Many think of old Havana of being just that–old, trapped in an era during which the United States (and much of the Western world) cut off contact. For a long time, this notion wasn’t far from the truth, but since the turn of the 20th century, Havana has been changing. Many contributing factors, including a loosening of restrictions on small-scale private enterprise by the new regime, has led to a slow and assured blossoming of newness in the city.
Similar to the rust and grain-belt cities of Minneapolis and Pittsburgh, old factory spaces, symbols of disappearing industry, are being reimagined into playgrounds for the young and adventurous. One of these, the Fábrica de Arte Cubano (the Cuban Art Factory, or FAC to the locals), is a repurposed cooking oil factory that opened its doors in early 2014. It’s run by musician and entrepreneur X Alfonso, one of the many business people who has taken up the mantle of change in Cuba.
By all appearances, the Fábrica earns its name by hosting an art gallery, live music, a discoteca, and a bar. The extensive gallery hosts almost a thousand works of art in an ever-rotating lineup of both popular museum mainstays and the relatively anonymous who have submitted their work via a literal submissions box that X Alfonso keeps open to the public.
Every three months, the gallery is made anew. The art is replaced and the walls are repainted–a microcosm of the new Cuba beyond the doors. The events hosted by the FAC demonstrate a similar intent at novelty. Currently on the calendar, it’s hosting Tango lessons, a genre-bending band that features both a flamenco guitar player and a set of bagpipes, a live DJ, a classical quartet, and a new age flutist–that’s just Thursday. The weekend brings more DJs, contemporary rock n’ roll music, contemporary dance classes, jazz percussion, a fashion show, and too much more to go into here.
Even children can take classes in cooking and theater as a part of the Factory’s extensive summer programs. You could spend a week here and never go to the same event twice. The FAC has taken Cuba’s community-driven spirit and applied it extensively creating a space on par–and in some cases exceeding–the United States’ grand city museums.
A normal cover fee is 2CUD, and the bar serves plenty of rum-based cocktails and non-alcoholic beverages, with a tapas menu to boot. Mojitos are omnipresent, but you’ll catch the locals drinking Cristal, an American-style lager brewed right in Cuba. After picking up a drink, guests wander among the gallery and move from room to room featuring art house movies and live music.
While they may engage in different activities, they all share the same experience: this is the face of the new Cuba. By the time the doors close at four in the morning and everybody steps out into the pre-dawn, they’ll have seen the most original and authentic of what Cuba has to offer in the 20th century.