Join the Art Council of Palm Desert on a 10-day exploration of Cuba’s fascinating art world with acclaimed National Geographic Cuba expert Christopher P. Baker
Cuba has one of the world’s most exciting contemporary art scenes. The entire island teems with artists of stature. Cuban artists express an intense Afro-Latin-Americanism in their passionate, visceral, socially engaged art. Whether they are Instituto Superior de Artes graduates or untrained innovators in their own right, young Cuban artists have caused a stir on the international art scene since the pioneering Volumen Uno group in the 80s laid new groundwork–and a rebirth of expression after a time of government repression. Each new generation since has grown and built on the last, adopting new mediums, techniques and incorporating contemporary concerns into their works. Painters, sculptors, photographers, and other artists imaginatively stretch their limited resources to produce widely interpretive modern works overflowing with energy and unique creativity.
This 10-day program provides an opportunity to become intimately acquainted with Cuba’s top artists and photographers, who have found inspiration in their unique Revolutionary environment—part colonial, part capitalist, part Communist. It will take participants on a tour of museums and galleries, ground-breaking exhibitions, and world-acclaimed state-run educational institutions. Plus, we’ll immerse ourselves in the private world and life of internationally renowned Cuban artists and upcoming post-millennium artists and photographers, providing an intimate exchange of ideas with the actual artists in the artists’ own studios.
TOUR LEADER – CHRISTOPHER P. BAKER
It’s true to say… no-one knows Cuba as well as Christopher, the Lowell Thomas Award 2008 ‘Travel Journalist of the Year’ and the author of eight travel books about Cuba, including the coffee-table book Cuba Classics: A Celebration of Vintage American Automobiles, plus the Eyewitness Travel Cuba, National Geographic Traveler Cuba, Moon Cuba, and Top 10 Cuba guidebooks. National Geographic acclaimed him “one of the world’s leading authorities on Cuba travel and culture.” Christopher has made Cuba his foremost professional interest since his first visit in 1992. He has since visited Cuba hundreds of times… met with Fidel Castro and other icons of the Cuban Revolution… and come to know intimately the world of Cuban art and photography. He has written hundreds of magazine articles about Cuba for publications from BBC, CNN and National Geographic Traveler to Penthouse. He has also led more than one hundred tours to Cuba on behalf of National Geographic Expeditions and entities as diverse as the Children’s Cancer Foundation, Jim Cline Photo Tours, The Los Angeles Times, and CNN anchor Michael Smerconish. Christopher’s profound knowledge of Cuba, plus his Rolodex of Cuban artists, provide an unparalleled context for your travel experience and understanding of Cuban art.
ITINERARY (SUBJECT TO CHANGE)
DAY 1 – Saturday
Tour participants arrive on their own schedule. The tour will begin this evening with a reception, followed by a scenic sunset ride in convertible classic cars to dinner at La Guarida. This astounding paladar (private restaurant) was the setting for the Oscar-nominated movie Fresa y Chocolate (Strawberry & Chocolate), offers superb nouvelle Cuban cuisine, and is adorned with stunning art pieces.
DAY 2 – Sunday
A guided tour of the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes (Fines Arts Museum/Cuban Section)—the nation’s preeminent art collection—sets the scene as a local art specialist provides an in-depth explanation of the periods, movements and landmark pieces of Cuban art since the tuen of the 20th century. We’ll then enjoy a walking tour of colonial-era Habana Vieja, a UNESCO World Heritage Site teeming with nascent art galleries.We’ll include Calle Empedraro or Tejadillo, visiting various galleries that have spontaneously sprouted in recent years inside humble homes. We’ll lunch at Doña Eutimia (famous for its ropa vieja and frozen mojitos, this cozy paladar made Newsweek’s top 100 restaurants in the world in 2012). Our afternoon visits include: Galería La Mina, one of the most artistically wealthy independent studios in Cuba, it consists of acclaimed artists Roberto Fabelo, Ernesto Rancaño, Zaida del Río, Angel Ramírez and Carlos Guzmán; Barrio Habana, a non-profit organization that leads a sports-art program dedicated to the betterment of the quality of life of children, at-risk youth, and the elderly); and Clandestina, the first independent design store in Cuba. Tonight we’ll dine at Río Mar, a sensational paladar in a 1950s modernist mansion at the mouth of the Río Almendares
DAY 3 – Monday
