– The most polyhedral center for artistic consumption in Cuba was a cooking oil factory about to succumb to abandonment–
Photos: Danay Nápoles
On any given night at the buzzing Fábrica de Arte Cubano (FAC, or Cuban Art Factory), you can catch a couple of plays —including one by the classic and once-controversial Cuban writer and poet Virgilio Piñera!— enjoy a jazz concert, hear live classical music and, to top it off, if you still have any energy left, you can jump around in the jungle of lights and sounds of an electroacoustic show courtesy of Iván Lejardi, one of the most popular DJs in Cuba.
Following such a frenzy of the senses, with some cocktails mixed in, we recommend a good rest, whatever your age!
150 kilometers from the XWorld
That advice is not taken very seriously by Joel Manuel. He’s a 21-year-old, with blue and green dreadlocks, from Cárdenas —a coastal town 150 kilometers from the capital— and he has tons of energy.
Whenever he can get away on a weekend, he “hops” over to the FAC with a group of friends who are plugged into the rock music—their favorite band is Zeus— and design scene, and the place’s “cool vibes.”
Joel and his little tribe don’t call it “La Fábrica,” as almost everyone else has coined it out of verbal efficiency; they refer to it as the XWorld. “This is a theme park, with the difference that you learn here,” says this refrigeration technician who wears a scapular with the silhouette of Jim Morrison, his “idol since he was a kid.”
When the party’s over, well into the middle of the night, he and his friends spend the night in a nearby park or at the seawall. When the sun rises, they hitchhike or turn their pockets inside out and use the little money they have left to get back to Cárdenas.
Is it worth the sacrifice? Joel Manuel responds with the saying: “Nothing good comes easy.”
A coin toss
Although there are staggered schedules for the various shows, it’s inevitable that some are concurrent. Then you’ve got to come to a consensus about which one to go to, given individual tastes and how appealing the programming is. Sometimes it comes to that old faithful: heads or tails.
“It’s not easy to choose when there are so many good options. Sometimes I’m not sure and I toss my Turkish coin (five kurus) that I always carry with me,” says Fernanda Pérez, a university student who owes her name to her father’s admiration for the Cuban film director Fernando Pérez.
No time for boredom
Even before the show begins, there’s no time for boredom here. Even if Joel and Fernanda had entered right when the FAC opens its doors, at eight o’clock at night, they could have toured the complex’s labyrinthine structures.
They might have stopped by a prêt-à-porter fashion show, admired a multi-chromatic outline of the island of Cuba on the wall, constructed entirely out of real keys. Or they might have meditated on a Havana of the past, present and future, manipulated in Photoshop by photographers Liudmila & Nelson in a series of disturbing images. It wouldn’t be out of the question for them both to have attended one of the open dance classes: FAC offers adults classes in tango, Afro-beat, Afro-Cuban dances, or breakdance, shares Lourdes García Bereau, Communications Director at FAC.
“It’s complicated programming and production work, because you try not to repeat yourself while also being open to all your guests.… So you can spend all night enjoying yourself. That’s your choice,” says García Bereau, herself a participant in the dance classes.
A revolutionary factory
Born out of the creative tenacity of Cuban musician X Alfonso in 2014, the FAC defends its clear and firm objectives: to rescue, support and promote the work of creators from all branches of art: cinema, music, dance, theater, visual arts, photography, fashion, graphic design and architecture. Through the integration of art and artists, FAC promotes exchange and direct approaches between the public and the creator(s) on a massive scale. In the future, literature will be part of FAC’s interactive program.
Meanwhile, this past August design had its moment of glory, with a cascade of exhibitions and debates at FAC surrounding the year-end works by students at the Faculty of Architecture of the Technical University (CUJAE), Higher Institute of Design (ISDI), and University of Arts (ISA).
“I think FAC is revolutionary,” says Carla Ramiro, a graduate in civil engineering and habituée of the establishment, although she wishes there were more salsa music at concerts. “I can’t stretch my legs at the end of the night.” Despite their proliferation, both salsa and reggaetón are under-programmed at FAC, which gives preference to less standard music.
Carla, who has just exited the Humberto Solás Movie Theater, where a Spanish film cycle was showing, peruses the offerings of the clothing company Clandestina, which has opened a permanent line in a nook at FAC. Based in Old Havana, Clandestina uses recycled raw materials for its collections, pieces that are “very grounded for what the Cuban consumer expects to find,” says Lourdes García.
Located a few minutes by car from the Historic Center of Old Havana, the FAC is hush about its tribute to the city’s half millennium, in November.
“It will be big,” García Bereau lets on. She also lets us know that plans include launching the FAC Music label, based on recordings of the best concerts offered in its two concert halls. “There are eight concerts every weekend, from Thursday to Sunday, but when we have major events like Jazz Plaza, sometimes there are up to ten concerts or jam sessions, some during the day,” she explains.
Celebrities and tourists
In its first five years of operation, FAC has seduced many from outside the island, attracting celebrities from both show business and politics. Lady Gaga, Jon Bon Jovi, Mick Jagger, Rhett Miller, Susan Sarandon, and the former first lady of the United States, Michelle Obama, among others, have visited.
And of course it welcomes mere tourists, like Gerardo, a Mexican who could not contain himself and dispatched from his cell phone last May: “This place is like a night museum full of art and a mixture of the most interesting local and foreign modern culture. I had an amazing night and danced nonstop. The best there is.”
In 2019, FAC, which hosts the Havana World Music alternative music festival every year, was nominated for the World Travel Awards for the third consecutive year.
Its gastronomic service seems to have shoed in that nomination. The restaurant Tierra, whose changing menu is made with mostly organic products, proposes a tour “around the world in twenty dishes,” an admirable effort of culinary cosmopolitanism in a country with many restrictions in that area.
Virgin, graffiti and sharks
At FAC, art is spatially totalitarian. On its facade appears the Virgin of the Fábrica, patron of the art makers, a 5×3-meter piece by Cuban Moisés Finalé, made from cleaning buckets and more than 800 screws. On the left side some imposing sharks swim out of the water, in a reverie by artist Rafael Pérez Alonso. Outside, the perimeter walls are covered with graffiti by the Colectivo Vacilante, a group of Brazilians based in the city of Recife, whose art added to the visuality already achieved in the murals by Cubans Nelson Ponce and Raúl Valdés, known as Raupa.
At closing time, in the wee hours, the graffiti and the smokeless lone chimney are perhaps the final images left in the visitors’ gaze. Although perhaps there should also be a farewell warning, evoking Dante: “Those who leave here, leave behind all hope of being the same.”