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Visit from Cuba's arts leaders sparks hope for cultural exchanges with St. Petersburg


A year ago, President Barack Obama announced that the United States would normalize diplomatic relations with Cuba.

A year later, nine Cubans prominent in the country's arts community, including representatives of Cuba's Ministry of Culture, took advantage of new travel opportunities to visit St. Petersburg. Their hosts are the city's Downtown Partnership and St. Petersburg officials.

During the delegation's three-day stay, members will tour major cultural institutions as well as trendy arts districts around town. The hope, said Joni James, CEO of the Partnership, "is to build on relationships that waned because of the embargo and create new ones."

One of the more tangible possibilities, she said, is an exhibition, perhaps at the Dalí Museum, of works by Wifredo Lam. Lam (1902-1982) was a Cuban-born artist who gained international recognition during his years in Spain and France beginning in the 1920s. Pablo Picasso admired his paintings and he knew the prominent artists, mostly based in Paris, of his generation. Salvador Dalí was an early influence so he explored surrealism as well as cubism. He exhibited in prestigious institutions and his work is in major museums including the Museum of Modern Art. Still, he isn't as well known as Picasso and Dalí.

During World War II, Lam returned to Cuba and several hundreds works, mostly from those years, reside in the National Museum of Fine Arts (Museo National de Bellas Artes) in Havana. Lam has had numerous exhibitions since his death, including one at the Dalí Museum in 2008.

"We're exploring possibilities with the Bellas Artes Museum, among them an exchange with them" said Hank Hine, director of the Dalí Museum, who traveled to Cuba with a delegation of St. Petersburg cultural and city leaders in October. "They have a great collection of Wifredo Lam."

This group has never been shown in the United States so getting some of them would be a significant coup for St. Petersburg, James said.

The National Museum's director is in the delegation along with arts educators and administrators. The group, James said, will make stops at Gibbs High School, which has an arts magnet, and Collegiate High School at St. Petersburg College, which also has a robust arts program. Esteban Machado Diaz, a contemporary Cuban artist, will present St. Petersburg mayor Rick Kriseman with a painting commemorating the visit and the anniversary of the thaw between the two nations. The group on Thursday attended a rehearsal of the Florida Orchestra at the Mahaffey Theater prior to a tour of and dinner at the Dalí. Later events include a visit to Duncan McClellan's studio in the Warehouse Arts District for a glassblowing demonstration and visits to the Morean Arts Center, its Center for Clay in the historic train station and its Chihuly Collection on Beach Drive. On Saturday the group will attend a performance of the holiday-themed musical, The Family Blessing, at the Mahaffey.

"This is an arts-centric visit," James said, a reciprocity after the October visit to Cuba. Expenses "are all covered either with cash or in-kind donations." Among the sponsors are Duke Energy, the Downtown Partnership, the city of St. Petersburg and Boston Holding Co.

Contact Lennie Bennett at or (727) 893-8293.

Visit from Cuba's arts leaders sparks hope for cultural exchanges with St. Petersburg 12/17/15 [Last modified: Thursday, December 17, 2015 10:31pm]
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