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Rosa de la Cruz, a Key Biscayne resident who was one of the world’s leading art figures, has died, according to a representative of her collection. She was 81.

Melissa Wallen, the director of the de La Cruz collection, confirmed the death Sunday, saying Rosa de la Cruz died peacefully at her home on the island.

“I think what was so special about Rosa is that she really came from a place of sort of radical generosity in the way that she shared her collection,” Wallen said. “Rosa was a force in the international art scene. She will be missed by so many. She was special.”

De la Cruz, along with her husband Carlos de la Cruz Sr., amassed a rich collection of contemporary art. Most of it was housed in a 30,000-square-foot museum since 2009 but her home was brimming with art. A multimedia piece takes up the second floor above the dining room.

“Our exhibitions are a collective effort that build new possibilities by creating a platform for the artists’ vision,” Rosa de la Cruz said in a 2020 statement. “We have deliberately focused on art that questions issues relevant today.”

De la Cruz was born in Havana, meeting Carlos as teenagers. They came to the U.S. in 1960 and married two years later. They had five children. 

View: Carlos and Rosa de la Cruz on How Love for Art Can Transform a City

Wallen said the couple focused on not just collecting art, but furthering art education. “From the very beginning, Rosa and Carlos wanted the mission of education to go beyond the walls of their collection,” saying that every students. Fine arts students were sent abroad to expand their art education each summer. “It’s an impact that ripples through generations.”

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Carlos Sr. became chairman of a beverage distribution firm, CC1 Companies, with annual sales of $1 billion. The couple eventually came to Key Biscayne in 1975.

Art was the couple’s passion with Rosa taking the lead in collecting pieces.

The New York Times reported that their dinner party during Art Basel Miami Beach in the 2000s drew hundreds. The couple then opened up their museum when their collection outgrew their home.

Melissa White, executive director of the Key Biscayne Community Foundation, said she was honored to call Rosa de la Cruz her friend. She said de la Cruz created opportunities for hundreds of students who otherwise wouldn’t have access to art and cuture and travel.

“My heart aches for Carlos, who lost his partner for the last seven decades, and for the de la Cruz family that lost their matriarch, and for Miami, which lost a champion of art and community,” White said.

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Tony Winton is the editor-in-chief of the Key Biscayne Independent and president of Miami Fourth Estate, Inc. He worked previously at The Associated Press for three decades winning multiple Edward R. Murrow awards. He was president of the News Media Guild, a journalism union, for 10 years. Born in Chicago, he is a graduate of Columbia University. His interests are photography and technology, sailing, cooking, and science fiction.

JOHN PACENTI is the executive editor of the Key Biscayne Independent. John has worked for The Associated Press, the Palm Beach Post, Daily Business Review, and WPTV-TV.

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