Adrienne Arsht’s home literally straddles the state of Maryland and the District of Columbia. Part of her home is in the U.S. capital, but at 10 a.m., dressed impeccably, as befits someone who left the days of forced confinement well behind, she did this interview in a spacious room in her Maryland home.
Adrienne Arsht is well known in Miami for having made the donation that rescued that city’s performing arts center from financial bankruptcy and got it off the ground.
She has made significant donations to the performing arts because she believes that art is the essence of civilization. In 2013, she created and funded the Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center at the Atlantic Council, a Washington-based think tank. It was designed to bring Latin America into the discussions that so often U.S. government and business leaders undertook without the region’s presence.
This year, Arsht donated an additional $25 million to endow this Center, which focuses “on the strategic role of Latin America and the Caribbean in a global context, prioritizing the most pressing political, economic and social issues that define the region’s trajectory,” explained a statement from the Atlantic Council. But in addition, said Jason Marczak, Director of the Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center, “it is a way to show that people can participate in big issues. He urged others to do the same.
For years Adrienne Arsht has said that her decision to financially support a project depends on her instincts. But a quick look at the list of her projects shows a very consistent, successful pattern.
On the one hand, the themes she chooses impacts millions of people, children, and adults. But they also have the virtue of anticipating discussions and trends. For example, she supported the Adrienne Arsht Center for Performing Arts in Miami, at the time was about to go under until she made her donation and saved it from going bankrupt. This donation has forever changed the cultural landscape of Miami. She also created at the Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center at the Atlantic Council, just when the region had lost its importance and attractiveness vis-à-vis Asia.
Adrienne Arsht would seem to have a magic touch. The issues she endorses become notable. But she really builds notoriety with hard work, not with a lucky star. The $25 million donated this year has a clear purpose. “Now that there is awareness of Latin America and the Caribbean, and that they have become relevant, I want to ensure that the region is always taken into account in negotiations, in meetings. That it is on everyone’s top-of-mind,” she told Latin Trade. That is a powerful purpose, considering that this is being done in the political capital of the most powerful country in the world.
Now, with Arsht’s funding, she created the Adrienne Arsht – Rockefeller Foundation Resilience Center at the Atlantic Council to understand and mitigate the problems caused by extreme heat. Heat is an issue, often overlooked, but with huge economic consequences. It decimates crops, destroys land, and induces migration. “In Colombia, coffee grown in the mountains has become scarcer because of the heat. In many places, vineyards no longer produce acceptable grapes,” she remarked.
In fact, extreme heat kills more people than any other climate phenomenon. Its effects may be less obvious than those of forest fires, hurricanes or floods, but it claims more lives.
In addition, cities are the perfect target for extreme heat because of the way they are designed.
The goal of this program is clear: “people don’t have to die from heat”. The strategy is equally well established. On the one hand, they will explore the challenges and the myriad of solutions they are being given, says a report by the Atlantic Council. On the other hand, they will promote the exchange of experiences among cities and the appointment of Chief Heat Officers in key cities (see article Heat below).
The issue really concerns and excites Adrienne Arsht. To show that the issue goes beyond the urban, she pulls out a recent issue of NatGeo that is dedicated to the world’s forests. “Trees are essential for us to breathe, but they are also essential to mitigate the heat,” she said.
The next step
With that recent record of anticipating ultra-relevant issues for the world, it would seem most profitable to ask Adrienne Arsht about what she has in mind to focus her next grants on. Her answer, migration.
Nations are just beginning to understand that this is an issue they must work on together, she said. At the end of the day, “migrants, refugees or immigrants are the same people who change their designations depending on which side of the border they are on.”
The huge challenge is in understanding who will take on the growing responsibility. “We all come from someone who escaped from something at some point. “Wars are important for refuges but make people more vulnerable. Also, economics and climate will make more vulnerable people move, she said.
We must think, she stressed, about how to better manage the waves of people moving across borders: how to better help migrants and countries; how to manage the humanitarian consequences and emotional problems of displacement; how to avoid discrimination, the fact that different ethnicities are treated differently even though the causes of their migration are the same.
She considered that migration management will be more complex in the future. She felt that we may have a better solution to diseases, or to the next pandemic, than to the vast and growing challenge of migration.
The way to prevent migration is for people to find reasons to stay in their place of origin, explained Atlantic Council Senior Vice President and Director of the Adrienne Arsht-Rockefeller Foundation Resilience Center, Kathy Baughman McLeod. Retaining people will require investments in economic development and democratic institutions in places of departure. Making them safe places, with good education and health services and opportunities for people to live happy lives.
Finally, Adrienne Arsht is concerned about what to do with cultural heritages of migrants and how to preserve them. How to handle the links with their homeland that the migrants’ treasure in their nostalgia. “Migrants still sing the songs of their homeland,” she said to paint in a beautiful way the fragility of these cultures.
Who is a good human being?
How entrepreneur and philanthropist Adrienne Arsht understands goodness.
“It’s such a value judgment,” said Adrienne Arsht. Many times, a person’s goodness is confused with the number or size of the things she funds, she said. “That’s not the point at all.” Good deeds, she noted, add value. The real kind deed, then, is giving an extra dollar to the cab driver who we just rode with, and if 10 extra people also give an extra dollar it becomes a significant amount to the cab driver. The subject could be, childhood, food security, migration, “everyone selects what is important”. But what matters is to bring about change. “I admire those who make a difference,” she noted.
What we leave to others offers another way of understanding virtuousness.