Usher, Smokey Robinson among those heading to Cuba for cultural diplomacy

Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP

The latest U.S. delegation planning a Cuba trip since the thaw in relations is a government cultural mission that will include Usher, Smokey Robinson, and Lourdes Lopez, artistic director of the Miami City Ballet.

Since Cuba and the United States announced they were working on normalizing relations on Dec. 17, 2014, a plethora of Congressional and business delegations have visited Cuba, and Cabinet members also have trooped to the island.

But the 33-member cultural delegation — which will include representatives from three government agencies, cultural leaders, and 12 writers, artists, and musicians — is the U.S. government’s first official foray into the cultural world since the rapprochement.

The group will leave for Havana on Monday morning for four days of visits to artist and dance studios and engagement in academic conversations and exchanges with Cuban cultural figures and government officials. The delegation hopes to identify more opportunities for people-to-people artistic and cultural collaborations.

“The arts and humanities have helped generations around the world face the most challenging questions and discover the most basic truths,” said George Stevens, co-chairman of the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities. “Our delegation will have the opportunity to explore our common humanity and shared values with our friends and colleagues in Cuba.”

Leaders from the Smithsonian, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the National Endowment for the Humanities also are taking part.

The artists joining singer Usher, R&B legend Robinson, and Lopez in the delegation are: DJ IZ; violinist Joshua Bell; choreographer Martha Clarke; playwright John Guare; Larisa Martinez, resident artist at the Bare Opera; John Lloyd Young, who won a Tony for his role as Frankie Valli in Jersey Boys; musician Dave Matthews; actor Kal Penn; and actress Alfre Woodard. Adele Chatfield-Taylor, a preservationist and arts administrator, also will be taking part.

NEH Chairman William D. Adams said the National Endowment for the Humanities has been awarding grants to support the expression of Cuban culture for 45 years. “Now, for the first time, we can engage directly with Cuban cultural organizations and practices,” he said.