More than 500 Cuban visual artists bring their concerns and needs every year to the Caguayo Foundation for the Monumental and Applied Arts, in an exemplary ethical and professional relationship. That is the most significant achievement of the foundation, whose president is the well-known sculptor, painter, and illustrator Alberto Lescay (Santiago de Cuba, 1950). Another distinguishing aspect is that it is a self-financing institution and has become financially stable.
On Sept. 22, 1995, the Caguayo System was created in the eastern Cuban city of Santiago. The new project involved a foundation and a distribution company that have become a unique channel and a model for developing the applied and monumental arts in Cuba. According to Lescay, the foundation oversees the distribution company, and both are headquartered in Santiago. Likewise, an office operates in Havana with the complete system, shared responsibility that is balanced and integrated, although the foundation and distribution company each have their own social object and financial and legal systems.
This enterprise goes back to the building of the Plaza de la Revolución Antonio Maceo in Santiago, a project that made it possible to create a bronze art foundry—nonexistent until then—for casting more than 100 tons of bronze and transforming it into the monumental sculpture of Cuban independence hero Antonio Maceo.
School of metalcasters and ceramicists
Since 1987, the Caguayo artistic foundry workshop has been operating in the municipality of San Luis, about 20 km from Santiago. Here, the productive process itself has led to the creation of a school, where ceramics is also taught.
“Two generations have now passed through the metalcasters' school, and we continue to recruit talented young people, mostly graduates from technical schools who are interested in our activities,” Lescay said in an interview with Cubaplus.
Because of its complexity, artistic casting occupies the highest range of any type of foundry work, Lescay said. It involves qualities and aptitudes, not just techniques, but also a sense of aesthetic taste, care with the hand of the artist, and a close bond with the artist. All of this requires additional training.
Ceramics, a semi-industrial line, is also part of the Caguayo workshop, with a convergence of two motivations: cultural and practical/financial.
“We create new jobs and encourage the tradition of pottery-making among the people of San Luis,” he said. “We classify it as an intermediate solution between artisan and industrial, a form that was unique in this country at that time (of its founding), and that has enabled us to manoeuvre and to take orders involving specific lines of design,” he said.
Unlike big companies, the Caguayo System ceramics workshop easily changes prototypes in its production line. With the recent introduction of white paste, the workshop has an expanded capacity for meeting increasingly growing domestic demand.
Over the past 18 years of its existence, the Caguayo System has promoted diverse lines of work that speak to its harmonious, thriving ties with Cuba's cultural sector, especially the visual arts. Through these relations, Caguayo fosters projects of common interest based on a promotional line, which aims at providing attention to artistic talent, holding exhibitions and creating products with social purposes.
One of the events it organizes is the René Valdés Cedeño Memorial Sculpture Biennial, dedicated to Santiago de Cuba. Every two years, 10 to 15 environmental sculptures are erected in that city, leading up to the biennial, which involves the country's best-known artists and foreign guests.
Caguayo also has a line of publications, in collaboration with various publishing houses, including Editorial Oriente. To date, it includes three titles, and the first of them, Escultura en Cuba. Siglo XX (Sculpture in Cuba. 20th Century) is considered as a sort of dictionary of Cuban sculpture, covering memorial and environmental sculpture, sculptors, and institutions that have worked with this artistic expression in the past century.
A brand-new catalogue on the Grupo Antillano, exquisite in form and content, is now available: Grupo Antillano: The Art of Afro-Cuba. The book includes articles and illustrations about Grupo Antillano, an Afro-Cuban visual arts and cultural movement whose honorary president was Wifredo Lam, and which perceived of and was able to demonstrate essential elements of Afro-Caribbean heritage and its presence in the Cuban nationality.
A new book in progress, La cultura artística y literaria en Santiago de Cuba. Medio milenio (Artistic and Literary Culture in Santiago de Cuba. Half a Millennium), documents the most important cultural events of this city on the 500th anniversary of its founding. It should be ready by 2015.
For the last 10 years, Caguayo also has been granting an award: the Crecemos Prize, conferred on individuals who have made substantial contributions to the world of art and culture. Winners include Graziella Pogolotti, Silvio Rodríguez, José Julián Aguilera and Jesús Coss Cauce.
“Caguayo continues to be an essential instrument for making monumental works; it continues to be the only truly professional instrument for continuing to develop the monumental and applied arts in Cuba. Our goal is to continue forward toward mechanisms and forms of work that are increasingly coherent and close to what art and cultural relations should be,” Lescay said.