VMFA Visits Cuba Hoping for Partnership

Jan 6, 2016

Photojournalist Peter Turnley at the Museum de Bellas Artes in Havana, Cuba. This is the first exhibition by a U.S. photographer at the Cuban museum since the revolution.
Credit AP File Photo/Ramon Espinosa

Governor McAuliffe returns from Cuba having spent the last 3 days with his cabinet pursuing stronger economic and educational ties with the increasingly unrestricted nation.

One group you might not expect was along for the ride: representatives from the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond.

The VMFA joined the governor’s delegation in Cuba for the state's first marketing expedition since Cuba and the U-S started working to normalize relations. VMFA director, Alex Nyerges, says they’re hoping for a future collaboration with the Museum of Fine Arts in Havana. And while the partnership would be new Cuban art has actually long been making its way off the island, says Lillian Manzor, associate professor of modern languages and literature at the University of Miami.

"Cuban artists travel, until recently less to the US than other places, but Cuban artists travel all over Europe, to Latin America, to Asia."

The additional freedom Cuba has allowed artists for decades means art has been a lucrative export, according to Ted Piccone, a senior fellow with the Latin America Initiative at the Brookings Institute.

"Artists have done, ironically, very well financially because they've also been allowed to sell their art internationally, including in the United States. This is an exception to the embargo."

Ironic because art was so integral in the Cuban socialist revolution. And while a museum partnership with Havana will likely draw from that long history, Cubans are also hoping that fresh opportunities like this one will drive future economic growth.

"This is part of the Cuban export to the world that they're very proud of. And that is going to become and already is an important driver of their economic growth, especially in the tourism sector, so I think it's also in the Cuban interest to build up this sector internationally for their domestic economy."

And while no partnership between the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts and the Museum of Fine Arts in Havana has been confirmed yet, any agreement would be sure to drive interest for the museum as well, exporting the Culture of Cuba to Richmond.