“Becoming the antidote”: How artists in Cuba have played their part against Covid-19

Artists and craftspeople of the group Navarro based in Camajuani, Villa Clara have been making face masks – so far they have donated 10,000 masks to local health institutions Credit: Francisnet Díaz Rondón/ Vanguardia

Cuba’s cultural life seemed to be put on hold on 13 March due to threat of the Covid-19 pandemic. First, the decision was made to postpone cultural events, national and international, that involved large public crowds. Later, they closed art galleries, Casas de Musica and Casas de Cultura, museums, libraries, bookstores, theatres, cinemas and cultural centres.

On 17 April Cubadebate reported that artists and cultural workers who were not able to work due to the closure of venues and distancing measures to reduce spread of covid-19, would receive financial protection from the state, whether employed directly by state institutions or if working in the commercial sector. The Ministry of Culture announced that on the basis of discussions with artists, agencies, companies and institutions in the sector “There is general recognition of the support and concern of the country’s leadership that no worker is left homeless.”

Artists and culture workers employed by the public sector will receive 100% of their salary in the first month and 60% thereafter, starting from April, as for other workers due to work interruption salary protection. For those already contracted with the agencies, centres and companies in the commercial sector of culture, whether music, cinema, circus, dance, visual arts, arts admin and support workers, of which there are estimated to be about 13,500 people, will receive similar protection, specially funded via the Ministry of Culture and also their tax payments can be deferred without interest being payable.

Resolution 18/2020, was passed on 13 April under the name: ‘Rules for the application of the wage guarantee and protection to artistic units before the suspension of the cultural programming for the prevention and control of the pandemic of COVID-19’.

In the meantime it became clear that artists and culture workers across the island were keen to play their part.

On 30 April the Culture Minister Alonso appeared in the TV programme Mesa Redonda saying

“The artists and their work have become an antidote, a stimulus, a source of tranquility and hope in Cuba”.

He explained essential administrative work is continuing, in addition to promoting culture, guaranteeing the safety of workers, establishing a line of dialogue with the public and continuing with remote learning activities. The Ministry itself is continuing to work with minimal personnel and a special post was established, with official communication channels open to any complaint or suggestion.

He supported the decision to continue to postpone large scale national and international cultural events that involve big crowds, as well as the closure of music and cultural centres, libraries, museums, art galleries and bookstores.

He highlighted the work of artists and craftspeople and groups in making face masks (‘nasobucos’) and other protective equipment for the safety of health workers, as well as the meal services provided by a hundred cafes and restaurants run by cultural agencies, Egrem and Artex.

Also highlighted was the active presence on social networks and internet platforms, where more than 27 online concerts have been offered, starring more than 100 singer-songwriters and groups of all genres and also broadcast by radio and television on the island.

The virtual stage has also hosted 50 videos with messages of solidarity from artists of all kinds around the country, works by dance companies, walks through galleries and museums. Culture did not stop but reinvented itself.

As regards art education, Alonso pointed out that exams and recruitment processes were postponed, currently six institutions are redeployed as isolation centres, while students receive classes in a range of subjects via the educational Cuban TV channel. The website of the National Centre for Art Schools (CNEArt) also serves as an online classroom to provide study guides, practical work guides and enables teachers to help students to stay on track.

In fact there has been an explosion of creativity in quarantine, since artists began putting forward ideas and the institutions have supported them, said the minister.

Poetry recitals, donations of books to hospitals and isolation centres, presentations from balconies (Cubans also have had weekly clapping and singing from balconies and outside homes to express thanks to their health workers), home videos of magic performances, drawing contests, decimas, and songs inspired by the situation, demonstrate that cultural life has only changed the scenery, Alonso reaffirmed.

This report combines 2 reports in Spanish by CubaDebate on 17/04/20 and Prensa Latina on 30/04/20

For links to lots of online concerts by Cuban musicians click here

For videos of 10 new Cuban music tracks released during the pandemic click here