Havana's cultural life struggles to survive COVID-19 pandemic

HAVANA, Sept. 12 (Xinhua)  Ailen Piquero, 20, a university student from Havana’s outskirts, is eager for a Saturday night at Cuban Art Factory, the city’s most popular cultural venue, located in El Vedado district, famous for its hectic activity during day and night.

However, with a two-week night time-curfew, public transport suspended, and cultural venues closed, cultural life at the country’s capital struggles to survive the coronavirus pandemic.

Like many young people, she likes going to museums, attending plays, and dancing with friends until the early hours of the morning with artificial disco lights spinning around.

Piquero said she prefers to stay home because an active cultural life can boost the risk of COVID-19 contagion in the country’s largest city.

“From watching a movie to enjoying a live concert, everything was possible at FAC, but mass gatherings have been postponed due to the health emergency,” the 20-year-old told Xinhua. “But sooner or later, everything will return to normal.”

For the cultural venue, it was supposed to be a good year after it was included on Time magazine’s 2019 list of the world’s 100 greatest places to visit in 2020.

Founded in 2014, the cooking-oil factory turned community project has quickly attracted thousands of locals and tourists eager to dance and see dance performances and art exhibitions in the middle of a relaxed and alternative atmosphere.

COVID-19 pandemic has changed everything for all the people, said Cuban musician and songwriter X Alfonso, director general at FAC cultural venue, who is working on his new music album Inside as the virus continues to wreak havoc on the island.

Beyond nightlife, he said, “We missed free summer workshops we carry out every year with more than 1,000 children and adolescents from the neighboring community”.

“With regard to the music industry, we are going through hard times, but we all have learned to reinvent ourselves and use social media to be close to the public,” said Alfonso.

In recent times, many events and music festivals in Cuba have jumped online bringing live concerts and special performances to the country’s 6 million Internet users, according to official statistics.

Cuba suspended cultural activities and closed theaters, movies and art venues two days after the onset of the pandemic in the country on March 11.

Consequently, thousands of artists were given a furlough after the country’s ministry of culture in April approved a special resolution to protect them during the health crisis.

With social distancing measures, Havana reopened night clubs and bars after easing three-month restrictions in early July, but they were closed again in August after a spike in new confirmed cases.

Ania Chibas, health expert and epidemiologist at Labiofam Laboratories told Xinhua that people in Havana should stay at home as much as possible and abide by social distancing guidelines and COVID-19 protocols.

“Cultural life in the Cuban capital, as we know it, will return once the world has an effective cure for the virus, the enemy of the crowds and face-to-face interaction,” she said.