Making beautiful projects happen in The New Cuba (Production & Consulting)

One of the most often asked questions from clients going to Cuba is “What do I bring?”. The intention for goodwill is there, but it can be confusing knowing what could make the biggest impact. Cuba is unlike any other place on the planet, so here’s a quick guide for making yourself useful. Some of the things are for you (the traveler), and some are “give-aways”, and some are both.

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1- USB Flash Drives / Mini Hard Drives:
In a country living off the grid and disconnected from the world wide web, the youth have figured out a way to create a “home-made internet”, if you will. Instead of Time Warner, the cubans have created “El Paquete”, and thus the need for thumbnails, hard drives, or any other memory devices. For those that do not subscribe to “El Paquete”, the usage of USB sticks can still be very effective in transporting Mp3’s, movies, or general documents that other countries tend to email to each other. If you want to make a bigger impact, bring a 1TB mini-drive to a filmmaker or recording artist who both deal with large files. Don’t be shy, more memory is always better memory. Keep a high-memory stick for yourself and bring back any Cuban content (films, music, magazines) worth seeing later.

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2- Kleenex Packets:
In an economic crisis, the truth of the matter is that various places in Cuba lack toilet paper. Most higher end tourist hotels possess the bathroom tissue, but a large share of basic eateries, lobbies, shops, etc lack it. Oh, yes, be warned, the Cuban airport never has toilet paper. To be safe, toss a few travel packets in your purse for the week (for yourself or as “giveaways” after). Especially if you drive on the outskirts of Havana, where you will most definitely experience the “no toilet paper zone”. Note: Add a travel size bottle of Purell as a finishing touch.

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3- Maps:
Unlike most other cities you visit in the world, Cuba does not operate with GPS. You’ll have to get accustomed to good ‘ol fashioned paper maps and just pen your fav spots. A map we recommend is Van Damn Street Havana. (For the crafty techies, there’s a few apps with Cuban maps, but that’s another post another day).

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4- Cash Cash Cash:
It is generally common knowledge, but very urgent to point that Americans must pay in Cash. Due to the American embargo, nothing issued by a US bank works in Cuba (no visas, Amex, or ATM machines), however current US law has made exceptions with MC I hear, but in all my travels, I have not charged anything to a credit card yet). Estimate $50 to $100 a day for food (depending on how you eat and drink). Due to the 2 Tier economy, Cuba prices range from local currency (in pesos) to tourist money (convertibles aka CUC, pronounced /kooks/). Food ranges from local prices ($3 an entree) to tourist eateries ($20 an entree). In terms of lodging, aka “casa particulares” (home-run B&B’s), these can cost $30-$40 a night, while State-run hotels (with more amenities like Wifi, BBC,etc) can range from $170-$500 a night. The same goes for Taxis’. A local taxi can cost .50 cents to get across town whereas a tourist taxi can run you from $10-20 for the same distance. How much cash you carry will result in how thrifty and tenacious of a traveler you are. Best to note, if your cash ever gets lost or stolen, the best backup solution is to have a friend in the US send cash via Western Union to Cuba. There is a Western Union in Havana Vieja) or ask any hotel for your local WU pickup.

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5- Mini-Speakers:
There is never a lack for music in Cuba. A mini set of speakers can manifest a dance floor in 2 second, be it on the Malecon ocean wall or in a private home. Loud music equals a dance party, and for only $149 at the Apple store, your Harman Kardon speakers (above) can jumpstart the next bash guided by the bluetooth of your iPhone.

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6- Toiletries:
Lots of things we take for granted can be the most useful in Cuba. The general list: tampons, panty shields, tylenol, claritin, alleve, antacids, vitamins, razors, the list goes on. Just visit to your local Duane Reade (or dollar store) and fill up the cart.

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7- Fashion for Cool Chicks:
Girls are girls anywhere you go, and god knows the lack of clothes shopping on the island. Tee’s that are soft and have good cuts are a coveted item. Think Zara, Forever 21, H&M, Uniqlo, Urban Outfitters –all are gold for a cool millennial today. Toss in a basic pair of high-waist smartly cut blue jeans, and you have just made a new best friend. Hook up a girl, please.

