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Fondo de Arte Joven—Turning Utopias into Art

Lorenzo Suárez, Counselor for Political, Economic, and Cultural Affairs at the Embassy of Switzerland in Cuba. Photo by: Helman Bejerano

On the eve of the upcoming performance of Yilian Cañizares, the delightful and talented Swiss-Cuban violinist and singer, at the National Museum of Fine Arts in Havana on January 29, I spoke to Lorenzo Suárez, Counselor for Political, Economic, and Cultural Affairs at the Embassy of Switzerland in Cuba on the project Young Art Fund (“Fondo de Arte Joven”).

What is the concept behind Fondo de Arte Joven?

There are many reasons to be impressed by the culture sector in Cuba: (1) the outstanding talent and extraordinary output of Cuban artists, (2) an academic quality well above the standard of the Latin American and Caribbean region, (3) the existence of many State institutions specialized in the management of cultural processes and products, and (4) the commendable efforts of the authorities to maintain the boat afloat, despite post-Covid socioeconomic challenges and a disruptive U.S. embargo which my government, together with the large majority of the UN General Assembly, has repeatedly called to be lifted.

Yet there are still several obstacles to the career development of young Cuban artists and their access to opportunities, regardless of professional skills and aptitudes. To help address some of these obstacles, the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC), part of the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (FDFA), has launched the Young Art Fund intending to create synergies between several ideas and institutions that for many years have been working to support young artists throughout the country.

Samuel Sandoval, winner of the Premio Especial a la Excelencia Joven with the Fondo de Arte team.

The overall aim of the Fund is to promote and support the work of young talents from all over the island in terms of their professional training, cultural entrepreneurship endeavors, and access to culture as a vehicle for sustainable development. The initiative is originally an idea of mine, as I have worked in Cuba since late 2019 as Counselor for Political, Economic, and Cultural Affairs at the Embassy of Switzerland, from where the SDC operates its development and humanitarian aid programs at the country level.

Programmatically, the Fund is articulated within the broader SDC development program in the country, a multi-sector endeavor that has, for over two decades now, brought many successful outcomes and good practices in areas such as health, gender, local development, food security, emergency response and the creative sector. This project is part of the Swiss Cooperation Strategy 2022-24 for Cuba.

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What is the significance of the slogan for Fondo de Arte Joven “Convirtiendo utopías en Arte” (Turning utopias into art)?

As art is the voice and conscience of a nation, supporting the work and efforts of the most talented young artists is key to preserving that voice and conscience for future generations. Therefore, we specifically focused on young artists, building a network of goodwill that can offer them both visibility and concrete, down-to-earth support to help turn some of their abstract dreams into concrete artworks.

Were there any challenges to launching Fondo de Arte Joven?

Launching a new project with limited resources, competing priorities and high expectations of project partners and target beneficiaries is challenging anywhere, even in the country where I was born and raised, Switzerland—a small, relatively well-off, and rather quiet nation in the heart of Europe.

In Cuba, we had to do what one should do in such endeavors: do no harm, have realistic objectives, know your limitations and bias, design an efficient management setup (especially financial oversight), be true to guiding principles such as non-discrimination, and make sure your deliverables, even if modest, respond to actual needs of the young artist, instead of a prejudiced idea of such needs.

In doing so, we faced a series of challenges, from the lack of human resources in the wake of recent migratory dynamics to the difficulty of raising funds in a national and international context characterized by competing priorities of both government institutions and private actors.

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Nobody can tell if we will succeed. Yet we could, together with our government and non-government partners, give a piano to Cuba’s future Ernesto Lecuona, or help promote the paintings of Cuba’s next Wilfredo Lam. After many years of being involved in cultural programs in places as diverse as Syria, Afghanistan, or Ethiopia, I learned that modest, yet strategically selected outputs can sometimes turn into big outcomes with time.

Does Fondo de Arte Joven have the support/collaboration of any other organizations?

The Young Art Fund is a channel to articulate the work of several projects and institutions with a previous record of accomplishment in the promotion of Cuba’s cultural heritage, focusing in the fields of music and visual arts (but we could expand in the future).

Its implementation runs through a multidisciplinary team that shall develop awards and periodic calls for project proposals at the country-level, combining, in a single interface, various opportunities for young artists such as the availability of exhibition spaces, academic scholarships, residency programs, material support, and professional coaching.

The Youth Art Fund, in its first phase, is aimed at young visual artists and musicians between the age of 18 and 35 who are based in the country. It will also benefit cultural and creative projects and undertakings, with an emphasis on local development and cultural Cuban institutions such as public schools operating throughout the island.

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This initiative results from a collaboration between the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC), the International Committee for the Development of Peoples (CISP), the Center for Exchange and Reference on Community Initiatives (CIERIC), the Los Carbonell Foundation (FLC) and the Habana Clásica Cultural Association (ACHC), with terms of reference linked to the existing program “A Ritmo de Inclusión” financed by the European Union. This network will coordinate its activities with relevant Government entities, to build synergies and complementarity whenever needed.

Thank you, Mr. Suarez, for the opportunity to speak with you. I know you’ve been busy this week with Fondo de Arte Joven activities and preparations for Yilian Cañizares’ performance at the Museum of Fine Arts on Sunday night. I wish the team much success.

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