Recently a delegation from SVA visited Cuba to explore the possibility of future cultural/educational collaborations. The idea for the trip was proposed to the board of directors less than a year ago by board member Walter Rivera, a partner in the law firm Rivera Hunter Colón & Dobshinsky, LLP. The board heartily embraced the proposal and in late March Mr. Rivera, along with the College’s executive vice president Anthony P. Rhodes, provost Christopher J. Cyphers, and executive director of admissions Rick Longo, set off for a week-long trip to Havana that was a mesh of fact-finding, cross-cultural exchange, and plain good will.
Travel to Cuba, for Americans, is not a casual undertaking. The U.S. trade embargo prohibits most travel and all exchanges intended for commercial gain; any dealings with the country’s government or citizens can be only for cultural/educational purposes. SVA had to apply for a special license from the Department of Treasury that allows educational institutions to visit there.
Cuba has one single fine arts university, the Instituto Superior de Arte in Havana, which the delegation visited. The instituo, which offers instruction in the performing and fine arts (including painting, drawing, sculpture, and printmaking), accepts only 20 fine art students a year. There is also another university that specializes in the so-called “industrial arts,” such as graphic design. Each of the country’s 19 provinces has an intermediate art school, which primarily serves students who are 14 – 16 years-old. The most prestigious of these is the Academia Nacional de Artes Plasticas-San Allejandro, which the delegation also visited. The curriculum in these schools is quite rigorous, with an emphasis on fundamental art training. Students work closely with their instructors in a relationship that could be characterized as an apprenticeship, and the graduates are considered professional artists.
Among the delegation’s more fruitful accomplishments on the trip was the relationship they forged with a printmaking collective known as Taller Experimental de Gráfica. Printmaking is one of the more advanced art forms in Cuba and the members of the Taller are among the country’s most prestigious artists and teachers. Some of the ideas for future projects the delegation discussed with the artists and educators they met in Cuba include, among others: a program for short-term faculty exchange; student exchange in the form of internships and educational programs; and an exhibition at SVA featuring Cuban artists.
Many Cuban artists, particularly those in what is for them the embryonic and ill-equipped field of computer art, are immensely interested in coming to America to study. They also see such an exchange as a golden opportunity to gain international exposure for their work. For SVA, introducing to America these talented artists from a country steeped in mystique, whose culture has not been touched by some of the more vulgar aspects of globalization, would certainly put a spotlight on the College. At any rate, the delegation’s trip laid the groundwork for future collaborations and hinted at major possibilities that could come to pass when the relationship between Cuba and America is defined by something other than political antagonism.
(1) One of Old Havana’s many crumbling facades
(2) Carlos del Toro of the Taller Experimental de Gráfica, and his work
(3) SVA’s delegation with members of the Taller
All photographs (2003) by Christopher J. Cyphers