In the movie Yuli, the young Carlos Acosta stumbles on the abandoned National Art School on the outskirts of Havana. When I saw it in the film, I recognized what it was from an episode of ‘News in Slow Spanish’. In that episode they talked about these stunning, abandoned buildings, but being a podcast only, I didn’t realize just how incredible they are.
Started in the early 1960s after the Cuban revolution on the site of a Country Club golf course, the Cuban government drew on the skills and vision of international architects to design a school for the arts that nestled into the curves of the former golf links. But this sinuous, visionary architecture did not conform at all to the prefab, concrete architecture of the Soviet Union, which increasingly dominated Cuban architecture, and they were never finished.
They were abandoned, and despite being put on the 2016 World Monuments Watchlist, two of the buildings are now close to collapse. The movie Yuli is correct in that dancer Carlos Acosta wanted to restore them, but that caused controversy because it was seen as a form of privatisation by stealth.
In the most recent article that I could find (from 2018) it would appear that the Getty Foundation granted $195,000 for a project to conserve the site. (I wonder if that is still proceeding, given Trump’s attitude towards Cuba? And Cuba’s attitude towards America, as well)
I found a fascinating essay called Reading the Future of Cuba in its Abandoned Art Schools, which describes the background to the project, its use of space, and the role of the crowd in revolutionary spaces.
And here is a video, which starts off with very stirring Russian music, but then moves to a documentary about the construction of the schools. It’s in Spanish only, but if you turn on the subtitles (also in Spanish), you’ll probably be able to follow it. It’s fascinating. If I go back to Cuba someday, guess what I want to see.