South Florida LGBTQ activists are organizing a September art-centered tour of Key West in Havana to be presented by Havana Air and dubbed “The Key West to Cuba Festival.”
A festival launch party was held Thursday at Bono Italian Restaurant and Pizza in Wilton Manors, according to publicist Rich Denis, who is also heritage program director for the Miami-based LGBTQ group Coming Out Cuba.
Denis, a former Miami Herald advertising account executive, provided this news release about the festival:
Key West to Cuba Festival
Cuba’s growing reputation as a gay-friendly destination has produced a spike in tours catering to LGBTQ travelers. Now, for the first time this September, an LGBTQ-themed trip centered on art, will combine the destinations of Key West and Havana, two very different cities whose histories are nevertheless inextricably linked. Before railroads connected the Southernmost Point of the continental United States with the rest of Florida, Key West served more as a Cuban outpost, and in the late 19th century boasted a population of 12,000 Cuban exiles. It was, in a sense, the first truly Cuban-American city.
In the 1940s, Key West became a destination popular with artists and writers, many of whom were gay. By the 1970s, gays were spearheading a full-scale renovation of the city’s architecture and a revitalization of its commercial district. As a result, tourism soared and the city became an internationally acclaimed destination for LGBTQ travelers.
The Key West to Cuba Festival, presented by Havana Air, will allow travelers from around the world the opportunity to enjoy the best of both cities and cultures, beginning with three days in Key West from Sept. 7-10 and three days in Havana from Sept. 10-13. All travel will be handled by the U.S. and Cuban licensed travel agency for over 15 years, DMC of Miami.
In Key West, travelers will enjoy an art festival featuring local LGBT and Cuban artists in the Key West Historic Seaport District, gallery and museum tours, rum and cigar lounge parties at the host hotel at the Marker Waterfront Resort and a drag show at famous 801 Bourbon Bar that begins with a VIP reception at the recently renovated Papa’s Pilar Rum Distillery.
Havana Air, as the title sponsor of the event, will fly travelers across the Florida Straits from Key West to Havana, where the trip’s premier artist, the world-renowned Michel Mirabal, will host the opening night party in his mansion on the outskirts of Havana. Mirabal became known for his paintings of the American and Cuban flags, which can be seen in galleries around the world, including The Vatican.
In Havana, the tour will celebrate the history of Cuba’s gay community by showcasing the island’s rich tradition of queer artistry. A variety of options will be available, such as visits to galleries, studios, museums, historic landmarks and a symposium focused on the island’s LGBTQ history.
The tour will also present travelers with a slew of culinary options to choose from. Privately owned restaurants, known as paladares, have been flourishing for years, offering travelers the opportunity to sample Cuban dishes (often with inventive twists) such as picadillo and ropa vieja. Tucked away in an alley near Cathedral Square lies one such gem of a paladar, Doña Eutimia, named after a woman who lived near the square who would cook for renowned Cuban artists such as Nelson Dominguez and Choco. Another paladar, La Guarida, also serves as an LGBTQ landmark of sorts. It was the setting for the groundbreaking movie “Strawberry and Chocolate” (1993), the first Cuban film to feature a gay main character in a positive light. The film was a catalyst that sparked Cuban society’s growing acceptance of its LGBTQ population, which can boast a rich heritage on the island that stretches back centuries.
Indeed, press reports in the late 19th century are riddled with depictions of a complex and thriving gay subculture. By the 20th century, many of Cuba’s most popular writers, artists and musicians either identified as homosexual and/or expressed queer subjectivities that contributed to the formation of a culture steeped in a distinctly Cuban essence, known as Cubanidad. By the 1950s, a culturally rich yet politically tumultuous era, Cuba’s gay subculture was thriving like never before, especially within the bounds of Havana’s storied nightlife. The Festival will offer travelers a rare opportunity to learn about this rich history while enjoying the option of visiting the cultural and natural sights Havana has to offer.