Tucked away on a small side street in the centre of Santa Clara, four hours drive from Havana, El Mejunje is a unique place which has inspired both locals and visitors alike with its progressive and passionate embrace of alternative arts & culture. Its unassuming founder, Ramón Silverio, originally worked in local community theatre, as both actor and director. Later, in the mid 1980´s, he began dreaming of creating his own cultural centre – a space where intellectuals, musicians and arts aficionados could meet and feel at home. His sheer persistence finally won through and El Mejunje (opened in 1991) has since become known as the most remarkable community arts centre in Cuba – not least because everything is in local money, so making it completely accessible to local people
The centre is the magical home to theatre performances, film, some of the best contemporary trova on the island, rock bands, a salsa/son dancing night, a kids morning and older citizens´ afternoons. It is also famous for its LGBTQ (lesbian/gay/bisexual transgender/queer) Saturday night parties. The night I went 6 male models had rushed down from Havana to show off their designer knickers. And lovely they were too. More, seriously, the centre actively promotes HIV/AIDS awareness projects through theatre, talks, and the distribution of many, many condoms.
Today – with its new upstairs gallery and downstairs coffee/meeting place – El Mejunje represents plurality, diversity, acceptance and a sense of belonging whilst still maintaining its edge and sense of challenge.
“I am an actor and a militant”, says Silverio, “who has defended this space – this centre for good art – so that there is somewhere one can feel easy and be oneself. I can’t fight discrimination and prejudice, but in this place those things have to stay outside the door”.
Maybe your itinerary only includes a visit to Santa Clara to see the famous statue of Che? Hopefully, you´ll also go on to centre of town, to the very lovely main square. Keep going. Very nearby is a little street called Calle Martha Abreu. There, you´ll find an open door with a sign above it that simply says – El Mejunje. Do not pass by. It is the jewel in Cuba´s cultural crown and a tribute to the persistence, vision and dedication of one man and his community; a place which reminds us of how our communities could really be.