisory board. “She is the main person who who made the month of June Caribbean Heritage Month. She said with the Caribbean diaspora, unless you’re in South Florida or New York, you hear about each other, but you don’t interact. It is only in those two places that there is a Caribbean community.”

She adds, “All these people are my brothers and sisters in Caribbean culture. That kinship is what we are trying to show.”

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