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Cuban Art Factory, fostering 10 years of creativity, expression in Havana

By AFP - Mar 23,2024 - Last updated at Mar 23,2024

A woman looks at artworks at La Fabrica de Arte Cubano (The Cuban Art Factory) in Havana on March 10 (AFP photo)

HAVANA — For ten years, the privately-funded Cuban Art Factory in Havana has provided a space for local talent to exhibit their creations in what was once a train station.

The FAC, as it is known, has become internationally renowned as a gallery and nightclub — a place for expression in a country where saying what you think can land you in jail.

Every week, from Thursday to Sunday, hundreds of visitors pay the equivalent of $4 to attend music concerts, see plays, dance, or simply to stroll, Mojito in hand, through its corridors replete with modern art.

Everything is on offer here: Nights of techno music, exhibits of plastic works, photography, fashion and just plain fun.

“Here, you can see things you couldn’t even imagine,” Olivia Rodriguez, a 30-year-old musician, told AFP as she waited for renowned Cuban salsa singer Issac Delgado to come on stage.

He performed as part of the FAC’s 10th anniversary celebrations.

“Since we opened here, this [venture] has been carried by artists, always focusing on the work and the message,” X Alfonso, founder and leader of the avant-garde project, told AFP.

The provocative and light-hearted contributions of some artists have sometimes caused problems, admits Alfonso, but he does not want to dwell on the subject.

Hundreds of Cubans, including artists, are in jail for daring to speak out against the communist state or demonstrating against poverty amid the communist island’s worst economic crisis in 30 years, marked by shortages of fuel, medicines and food.

Countless others have fled into exile.

“We make art, those who want to turn it into politics can, that’s their problem,” said Alfonso, a composer and performer who won the 2022 Latin Grammy for best folk album with the group Sintesis, formed by his parents.

“It’s like a fuel station for the soul,” he added.


‘Owe nothing to anyone’ 


Like the city that harbours it, the FAC enjoyed prosperous years with the easing of ties between Cuba and the United States in 2015 under the presidency of Barack Obama (2009-2017).

American cruise ships landed full of tourists eager to drive in an old convertible and discover the nightlife of Havana. The economy of the city flourished.

Celebrities such as Quincy Jones, Michelle Obama and Jon Bon Jovi visited the FAC premises in the affluent district of Vedado, and Mick Jagger performed at a concert in Ciudad Deportiva, another cultural venue.

And in 2019, Time Magazine included the FAC in its list of the World’s 100 Greatest Places.

But the good times did not last, with Donald Trump reversing most of his predecessor’s overtures. Sanctions were toughened after a crackdown on protests in July 2021.

The Covid pandemic did not help, starving the island of much-needed tourism.

Today, Cuba battles recurring power outages, and running the FAC has become a daily struggle.

In October, it was threatened with closure by authorities seeking to reduce electricity consumption. But it did not come to pass.

Providing some 300 direct and indirect jobs, the FAC is a “union of private companies”, self-financing and without sponsors, said Alfonso, proud to “owe nothing to anyone”.

“The most important thing is that the factory is a living organism, living in Cuba, with all the needs and problems that exist. But it is still alive and still trying... to survive,” he said.

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