The Importance of Arts and Culture

The arts are extremely valued in Cuba and widely supported by the State through institutions such as the National Ballet (Ballet Nacional), the National Museum of Art (Museo de Bellas Artes), the Cuban Film Institute (Instituto Cubano del Arte e Industria Cinematográficos), and the Cuban Cultural Council.
Arts and culture is present on every corner in Havana—salsa beats waft down the streets, music and dance groups play in cafes, and countless galleries can be found throughout the city—not only in touristy Havana Vieja and hip Vedado, but also in neighboring Miramar and Playa. Outside of Havana the presence of arts may be less dense, but it still exists, with museums in every city, cultural programming in every school, and music as a way of life.

The Role of Education

Cubans are exposed to art from a young age, beginning classes in second grade as part of primary school curriculum and advancing depending on aptitude and aspiration. For those who become dancers, painters, musicians, or actors, education is free at universities, such as the Instituto Superior de Arte (ISA) and the Escuela Nacional de Bellas Artes “San Alejandro". For those who never take another art class after primary school, the arts still play a significant role in Cuban life. “La gente le gusta ballet. La gente le gusta pintura. Es algo que se aprende desde niño,” says Omar Diaz, a guide at the Museo de Bellas Artes. People like the ballet. People like paintings. This is something that they learn from childhood.
Art appreciation is taught through more than just primary school and cultural institutions. The “University for Everyone” ("Universidad para Todos") is a television program that offers courses on a range of topics, from sciences to languages to arts. Cubans throughout the country can learn art history, papier-mâché, painting, and more by simply watching TV. Additionally, groups of artists have formed cultural collectives with the goal of teaching and learning about arts. One example is Imagén 3, a group that gathers on the Paseo del Prado in Havana every Saturday and Sunday to display and sell their work, and to offer free classes to anyone interested, young and old, Cubans and foreigners alike.
Cuba is deeply proud of its arts and culture, with good reason. While challenges abound, the diversity and quality of art in Cuba is truly remarkable. And the arts extend beyond State-sanctioned institutions - an extremely difficult, if not impossible, feat for all other sectors in Cuba.
Omar Diaz (Photo by Omar Z. Robles)

Mural at the Instituto Superior de Arte (ISA): "Oh, divine art! Art, like salt for food, preserves nations." - Jose Martí

Maria Beatriz, Painter

"Imagen 3" Artists on the Prado

Luisa, Photographer


Another factor in the importance of Cuban arts is accessibility. Tickets to museums and shows are affordable for the average Cuban. As a result, cultural institutions such as the ballet and the opera are not associated with wealth or “high taste,” as they may be in other countries. For a foreigner, ballet tickets cost US$30 (or 30 CUC). For a Cuban, they cost 40 CUP (equivalent to US$1.60). The Museo de Bellas Artes is 5 CUC for foreigners, but just 5 CUP for Cubans. This pattern holds throughout Cuba; even Casa de la Música, a famous salsa club, charges foreigners 15 CUC, but is much cheaper, or free, for Cubans.

Written by: Laura Lehman