Two passion projects designed to support Cuba's creative community


Scenes from Havana: Part 3

By Anna Carnick

Sometimes a plan just comes together. Other times . . . other times it takes some doing, but that often makes the end result all the sweeter. Case in point? Havana’s Fábrica de Arte Cubano (or FAC), arguably not just the city’s but also the country’s most exciting arts venue.

Set in a former peanut oil factory in the Vedado district, FAC’s massive complex—which still sports the name of the cooking oil company, El Cocinero, in faded letters on its majestic smokestack—offers an opportunity to see all of Cuba’s creative communities together in one space. It is, as architect and FAC curator Ernesto Jiménez García calls it, “the house of all artists.” Just shy of two years old now, FAC boasts a rich, multidisciplinary performance, exhibition, and educational program, and hosts thousands of attendees each week (think lines out the door) in its exhibition spaces, music venues, cinema, and bars.

The space is remarkable for several reasons, not least of which is the unification of the arts, as well as the fact that it was created without reference. “We don’t know of any other projects that bring all the arts together this way; we believe it is unique.”

But the project was a long time coming. For years, a band of Cuban creatives—led by noted fusion musician and composer X Alfonso—was on the hunt for a space that would allow them to bring Cuban artists of all stripes—photographers, designers, musicians, actors, writers, dancers, and more—together under one roof. While the search was on, they traveled the country, organizing performances and exhibitions in various spaces. Ultimately, their dreams were realized in February 2014, when they opened FAC’s doors to offer a space that both champions the arts and provides a consistent spot for multiple generations and artistic disciplines to meet and exchange ideas. According to Jiménez García, in a relatively short period of time, “It has already had a great impact on both the artistic community and the community at large.”

FAC's building belongs to the Ministry of Culture, but it is very much driven by the passion and energy of the experimental collaborators who envisioned it from the beginning. According to artist and FAC curator Sofia Marques de Aguiar, “The government gave us the space, the ruins, and an amount for structural rehabilitation, which was a great help. Then we started to clean it and paint. In the beginning, we brought in our own furniture, our home projectors to show films. Then people started to come, and they kept coming, and soon we were self-sustaining.” It seems the community, and not just the founders, were hungry for a space such as this. FAC’s team has proudly, collaboratively satisfied that need.

FAC continues to expand rapidly. During a recent visit, construction was underway for a number of new offices and meeting rooms, a cinema, a restaurant, a terrace, and a quiet room for artists, all composed of shipping containers and several upcycled materials. They’re also looking to broaden their educational programs to include workshops for professionals, not just children, in the near future. And that’s not all. The organizers are planning to share FAC’s multidisciplinary, local creative community approach internationally soon with the launch of Fábrica de Arte Internacional. 

A project like this was unthinkable even five years ago. And while FAC’s creative community and offerings are exciting in and of themselves, they are also notable because of what they represent for Cuban culture—creative or otherwise—more broadly. “A project like this was unthinkable even five years ago,” says Jiménez García. So what changed? Thanks to recent laws that have allowed opportunities for independent entrepreneurship, the introduction of contracts to protect both parties in professional partnerships, and increased access to purchase raw materials, the opportunities for collaboration are slowly becoming more fluid. In the case of FAC, for example, ticket sales help cover many costs; and the bars and the design shop are rented out to individuals taking advantage of the relatively recent Cuenta Propistas law, which allows for self-employment. (Those entities pay taxes to the government as well.) The impacts of these changes are manifesting themselves gradually, but, as Jiménez García says, “change is happening.”

The building that houses FAC once belonged to a power company, a peanut oil factory, and the Ministry of Fisheries. Photo courtesy of Fábrica de Arte Cubano Jiménez García believes more change is on its way as well, though the timing remains to be seen. When asked if he’s optimistic about the future, given all that’s been accomplished so far with FAC, he tells me, “It’s not so much optimism as the belief that something has to happen. The country is changing, necessarily, because it has to. It couldn’t maintain the path it was on. It’s a matter of responding to the reality that is imposed upon you. The problem is that we’re talking about something so complex as changing the way people think. And that is going to take time.”

Which is also why FAC’s existence is so important; not only is FAC inspiring people by sharing and cultivating the arts, it’s also broadening people’s minds about what’s possible in general. “A project like this, “Jiménez García says quite seriously, “makes me think that reality can and will continue to change.”

 


 

A similar spirit drives the new digital magazine D aqui. Husband-and-wife founders Sandra Fernández and Yorlán Cabezas Padrón conceived and launched the design-focused platform earlier this year. According to Fernández, “In Cuba, in the past two years or so, there are a growing number of communications [or publications] about varied topics. But none of them specialize in design. When they do cover design topics, they generally only promote established designers, not younger or less-known designers. We saw a need for a communication that would align the Cuban design community.” In addition to design, the magazine also features other visual arts and architectural projects. Fernández notes, “We want to improve people’s understanding of the connection between art and design.”

Right now, so many visual artists and designers are anonymous; we want to give them a stage. It’s a bootstrap operation if ever there was one. The magazine is free, and Fernández and Cabezas Padrón develop and produce everything themselves, save for the help of a translator. Fernández works by day in information sciences and Cabezas Padrón is a freelance graphic designer and illustrator. The magazine—which they aim to publish every two months—is done in their free time. (Excitingly, just this month, the Norwegian Embassy in Havana has offered some financial support to the project as well.) D aqui features profiles and interviews with creative talents from a variety of industries, as well as portfolios, announcements about relevant events and competitions, book recommendations, features on historical icons, and more—easily enough work for a larger team. But the effort is well worth it, Fernández says. “It’s a personal project about a topic we love. It inspires us. It’s also important for our own portfolios, and we’re learning a lot.” 

In addition to their full time jobs and D aqui, the two collaborate with Geo-Gráficas, another young, Cuban-design-focused project. Geo-Gráficas takes a multipronged approach, hosting a content-rich website—the only one of its kind so far as we’re aware—and organizing design competitions, exhibitions, workshops, and more. Fernández and Cabezas Padrón note that D aqui is a direct consequence of their involvement with the site. After working with Geo-Gráficas on an exhibition presented at FAC in February of this year—which, Cabezas Padrón proudly notes, had a record-breaking attendance its opening night—Fernández and Cabezas Padrón found themselves incredibly inspired by the response. They loved the feeling of supporting the creative community, and wanted do even more.

“We believe that the magazine, similar to Geo-Gráficas, will be very good for designers and artists. We hope it creates opportunities for them to find more work.  Right now, so many visual artists and designers are anonymous; we want to give them a stage.”

And they’re doing just that—with apparently endless energy. Just like FAC, D aqui is helping shape the city’s creative identity by holding up a mirror to the talents that exist there. It is a community notably driven by individuals happy to make opportunities for themselves, and by a belief that the path to success and creative freedom is carved by championing those around you. There’s faith that together, they’ll succeed. And it’s beautiful to watch.

 


  

Stay tuned for the final installation of our visit to Havana in the coming days! And be sure to check out Part 1 and Part 2 of our trip as well for conversations with desigers helping shape Cuba's creative scene.

 
  • Text by

    • Anna Carnick

      Anna Carnick

      Anna is Pamono’s Managing Editor. Her writing has appeared in several arts and culture publications, and she's edited over 20 books. Anna loves celebrating great artists, and seriously enjoys a good picnic.

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