The Cuba project: Public space as a possibility to construct a new civic imagination


Gediminas Urbonas. Habermasian coffee-dock: fieldtrip at bronze casting factory, Santiago de Cuba

ACT Director, Gediminas Urbonas and ACT Affiliate, Nomeda Urboniene were selected by Paolo Rosso of Microclima (Venice, IT), along with local and international artists to develop a project for the site in Santiago de Cuba. The program was started in 2014 as part of European Union’s project “Los Caminos del Café “ which was initiated by the Fondation Malongo and the Oficina del Conservador de Santiago, which are conducting the program. This program consists of  restoration of antique coffee plantations, the creation of a heritage museum, promotion of sustainable tourism in Santiago and the development of contemporary art in Cuba through artist’s residencies. Check out the video below for an introduction by Microclima’s founder Paolo Rosso and a presentation by Gediminas Urbonas.

Urbonas proposal Habermasian Coffee Dock aims to render a Cuban coffee dock—a symbolic node in the coffee industry’s apparatus of global fortune and exploitation—as a space of fearless speech, performance, and collective inquiry. The fraught legacy of the coffee economy remains in southeast Cuba. We are proposing a critical reappraisal and rehabilitation of this uneasy history, specifically as it continues to unfold in Santiago de Cuba and the nearby Sierra Maestra foothills. In conjunction with the French-Cuban collaboration Los Caminos del Café (Coffee Ways)—an initiative to promote eco tourism in and around the UNESCO world heritage site First Coffee Plantations—the project will bring together members of the Universidad de Oriente, Santiago de Cuba and researchers and students from Harvard University and MIT to support an ongoing engagement with this territory. A series of co-laboratories will plan and facilitate critical mapping, alternative history making, public performances, exhibits, and publications to reconstruct the troubling material and social history of coffee networks in the region at the same time as it is being repackaged for tourist consumption.

Support for this project comes from the French-Belgian Malongo Foundation, the European Union, the Ludwig Foundation of Cuba, and the Havana Biennial.


Founded in Venice by artistic director Paolo Rosso in 2011, Microclima focuses on art, nature, and the public sphere. It is housed in the Serra dei Giardini, a greenhouse in the Biennale Gardens that was built in1894 to preserve the exotic plants that decorated the first International Exhibitions of Art.

Gediminas Urbonas and Nomeda Urboniene are artists and educators. Together, they co-founded Urbonas Studio, which researches ecological, economic, social, and political conditions of countries in transition. Their work has been published and presented in numerous international exhibitions. Gediminas Urbonas is Associate Professor and the Director of the MIT Program in Art, Culture, and Technology. Nomeda Urbonas is an affiliate at MIT and a PhD researcher at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology. Scroll through the pictures below for more of their trip, mainly at the bronze casting factory and various public spaces in Santiago de Cuba.



















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