Fabrica de Arte Cubano (FAC) is a multi disciplinary art space in Havana. It was transformed from a factory into a gallery/concert/film/night life space by musician X Alfonso in 2014 and is a current hot spot for both locals and foreigners in Havana. For many Cuban artists it is a space to come together, talk ideas and meet new people. Two years ago when I studied abroad in Havana I spent a lot of time in this space. As an artist and a student I was amazed by its multi functionality and impressed by its accessibility - the entrance fee is about the price of a sandwich.
Last night I went back to FAC to show my friends Hebah and Harris who are visiting Cuba for the first time. I hadn't really wanted to go because I'd heard that it had gotten super touristy, but I was excited to show Hebah because I'd told her about how ground-breaking it is as an art space. Nothing could have prepared me, not even all of the tourists I've seen throughout Havana, especially in Habana Vieja.
The space itself is even more beautiful-- the gallery space has expanded a floor, the theatre room has a new balcony-- but I was appalled at the carelessness and complete take over by American tourists. FAC has always had a certain amount of tourists, but you would have never walked around and only heard English spoken. You're would have never had people respond instinctively "I'm sorry" and "excuse me" if you bumped paths, or see tourists drunkenly yelling in every hallway with a complete disregard for other people (locals) in the space.
What does it mean for a space literally entitled Fábrica de Arte Cubano to be completely taken over by foreigners seeking authenticity?
After leaving, we talked a bit about it all, holding complicated feelings and fears about taking part in this kind of tourist culture. Harris said, "What does it mean for me as an American, even if I am brown and can speak Spanish, to be entering these spaces? Are we hypocritical for traveling here and then getting mad when other people do it?"
I'm haunted by the way certain countries are made to rely on tourism for "growth and prosperity". I hate the relationships that creates- functionally saying that tourists own this place, that America owns this place.
So what is the responsible way to visit a place like Cuba? The only thing I can think of is how important it is to have an awareness of history, for visitors to be there to learn, not to impose. For each individual to recognize the effect of their presence on the space, to be respectful of the cultures and practices you don't understand, and to not assume that your way of operating is the norm.