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8- Electronics:
iPhones and laptop chargers, Android chargers, old cracked cell phones, forgetten headphones, beat-up Mophie cases, etc. etc. Clean out your electronics drawer at home. Cubans are mastering at recycling. A local can fix a shattered glass faster than you can say “Genius Bar”. One persons waste is another persons dream. Batteries are helpful too.

 

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9- Magazines:
Don’t throw out that pile of outdated Vogues, W Mag, or Entertainment Weekly at home. Keep that stash and bring them all to Cuba. Remember that Cuban newsstands sell zero American magazines, so in honor of building that information bridge between Cuba and US, bring a good read. While you’re at it, get the latest issue of The Economist and The New York Times at the airport to share some world news with the islanders.

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10- Random Goodies:
Every trip I discover new oddities of requests from Cubans. The latest are — Nutella is a fav (Cuba carries a cheaper brand of chocolate spread, but locals favor the Nutella brand, which goes for a heavier price). Olive Oil is a big deal (it’s super expensive on the island so a big bottle of the good stuff is always a precious gift).

To all my readers, feel free to add anything I missed in the comments section.

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(Alejandro Campins, Suspense, 2015, oil on canvas, 101″ x 153.5″ Courtesy: Sean Kelly, NY)

Havana-based artist Alejandro Campins is coming to New York to present his first solo exhibition entitled, Lapse. Not only is it the first time he is presenting solo in the US, but it’s also the first time he’s presenting works exclusively focused on the Cuban landscape.

His gallerist Sean Kelly describes Alejandro’s vision:

[Alejandro’s] practice is informed by a singular, painterly vision. Ambitiously drawing on history, architecture and the collective memory of his home country, Campins mixes media — oil, watercolor, pencil — to create hauntingly evocative, atmospheric paintings inhabiting a metaphysical space between reality and fiction. His enigmatic canvases allude to the anachronistic poetry and surrealist beauty of Cuba’s changing cultural landscape.

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(Alejandro Campins in his Studio. Photo Credit: HavanaLive.com)

When asked about this new work, Campins states:

“I am interested in the idea of impermanence and how it manifests itself in nature and its relationship with architecture. The rural and urban landscape reflect the mental state of society, in these works I approach scenarios which for me have an ‘anonymous’ aspect, sites that have lost their identity and express disinterest, transformation and the failures of ideologies.”

It seems that a bevy of brilliant young minds are coming out of the Cuban Art Schools and we’re exciting to see them coming up the pipe, reinterpreting The new Cuba’s cultural climate.  Alejandro Campins graduated from the Academia Profesional de Artes Plásticas “El Alba” Holguín, Cuba (2000) and from the Instituto Superior de Arte, Havana, Cuba (2009). Since then, he’s traveled the world with exhibitions in Switzerland, Berlin, and Denmark.

Lapse runs from February 12 – March 12, 2016. There will be an opening reception on Thursday, February 11 from 6-8pm. Gallery hours are Tuesday through Friday from 11am until 6pm and Saturday from 10am until 6pm.

Gallery: 475 Tenth Ave, NY NY 10018. 212-239-1181. Visit SKNY.com

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Last week, we all experienced a pretty historical production in Cuba. The cast of Showtime arrived in Havana to shoot House of Lies’  closing episode for Season 5. When you watch this upcoming season, you’ll notice that the penultimate episode for Season 5 (directed by actress Helen Hunt) sets us all up for the next episode plotline… a trip to Havana! Drop the mic.

Why is this such a “game-changer”? Because this is the first time a US scripted TV show shoots in Cuba since pre-Revolution. Sure, there have been a few reality TV productions (allowed under the documentary license at the US State Department) such as Anthony Bourdain, Cuban Chrome, and Conan O’Brian. But this was the first scripted TV show allowed by the US. House of Lies’ Cuba shoot is being done in compliance with the U.S. Department of Treasury pursuant to an Office of Foreign Assets Control license following all appropriate U.S. laws (which clearly are now opening up). You can expect a flood of other networks (HBO or Starz) to movie studios (Fast & Furious, anyone?) coming up right behind them.

