Academic journal article Cuban Studies

Cultural Policy, the Visual Arts, and the Advance of the Cuban Revolution in the Aftermath of the Gray Years

Academic journal article Cuban Studies

Cultural Policy, the Visual Arts, and the Advance of the Cuban Revolution in the Aftermath of the Gray Years

Article excerpt

Introduction

From the inception of the revolution, the Cuban leadership grouped around Fidel Castro recognized that the defense and advance of the revolution depended fundamentally on die mobilization of the Cuban people. Cultural development and, more specifically, artistic production have been viewed equally consistently as indispensable components of that mobilization. Widespread debate around cultural policy and die freest conditions of artistic expression are inevitably entailed in this perspective. The Cuban cultural scholar Graziella Pogolotti explained at a recent book fair in Havana that the cultural debate has always been part of a more fundamental question about how socialism will be built and that the revolution's cultural policy is part of a broader approach. "As Che [Guevara] said, to build socialism, you also have to develop the subject of that new history - the men and women, and also culture."1 In his remarks to intellectuals at the famous library meetings in 1 96 1 , President Fidel Castro also pointed to the close association between culture and social change when he explained that the revolution cannot seek "to stifle art or culture, because one of the goals and one of the fundamental aims of the revolution is to develop art and culture, precisely so that art and culture truly become the patrimony of the people. And just as one wants a better life for the people in the material sense, so, too, does one want a better life for the people in a spiritual and cultural sense."2

However, it would be naive to suggest that the forging of the revolution's cultural policy has been without contradictions. From time to time, departures from the revolution's cultural policy have occurred- "aberrations" as the Cuban Minister of Culture Abel Prieto put it in a recent interview.3 But during those periods when the cultural space for Cuba's artists has narrowed, a vigorous riposte also has been in evidence. This determined resistance to any encroachments on Cuba's cultural space would not have been possible without the mobilizations mat have been a feature of the revolution from its earliest days: the Literacy Campaign in 1961 through the rectification process of the late 1980s and the Battle of Ideas launched in 1999. These mobilizations not only have enabled an active process of settling accounts with negative episodes but, along the way, also have led to political clarifications and deepened the revolution's cultural policy.

The Quinquenio Gris: Half a Decade of Gray Years

The most notorious rupture with the revolution's cultural policies occurred during the gray years from 1971 to 1976. The lessons of this period - and others - have for some time been under serious consideration in Cuba, with a growing recognition that this process is an essential step for advancing the goals of the revolution. A recent lively engagement with these issues occurred in the aftermath of the appearance on Cubavisión of Luis Pavón Tamayo in January 2007. Pavón was presented on television in a laudatory way, including images of him with Raúl Castro shortly after Castro assumed the presidency. However, Pavón had served as director of the National Cultural Council (Consejo Nacional de Cultura) from 1971 to 1976, and many Cubans who lived through that period consider him responsible for implementing repressive policies against artists and writers who refused to conform to a narrow, formulaic, and populist dogma that was construed as proletarian culture. Scores of Cubans began an e-mail campaign to register their disgust with the program, and they organized meetings with the Ministry of Culture.4 The writers' and artists' union, the Unión Nacional de Escritores y Artistas de Cuba (UNEAC) discussed the matter, and Minister of Culture Abel Prieto presented the Cuban Communist Party's view that it had been an error to involve Pavón - and two other officials from the period - on the program because they were associated with a period that the political leadership viewed with "great disapproval" when the very tenets of the revolution's cultural policies were "set aside. …

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