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Cuba-U.S. cultural exchange is in the spotlight as embassies re-open




American audiences have only heard a small portion of the musical talent in Cuba.
American audiences have only heard a small portion of the musical talent in Cuba.
Roberto Machado Noa/Getty Images

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The United States and Cuba have re-opened their embassies in each other’s countries. It’s the next step in the ongoing normalization of relations between the two nations. What does this mean for artists and cultural exchange?

The Frame's John Horn spoke with Adolfo Nodal. He's a Cuban-American businessman and former general manager of the City of Los Angeles Cultural Affairs Department. He now runs Cuba Tours and Travel, a company that organizes cultural trips to the island.

INTERVIEW HIGHLIGHTS: 

There was a time — not so long ago — when it was really hard for Cuban visual and performing artists to get visas to the U.S. That has ebbed-and-flowed over the past few years. Now that the embassies have re-opened in Washington and Havana, what affect will that have on cultural exchange between the countries?

I'm happy to say that cultural exchange has really opened up, to the point where Cuban artists are all over the United States, and American artists are starting to go to Cuba to do projects. It's really exciting. Just off the top of my head, I can tell you that the artist, Luis Camejo, who's one of the major painters of Cuba, is here right now doing an exhibition. And groups like the Preservation Hall Jazz Band are playing at the Jazz Festival in Havana in December. So artists really are going back-and-forth now, and many of the Cuban artists are getting five-year visas and they're becoming normalized. That's how it's supposed to be.

How much easier has it become for Cuban artists to get visas to the U.S.?

Nobody needs visas to leave the country of Cuba anymore — that was changed about two years ago. You don't have to get government permission to leave the country, so the concept of having five-year visas is a brand new thing that just started. When they apply for a visa to come to the U.S., artists automatically get a five-year visa now.

Another major thing that happened this last May was that The Bronx Museum had a major exhibition at Bellas Artes Museum in Havana. It's the first major collaboration between a museum in the U.S. and a museum in Cuba in 60 years, so I think both sides realized that artists are a perfect way to get people to get to know each other for the first time. It's happened before, but now it's all over the place.

Cuban authorities recently returned the passport of dissident artist Tania Bruguera. But she said she wouldn’t leave Cuba unless she was assured she would be let back in. Is there any indication that Cuba is becoming more tolerant toward artists who are critical of the government?

No, I won't say there's any indication of that yet. But Cuban artists and the Cuban people overall have lost their fear; they don't have a fear of the government anymore. They do what they want to do and they take the consequences, so artists are doing a lot of things they wouldn't normally do five years ago. It's opening up there, and [free] speech is expanding there.

What have American audiences been missing out on in terms of not having full access to Cuban artists?

I think American audiences have seen the tip of the iceberg of what's come from Cuba, and they've all been great artists: Chucho Valdes, La Camerata Romeu, or artists that have been able to come here and perform. But Cuba's a place where culture comes out of the ground and the water, so there's so much great art being produced in all fields in Cuba.

There's a broad set of music being produced in Cuba that hasn't seen its way here, and there's a lot of art that's been produced and hasn't been seen here, so when people go to Cuba and see the broad, expansive Cuban culture — everything from architecture to opera, classical music to Afro-Cuban music — they'll realize it's really a rich place for culture.



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