In 2001 the MFAH established the Latin American art department and the International Center for the Arts of the Americas (ICAA). By creating the center, the museum sought to bring about a long-term transformation in the appreciation and understanding of Latin American and Latino visual arts in the United States and abroad. Since its founding, the ICAA has organized research-based exhibitions; pursued a dynamic publishing program; and developed research and education projects that complement the renowned MFAH collection of Latin American art. The ICAA's primary focus involves the rigorous schedule of publications as well as the landmark Documents of 20th-Century Latin American and Latino Art: A Digital Archive and Publications Project, a decade-long project culminating in a free, online database of primary sources in the field. The ICAA has organized international symposia; published its proceedings in bilingual format; and developed widely acclaimed exhibitions, such as Inverted Utopias: Avant-Garde Art in Latin America (2004) and Hélio Oiticica: The Body of Color (2006). The ICAA was initiated by Peter C. Marzio, director of the MFAH from 1982 to 2010. Mari Carmen Ramírez, Wortham Curator of Latin American Art at the MFAH, is the director of the ICAA. María C. Gaztambide is the director of the ICAA Documents Project.

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