A Saint for the Arts
By Ivet González Lemes / Photos by José Tito Meriño
In Cuba Alejandro is the patron saint of fine arts who, for over 190 years, has presided over an academy of youngsters aspiring to share in the prestige of one of the oldest institutions in Latin America.
The doors of the familiar San Alejandro Academy have a welcoming width that have an impact on visitors from the very first moment. The entrance to its classrooms has always been free but with severe requirements.
Everywhere are classical Greek and Roman style sculptures, cheek by jowl with murals of contrasting tones and pop art images; while the academy's Cubanness surges with the bust of José Marti, the national hero of the nation that developed together with this school.
Since its founding almost 200 years ago, the school has maintained the same artistic goal: to combine foreign movements and techniques with the most Cuban expressions.
The deputy teaching director, Hilda Martínez Valdés, tells us: “The entrance tests in February are for the day courses, including natural drawing, creative drawing, painting, clay modeling and art appreciation. Of the 250 students, aged 14 and 15, only the top 30 students who pass the tests qualify to enter the school.”
For the evening courses, designed for workers up to 35 years of age with a high school diploma, more than a 100 people show up, from whom only 20 are selected.
Besides their general studies, in their freshman year students have a fine arts workshop with schedules for several specialties. In their sophomore year they choose one specialty from among natural and creative painting, sculpture, engraving, digital art, jewelry and pottery.
Young Latin American and Caribbean students with no economic possibilities to attend the school have a scholarship option, the Latin American Fine Arts and Music Department “Art for Peace”, through which many students, among whom those from Colombia and Bolivia, have graduated from San Alejandro.
“The department was created at the initiative of Puerto Rican singer Danny Rivera and painter Pablo Marcano during a Havana meeting opposing the Free Trade Agreement of the Americas (FTAA),” explains assistant specialty director Ángel Víctor Madruga.
The scholarship students are selected by the cultural attachés of Cuban embassies in countries of the region. Foreign students able to pay tuition apply through the National Centre of Art Schools.
In the classrooms, usually the tables are empty, occupied only by some jars of paint or a colour-spattered palette, while the floor is fully occupied with the canvasses and poster boards of Creative Painting sophomores.
“They like painting like that. It gives them more freedom”, says teacher Inés Garrido. For many years San Alejandro defended the more traditional academic style of creation, but today youngsters with both uninhibited and reserved styles of expression prefer more original and loose forms of working.
In the workshop, their imaginations are released, oriented by their teacher. “They must choose a kind of music and make an interpretation. Colour should be predominant.
The idea is not to have a narrative, but play with feelings and emotions”.
Some of the students talk with us. José Correa hopes “to delve deeper in painting and into one's sources when painting: free imagination and experimentation with different techniques; to take San Alejandro's name to the summit.”
San Alejandro has produced many great Cuban artists such as Víctor Manuel, Rita Longa, Tomás Sánchez and Flora Fong. Through their efforts and the blessing of a school filled with talent, today's students hope to join these universal names.
The Free School of Drawing and Painting was founded on January 12, 1818 at the San Augustine Convent in Old Havana. It was renamed San Alejandro Academy in 1832 to honor Don Alejandro Ramírez, director of Real Sociedad Económica de Amigos del País. Its degree is accepted in almost the entire world at the same level as the San Carlos Academy in Spain and the San Fernando Academy in Mexico.
In 1962 it moved to the Flor Martiana building at the intersection of 31st Avenue and 100th Street in the Marianao district of Havana. There are 213 daytime students and 84 students in the evening course.
Among its most important graduates are artists Juan José Sicre, Fidelio Ponce de León, Jorge Arche, Eduardo Abela, Carmelo González, Raúl Martínez, Manuel Mendive, Antonia Eiriz and Servando Cabrera Moreno. Important historical figures and Cuban heroes like José Martí, Camilo Cienfuegos, Carlos Baliño and Pablo de la Torriente Brau also studied in the school.Contact: