National Art Schools
Born out of the utopian political aspirations of the Cuban Revolution, the dramatic brick and terracotta National Art Schools capture a fleeting moment in the history of Latin American modernism. Founded in 1961, after a round of golf between Fidel Castro and Che Guevara on the course that would become the future site of the schools, the National Art Schools were designed to bring cultural literacy to Cuba in the heady days following the revolution. Castro chose Cuban modernist architect Ricardo Porro, along with Italians Roberto Gottardi and Vittorio Garatti, to design the schools, which were dedicated to modern dance, the plastic arts, the dramatic arts, music, and ballet. It was envisaged that students from other nations would be drawn to the schools by the ideal of learning in an environment that was meant to foster creativity in service to social improvement.
By 1965, Soviet-influenced members of Cuba’s Ministry of Building Works began to favor standardized, functionalist forms over the experimental and unconventional character of these buildings, leading to the eventual abandonment of the project. Of the five schools designed by the trio of architects, only two were completed. The buildings, largely abandoned, stood in near-ruin for years.
Following the inclusion of the site on the 2000 World Monuments Watch, renewed interest facilitated the designation of the National Art Schools as a Protected Area by Cuba’s National Council of Cultural Heritage. This was the prelude to the site’s inscription as a National Monument in 2011. From 2007 to 2009, the School of Plastic Arts and the School of Dance were restored and rehabilitated by the Cuban Ministry of Culture, in an effort led by the original team of architects. The three uncompleted buildings, which suffer the most serious threat of damage from the elements, were also cleaned and stabilized. The school’s inclusion on the 2016 World Monuments Watch aims to build on its new-found international prominence and highlight the need for a comprehensive and integrated approach to the management of the site.
In preparation for Watch Day, a local artist organized community members to clean up the landscape surrounding Vittorio Garatti’s School of Ballet. The building’s water features were cleared and made operational through cistern trucks, and filmed as part of an art installation. Watch Day on February 10, 2017 consisted of an exhibition opening and screening of the film.