Photo by Aaron Kitzo

Art in Cuba can be found everywhere. The streets are radiant landscapes of cheerful sun-bleached buildings, colorful antique cars, and intimate cafes. Untouched by elitism, the status of the arts in Cuba is what we can only dream of in the United States: publicly well funded, thriving, and central to the lives of all citizens.

So, how did this artistic utopia come to be? For starters, Cuba’s art scene is heavily focused on its youth, which instills a deep appreciation for the arts at a very young age. Around three years old, Cubans are introduced to dance, music, and art. Every municipality also has a Cultural House (or Casa de Cultura), which acts as a community space where children and youth can come to receive music, dance, and art lessons for free.

However, the amazing public support does not end there. At the university level, Cubans have access to the highest quality training in every art form as part of a free, comprehensive education system. Three organizations in particular have transformed the lives of Cuban youth and their community through art. Their continual presence in the public sphere helps ensure that the arts continue to reign in Cuba.

This acclaimed children’s theatre group, “the little beehive,” is the only other youth organization (besides Venezuela’s El Sistema) to be named Goodwill Ambassadors by UNICEF. La Colmenita mission “is to build a place for children to use art and creativity to develop core values and ethics.” In addition to their regular tours in Cuba, as well as a rare U.S. tour in 2011, La Colmenita has toured 25 countries — including post-traumatic zones such as Haiti – performing plays they’ve written and produced themselves. What’s more? La Colmenita focuses on recruiting youth with challenging backgrounds, whether it be socio-emotional, physical, psychological, or a troubled home life. The organization uses theatre to help such youth overcome any kind of obstacle.

Cuba’s art scene is heavily focused on its youth, which instills a deep appreciation for the arts at a very young age

Artist Jose Rodriguez Fuster, “The Picasso of the Caribbean,” is famous in Cuba for having created Fusterlandia, a unique community art project that completely transformed his Havana neighborhood of Jaimanitas. Fusterlandia is a collection of 80 local homes that Fuster, his fellow artists, and art students have rebuilt and decorated with paintings, sculptures, and murals. Fusterlandia has held community events and taught the youth various forms of art since its inception. Fuster puts his own money (from the proceeds of his art sales) back into the community to continue the expansion of Fusterlandia throughout the neighborhood.

The muraling community development project was founded in 2001 by art teachers, Manolo Diaz Baldrich and Ernesto Quirch Paz, who began teaching mural-making youth art classes in the streets of Havana. Murals began to emerge across the neighborhoods, each one depicting the “fanciful celebrations of Cuban life.” The project’s vision is to unite fragmented Cuban communities via storytelling murals, which in turn creates community cohesion and a shared area to appreciate one another’s perspectives.

It’s safe to say the world would benefit from a Cuban lesson in art and ideology. If you know of any community driven art programs in Cuba, please share about them in the comments below!

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