By Pedro Campos

Tourists in Old Havana.  Photo: Caridad
Tourists in Old Havana. Photo: Caridad

HAVANA TIMES, Dec. 8 – The artists of Havana -who have become one of the main tourist attractions of the living city- have been shuffled around the city for years.

They first sold their paintings, crafts and sculptures in the Cathedral Plaza, later they were moved to a site at the Malecon and E Street, and more recently they were relocated to a location once again near the Cathedral.

At this last site, they had to create stalls improvised from cardboard, plastic sheeting or whatever they might find to serve as a defense against the weather.

Now, they have finally found a unique and seemingly final home, a venue destined to become one of the main cultural centers in the country: The San Jose Galleries.

Formerly serving as a warehouse in the port of Havana, the facility was rescued and restored.  By redesigning and dividing it into cubicles, it now has ample space for the exhibition of artwork and the circulation of visitors – without crowding.  The gallery even has cafes and restaurants with views of the bay, which offer an attractive panorama for relaxation, recreation, and meetings between friends or business contacts.

In the main hall, there’s a stage for other artistic, cultural and recreational presentations, showing the broad scope under which this space was conceived and will continue to gain in significance.

I talked with several of the artists who exhibit and sell their work there, so I was able to confirm their satisfaction with the new locale.  The conditions for the sale and security of their works and the comfort that it offers are all vastly improved.  They no longer need to rig up improvised tents, or haul their wares around or have to find places to store their creations.

I prefer not to describe anything more about what I saw there; on the one hand I don’t think I could succeed at conveying it, while on the other I believe that those discoveries should be made by the visitors themselves.

This is why I’m concentrating on marking the event in terms of the work of these never well-considered creators, who for such a long time -enduring wind and high-water- have managed to maintain this traditional institution where the defense of national culture is neither a slogan nor empty propaganda.  Instead it is meticulous labor, re-creations of our realities, solutions to many daily problems, and the paying of exquisite personal attention to visitors – be they national or foreign.  Ah, and a sense of ownership without the need for imposition.

The Market under Socialism

Those people who criticize such commercial activities as throwbacks to capitalism are ignoring the fact that the market continues playing an important role under socialism.  These detractors have never had to live off of their creations, and they don’t know that in each one of the works exhibited there, however insignificant it may seem, there is genius, labor, perseverance and the desire to live in and contribute to the society of those valuable producers.

Non-exploitative self-employment is one in the main forms of production and social self-management.  Though it continues to develop in socialist society, it has always faced an abundance of obstacles from the bureaucracy, opposed to all activities outside of the state.

Notwithstanding, self-employment has discovered a niche of progress in the San Jose Gallery, one that will continue contributing a great deal to Cuban culture and recreation and to those who visit us.

It is, in short, of another great success of the Office of the Havana City Historian.


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