The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Cuba’s Art Factory aims for industrial-scale hipness

Arianna Diaz, 24, is kissed by her boyfriend, Chaian Gomez, 24, as they watch a concert by D’Corason at F.A.C., or La Fábrica de Arte Cubano, in Havana on Aug. 15. (Sarah L. Voisin/The Washington Post)

La Fabrica del Arte Cubano is the place foreign tourists go to see a younger, edgier, emerging Cuba. Or it's the place teenagers who don't have a lot of money can go dancing at 2 a.m. for a $2 cover charge. You can drink mojitos or Red Bull and see an avant-garde play by a Spanish theater troupe, or the work of an Israeli photographer, or "The Rocky Horror Picture Show."

La Fabrica (Cuban Art Factory) can do all that because it is a huge place, with multiple gallery and performance spaces, all housed beneath the roof of a former cooking oil plant near the Almendares River in Havana's Vedado neighborhood.

The idea is borrowed from Brooklyn and Berlin and everywhere else that old warehouse spaces are being repurposed as art galleries or performance venues. But the Factory is 100 percent criollo, all Cuban, in its ownership and operation but especially in the delicate cultural politics of facilitating artistic expression in a tightly controlled society.

The Factory is the creation of X Alfonso, a popular Cuban rocker and artist who manages to keep the place in operation without running afoul of Cuban authorities. It is neither a private business nor a state-run facility but classified as a "community project," allowing it to occupy government property but operate with a relatively broad degree of independence.

Since opening last year, the Factory has come under criticism in state media for appearing too much like a thriving, capitalistic enterprise. Some of its art also pushes political boundaries — one fascinating recent exhibit displayed 1950s photographs of Cuban homes that were given away as a promotional stunt by Candado, a popular soap brand in the era before Fidel Castro's revolution. The photographer went back and found the giveaway homes today, photographing them in various states of dilapidation.

This recent Trip Advisor reviewer called it “the hippest place I have ever been.” Few places in Cuba have been as successful at creating a space for high-end, high-minded art while also giving the city's teens a fun place to hang out. On weekends after midnight, when the discoteca in the Factory's basement really kicks off, crowds of well-dressed young people line up around the block, fiddling with smartphones that still don't connect to the Internet.

Washington Post photographer Sarah Voisin gives us a look inside:

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