Samuel Riera supports Cuba's Outsider Artists who otherwise wouldn't have a platform to display and sell their work.
art brut cuba samuel riera riera studios
Samuel Riera supports Outsider Artists who otherwise wouldn’t have a platform to sell their work.

In Cuba, artists must be sanctioned by the government in order to display and sell art. Artists who are graduates of the Academy of Art, for example, receive a specific card from the Ministry of Culture authorizing them to sell their work. Those who are not part of this system are deemed Outsider Artists and are technically not permitted to make a living from their creations. Supporting these outsiders is Samuel Riera, the creator of Riera Studios and Art Brut Cuba.

He gave up his career as an artist and turned his own home into a studio to give a platform for people who otherwise wouldn’t have a place to display their art. Many of these people are not only outside of the system but also socially vulnerable due to mental illnesses such as schizophrenia.

After the revolution, Fidel Castro’s new government told Gallo, “You are not a barber; you are a diplomat.”

Thanks to Samuel, these artists often go from being a burden to their family to being the top earner. We met with several of them including a man named Gallo in Alamar on the outskirts of Havana. His entire home and garden is his gallery. He’s never bought anything to make his art. All of his materials have been given to him.

art brut cuba outsider artists Damián Valdés Dilla
Damián Valdés Dilla draws cityscapes by hand despite never traveling to any of the locations he draws.

Gallo’s story is super interesting: He was a barber before the revolution. His shop was a popular location with Fidel Castro and his fellow revolutionaries. After the revolution, Fidel Castro’s new government told Gallo, “You are not a barber; you are a diplomat.” After his service as a diplomat, he dug into his passion for art. And, deep down, though he’s not officially recognized, he’s always considered himself an artist whether the government calls him one or not.

For those that know Cuba, you know that the island is full of color and artists. There’s art everywhere. It’s expressive, celebratory and often political. It’s also often created in places that are unexpected, by unexpected artists. We’re thankful for the opportunity to know Samuel and share the story of the work he does supporting Outsider Art with his Art Brut Cuba.

art brut cuba outsider artists gallo alamar

If you’re in Havana, we highly recommend a visit to Samuel’s Riera Studio. Shoot him a message first to let him know you’re coming. And say hi for us.

(This video is Episode #8 in our original Startup Cuba docuseries. Sadly, since producing the Episode above, Hector Pascual Gallo (“Gallo”) passed away in May, 2020 at 96 years old.)

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Ken Deckinger is the co-founder and CEO of Startup Cuba and the executive producer and host of its namesake docuseries. A native of South Florida, Ken has been an entrepreneur for his entire professional career. Previously he was co-founder and CEO of HurryDate, pioneering the global concept of speed dating to 45 cities throughout the US, UK and Canada. HurryDate eventually evolved into online dating and was acquired by Spark Networks, the parent company of ChristianMingle.com and JDate.com. Ken is a graduate of Boston College and the University of Florida, where he was honored with the University’s Alumni Entrepreneur of the Year Under 40 award and sits on the Board for the Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation. He actively advises entrepreneurs and is a two-time protagonist of a Harvard Business School case study. Ken’s filmmaking and journalistic journey is inspired by a love of travel and authentic connections with other cultures. He believes that the more we know about each other, through stories, the closer we can become — thus the mission of Startup Cuba: to amplify the voices of the people sharing stories in the Latinx space. After living in New York City for 15 years, he encouraged his wife to move their family to Miami to get back to his South Florida roots. Needless to say, it was a short discussion and he and his family now call Boston, where his wife grew up, their home.

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