Sculptor brings free WiFi to people of Havana

posted by – 03/24/16 @ 3:56pm

People using Kcho’s free WiFi point at his studio in Havana. Photo: Juan Suarez, Havana Times.

Cuban sculptor Kcho is working with technology powerhouse Google to help improve internet access and quality in Cuba. In a space where Kcho normally creates his work, Google has installed computers and devices that allow 40 people at a time free access to the internet. Without the space and the appropriate equipment, WiFi access in Cuba is expensive, government controlled, and hit or miss (at best). In more developed countries, internet users don’t think twice before logging into their email at work or checking their Instagram feed as they walk down the street to grab lunch; there is WiFi or cell service virtually everywhere. In Havana, though, this new space is one of the only reliable hotspots. Outside of the studio, you find people stopped at seemingly random places just because they received a blip of WiFi signal. For them, obtaining a signal is an active process. While Kcho counts the Castro brothers among his close friends, he constantly worries about whether or not the needs of all Cubans are met. His dedication to providing affordable, accessible internet, then, is a logical step to improving day-to-day life in his community.

The choice to give up his personal studio for the daily use of Havana locals (who are very likely strangers to him) is striking. The use of an artistic space for a very practical purpose embeds that practical process with more meaning, it seems. As such, the converted space begs questions to be asked:

Why not install the project in a more neutral space whose sole use is that of computer lab-slash-communication center?

Why keep the space open for such long hours every day when many artists would languish at the though of letting outsiders into their personal creative space?

Why is an artist facilitating this project instead of business or the government?

While Kcho’s space (with Google’s help) offers a practical service to Havana residents, its presence in an artist’s studio adds another dimension to the conversation surrounding the project. The artist’s attention to and passion for the project casts the issue as more of a cultural and social light; it becomes less an issue of infrastructure. If a government program had implemented the change perhaps it would have gone under the radar more. But, in this case, it took an artist collaborating with a foreign company to give the people what they so wanted and, in the eyes of Kcho, needed. Perhaps Kcho and Google’s will solve the problem enough to satisfy the community. But a lack of internet availability (and the lack of recognition of the problem by the powers that be in Cuba) could also symbolize a divide between a government and its people in terms of understanding the population’s needs.

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