It was 1961, over a game of golf at the Havana Country Club just outside of the city, that Fidel Castro and Che Guevara discussed and made plans to build National Art School of Cuba on the grounds of the Club. Building of the School began but was later abandoned because of a lack of government funding and the political climate. The buildings still stand today and are regarded as an architectural marvel.
Unfinished Spaces (2011) is a film making the rounds of the international film festivals, documenting the dream of building a national arts school in Cuba. This documentary explores the National Arts School (Escuelas Nacionales de Arte) project. Castro invited three exiled architects, Ricardo Porro, Roberto Gottardi, and Vittorio Garatti who had originally worked on the project back to Cuba. There were five schools in all, the School of Plastic Arts, the School of Modern Dance, the School of Ballet, the School of Music and the School of Dramatic Arts. Porro, Gottardi and Garatti aimed to create a new architecture reflecting the Cuban revolution, taking into consideration the surrounding landscape of the golf course using the constructive system of the Catalan vault. Because of the American embargo which created a shortage of normally used building materials such as steel and concrete, brick and terracotta tile made locally and used in the creation. The result was a most beautiful school of the arts of open spaces, curving colonnaded paths and imagination, later abandoned and becoming an “unfinished space.”
The international films festivals at the Venice Biennial, the Los Angeles Film Festival, the Palm Springs International Film Festival and the Miami International Film Festival have all run this spectacular film directed by Benjamin Murray and Alysa Nahmias. Unfinished Spaces has won numerous international awards.
Unfinished Spaces shows footage of Castro speaking of his dream of building a center for the world of arts. Classes began at the school but were later ceased. Also, in the film, we learn of the struggles of the young architects in the planning and building of this radical architectural design which was later halted due to the political climate. “It was a beautiful experiment,” said one of the architects.
Learn more about the Escuelas Nacionales de Arte project from John A. Loomis’ book “Revolution of Forms: Cuba’s Forgotten Art Schools“.