The Fire Haus Projects Story

In 2006, a group of artists and professionals, began promoting experienced artists as well as local emerging talent. By June of 2007, Fire Haus Projects received its official non-profit tax-exempt status. Since then this grass-roots organization continued to arrange exhibitions and performances throughout Miami Dade County.

While Lilia Fontana was concurrently Executive Director for the Gold Coast Railroad Museum and Fire Haus Projects, the two organizations partnered in 2013, and 2015 on several projects, including “Altered Arts Festival” and “Gala for Two Pianos.”

The partners and colleagues at The Unconservatory have a strong history of working with schools and universities at all educational levels, including grade schools, colleges and universities throughout the United States.

In recent years, Fire Haus Projects has promoted and co-presented The Unconservatory’s annual production, “Gala For Two Pianos,” which has enjoyed 19 seasons. Since the arrival of COVID-19 to South Florida in March of 2020, Fire Haus Projects has aggressively engaged in the development and promotion of online programming with The Unconservatory and members of the community. Featured projects include “World Walks,” “Snapshots from the Cuban Diaspora – an Odyssey in Images” and “A Completely Apolitical, Nonconfrontational, Family Friendly International Holiday Celebration.”


Over several years, Fire Haus Projects and The Unconservatory have been working closely to produce the new epic musical by Marilyn Morales about the Cuban-American Experience, “Always Remember.” Originally slated for production in 2020, this great work will be presented during Thanksgiving week of 2022. The Unconservatory has created the musical and dramatic content; Fire Haus Projects is participating with project coordination, promotion and tactical support.

Meet the Friendly Fire Haus Projects Family!

Dr. Lilia Fontana

Executive Directrix

…is an arts management professional with expertise in grant procurement, management and reporting. She founded Fire Haus Projects in 2007 to strengthen the arts community by assisting artists to showcase their talent. She manages the operations of the organization that include finding talent, fund-raising and locating spaces for cultural activities.

Notable collaborations with The Unconservatory include the Altered Arts Series Festival (2015), Gala For Two Pianos (2018) and World Walks (2020). She was Adjunct Professor of Humanities at Strayer University and Miami Dade College, and is the Visual Arts Director of the musical theater production of Always Remember by Marilyn Morales. Snapshots from the Cuban Diaspora – An Odyssey in Images is the title of a series of interviews and exhibitions featuring photographs, stories, art works and other contributions from Cuban exiles around the world. This series, presented by Fire Haus Projects and hosted by Dr. Fontana is currently in its third season of production.

Dr. Fontana has designed and curated exhibitions from museum artifact collections as well as archiving valuable photo collections. Working with volunteer staff to prepare spaces, scheduling activities, marketing and advertising the various functions, she enhances the artist’s capability to reach a broader audience. She is an art critic and contributing writer for many publications since 1990 in the US and Latin America, publishing numerous reviews and articles for Arte al Dia Magazine and Newspaper as well as for Artes en Santo Domingo and Art Papers.


She has written about artists such as Elba Damast, Soledad Arias, Lucia Pizzani, Ruth Vollmer and Gego. Articles she has written include About Collections and Collectors: Interview with Dr. Arturo Mosquera; Edouard Duval Carrie, Diaspora: The Trajectory of a Haitian Artist; (cover article) and Interview with Ruben Torres Llorca (cover article). Galleries she has worked with include Hardcore Contemporary Art Space, Alejandra Von Hartz Gallery, Signature Art Gallery, Miami Art Central, and Bernice Steinbaum Gallery.


Lilia Fontana has a Masters of Fine Arts degree from Vermont College of Art, Montpelier, Vermont; California State University, Carson, California, M.A. in Humanities; New York University, New York City, M.A. in Sociology; Pratt Institute, Brooklyn, New York, B.F.A. degree in Photography. She is an Oriental Medicine doctor from Acupuncture College, Miami, Florida.

Alina Diaz

President of the Board of Directors

…is an active supporter of the arts in Miami. She is the founder and owner of Casa Artali, a private art gallery and cultural salon in Miami.

She has been an Executive Director in the Miami Dade County School System from 2003 to 2009. Ms. Diaz was an Instructional Supervisor at Florida Diagnostic & Learning Resources from 1974 through 2003.She is a graduate from University of Miami School of Law, with a J.D. in Law from 1985 to 1988. She received her M.S. in School Psychology from Florida International University from 1976 to 1978. At Pace University from 1970 to 1974, she received her B.A. in Psychology.


Kirk Whipple

Treasurer of the Board of Directors


Kirk Whipple is one half of the Whipple-Morales Piano Duo, one quarter of the United Nations Piano Quartet and the Executive Director of The Unconservatory, a national musical non-profit organization. The Unconservatory is dedicated to creation, performance, recording & education in the musical arts. The web site,, offers articles by Whipple and colleagues on a variety of musical, educational and aesthetic subjects. 

As professional musician and educator, Whipple has been involved with all aspects of the music world, including performance, administration, private and class instruction, concert production and promotion, career consultation for pre-professional artists and musical journalism. Embracing many styles of music, Whipple has written original works for a wide variety of musical settings including two pianos, solo piano, flute & piano jazz quartet, progressive rock ensembles, choir, a symphonic work for combined ensembles (choir, string orchestra & concert band), and (with his wife Marilyn Morales) a concerto for two pianos and orchestra. For his original compositions for two pianos and chamber ensemble, Whipple was awarded the prestigious State of Florida Individual Artist Fellowship.


As an apprentice of internationally known composer, author and theorist W. A. Mathieu, Whipple assisted in the preparation of Mathieu’s epic work, Harmonic Experience, (Inner Traditions, Rochester, VT) overseeing the production of hundreds of musical examples. Whipplestudied harmony, composition and improvisation with W. A. Mathieu, and African drumming with Kwaku Daddy. He has performed in solo recitals and concerts throughout the United States and abroad. Whipple studied piano with Darlene Bradley-Garza, Frances Kelly and Mark Wetch. Other piano instructors include Roy Bogas, John Browning and James Barbagallo.

Kirsy Batista

Secretary of the Board of Directors


Kirsy Batista is an architect from the Dominican Republic. She has always been interested in the arts. 

She worked for four years in the Miami Dade College Art Galleries System. Batista’s work included designing of installations for many monthly exhibitions; the largest and most ambitious was the exhibition of works by Francisco Goya at the Freedom Tower in downtown Miami. She has served on the Board of Directors of Fire Haus Projects in many capacities since its inception in 2007.


Jelani Bandele

Board of Advisors

Photo by  Keith Major

Jelani Bandele is an author, writer, and the founder of TELL Legacy, a website curating Black history as it is being made.  Her career span includes writing for 

the major publishing houses Billboard and Fairchild Publications, and directing art, fashion, beauty and entertainment publicity campaigns.  Bandele also serves as the Alumni Engagement Manager at Pratt Institute, where she manages the 30-year-old affinity group, The Black Alumni of Pratt, which supports the college’s Black and Latinx students and alumni. Bandele serves on the Thelma Hill Performing Arts Center’s Advisory Board, The Black Alumni of Pratt Advisory Council and Pratt’s Diversity Equity and Inclusion Council.

Carleton Cornish

Board of Advisors

Carleton Cornish was born in New Bedford, MA. He has been singing as a tenor / counter-tenor for as long as he can remember.  Carleton has performed in theatrical productions of Godspell and Hair, and professionally in acapella groups No Strings Attached (Boston) and Rapid Transit (San Francisco).  

Carleton writes, records, releases and performs high energy dance music as his alter ego Eton. His music is available on iTunes, Beatport, Spotify, Amazon, youTube and hundreds of digital sites worldwide.

Dax Fontana

Board of Advisors, President Emeritus of the Board of Directors

When I was younger, I would always carry an imaginary box full of dreams and aspirations with me. As I became older and my horizons grew broader, I filled that box with shiny new goals; I landed my first job, became the Founder and President of the Florida International University Golf Club and acted as the President of the Board of Directors of Fire Haus Projects (FHP), all while completing my undergraduate degree. While I have stepped down as President, I will continue to be involved with FHP as a member of the Board of Advisors.