We begin today with a brief visit to Taller Experimental de la Gráfica, an independent workers cooperative of Cuba’s top graphic artists, who still use centuries-old lithographic stones and presses. Then we’ll head to 331 Art Space, the gallery of top avant-garde young artists Frank Mujica, Adrian Fernández and Alex Dueñas. Afterwards, we make a drive-past circuit of the Instituto Superior de Arte, Cuba’s premier university of arts, with its astonishing architecture, en route to Kcho Estudio Romerillo “Laboratory for art.” This expansive project of Cuban plastic artist Alexis Leyva Machado (Kcho) includes a workshop, galleries, public library, sports and children’s facilities, plus public installation art and murals intended to transform the economically challenged Romerillo neighborhood. We’ll lunch at Santy Pescador. Sushi? In Cuba? You bet… and world-class too, served at the fishers’ rustic restaurant right by the funky wharf! Then visit Fusterlandia and Casa-Estudio de José Fuster, the to-be-seen-believed home and community art project of a naïve artist who has converted his neighborhood into a whimsical and fantastical art project featuring murals, plastic art and other designs inspired by Gaudi, Picasso and Constantin Brâncuşi. We also visit Habana Compas studio for a show and discussion with instructors and students. Liliet Rivera, protege of the renowned List Alfonso Dance Company, established Habana Compas in 2004. Her goal: to reclaim and preserve Cuba’s dance heritage from Spain and Africa. In 2009, the masterful drummer Eduardo Córdova Díaz joined Liliet to lead the percussion group, and with this, Habana Compas’ signature fusion style was born. Almost 15 years later, Habana Compas has developed into an institution within Cuba, running a free school for youth in the afternoons. Tonight we’ll dine at Atelier. This fabulous paladar of Niurys Higueras hosts some astounding artwork and serves superb traditional Cuban dishes family style.
DAY 4 – Tuesday
We dedicate today to Havana’s incredible photographic arts scene. We begin with a visit to Galería Raúl Corrales, where we’ll meet and interact with several accomplished young Cuban photographers, including Claudia Corral Mesa, Leysis Quesada, Arian Chang Castan, and Néstor Martí Delgado. We’ll then visit Fototeca—the Centro Nacional de FotografÍa–to view its permanent and temporary exhibitions, and enjoy a discussion with Director and accomplished photographer, Nelson Ramírez de Arrellano, plus some of the Fototeca photographers. After a light lunch at Azúcar, an airy contemporary paladar overlooking Plaza Vieja, Christopher takes us to one of his favorite photographic venues—a 1929 Art Nouveau mansion, still lived in by its pre-revolutionary owner after the rest of the family fled to Miami. Nothing—nothing!—of the interior has changed since 1959. Not the telephone, nor the books in the bookcase! It’s been a setting for Vanity Fair’s photo shoot of Rhianna, among others. Chris will arrange a bailerina or model to pose for us as we have fun pretending we’re professional photographers. Late, we visit Casa-Galería Roberto Salas to meet one of Cuba’s most iconic photographers. A great raconteur with an amazing story, Salas was born in New Jersey, at the age of 15 photographed Fidel Castro during his fundraising visit to New York in 1954, and with his photographer father Oswaldo Salas, flew to Cuba on January 2, 1959, one day after the triumph of the Revolution. He and his father became official Castro photographers and never returned home. The rest, as they say, is history. We dine at Otra Manera… one of Havana’s top paladares, this chic contemporary restaurant offers some of the finest fusion cuisine in town.
DAY 5 – Wednesday
Today we journey west from Havana to Las Terrazas, an exquisite mountain community purpose-built around a man-made lake following the Revolution as part of a reforestation project. Today a rural farming village and eco-resort, it has a thriving artistic community. We’ll enjoy a walking tour, including visits to Casa-Estudio Henry Aloma (who specializes in water-colors of ecologically inspired surreal creatures) and the lakeside Casa-Estudio Lester Campa. A graduate of the Instituto Superior de Arte, Lester is known for his stunning double-entendre landscapes; his works, some of which sell internationally for six figures, are in demand for private collections the world over. We lunch at Casona de Mercedes, where we’ll savor classic Cuban country fare on an open-air terrace at this family-run restaurant in the heart of the community. This afternoon we return to Havana, where the balance of the day and evening will be yours to enjoy at leisure. Perhaps a chance to enjoy a night of 1950s redux at the Tropicana cabaret!
