Retired real-estate investor and art collector Howard Farber dislikes traveling and politics, doesn't speak Spanish and spent years resisting Cuban art to focus on his Chinese art collection.
After a 2001 trip to Cuba, he says everything changed. Mr. Farber bought a drawing by artist Carlos Estevez to "whet his appetite" and was quickly hooked. Now he and his wife, Patricia, are starting a foundation to advocate for and promote greater understanding and appreciation of contemporary Cuban art and culture.
Called the The Farber Foundation, the couple look to give $5,000 gifts to multiple arts and cultural groups a year, to facilitate activities such as music, dance and art shows, artist-in-residence programs and educational publications. The Farbers also created a website called CubanArtNews.org and hired a staff of three to keep track of Cuban art exhibitions, film festivals, dance performances and news about Cuban art and culture. Mr. Farber started the foundation with $100,000 and looks to add to the amount every year.
"This is like a hobby gone out of control," says Mr. Farber. "Cuban art is very sexy to me and collecting art has become an addiction."
Having assembled major collections of American modernist painting and contemporary Chinese art, Mr. Farber says he likes to go where people aren't looking.
"In the 1990s when we were collecting Chinese art, everyone thought we were crazy," Mr. Faber says.
Mr. Farber says most people have a misguided idea of what Cuban art is: "They think it's somebody playing a guitar or smoking a cigar and that's not true," he says.
Americans at the turn of the 20th century, Chinese contemporary artists in the 1980s and Cuban modern art all reflect the political changes and economic problems these countries were facing at the time, he says, when "the creative juices were really boiling for these artists."
As he began collecting and researching Cuban art and history, Mr. Farber says there was little accessible information about Cuban art work, including art sales and history. Instead of looking at a catalog or turning to an auction house, he says he started to approach individual Cuban artists living all over the world to ask "what's under your bed?" or what original, earlier works has the artist held on to that Mr. Farber might be able to purchase.
"There is brilliant talent in all aspects of Cuban culture-including dance, music, cinema, literature, architecture, and the visual arts—both on the island and internationally. Our goal is to facilitate and bring needed attention to this global creative output," Mr. Farber says.
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