The First U.S. Cultural Mission to Cuba

By Jess Sarmiento, NEA Public Affairs Director

A month after the historic visit by President Obama, the first ever U.S. government cultural mission to Cuba arrived in Havana. I was fortunate to be a part of the delegation along with our NEA chairman, Jane Chu. From the Cuban people we met, to the government officials we spoke with, to the Cuban artists who spent time showing us their craft, we were overwhelmed by the generosity of those we met and a strong feeling of common purpose.
The president described his trip as extending the hand of friendship to the Cuban people, and our agency’s work through this mission continued to build and deepen the connections that will continue this historic collaboration with the Cuban people and artists.
From concerts featuring Cuban musicians performing along with delegation members Usher, Smokey Robinson, and Dave Mathews, to bilateral meetings with ministers, vice ministers, and directors of cultural institutions, we learned a great deal and accomplished even more. The NEA announced that it is providing $100,000 to support artistic cultural exchanges between U.S. and Cuban artists. The two exchange opportunities build on existing NEA programs that promote artistic exchange, education, and cross-cultural connections—USArtists International and Southern Exposure: Performing Arts of Latin America. Each program will receive $50,000 to fund the expanded activities.
This photo gallery will give you an idea of some of the serious and not-so-serious moments from the mission, including Cuban and U.S. musicians performing together, U.S. mission delegation officials meeting with their Cuban Ministry of Culture counterparts, and wonderful events where we had the opportunity to see and talk first hand with some of Cuba’s talented artists.

Smokey Robinson holds paper

five people disembark from airplane

Five people pose for picture

Musical group plays on stage

A large group of people whatch a musicla performance.

A large group of people stand outside on steps.

A woman in a long yellow dress and headpiece dances with people surrounding her, many taking photos.

Young students dressed up like bumble bees and ladybugs dance on a stage.

Adults and children dance in a conga line

Two men with guitars perform on a stage.

two women hold hands at the top of a staircase

men and women sit behind a desk in a panel discussion

Dancers wearing black stand in three lines. One woman faces the camera holding out her hands.

A woman and a man stand speaking at microphones holding papers while other sit in chairs watching them.

A man stands playing the violin in front of a classroom with young students sitting in chairs watching him.

room of people dance with each other to a band performing on stage

group of people stand and kneel in front of orange building

A man in a grey sweatshirt and red hat sits smiling, surrounded by young students in uniforms.

A man wearing sunglasses has students all around him

a group of people sit around an oval table having a meeting

A man plays the violin next to a woman singing.

A close up of two men sing at microphones

Two men sing at microphones with another watching and other musicians in the background.

A woman speaks on a stage with an American and Cuba flags beside her.

Many people in an audiecne give standing ovation facing each other.

a man and a woman shake hands

A large group of people pose in front of an airplane.