In 2015, I was approached to join the Tennessee Advisory Council for Engage Cuba, a lobbying organization based in DC working to normalize American relations with Havana. I had been to Cuba already in 2013, having taken part in an art and architecture tour set up by the Frist Museum, although for me it was more of a rum and cigar tour. Yes, Cuban cigars are that much better, and Santiago rum is probably the best in the world. I fell in love with Havana, and the pride the Cubans take in their vibrant arts scene.
I joined the Council, because I believed that the embargo on Cuba represented fifty-plus years of failed policy. Plus, President Obama had taken some big steps in opening up travel and trade, which I found very encouraging. I and a couple of other arts leaders came up with an idea – what if we created a relationship in the arts between Nashville and Havana? Both are known for music, but both cities offer up so much more in the arts. I was able to get all the major arts organizations in Nashville on board, and we met with Engage Cuba over lunch, discussing various ways to make this relationship happen. I met with a cultural attaché at the Cuban embassy in DC who seemed interested, and we set the gears in motion.
I was invited by Engage Cuba to travel to Havana in November of 2016 with a group of politicians and business people, mostly from the south and mid-west. I was to meet with some prominent people in the arts and discuss the Nashville/Havana relationship. I was very excited about the trip, especially as I was now taking my photography seriously. But then the unexpected happened – Donald Trump was elected president just a few days before I left for Havana. Now no one knew what was in store – we didn’t know if he’d let things be, or if he’d roll back Obama’s initiatives. Unfortunately, the latter proved to be true, and the prospect of an arts relationship went out the window.
Nonetheless, I enjoyed my second trip to Havana thoroughly. It was especially interesting to see how much private business had grown since my 2013 trip. The faces were fascinating, the classic cars beautiful, and, as always, the cigars and rum were extraordinary. Highlights of the trip were a rehearsal of Habana Compás Dance Company, where all the dancers are also percussionists, and some inside looks at artists’ studios and workshops. And now that this recent election is behind us, the newsletters from Engage Cuba, which had gone dark for a few years, are arriving in my inbox again, a hopeful sign. I’m looking forward to going back to Cuba.
For inquiries about purchasing my work, go to https://chauvetarts.com/artist/stacy-widelitz