Art students taking trip to Cuba to share techniques

Tiffany Thoes, art sophomore, Aaron Campbell, painting senior, and Selena Mize, painting senior, all pose for a photo at the Christmas Art Sale. Image courtesy Elizabeth Yarosz-Ash.

Ruled by communists and famous for its cigars, travel restrictions to Cuba on U.S. citizens were eased toward the end of the Obama administration. To experience the culture and art, four students and a professor in the art department will be taking a trip to Holguin, Cuba, from May 26 to June 5.

Aaron Campbell, painting senior, said, “Before this semester, I had not imagined leaving the country, at least not for a while. Definitely not this summer. Personally I think it has increased my ambition to explore the world, and it’s shown me the possibilities. For instance I never thought that Cuba would be a possibility. It’s sort of a closed place. As an artist I think it’s important to experience different cultures with an open mind. Particularly in today’s political climate.”

Campbell said the trip is funded by various scholarships, donations, and the student’s personal sales.

Professor Elizabeth A. Yarosz-Ash said, “We’ve been given a little bit of funding by Dr. Keith Lamb and we’ve been given some scholarship funding for the students by our own department, but they’ve raised most of the funds. It’s going to cost over $8,000 for us to go, and we’re participating in one more sale where they can earn some pocket money to go.”

Yarosz-Ash said the final art sale benefiting this trip, Spring Fever, will be held in the museum on April 22 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Campbell said, “I’m looking forward to meeting the artists there because in Cuba they have a different system of education. If someone wants to be an artist or is chosen as artistically inclined, they go to an art high school instead of our system of taking one or two art classes in high school and then majoring in art in college.”

Campbell said Cubans celebrate art talents and start on their paths to mastery much earlier than students in the U.S. do.

“We’re going to be sharing the watercolor monotype process with the high school of arts,” Campbell said. “It’s not widely practiced throughout the world, and it’s something that our professor and we have interest in spreading. We’ll have a few vacation days and we’ll probably be spending those at the beach painting en plein air. Which is a French term for painting a landscape in the moment.”

Yarosz-Ash said, “They’re also pretty entrenched in the arts, and they have been their whole school life, so I just want to see how advanced they are. Outside of course, I’m looking forward to seeing the country, eating the food, and being some place that I haven’t been before.”

Yarosz-Ash said they’re trying to eliminate as many problems as they can before they go, but that no one can ever fully plan for things that happen in a foreign country.

“I’m very proud that we’ve earned the money all on our own, and that we didn’t have to go begging to the administration for paying paying for the trip,” Yarosz-Ash said. “We’ve gotten a huge public response of support for what we’re doing. It takes our experience beyond the classroom so that they can see that through art you can really communicate whether you speak the language or not. You can really communicate with anyone visually about what you’re doing.”

Yarosz-Ash said watching her students go through this communication process was going to be a lot of fun.

Martin Camacho, dean of Lamar D. Fain College of Fine Arts, said, “I have some experience with that country because I did my undergraduate degree in Cuba. My bachelor’s degree is from the university of the arts in Cuba. I have some contacts there in Cuba still. I have lent myself to translate the correspondents and letters, to offer guidance, to establish contact with some of the parties on the island that are dedicated to the art and that would be able to help with the project that professor Yarosz-Ash had in mind.”

Yarosz-Ash had nothing but praise for the assistance Camacho provided.

“He’s done a lot of communication between his friends, the school, and the administration to help with translation,” Yarosz-Ash said. “His experience of having gone to school there and earning a degree, he’s just been an immensely helpful person and supportive of this trip from beginning to end.”

Camacho said, “I envision that they will have gains, not only in the professional area of art. There’s no discussion that once they go there and see what all of the artists in Cuba are doing, and then they will have an exchange of ideas and techniques, they will gain a broader prospective in their own work.”

Camacho said the confrontation with a different culture, ways of thinking, language, and economical and political system helps people to broaden their horizons for better understanding of other ways of thinking.

“I recently had the opportunity to recently revisit the island because I had to perform in Cuba back in November, and then I had to perform in Havana in February of this year on the fact that my new CD with Cuban dances just came out,” Camacho said. “I had to do a little presentation that was covered by national TV in Cuba.”

Camacho said there were a number of restrictions to travel to Cuba that have been eased, but travel is still restricted to a degree for U.S. citizens.

“There is now a much broader category that allows United States citizens to visit the island,” Camacho said. “Due for the circumstances that they are going for a professional artistic exchange would immediately qualify them for one of the categories.”

MORE THOUGHTS

  • Yarosz-Ash | “I don’t think that any of them have been to a foreign country yet, so it should be very eye opening for them. I think that they’re going to be able to earn a lot of self esteem and self confidence by showing their competency with the equipment, the medium and their art making skills.”
  • Camacho | “I imagine that the gains that they will get from exposure to a very different country and culture might have a positive impact. Every time you are confronted with diversity of ideas, there is a situation of growth.”
  • Yarosz-Ash | “I hope that [the students] will learn that giving to others and helping others learn is a very gratifying experience. I hope their eyes are going to be wide open to how wonderful life is in the United States. Contrasting and comparing it to Cuba, they’re going to find out that they are blessed to live in this country.”