We had the chance to visit the set ourselves due the fact we had the honor of producing a musical track on this episode. Our music producer, Edgar AKA Productor en Jefe, sliced and diced a traditional Cuban track which plays earlier in the episode. Consider our track to be sort of a 2.0 remix of this classic Cuban song, complete with rappers throwing rhymes over it. We hope you enjoy the crescendo it builds into. It’s part of the “new Cuban sound” which we at The New Cuba do so very well. I won’t say any more so you can enjoy the episode like a virgin watcher. Suffice it to say, it closes out with a bang.

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(Our Musical Producers recording deep into the night. Left to Right: DJ Bo, Charley Mucha Rima, Edgaro Productor en Jefe, & Etian Brebaje Man)

Back to the show itself, according to CNN, “The plot of Showtime’s House of Lies follows a team of rapaciously cutthroat management consultants, led by Cheadle’s Kaan, who lie and cheat their way to big paydays”. Cheadle tells Deadline.com that in the show, his character “Marty and the pod have traveled the world to land clients. But this historic trip to Cuba is definitely Kaan & Associates’ biggest and wildest adventure yet. It’s sure to be one for the record books, for both our characters and for our cast and crew.”

The title of the episode is “No es Facil” (It’s not easy) probably one of the most spoken phrases in Cuba for the last several years, usually a nice way of trying to say “this is difficult as hell” in regards to getting things done in Cuba. In a strange twist of fate, the American crew knew just what that meant, as the weather kharma gods bestowed upon them several days of rain. The good folks of Showtime took lemon weather and made some tasty lemonade out of it. Each scene filmed beautifully. Despite the bad weather, everyone in production greeted me with a smile on a daily basis. It was a “glass half full” type of week for the crew and actors who were thrilled to be part of this history.

CNN also describes the love fest between the American and Cuban film crews, a strong microcosm of hopefully what is to come after our countries reconcile deeper. “House of Lies producers say they employed a Cuban crew of 120 people and that by the end of the weeklong shoot, the Americans and the Cubans worked as if they had been doing the show together for years”.

We’d like to send a big virtual “high-five” to the producers who were so gracious under such circumstances… Matthew Carnahan (Creator, EP, Director) and his wife, Dir Helen Hunt.  Also big love to Jessika Borsiczky (EP), Lou Fusaro, and Chris Douridas.

Stay tuned for Season 5…

 

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This video is a tribute to Daisy Diaz, born in Havana, May 3, 1931, who passed away on April 12, 2007. She was a great singer, yet nobody ever heard her gift. Having never pursued singing professionally, she will forever belong to the vast brotherhood of unknown voices that remained in Cuba. Producer Rene Espi says Daisy never used her voice in public aside from her “group of Bohemian friends, convening with the gulp of rum, and a night willing to be flooded with songs”. Today, Daisy would be 85 years old.

In lieu of a body of work, Daisy instead, left behind this one recording — a sonic experiment created with a young Cuban recording artist, Diana Fuentes. The two women recorded this bolero one night in Havana, just before Daisy passed away.

Diana is part of the new breed of artists coming out of Cuba today. She happened to grow up during the Special Period in the 90’s (Cuba’s worst economic crisis). Diana got her start singing professionally in 2001, singing and touring with X Alfonso and the group Sintesis. In 2006 she joined Carlos Varela’s Nueva Banda. The young Diana is a big fan of Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald, and we’re rooting for her career to flourish in a myriad of ways.

The track is a classic example of “old-school-meets-new-school”, one voice lifting the other into ethereal realms. The legendary art school of Cuba, ISA, was behind the video interpretation of this track (which was created shortly after Daisy’s passing, thus the creative resolution). The result? “A duo of Luxury” says Rene.

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I had the pleasure of interviewing a fresh young mind in the Cuban art scene, Laura Danaras, who previously worked at Cuba’s prestigious Bellas Artes Museum, and is now curating at a private studio with artist friends in the Miramar section of Havana. To understand what this all means for the blossoming industry on the island, read the full interview (link below). This is just an excerpt:
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For American collectors, Cuban art has long been forbidden fruit—largely out-of-reach, somewhat mysterious, and therefore, deeply-seductive. With this spring’s announcement of the normalization of relations between the two countries, there has been a massive surge of interest by collectors, enthusiasts, and, well, us. The Standard set out to get a bead on this exploding corner of the art world by talking to someone on the ground with first-hand expertise. Naturally, our first call was to our man Stan, who put us in touch with Laura Daranas, one of the most talented young art curators in Cuba today.

