Havana has always had lots going on around art and design, but over past few years it’s become much easier for visitors to to access all of the great things that are happening. And thanks (or no thanks) to the internet, you know longer have to wait until you arrive to find out about things.
First Stop: Clandestina 99%, on Calle Villegas and Teniente Rey (Brasil) just off of the corner of Plaza Cristo. This little design shop is a bustling center of all sorts of creative activity. From the brand’s start at a pop-up store at La Fabrica de Arte Cubano a few years ago, they now sell all manner of t-shirt designes with clever graphics, bags, hats, posters, up-cycled clothing, guayaberas, handbags, and best of all a pretty snazzy guide to Old Havana’s coolest stores and happening spots. They also run a blog, host events and make cool video and multimedia features that they sometimes post on their Instagram. Their designs are always clever, often playful, and most importantly, they look good and fit well. And they keep coming up with cool new ideas too, like their “Dancing at Clandestina” Spotify playlist which features an eclectic mix of danceable Cuban tunes from the domestic music scene’s recent decades.
From here, your best bet is probably closing your eyes and pointing to somewhere on the snazzy guide’s map and just wandering that direction, stopping as you please. But if you’re looking for some more of my recs, here they are:
For more design, I suggest walking down Amargura, off the northeast corner of Plaza Christo. A block down, in an unadorned shop on the corner of Aguacate, you’ll find Galería Experimental (the Google maps link isn’t accurate, unfortunately), with all sorts of posters, drawings, photographs and other random Cuban artifacts. A few blocks further down Amargura you’ll find Dador, a brand new boutique clothing design shop that wasn’t actually opened when I stopped in about a month ago, but it looked like they were feverishly working on the final touches and by the looks of their Instagram, they seem to have some cool designs in the works so I’m excited to stop by the next time I’m in the area. Another few blocks down Amargura is ZULU Bolsos, a leather bag shop that has a huge variety of amazing designs (check the IG) that are all handmade with Cuban leather.
At this point, you can either go right on San Ignacio toward the Plaza Vieja, where you’ll find the gallery of El Centro De Desarrollo de las Artes Visuales, photo exhibits at the Fototeca de Cuba, and then all the way down to where San Ignacio hits the port you’ll find the massive Almacenes de San José art market, which is a warehouse full of stalls with different sorts of stuff both low- and highbrow, including t-shirts, paintings, tourist trinkets, posters, etc.
Alternatively, from ZULU you could also go left (north) toward the more touristy end of town. You’ll start passing lots of restaurants and similar looking shops with cuban flags and hats and random stuff, and eventually you’ll make it to Plaza de la Catedral. I recommend at leasts stopping in at the Taller Experimental de Gráfica, which is often overrun with visitors but is a legitimately cool place to see great graphic design artists working, printing, and hanging out (with tourists). They also run courses for foreigners.
For art and design spots beyond Old Havana I suggest checking out these spots:
Alma Cuba design shop in Miramar, with all sorts of locally designed products (also sold on their website) and their own online guide to Havana.
ICAIC/Cine Charles Chaplin, for the hand screen printed movie posters and the small art gallery off the cinema lobby.
Fusterlandia, for the spectacle of mosaic tiles for a whole city block.
Callejon de Hamel, for the spectacle of murals for a whole city block.
Museo de Artes Decorativas, for a strange look at how the ultra-rich furnished their homes a thousand years ago.
Fabrica de Arte Cubano, the multi-sensorial art mecca that you should not miss.
Palacio de Los Capitanes Generales, the Captain General’s residence, which is not a museum of the city and has various artifacts and rooms decorated from the period.
Also, check out this person for more clothing design:
El Encanto Atelier
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