Feature: A View from the Id

Unfinished Spaces (2011) Explores the National Art Schools, Cuba

Author: Bob Etier
Published: October 10, 2012 at 5:53 pm

Watching Unfinished Spaces can be a frustrating experience for the viewer, however, any frustration felt pales in comparison to that experienced by the three young, visionary architects (Ricardo Porro, Vittorio Garatti, and Robert Gottardi) who were commissioned by Fidel Castro to design Cuba’s National Arts Schools in 1959.  

Premiering on PBS, Friday, October 12, 2012, at 10:00 p.m. (check local listings) as part of Latino Public Broadcasting’s arts and culture series Voces on PBS, Unfinished Spaces was co-directed and co-produced by Alysa Nahmias and Benjamin Murray. In telling the story of the commission of the National Art Schools and its abrupt withdrawal, Unfinished Spaces offers a brief history of revolutionary and post-revolutionary Cuba.  

The architects gave their all, producing radical designs for the schools that would take the place of a golf course and offer instruction to all Cubans, not just the elite. While still in construction, the schools' first classes began. But this magnificent facility, like the revolution, became Sovietized and soon Fidel’s dream of building “the most beautiful academy of arts in the world became the architects’ nightmare as they were forced to abandon the project. While classes continued in the unfinished buildings, construction ceased.


After 40 years of neglect, decay, and the encroachment of nature, the schools began to resemble ancient ruins. Castro recommitted to the project, the two completed schools were restored, and construction commenced on the unfinished schools. At the end of the documentary, viewers learn that construction has been halted again, this time due to an economic crisis and two hurricanes.

Once we have heard Porro, Garatti, and Gottardi speak about the project and we have seen the plans and actualization, it is frustrating to learn that Che Guevara declared it nonproductive construction which led to its abandonment. Our hopes are raised when we learn that construction and renovation have begun anew, only to be dashed—this time by economics rather than politics.

Unfinished Spaces is both a stimulating exploration of the art and architecture that went into the design of the National Art Schools complex and a maddening view of how the vagaries of politics can result in disappointing consequences. It is being shown in conjunction with Hispanic Heritage Month, and is also being screened throughout the country. For venues, click here. Unfinished Spaces is in English and Spanish with English subtitles.  



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Article Author: Bob Etier

Two words describe Bob Etier: "female" and "weird." Like many freelance writers, there's something about her that isn't quite right. Read her stuff and find out what.

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