Art Education in Cuba

Elio Delgado Legon

Cuban music students. Photo:

HAVANA TIMES — In a previous article about education in Cuba, I expressed the following:

“According to the vocation of each pupil, there are also specialized schools at the elementary, intermediate and advanced stages in all fields of art and culture, such as those for music, painting, sculpture, dance, ballet, the performing arts, etc. This instruction ensures that no talent in any of these art forms goes ignored or disregarded.”

Prior to 1959, there was no a system of organized art education in Cuba. Now in Havana we have the San Alejandro Academy of Fine Arts, created in colonial times and with a very limited enrollment.

Many of the Republican-era (1902-1959) artists were self-taught or they paid for their training, at least those who were able to pay private teachers or academies. Those who couldn’t pay, even when they had tremendous potential as artists, had to engage themselves in other activities.

As someone who was who was born and raised in the countryside, I knew of instances in which teens and young people with vocations for music but were never able to hold an instrument in their hands or pay a teacher to teach them, not even the basics of this field.

I met an excellent self-taught guitarist and tres player who was never able to learn music, therefore he made his living making charcoal. That was the reality in Cuba before 1959.

Around the country today there are more than 40 art schools. In these are educated thousands of mid-level artists who represent the most genuine of universal and Cuban traditions.

We also have a system of casas de cultura (neighborhood cultural centers) that cover the whole country. In every municipality they help to channel the artistic interests of children and youth. In addition, in almost all schools of the country there are art instructors, who are the primary link for discovering a child’s vocation.

The elementary music schools and conservatories, elementary and intermediary schools of ballet and dance, in addition to top-level institutions that consist of the principal companies are also part of what’s offered.

I can personally attest to the fact that there is a strong choral movement in Cuba, one which is the admiration of many in the world. Cuban choirs have won numerous national and international awards.

The top level of the institutions of art education system is the Instituto Superior de Arte (ISA), where industry professionals come to expand and complete their education with high degrees of specialization.

More than 4,700 artists have graduated from ISA, where they received excellent education from professors selected from among the most prominent Cuban artists.

Each year, a large contingent of graduates from art schools join groups involved in theater, television and film, as well as dance, music and other art forms, thus ensuring the vitality of cultural activity in the country.

As a result of the work of the school system, we can emphasize that in Cuba there are now seven symphonies, two classical ballet companies of high international prestige, dozens of ballet and modern dance companies and more than 400 troupes at various levels.

An indication of the quality of art education in Cuba is the fact that dozens of Cubans actors and actresses are working abroad under contracts almost permanently. In addition, a Cuban is currently the first dancer of the Royal Ballet Theatre of London and another islander was the principal dancer with the American Ballet Theatre of New York.

Despite the US blockade and the difficulties that this has created for us, culture and art education remains a priority of the Cuban government, which is aware that it constitutes a means for increasingly dignifying human beings.