To be cultured is the only way to be free" - José Martí

The major characteristic of Cuban culture is its combination of the African

and European. Slavery was not abolished until 1886 in Cuba, much later

than other Caribbean countries. Therefore black African traditions were

kept intact much later than elsewhere in the Caribbean. The evidence can

be heard in the music of Cuba. Music is everywhere, on the streets, in the

bars, coming from open windows. There are few countries in the world with

so rich a musical heritage as Cuba.

The Cuban Revolution had a profound effect on culture. From the beginning,

it sought to integrate culture as a popular expression of everyday life

echoed in the Cuban Constitution, defining culture as an inalienable right

of working people, who enjoy it from childhood. Soon after the triumph of

the Revolution, the Cuban government set up several cultural institutions,

the first one being the Institute of Cuban Cinema in March 1959 which,

through thick and thin, has hosted the Annual Latin American Film Festival

in December.

The first national art school was founded in the early 60's and in 1976 the

Escuela Superior de Arte was founded. These institutions gave people

access to the serious study of applied art compared to pre-revolutionary

days when art was the preserve of the elite. The arts can flourish in Cuba

because of the high budget allocation allotted to this sphere. However,

the schools and higher institutons of the arts in Cuba are suffering an

acute shortage of materials.

The Union of Artists and Writers in Cuba (UNEAC) was founded in 1961. It

has a membershop of 3751 and organises several important events during the

year. Among the aims of UNEAC is 'to strengthen the friendship,

co-operation and steady links with cultural institutions, universities,

foundations and organisations of artists all over the world, with the aim

to make it easier for our artists to establish direct contact with the

best values of universal culture'.

To this end a visit to Ireland was arranged through UNEAC, of Xonia Zayas,

a director of community arts television programmes in Havana. Xonia was

here in March and she attended the opening of the "Once is too Much"

exhibition in the Orchard Gallery in Derry. She also took part in an

intensive programme of visits and talks with community groups in Dublin,

Derry and Belfast. A return visit will take place this month when Rita

Fagan, co-ordinator of St Michael's Family Resource Centre, Inchicore,

Marion Keogh, an exhibitor in the "Unspoken Truths" exhibition and Bernie

Dwyer of the Cuba Solidarity Campaign Cultural Committee will go to Havana

to take part in a programme of cultural activities.

The value of these visits between Ireland and Cuba is enormous. Cuba has,

since the Revolution, seen culture as an intrinsic part of the whole

person. Ireland has had a struggle over many centuries to hold on to its

culture. In an era of globalisation, it is even more important to develop

ways and means of sharing and endorsing that which makes us unique.

We are happy to acknowledge that these events have been part funded by the

Cultural Section of the Department of Foreign Affairs and NCDE.

By Bernie Dywer

Zonia Zayas Aguero and Declan McGonagle (Director of Irish Museum of Modern

Art) opening "Once is Too Much" exhibition, Orchard Gallery, Derry, 6th

March 1999.