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Up until a few months ago, Laura served as a “Museóloga Especialista” in Cuba’s famous national gallery, Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, before striking out to stoke the flames of independent artists. She aims to expose them to worldwide appeal as a curator for a hip “personal studio” (more on this below) in Cuba’s Miramar section (with co-curator Yessi Montes de Oca). In the rush of putting together her first independent show, Laura found time to answer some of our questions.

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Jauretsi: Tell us about the new gallery Miramar 601, and the two young Cuban artists who founded it, Alejandro and Aramis? Is this one of the new “cuenta propistas” (small businesses) we hear about? Or is part of the emergence of independent galleries?

Laura Danaras: Independent art galleries are not legal in Cuba. After the economic collapse in the ’90s, artists were allowed to create studios to show and sell their work, which they did and have been doing well before the recent laws came into play. Two artists have their studio at Miramar 601: Alejandro Guanche, a 23-years-old painter who works mostly in a bright and sharp style (addressing historical, erotic, literary or biographical subjects) and Aramis Santos, a 38-years-old painter and draftsman who has had a long career as an illustrator and mastery of different techniques. Both of them show their work regularly at the Wynwood District in Miami. In addition to the work of the two, we also have guest artists on display in the rooms of our beautiful ’50s house.

J: What are your thoughts on the influence by smaller independent galleries showing beside larger state run galleries, especially during a large week of foreigners attending (such as the Havana Biennial)?

LD: During the Biennial, there were maybe as many “open studios” as official displays. The Biennial presents a kind of cross-section of current Cuban art, and visitors have maybe a more panoramic understanding of it. It is also an opportunity for us Cubans to see a little bit from the international arena. This year it was Galleria Continua, from Italy, bringing artists such as Michelangelo Pistoletto, Daniel Buren, Nikhil Chopra, and others.

The Biennial and most state run galleries do not have a commercial nature though, and that’s the main difference with open studios. The curatorial concept also sets them apart of course. I think there should be room for everything (private and state-run galleries alike) because each has a specific purpose. Particularly taking into consideration the huge disproportion between the number of artists in Cuba and the number of state-run art venues. I think this is bound to change.

You can read the rest of the Q&A here at The Standard Hotel Culture site.

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You can probably consider Dany one of Cuba’s first tech entrepreneurs. For just $2 a week, he sells content to the entire island of Cuba. Think TV shows, Movies, Music, App, and so on — much of it is stuff that is currently released in the US. Behold the “El Paquete”, the largest operation of human data traffickers in Cuba, passed along only through hard drives (remember Cuban internet penetration is 5% on the island, so forget downloads).

Dany says: “We offer a product that is like one giant webpage where you can see all the content you want for a very low price”. When asked if he’s nervous about the internet one day taking over his business, the 26 year old responds, “The internet might take over some clients, but we offer something different and very effective.”

Reporter Johhny Harris properly researched, found, and finally interviewed Dany, one of the only two kingpins behind this famous Paquete. Dany’s main competition on the island is another guy called Ali. Both are in fierce competition to secure the latest and greatest content delivered to their buyers every week… a healthy case of competition breeding innovation.

Meet Dani and his vast operation of black market gold.
Read the rest of the article on Vox.com.

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(Julio Larraz, Campamento y Madrigales, 2015)

Tonight, Julio Larraz opens his first solo exhibition at the Chelsea gallery Ameringer McEnery Yohe. “Right now, I am still learning” says Julio, who is considered one of the most commercially successful Cuban-born artists. “As an artist my interest is in the reaction of the colors, the mixing of the colors. I am exploring new ways to compose a picture. The artist that turns his or her back on the learning process is ready for an artistic obituary.”

Read the rest of the interview by Howard Farber in CubanArtNews.org

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