Interview with Fernando Rojas Vice Minister of Culture

The two-hour conversation between Vice Minister of Culture Fernando Rojas and a group from OnCuba group flowed naturally and courteously. We were interested in examining the principal lines of work of the Ministry of Culture in contributing to the updating of Cuban society.

At a time when everything seems to be subject to review and change at the socioeconomic level, will “Words to the Intellectuals” continue to be the guiding document for Cuba’s cultural policy?
“Words to the Intellectuals” is a document that has been very badly interpreted and quoted, with little recollection of the abundant concepts that qualify and clarify the famous statement ‘Within the Revolution, everything; against the Revolution, nothing.’ It is a text that talks about freedom of creation the whole time. And even though it extensively sets out the Revolution’s desire to broaden the general public’s participation in cultural consumption and in the act of creation itself, as a form of personal fulfillment, that is the aspect that is most ignored. For the country’s updating process, it is essential to preserve that democratizing vocation of cultural action.

Among the new policies being implemented in Cuba, there have been references to a reorganization of art education. What has that entailed?
We have moved toward merging schools, while ensuring that we do not neglect the needs of art professionals in every province and that no talent is lost. The democratization of art education is not expressed by training large masses of professional artists but by giving those who have the aptitude equal opportunities for access [to that education]. And given that it is a very expensive education—paid for in our country by the State—maintaining it depends on a combination of rationality and quality.

Recently, the reorganization of the ICAIC [Cuban national film institute] captured headlines. Toward what political horizon is this process headed?
I would first emphasize that, in my opinion, the organization of the process of transformations in Cuba’s audiovisual work was overstated in an ill-intentioned way, as if it were something unusual. Like other [processes] that have taken place, this one has working groups headed by leaders of the relevant institutions, and is organically integrated into the country’s plans for improvements.
Today, the way that audiovisual materials are being made is undergoing major changes; thanks to the new technologies, they no longer depend on high costs and large chains of production. These elements should be established in policies for this sector, and we need to think about ways that producers can collaborate, relate to institutions, access the established channels of distribution, and be included on public television….
For example, there are people who are putting forward the appropriateness of a law on film, audiovisual materials, or media. The legislation will be what it has to be, but first everything that is required will have to be discussed. The best thing that can happen is for the different scenarios of debate to converge, and for institutional leaders and artists to come together, contributing solutions.

 

A few weeks ago the first non-agricultural cooperatives began operating on an experimental basis. At what stage are the cultural cooperatives?
This is a matter that is still in a very early stage of discussion. The culture sector has a business model that has proven to be effective, and to contribute in a growing way to financing our hard currency spending through the operations of the system itself.
I am inclined toward business operations being more efficient and flexible in relation to artists. It would be something like applying the logic of a cooperative to the development of the business; to complement it, not to create unnecessary competition for something that has worked well.
In any case, it could be reasoned that at the level of towns or villages that are distant from urban centers, it would be logical to undertake cooperative experiments among local residents for facilitating the promotion of cultural goods and services that are from those places.

Will there be any changes to the policy followed for artists who live outside the country?

We have been working with Cuban artists based outside the country for a number of years, based on a reciprocal ethical relationship between them and our cultural institutions. Thanks to that willingness, a panorama of Cuban culture has been fostered in which those who live within the national territory coexist with those who live abroad, and we work with the mass media to ensure that this reality is reflected in the same way. We have taken solid steps, and we are not going to stop.

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