What started as anger over the arrests morphed into conversations among the artists about their frustration with limits to free expression on the island. They commiserated over their fear of government censorship or outright repression because of the art, theater or movies they produce.
“I want to do free art, without state security parked on my corner,” said Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara, a performance artist who led the hunger strike last month.
By nightfall, hundreds had gathered for the spontaneous protest against the government — something not seen in Cuba since the nation plunged into economic crisis after the fall of the Soviet Union in the 1990s. Troubadours, artists, playwrights, rappers and reggaetoneras played music, read poetry and sang the national anthem. When the ministry allowed a group of demonstrators into the building to negotiate, those gathered outside clapped every 10 minutes or so to express support.
Artists have a particular cachet in Cuba, a deeply patriotic nation that has long prided itself, including under communism, on the prowess of its cultural institutions.
And the government may have found it harder to outright reject this particular group of protesters, which included some of the nation’s most prominent artists. Jorge Perugorría, one of the most famous Cuban actors, and Fernando Pérez, a celebrated film director, both showed up that night.
“I will always go where I feel my presence can help,” Mr. Pérez said, adding he believed the protests “come from a great love of Cuba.”
The crowd also drew younger stars, like Yunior García, 38, who has worked for institutions linked to the state all his life, writing plays, short films and telenovelas for Cuban television.