When Olga Garay-English began working at the Cultural Affairs Department in Miami during the early 1980s, the city's arts and culture scene was still firmly rooted in the European canon. That didn't seem right to the Cuban-born Garay-English, who arrived with her family as a refugee to the United States when she was eight years old. Miami had an extremely vibrant and multicultural population—including one of the most significant Latin and Caribbean influences of any city in the United States—yet the art and culture from these communities seemed almost hidden, relegated to the background.
Garay-English, a believer in Paulo Freire's theory of critical pedagogy—the notion that power structures, the status quo, and inequality should be challenged—felt a strong desire to do what she was able to give voice to those who were underrepresented. Despite her relatively junior position within Miami's Department of Cultural Affairs, she took an active role in helping to make that happen.
"I saw myself as a catalyst," she said. "I always got involved and tried to make sure that things happened. I quickly realized that I was not a gatekeeper but an enabler of positive change."
Garay-English began making a concerted effort to help the Latinx arts community in Miami become more connected—to each other, to the community at large, and to sources of funding. Moreover, assisting underserved artists and arts organizations—dancers, theater performers, musicians, particularly those with a global perspective—quickly became Garay-English's signature. And it is one that she has carried with her for the last three decades, in roles ranging from the director of cultural affairs at Miami Dade College to the program director for the arts at the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation in New York City, to the executive director of the City of Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs. Whether she was providing a venue for artists, helping to produce new programing, or awarding funding to artists, Garay-English's work has always been strongly focused on helping to make important, representational art a reality.
REDCAT, the Roy and Edna Disney/CalArts Theater, has been committed to sharing the work of a diverse roster of local, national, and international artists since its founding in 2003. In recognition of this shared value, Garay-English recently established The Olga Garay-English and Dr. Kerry English Fund for New Performances, ensuring that REDCAT will continue to commission and present work by international artists long into the future.
Garay-English and her late husband, Kerry, a pediatrician who dedicated his career to improving the lives of at-risk children, have long been recognized as voracious consumers and supporters of theater and performance across Los Angeles and beyond. But they came to see REDCAT as their go-to venue. "It was like our living room," Garay-English said. At REDCAT, they saw performances that they couldn't see anywhere else in Los Angeles. Because of this, they particularly appreciated and admired REDCAT, and kept coming back.
"I'm so grateful for Olga's support of REDCAT," said João Ribas, REDCAT's Steven D. Lavine Executive Director and Vice President for Cultural Partnerships. "Not only for this generous gift, but also through her and Kerry's regular attendance at our performances. This fund will make it possible for us to elevate new and diverse voices and, as a fellow immigrant, I know that Olga understands the value of sharing global perspectives and what that can mean for making our community stronger."
For Garay-English, the gift was her way of honoring her theater-loving husband as well as continuing the work that she has done throughout her career, supporting internationally-focused, contemporary performance. As somebody who has personally experienced the transformative power that philanthropy can have for artists, Garay-English structured her gift for maximum impact. She quickly established the endowment to provide support to artists in the immediate future while also including an additional gift to the endowment in her estate plans, ensuring that the level of support for artists will only grow with time. She encourages REDCAT patrons to consider establishing endowments while living and securing them through legacy gifts in perpetuity.
"I've dedicated my career to helping artists and arts organizations secure funding for their work," she said. "I've seen those gifts—both large and more modest—make a significant impact. I know this endowment will help countless artists over a long period of time and that it will also help REDCAT retain its unique role in the arts community of Los Angeles. I'm so grateful and honored for the legacy that this gift will create."