Meet The Young Cubans at the Forefront of Havana’s Burgeoning Creative Scene

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Cuba is often painted as a country frozen in time. And while it’s true that the Internet isn’t readily available and that classic American cars roam the streets, people haven’t just sat around waiting for life in Cuba to change. A whole tech-savvy and creative generation has taken the reigns. One of them, designer Idania del Río, best encapsulated this movement by saying that in Havana, “Young people are very energetic: they’re seeing what the future can be and are really enthusiastic about it, but they are focused on the present.”

With Cuba and the United States working toward improved relations (aka the end of the embargo), things are changing in the Caribbean nation. The country has seen an influx in tourism, which can best be seen through the interminable litany of U.S. celebrities who have headed to Cuba over the last year and a half. Barack Obama also became the first sitting U.S. president to visit in nearly 100 years. Still, the way the country is run remains relatively unchanged, which means that its citizens have a limited amount of leeway. But some are taking full advantage of it.

In a feature titled Havana rising: the millennials pushing Cuba forward, The Guardian highlights the growing number of creatives who are enriching Cuba. Check out six people who are leading the way:


Idania del Río

Photo by Will Coldwell

Idania del Río runs Clandestina, Cuba’s first independent design outlet. Idania is fostering female talent on the island. Her shop sells tees, bags, posters, and other things made by mostly young women. When President Barack Obama visited in March, he even purchased a couple of Clandestina’s tees for his daughters.


Leo Canosa

Photo by Will Coldwell

Leo Canosa opened La Marca, a tattoo shop/art gallery that a roadie for The Rolling Stones visited. The tattoo industry, like many other things in Cuba, operates in a legal gray area, but La Marca is pushing the industry out of the shadows. Canosa’s space welcomes artists who couldn’t show their work at established galleries. And it’s also a place for the community. The parlor features a library of art books that he hopes will inspire a new set of artists.


Susu Salim

Will Coldwell

If something culturally important is happening on the island, then Vistar probably covered it. The independent online publication launched in March 2014, and 24-year-old Susu Salim has devoted much of the last two years to Vistar, which is not exactly legal in the country. “It’s not illegal; it’s irregular,” Salim said.

Salim wears many hats. She runs events for a club, she is a teacher at a university, and she manages two music groups.


Yondainer Gutiérrez

Yondainer Gutiérrez co-founded Alamesa, a sort of mish mash of Yelp and Open Table. The site offers restaurant reviews by customers, as well as recipes. The site’s directory has been accumulated by going door to door and asking restaurants for menus and other details.

“At the end of 2010, some restrictions were disappearing and more private restaurants and cafes were opening, and no one was talking or writing about it,” Yondainer told The Guardian. “There’s almost nothing here in this field, so there are a lot of opportunities.”

Given the Internet situation in Cuba, the AlaMesa app works offline.


Isnay Rodriguez

Will Coldwell

Isnay Rodriguez, aka DJ Jigue, is part of Cuba’s growing electronic scene. Jigue worked on Manana, a first-of-its-kind festival bringing electronic music and Afro-Cuban rhythms together. He is also a part of Guampara Productions, which dabbles in art, film, and music. To him, the new flood of tourists is both beneficial and exploitative. “On one hand we’re super happy because cool people are coming that we can exchange ideas with, specifically young Americans, are able to come now,” he said. “But at the same time there are people coming with a different mentality – to exploit Cuba. We’re not down with those people.”


X Alfonso

In Havana’s Vedado district, musician X Alfonso started Fabrica de la Arte Cuba, a gallery/theater/cinema/restaurant/club space. The building is owned by the government, but the businesses inside aren’t. So far, 800,000 people have strolled through.