I am very proud of the opportunity to be part of the board and of what we have accomplished together so far. My activities with FHP fueled my undergraduate degree in Organizational Communications and it is what inspired me to pursue a Master’s Degree in Public Administration, graduating in the Spring of 2023.

Through my work with FHP, I have discovered a willingness and passion for helping others and have gained valuable organizational and leadership skills. In my life, it is important to pursue a passion that is genuine and aligns with who I am and what I stand for. As an advisor to FHP, I will continue to collaborate with local businesses, promoting environmentally sound practices; I will strive to improve the quality of life for Miami residents and our tourists, as they enjoy cultural events through our programming.

By contributing to my community, I enjoy opportunities to create positive change – not only my life, but in the lives of others.

Katie Ketchum

Board of Advisors

Katie Ketchum is a singer/songwriter/artist. Ketchum is the Music and Choir Director at Ebenezer Lutheran/herchurch in San Francisco, CA.

She is a National Endowment for the Arts recipient for touring her one woman musical about the American Artist Mary Cassatt.  Ketchum’s concert/drama; An Evening with Clara Schumann premiered at Cranberry Coast Concerts in Massachusetts.  She has also performed her musicals at Boston University, herchurch in San Francisco and starred in a months run of her original musical, “Magdalene the Musical” at Sacramento Theatre Company.

Her paintings are in private collections in Florida, California as well as in Ketchum’s Dream Portal Studio in Sebastopol, California where she also has concerts. Her paintings were shown at the United Nations in New York City, with Shiloh Sophia’s “Soul Fire” Collection.

Information and samples of Ketchum’s work can be found at:

Marilyn Morales

Board of Advisors

Marilyn Morales is a native of Havana, Cuba, and has performed in solo recitals and concerts throughout the United States. She has a Bachelor’s degree in piano performance from Boston University and an Associate’s degree from Miami Dade College. 

She studied piano with Maria Clodes Jaguaribe, Roy Bogas, Linda Byrd and Bela B. Nagy and has taken master classes with Michael Tilson Thomas and Claude Monteau. Morales has also studied harmony, composition and improvisation with W. A. Mathieu. Other music teachers include Robert Sirota and Richard Cornell.

A finalist in the Portland, Maine Symphony Piano Competition, Morales performed in the 1990 Jose Iturbi International Piano Competition which was held in Valencia and gave several concerts in Spain. She is listed in “Quien Es Quien,” the American Hispanic version of “Who’s Who.”

Between 2014 and 2018, Morales presented several concert versions of her original musical Always Remember at Cranberry Coast Concerts (Massachusetts) and in South Florida to widespread public and critical acclaim. The work is based upon her experiences and personal accounts from other Cuban refugees. Postponed in 2020 due to COVID-19, a full-scale theatrical version of the musical will be presented in South Florida on the 2022 Thanksgiving Weekend, November 25, 26 & 27, at the South Miami Dade Cultural Arts Center. For information, please visit:

Donald Quan

Board of Advisors


Donald Quan is a renowned multi-instrumentalist and has toured the world over with Loreena McKennitt playing tabla, viola and keyboards. Donald is best known for his instantly recognizable theme for the syndicated television series “Relic Hunter”. 

He regularly performs for local audiences in his home town of Toronto, Canada as the leader of the Donald Quan Trio and with several other groups. Collaborations include Coleman Tinsley (jazz), Emily Coulston (pop) and Jim Gelcer (kirtan).

As a recording artist, Donald Quan has released 3 albums on his independent label Edam Squid and has released over a dozen albums as a label artist for Somerset/Avalon.

He currently is mentoring and producing young artists and continuing to score films. 

Craig Wheeler

Board of Advisors

Craig is a musician, thespian, costumer, librarian, and storyteller. He has nearly 40 years of varied experience in theatre and performance, including plays,

musicals, vocal and instrumental ensembles, and solo concerts. He also worked to equip university scholars with critical thinking skills and resources needed for high level academic work. And, in turn, helped prepare our future leaders and innovators.

He believes that storytelling through all forms of delivery help to connect people by showing them that they have shared experiences. And through honest, thoughtful humor, we can laugh about almost any situation. He is honored and excited to help Fire Haus Projects deliver these essential experiences during this extraordinary time in our world.