Fidel Castro became President of Cuba following the Cuban revolution of 1959. In 1961, he and Che Guevara initiated an ambitious project to create National Schools of Art on the site of the Country Club in the formerly exclusive upper-class district of Cubanacan, known as ‘Havana’s Beverly Hills’.
The intention was to create a cultural centre of extraordinary dimension, opened to the developing countries of three continents, just 90 miles from the United States. The design for the Schools of Art reflected the utopian optimism and revolutionary exuberance of the early years of the Cuban Revolution and this was reflected in Italian architect Vittorio Garatti’s design for the School of Ballet as a complex of bricks, pottery, and vaulted ceilings. It was hoped that the Arts Complex would reinvent architecture, as the revolution was hoping to reinvent society.
The construction of the complex was interrupted following the 1962 Cuban missile crisis, when the US naval blockade forced a different assessment of economic priorities on the Cuban government.
Then, in 1965, the art schools fell out of favour as Soviet-inspired functionalist forms became standard in Cuba, and the design of the Arts Complex was deemed incompatible with revolutionary ideals. The Schools were essentially decommissioned and never fully completed
For decades, the complex of buildings lay in various stages of abandonment, with some parts literally overgrown by the jungle. Some parts of the Schools were removed to be reused in other constructions.
The schools’ legacy was eventually brought to light by regional and international architectural journals in the 1980s. The growing interest reached its apex in 1999 with the publication of the book Revolution of Forms – Cuba’s Forgotten Art Schools, by John Loomis, a California-based architect, professor, and author.
In 2000 the buildings were nominated for the World Monument Fund watch list. In November 2010, the Cuban Government officially recognized the National Art Schools as national monuments. They are currently being considered for inclusion on the World Heritage list of sites which have “outstanding universal value” to the world.