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The Athenaeum serves as a museum, school, library, and performance hall for the greater Puerto Rico. It hosts a number of contests, conferences, and exhibits each year, presenting the best art, literature, and music that Puerto Rico has to offer. Some[who?] say it was the first institution of higher learning in Puerto Rico in which the islands' top minds gave free classes in their areas of expertise.
It operates out of its own building in Puerta de Tierra, adjacent to Old San Juan, in a strip that also houses the "Casa de España", the Carnegie Library, the Capitol complex and the Puerto Rico Olympic Committee headquarters.
On July 25, 2007, Athenaeum president Eduardo Morales Coll lit the "Decolonization Torch" in a ceremony attended by Senate President Kenneth McClintock, a leader of the pro-statehood New Progressive Party of Puerto Rico (NPP) and Caguas Mayor William Miranda Marín, a leader of the pro-status quo Popular Democratic Party of Puerto Rico (PDP). The Torch was designed by sculptor Jose Buscaglia Guillermety, who was present as it was lit. Antonio Caban Vale-"el Topo", Danny Rivera and Andy Montañez were among the performers who donated their talent during the artistic part of the ceremony. The Torch will remain lit until Puerto Rico resolves its colonial problem, according to Morales Coll.