The first steps for the institution in Cuba I

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The formation process for the Art Institution in Cuba was determined by the formation of a national culture and conscience. Ideologies as Reformism, Annexation, Independence movement and Abolitionism had marked since late 18th century and early 19th a historic debate including economic and political issues which, together with the context of new relations between the different classes and social groups aroused from the Independence War, motivated, according to the researcher Jorge Ibarra, “a strengthening of the national sense” and the appearance of what he calls “nation people” and “national culture”.[1]

It is on this context of conflicts and new searches where the two first promoting institutions came out, in this case privates, which, in a sense, stood out because of its distinctive and relatively independent treatment what started a division or a formation process of Art Institution in Cuba.

The Economic Society Friends of the Country (SEAP) was founded in Havana on 1793. It was created by the wealthy class and it was a private institution run by very educated and businessmen: writers, traders and scientists, to promote commerce, culture and timely education and instruction of youngsters. It had a magazine that included as the most interesting sections: Agriculture, Commerce, People’s Industry, Arts, Sciences and Education. It was, certainly, one of the most solid institutions in relation with the analysis of subjects and conflicts that affected colonial society and it achieved to keep going on the posterior stage or neocolonial period, inviting to its auditoriums to some of the most brilliant active national or foreign intellectuals during the Republic. In this institution the intellectual class encouraged concern for culture and the ideal of progress increased by Illustration, though still very incipient. It sponsored and supported the newly-formed Art Academy San Alejandro many times.

The Economic Society Friends of the Country (SEAP) got involved in a political and economic context relatively favorable; it was characterized by an encouragement policy to Cuban production. That is why it was supported by the cooperation of Spanish Government agents in Cuba. The most significant example was the attitude of Governor Mr. Luis de Las Casas, who worked on the foundation plans intended by the Institution, as the creation of libraries and other activities of social function. Antonio Martínez Bello on his article “Institutions private cultures” states in reference to the characteristics of this institution: “Few times, the power of intelligence, authority and the high and intellectual class of a nation have marched so harmonically united”.[2]

Another center of high significance during this period was established by the Art Academy “San Alejandro”, placed on the Convent of Saint Agustín. As institution, it was the first attempt to create a basic structure associated exclusively to Art. Previously, it only could be seen through workshops on the Catholic Church that embraced “artists-artisans” and academic[3] painters just for the exclusive use of the church’s needs, or related to private use made-to-order in private schools. This Academy came out as an initiative of its director, the French painter, Juan Bautista Vermay on 1818 sponsored by the Economic Society Friends of the Country. If before that the Academy did not exist as an institution, it did exist as a tendency and practice.[4] The Economic Society Friends of the Country had among its obligations to pay attention to the reduced public education, and with this school it would contribute to the formation of artists. It is interesting that the first attempt to institutionalize the academic education in Cuba corresponds with the private initiative long before the official institutions run by the Metropolis. A remarkable fact on this social circumstance is that on 1832, essential changes were made in the original status of the Academy; among them was the fact that it was a free institution.

The Academy authenticated a public acknowledgment of artists as a figure relatively independent with social significance in the powerful economic spheres. In this case, we should point out as evidence of the artists’ separation from social status, the existence of an independent artistic production, which cannot be established through the physical existence of the work of art, but through the existence of the artist as a figure that is no longer an exclusive instrument of official or private made-to-order. To characterize this self-sufficient circumstance of artists, Jorge Mañach said, “(…) at the bottom, what is essential to Art, the artist has his independence, his Magna Carta, his endless motivation of dedication and hope (…)”.[5] This production was shaping with the appearance of a group of elements that define the Art Institution, and at the same time, it encouraged the opening to the creation of a relation system related to the standard, taste and aesthetic.

These institutions, with the government support underlined a kind of cultural policy for the Cuban social sphere, stimulated the appearance of different elements of the Art Institution as the development of its artistic production, the acceptance of artists as independent figures, the development of events, reviews, Art market, setting in this way the first marks of an Institution on its formatting and developing stage.

Daymi Coll

[1]To Ibarra this process demonstrates itself in different moments: on 1603 with the rebellion in Bayamo city, for the right to contraband expressing a distinctiveness of Cubans in front of metropolis, and strengthening the transformation of the creole into Cuban; the period between 1790-1808 marked the Cuban nationality as a simple association of Cubans; from 1868-1878, on the Ten Years War context, it is stimulated the emergence of the independent Cuban nation, expressed in the existence of the Cuban Armed Republic; on the period from 1878-1895 the black intellectual class got consolidated; they are representatives of the feelings and thought of this racial sector and the integration of other ethnical sectors to the “nation people” as a whole; lastly, during 1923-1959 it defrayed the thoughtful search of free nation on the cultural as well as on  political sphere (See: Jorge Ibarra: “The constitution of Nation People and the formation process of National and Popular Culture”.. Editorial Letras Cubanas, Havana, 1981, pp 9-17.

[2] Antonio Martínez Bello. “Institutions of private culture”. The book of Cuba. Commemorative Edition of the fiftieth anniversary of the independence 1902 – 1952 and the centenary José Martí’s birthday, Havana, 1953, p. 234.

[3] Jorge Rigol. “The Academy José Perovani academic continuous Juan Jorge Peolli”. Notes on the painting and engraving in Cuba (since the beginnings to 1927).  Editorial Letras Cubanas, Havana, 1982, p. 163.

[4] It is mentioned José Perovani as a precedent and representatives of an academic trend in Cuba. (See: Jorge Rigol. “The Academy José Perovani academic continuous Juan Jorge Peolli.” Op. cit. p. 163.)

[5]Jorge Mañach. “Criticism and criticized”. Dossier. in:Revista Arte Cubano. Havana, No. 3, 2001. p.12. (taken from Diario de la Marina, Havana, December 22nd, 1922). 

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