Celebrations for the 55th anniversary of the National Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba (UNEAC) are taking place under the maxim from a verse by the organization’s first President, poet Nicolás Guillén (1902-1989): “This is how we must proceed.”
Festivities commenced at the beginning of the year, and even though August 22, the date of the organization’s founding, was celebrated with a gala in the Grand Theater of Havana’s García Lorca Hall, activities are scheduled to continue through December, including a meeting of the National Council, UNEAC’s highest governing body, set to take place in September.
The gala was led by maestro Alberto Méndez who introduced participating artists – such as the National Ballet of Cuba, National Chio, music group Yoruba Andabo, Septeto Nacional, Lecuona Trio and soprano Milagros de los Ángeles – citing verses from Guillén’s extensive poetic works.
We must remember that Nicolás Guillén, a man of progressive, leftist ideas, established the bases and guiding principles of UNEAC, according to its current President and poet Miguel Barnet, speaking to the press at the organization’s Martínez Villena Hall, during which he recalled other key aspects related to the creation and significance of the institution.
Barnet noted that UNEAC “was founded during the First Writers and Artists Congress in 1961, immediately after Fidel made his speech which would later come to be known as “Words to the Intellectuals,” in the theater of the José Martí National Library.
“The three-week long meeting called by Fidel was transcendental,” he recalled, “and I had the privilege of being there at 21 years of age, and he (Fidel) was a lot younger.”
UNEAC headquarters on 17 and H streets in the Havana neighborhood of El Vedado. Photo: http://www.uneac.org.cu
On July 7, 2016, during an act marking 55 years since the leader of the Cuban Revolution’s famous speech, Barnet emphasized: “That day there existed all manner of tendencies, not just ideological but also aesthetic and Fidel knew how to speak about freedom of expression, he knew how to unite those intellectuals, all of whom were older than him.”
More recently, on August 17, he stated: “It was a turning point in my life, to see that figure, 34 years old, debating with experienced and talented intellectuals, an example of what a young person can do.”
UNEAC was Fidel Castro’s idea, he is the architect of Cuba’s cultural policy and its related strategies, highlighted Barnet, also the author of Biography of a Runaway Slave, the first of his testimonial novels.
“There existed nothing like it before the Revolution, only a Reporters’ Association, nothing like UNEAC, in fact the organization is sui generis, the only one of its kind in the world, unique in the way that it unites writers and artists from all expressions.”
Barnet also commented on the national character of UNEAC and its expansion with the arrival of well-prepared youth. “Numerically speaking we are more than 9,000 members, but we have also grown ideologically and in our social vocation, because I believe the greatest responsibility of this vanguard of Cuban intellectuality is to influence the community.”
In this sense he recalled the importance of the Community Cultural Commission because “the essence, the root of our identity lies in the community.”
He also highlighted the complexity of the organization which encapsulates all artistic disciplines, noting that “we are all temperamental, which makes it more interesting.”
The President of UNEAC reiterated that the institution enjoys complete autonomy, “just like its five associations (Writers, Performing Arts, Visual Arts, Music, Film and Television and Radio) for their programs.”
Barnet also highlighted the importance of research and debates on domestic and contemporary social issues undertaken by other commissions, including Art, the Market and Cultural Industries; Culture, City and Architecture; Education and Society; Statutes and Regulations; José Antonio Aponte against Racial Discrimination/Racism; and Culture, Tourism and Public Spaces.
Each commission also hosts public events in the organization’s headquarters on 17and H streets, such as the “Caracol Competition,” or its associated monthly encounter, “Moviendo los caracoles,” sponsored by the Film, Radio and Television Association’s Reviews and Research department; “La Bella Cubana”to promote Cuban female musicians, or “Maka con Furé,” led by 2015 National Prize for Literature winner, Rogelio Martínez Furé.
In conclusion, Barnet, the poet, author and ethnologist, took a moment to mention that all the activities being organized by UNEAC in honor of its 55th anniversary are inspired by the historic leader of the Cuban Revolution’s 90th birthday, “which like an extraordinary twist of fate happens to coincide with our celebrations.”
Fifty-five years after its founding, UNEAC remains true to its legacy as an institution of the intellectual vanguard, while continuing to make and defend history.