Executive Function

Puerto Rico’s Sonya Canetti Mirabal 

HUMANITIES, Spring 2024, Volume 45, Number 2

Sonya Canetti Mirabal has devoted more than 30 years of her life to the humanities, from publishing to broadcasting, and is now putting her vast experience and knowledge to work as executive director for Puerto Rico humanities (PRH). 

After earning a bachelor’s degree from the University of Puerto Rico in comparative literature, she pursued a master’s at New York University in Latin American literature. Still in New York City, she got her professional start in publishing, working on a bilingual textbook series called Encuentros. In 1997, she returned to Puerto Rico, where she worked as a freelance editor, writer, and teacher for several years before joining WIPR-Channel 6 as a commissioning editor. In that role, she collaborated with Puerto Rico Humanities as the channel helped produce and air PRH’s first television program, Desde el baúl, which featured and commented on audiovisual projects produced or sponsored by PRH. 

Before being named director in 2022, Canetti Mirabal worked with PRH on public humanities projects, such as El San Juan de Campeche. Credited as the first internationally recognized Puerto Rican painter, José Campeche (1751–1809) created portraits of dignitaries and canvases of religious themes in a French rococo style. 

Since its creation in 1977, PRH has funded projects that reflect the archipelago’s diversity—its heritage, traditions, and history. “What I like about working within the humanities,” says Canetti Mirabal, “is community outreach and working with the public directly and giving them a voice through the arts and humanities.” 

In its more than 40 years of existence, PRH has produced more than 155 documentaries and 18 television programs, and published more than 240 works, such as Pioneras y Transgresoras: Mujeres en las Artes en Puerto Rico (Pioneers and Transgressors: Women in the Arts in Puerto Rico) in 2021, a book of essays about women artists in Puerto Rico. PRH has also participated in numerous research projects, art exhibitions, and public programs, such as the Fiesta de las Humanidades, celebrated last December. 

“It is a great legacy that I have inherited as director and that I will continue to grow for the humanities of Puerto Rico,” says Canetti Mirabal, adding, “I am happy to continue with Puerto Rico Humanities’s digital projects, such as Cosecha Cultural, which have connected with communities in and outside of Puerto Rico.” 

Cosecha Cultural, meaning “cultural harvest,” is a digital archive of content relevant to the arts and humanities. Under Canetti Mirabal’s direction, PRH has initiated the creation of a digital archive of the history of the LGBTQ community in Puerto Rico, protecting and collecting films, significant books from literature and social sciences, and other documents that attest to the community’s existence, fight for rights, and contributions to culture. This project is in its first phase, using funds from NEH’s initiative United We Stand: Connecting Through Culture, to address the issues of prejudice, hate crimes, and inequality. 

The archives from Cosecha Cultural will be, in addition to PRH’s other large-scale digital project, Encyclopedia PR, a virtual compilation of information on Puerto Rico’s history that can be accessed anywhere in the world for use in research and education. 

Canetti Mirabal sees expanding digital projects as a key aspect of her role as executive director. Encyclopedia PR is a quick reference and general educational resource dedicated to Puerto Rican topics, focusing on the biographies of figures from different fields. Cosecha Cultural, on the other hand, is a digital repository of content created by PRH or supported by various humanistic entities. This tool was developed to support teachers, students, and parents by providing them with Puerto Rican cultural resources, divided into four main categories—video, audio, online, and print—which in turn are divided into subcategories and broken down by topic. For Canetti Mirabal, ensuring access to digital materials is something that only grows more important as Puerto Rico faces ongoing crises, both economic and climatic. The experience with the pandemic made clear “how important these two projects are by the increasing number of students online and people looking for sources from these two digital platforms,” says Canetti Mirabal. 

“It is our imperative to keep these projects alive, even with the difficulties faced in doing so,” says Canetti Mirabal, “and I am committed to continuing to seek the resources we need to maintain them.”