Interesting Event, Poor Attendance

Daisy Valera

Casa de las Americas, Havana.  Photo: Caridad
Casa de las Americas, Havana. Photo: Caridad

During the final days of December, the second encounter of young Latin American and Caribbean artists and writers was held in Havana.

The event was also called “Casa Tomada” (Occupied house), because for nearly a week all corners of the Casa de las Americas cultural institution were given over to conferences and expositions of artists from nearly all branches of the arts.

The events included jazz concerts, talks by graphic designers, poetry readings, theater workshops and presentations of magazines.

There was also no lack of reflective sessions at the Casa, among them the role of youth in art, intellectual responsibility and Cuban thought today.

Although this second encounter of young artists in Havana definitely brought us a well varied set of topics, the public attendance and participation in general wasn’t very good.

I’m sorry to report that I was in the Che Guevara room of this institution, with a capacity for 248 seats, but found only 30 people there during the presentation of the panel “Participation and legitimacy, mass means of communication/ disadvantaged alternative media.”

Although the theme was very interesting, the majority of the thirty participants were – contradictorily — foreigners.

There may be a number of reasons to justify the fact that this gathering wasn’t met with greater enthusiasm by the youth of Havana: after thinking the situation over, a few possible motives occur to me.

The one that weighs most heavily is the feeling that the Havana youth didn’t see their points of view and their concerns reflected in the atmosphere of “Casa Tomada.”

For example, there was no discussion of the limitations in Cuba on doing creative work; on the one hand the economic ones, and on the other because on many occasions care must be taken when expressing ideas that could lead to ill-intentioned misinterpretations.

In addition, on one of the panels I attended, one of the invited participants had the misguided idea of speaking about artists in Europe, many of whom had money and didn’t know what to create.  The reality was that we were all Latin Americans and none of us found the commentary amusing.

I consider such gatherings indispensable, where you can come together to debate diverse artistic and intellectual themes.  However, I think that the one main item that shouldn’t be lacking is participation.

This can be achieved only if the event is capable of promoting real discussion and debate, not just the image of an expert talking and the public listening, which is what happened with this gathering.