How Artists Survive In Cuba

Venice is a city of artists, musicians and writers. Yet most of them get no encouragement when it comes to survival. A network of support for artists and writers exists in Cuba.

Most aspiring artists, musicians and writers go to art or music schools or major in art, music or literature at the universities (which are free).

After that, writers of poetry, novels and nonfiction can join literary workshops throughout the country where they can have their work constructively criticized and where they can develop their skills. No one is required to attend. Instead, writers can send their work to magazines on the island. If accepted, they are paid for the work. Many writers have two professions, says Esther Pérez, a writer and editor of Caminos, the magazine of the Martin Luther King Center in Havana. “They write and also are editors, university professors or work in publishing houses.”

“There are organizations of musicians that are willing to evaluate musicians. If they are competent, they get assignments to play at events and get paid. The most popular musicians don’t need this help because they are constantly being asked to perform.”

Likewise, artists can join collectives that have galleries where people come and buy their art. The public libraries also have exhibition areas for artists. We talked to one artist at the Taller de Artes Gráficas. He told us that when a sale is made, 70 percent of the amount goes to the artist and collective and 30 percent goes to the government which provides the building, utilities and upkeep. 

Those artists who are not invited to join a collective are still able to sell their work on the street or in art markets, similar to Ocean Front Walk.

Creative people in Cuba are not confronted with the crushing rents we have in Venice. Many younger artists live with their families because of the housing shortage. They, like all Cubans, receive a food ration card that guarantees no one will starve. With food, housing, education and health care covered, their are few reasons why a creative person would be unable to pursue his/her art.

–Jim Smith

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