DAY 6 – Thursday
This morning visit the newly-opened REX Neon Center, in a recently restored Art Deco cinema, to learn about artist Kadir López Nieve’s Habana Lights project to restore many of Havana’s forlorn 1950s-era neon signage to functionality. We’ll then visit Casa-Galería Kadir López Nieve to meet this world-renowned artist, most renowned for scouring Cuba for pre-revolutionary commercial signage to turn into art. We’ll lunch at Belview Art Café, the bohemian art-café of German ace photographer Sven Creutzmann and his Cuban wife. After lunch, we’ll walk the short distance through Vedado neighborhood, where Chris will introduce us to his close friend Luis Enrique González, a harlista (antique Harley-Davidson fanatic) and owner of a dozen pre-Revolutionary Harleys plus a 1948 Buick Roadmaster (with its Perkins marine diesel engine, and parts from a Mercedes, Toyota, KIA, and Russian Lada, it’s a true Frankenstein’s monster). At Luis’ home and workshop, we’ll learn about the difficulties of keeping pre-Revolutionary vehicles running in a country of eternal shortages and U.S. embargo; Luis also runs a private B&B in his recently restored 1920s home—a chance to learn about the issues unique to Cuba in operating a private business. The balance of the afternoon is at leisure before we take an early-evening private guided tour of Fábrica de Arte Cubano (FAC), a multi-dimensional art space, and the hippest nightspot in Havana. Founded by one of Cuba’s most respected and revered Afro-Cuban fusion musicians, X-Alfonso, this former cooking oil factory has been converted and now promotes local Cuban artists, writers, photographers, intellectual, film-makers and performers. We’ll then linger to enjoy dinner at Tierra. Located in a converted container in FAC, the restaurant mirrors the eclectic farándula (bohemian in-crowd), serving dishes from around the world. Then, linger if you desire for an optional evening at Fábrica de Arte Cubano.
DAY 7 – Friday
Today depart Havana for Trinidad, a UNESCO World Heritage City that is Cuba’s best-preserved colonial-era-city. It’s also a thriving center for the creative arts. En route we’ll stop in the Caribbean Bayshore city of Cienfuegos where we are treated to a performance by the Coro de Cienfuegos—an award-winning choir whose repertoire ranges from Cuba folk favorites to American gospel and The Beatles. We’ll lunch at Finca del Mar: one of the best paladares outside Havana, this bayfront option combines a fabulous setting and ambience with great fare. This afternoon we’ll meet the children and teachers of Escuela Provincial de Arte Benny Moré for an interchange about Cuba’s lionized specialist tuition system in the arts. We’ll also make a brief stop in the batey (sugar-processing community) of Pepito Tey to mingle with Cubans in the bodega (ration store), with its phenomenal revolutionary murals. We’ll arrive Trinidad in late afternoon. We dine at Muñoz Tapas, a stellar new paladar. Tonight you may wish to partake of one of the traditional music clubs, such as the Casa de la Trova.
DAY 8 – Saturday
Chris will lead a walking tour of Trinidad’s cobbled colonial core, with stops along the way at Casa-Galería Carlos Mata Pich, known as the “Painter of the Night” for his evocations of Trinidad by moonlight (he was also a founder—and teacher—of the Escuela Provincial de Arte in Trinidad); and Casa-Galería Lázaro Niebla, a Trinidad-based artist who documents the connection to the past through amazingly realistic reverse woodcut portraits of elderly locals cut into colonial-era cedar door panels. We lunch at Sol Ananda, a lovely, antique-filled paladar overlooking the main plaza. The afternoon is free for you to interact with locals. We dine at Vista Gourmet. You won’t want to miss this highlight open-air dinner on a terrace overlooking Trinidad. The owner is a professional sommelier and oversees a kitchen that consistently delivers world-class nouvelle Cuban cuisine.
DAY 9 – Sunday
We return to Havana via the Bay of Pigs—site of the disastrous CIA-sponsored invasion of Cuba by Cuban-American exiles in April 1961—and Parque Nacional Zapata, Cuba’s largest national park. Here we’ll learn about ecological conservation efforts from freelance guide Armando Herrera. Our lunch is at Hostal Enrique, a private B&B with a shaded rooftop terrace restaurant, where we’ll enjoy a family-style seafood buffet just a stone’s throw from the beach at the Bay of Pigs. Just before arriving Havana, we’ll visit Museo Ernest Hemingway, in the author’s former home of 21 years–a highlight of any tour to Cuba. Our final dinner is a special reception at the home of artist Damien Aquiles and his U.S. wife, Pamela Ruiz, a consummate hostess. We will be joined by various artists and musicians for a fabulous soirée. (Their home is featured in the stunning coffee-table book, Havana Living Today, including these images on the linked website.)
DAY 10 – Monday
Depart Havana for home.
Every U.S. citizen can legally travel to Cuba, pre-approved, under the “support for the Cuban people” license. The trips that Chris arranges and leads are designed to maximize “support for the Cuban people” through stays at private B&Bs, meals at private restaurants, and interactions with artists, private tobacco farmers, owners of private restaurants, and autonomous community projects, etc. intended to support an independent society.