45 years of Cuba’s University of the Arts (ISA)

Cuba’s University of the Arts, Formerly ISA, Havana

The Cuban Higher Institute of Art (ISA), since 2013 known as the University of the Arts, opened its doors on 1 September 1976, 45 years ago. For the first students there were only three faculties: Music, Visual Arts and Performing Arts. Later Dance, audiovisual media Arts and, more recently, Conservation and Restoration Arts were added.

In a meeting with the press in June, Enia Rosa Torres, vice-rector of the ISA, announced that in 2021 the 40th anniversary of the first graduation cohort will be celebrated and that to date more than six thousand professionals have graduated from the college.

The idea of ​​developing a new revolutionary artistic teaching system which led to the creation of ISA was first outlined in the famous meeting 60 years ago between the late Cuban leader Fidel Castro and a group of Cuban writers and artists, known as “Words to the Intellectuals”. A phrase used by Fidel then has been taken as the slogan for the program of activities to celebrate 45 years: “Because this is the work of all of us,” explained the vice-rector.

From June 7 and 13, the XX Scientific Conference on Art and Culture will take place online, with the central theme “Science, artistic practices and social dialogues towards sustainable development”. According to María Luisa Pérez de Queralta, executive secretary of the Conference and director of research and postgraduate studies, the event will consist of panels, workshops, special interventions, presentations of texts and works.

The Conference will begin with an address by Alexis Seijo García, rector of the ISA. Next, the panel “Words to intellectuals 60 years later” will be transmitted through the University’s social networking sites and via Streaming Cuba, which will be moderated by Professor Omar González Jiménez, president of the Honorary Chair ‘Cultural Thought of Fidel Castro’.

In addition, foreign intellectuals such as Atilio Borón, Pasqualina Curcio, Manuel Santos Iñurrieta, Fernando Buen Abad, Luis Britto García will participate remotely, and will close with “Culture in times of pandemic”, by Ignacio Ramonet. Presentations and interventions by teachers, researchers, specialists and communicators from the ISA subsidiary colleges in Santiago de Cuba, Camagüey and Holguín will also be transmitted.

David Frank Acosta Mazorra, a professor at ISA, announced that also the annual Festival of the Arts at ISA will take place in a non-face-to-face way from June 9 to 13. Some concerts by students and graduates of the University of the Arts will be broadcast on Cuban television. Also, a programme on the festival will be shown on TV. The vice-rector, Michel Cruz Gómez, said the celebrations will also include a meeting with founders of the college on July 23, and the presentation of special awards. Also, from July to September, Cuban TV will broadcast the special art series “The transcendence of the ephemeral.”

The new academic year is scheduled to begin in person in September, with the placement of commemorative plaques in classrooms and other sites in homage to prestigious ISA founding teachers who have already passed away.

Between September and December there will be a day of presentations with the participation of prominent groups from the musical, theatrical and dance fields, directed and integrated by ISA graduates; a series of conferences, masterclasses and meetings with outstanding artists and intellectuals will be broadcast, and Honoris Causa Doctorates will be awarded to eminent professionals.

On October 5, the 45th Anniversary collective exhibition, organized by the Faculty of Visual Arts, will open leading up to the national Day of Cuban Culture (20 October) where ISA students will take performances to local communities. On November 23-24, there will be a cultural panel and online forum to commemorate the 5th anniversary of the Fidel Castro’s death. December 13-18, there will be the presentation of a book of names and photos of all ISA graduates in the last four decades. The program of activities will close on December 22 with awards to teaching staff, as part of national Educators Day.

Link to original report in Spanish by Cubahora news website

More about ISA/University of the Arts


The Higher Institute of Art (ISA) was created July 29, 1976, under the Ministry of Culture. Its name was changed to University of the Arts on February 28, 2013. At that point it incorporated arts education units in Camaguey, Santiago de Cuba and two in Holguin.

ISA’s mission was to develop comprehensive university training in the spheres of artistic creation and criticism, art teaching and cultural management, to impact the cultural development of society from a humanist and revolutionary conception of art and culture.

It offers undergraduate and graduate academic courses, specialized courses and workshops, event registration, consultancies, projects, technical and professional services, technology transfer and technical assistance, as well as cultural goods and services generated by the university.

The architecture

The innovative, organic structures were built on the site of a former country club in the far western Havana suburb of Cubanacán.

In January 1961, Fidel Castro and Che Guevara visited the site and proposed the creation of a complex of art schools to serve talented young people from all over the Third World. The school was conceived as highly experimental and conceptually advanced to serve the creation of a “new culture” for the “new man”. An innovative program called for innovative architecture, and the Cuban architect Ricardo Porro was asked to create it. Cuban-Italian architect Roberto Gottardi, and Italian architect Vittorio Garatti made up the original team.

The buildings represented an attempt to reinvent architecture. Through their designs, the architects sought to integrate issues of culture, ethnicity, and place into a revolutionary formal composition unknown in architecture. The architects wanted to give a sense of integration to their creation: firstly by the use of the “Catalan vaults” for the roof; the use of bricks for the walls merging into tiles for floors; and by integrating each zone into the lush nature of the surroundings and the rugged topography of the site, which is crossed by the Quibú river, a tributary of the Almendares river. The US embargo against Cuba, begun in 1960, had made the import of building materials very expensive, which led to the use of locally produced brick and terracotta tiles. Due to the rising costs and disagreements over designs, parts of the buildings were unfinished when the project was stopped in 1965 but use as a multiple arts school, with extensions added in time, was established initially called the National Schools of Art, then reinstituted as ISA in 1976. Over time parts of the site had fallen into disrepair so restoration works began at the end of the 1990s.

The university has continued to serve as the primary incubator for Cuba’s artists, musicians, actors and dancers, with most of their current, established and emerging stars having started their career there, benefitting from the multi arts nature of the institution.

Here are just a few examples of the highly successful ex-ISA students:

Cuban visual artists include Roberto Fabelo, Gilberto Frómeta, José Bedia, Flavio Garciandía, Tomás Lara, Zaida del Río, Magdalena Campos, Angel Alfaro, Ernesto García, René Negrín, Enrique Angulo, René Francisco Rodríguez and Belkis Ayón.

In the field of theatre and film, the actors Corina Mestre, Luis Alberto García, Nancy González, Alina Rodríguez, Luisa María Jiménez, Amarilys Núñez Barrios, Aimée Despaigne Balbón and Patricio Wood; the directors Armando Suárez del Villar, Carlos Díaz and Carlos Cremata and the critics and researchers Vivian Martínez Tabares, Magda Resik and Omar Valiño.

In the field of dance, Ofelia González, Amparo Brito, and Regina Balaguer, from Ballet; Rosario Cárdenas, Regla Salvent and Lourdes Ulacia, from Contemporary Dance; as well as Alfredo O’farril and Bárbara Balbuena, from Danza Folclórica.

In the field of music the vast majority of highly successful and talented musicians, from jazz to electronic to all forms of dance music, have studied at ISA, benefitting from the broad range of music being taught there, opportunities to experiment across the arts and the high quality of teachers.