Representing Cuban arts and culture, an eight-person delegation visited St. Petersburg this weekend, to meet with civic leaders and elected officials for a three-day immersion in all things St. Pete — particularly the arts.
Though invitations by Mayor Rick Kriseman, the Dali Museum, and the Downtown Partnership, the delegation, which included representatives of the Ministry of Culture, explored a potential for artistic exchange in the Tampa Bay region. The delegation’s arrival was timed to coincide with “D-17” — December 17 — the anniversary of President Barack Obama announcing the relaxation of travel restrictions to Cuba, with a desire to re-establish diplomatic relations with the island nation.
Downtown Partnership CEO Joni James said that since October plans have been in the works to bring delegations of 20 arts, business, education and science leaders to the city to help improve the city’s relationship with Cuba. After Kreisman visited Cuba in August, St. Pete has been actively lobbying to host a potential Cuban consulate.
The weekend visit was also supported by the Alliance for Responsible Cuba Policy Foundation.
“My new hero is St. Pete Mayor Rick Kriseman,” said Alliance for Responsible Cuba Policy Foundation founder Albert A. Fox Jr. “I was always pushing Tampa, Tampa for the consulate, but Mayor Kriseman is so much more enthusiastic.
“The Tampa mayor won’t touch it with a ten-foot pole,” Fox added.
Events began with a Thursday rehearsal of the Florida Orchestra at the Mahaffey Theater, afterward, the delegation took a tour of St. Petersburg and attended “Mayor’s Welcome Dinner” at the Dali Museum, hosted by the museum and law firm Adams & Reese. The museum hopes to initiate an exchange with Museo de la Bellas Artes, Cuba’s national art museum, where it could send Salvador Dali works to Cuba for an exhibition and receive some of the Cuban museum’s work by Wilfredo Lam (1902-1982). The Dali hosted a Lam show in 2008. Due to the embargo, there is a body of Lam’s work in the Havana institution that has not traveled to the United States.
Later that night, Kriseman received a painting from acclaimed, self-taught Cuban artist Esteban Machado Diaz at a reception commemorating the visit.
Over the weekend, the delegation made stops at St. Petersburg College’s Collegiate High School and Motion Industry Recording Arts Program and Gibbs High School, Pinellas County’s magnet arts high school. Museum and studio stops included the Warehouse Arts District where the group toured the Morean Arts Center’s Clay Center, the Arts Xchange, and Duncan McClellan’s glass studio. They also went to the Chihuly Collection on Beach Drive and the Museum of Fine Arts.
In honor of the visit, Boston Holding Co., and Big Storm Brewing Co. hosted a reception Friday night at the Vinoy Hotel. That event was attended by nearly 100 business and political leaders.
Saturday morning, during a tour of Tropicana Field, the visitors playfully took turns at the pitcher’s mound and home plate. Cuba’s Ministry of Culture Deputy Director Rosa Teresa Rodriguez expressed amazement over the enormity of the home of the Tampa Bay Rays.
“It looks so much smaller on television,” Rodriguez said through Fox, who acted as an interpreter. “This is amazing.”
Saturday evening, the group attended a performance of the holiday-themed musical The Family Blessing at the Mahaffey Theater.
Fox then accompanied the delegation Sunday and Monday for stops at private Tampa homes and a tour of Ybor City, including visits to Jose Martí Park and iconic La Tropicana Restaurant.
Martí, a Cuban-born poet, journalist, essayist, and revolutionary in the Spanish-American War, made Ybor City his home in the late-1800s. It was there he did much of his planning and fundraising. The park is in tribute, with a statue of Martí.
Fox, who grew up in Ybor City, said friends of the delegation helped fund the Tampa portion of the trip. James added that the delegation expenses in St. Petersburg were covered either with cash or in-kind donations from groups such as the Downtown Partnership, Boston Holding Co. and the city of St. Petersburg.
The delegation will drive to Miami Monday afternoon before heading back to Cuba.