Samuel Riera's Art Brut Cuba opens channels for Outsider Artists to sell their art when they otherwise couldn't earn a living from their work.
Damián Valdés Dilla art brut cuba outsider art
Damián Valdés Dilla creates beautiful cityscapes for location he’s previously never been to. Photo: Samuel Riera

In Cuba, only artists with a state issued license are technically (i.e., legally) allowed to sell their work. This “card” is afforded to artists who have attended a government authorized art school. If you don’t have the card, you’re out of luck. It’s hard for artists who look to seek expression without formal training, or ties built from official Cuban schools, to market themselves.

Enter Samuel Riera and his Riera Studio in Havana. Riera’s art program and gallery focuses entirely on these outsider artists: people who fall beyond the system or are otherwise shunned by society due to emotional or mental health challenges. The artists in his gallery don’t have formal training. One of his most popular artists, Damián Valdés Dilla, suffers from schizophrenia and was overlooked until Samuel met him. Thanks to Riera, and the ability for Damián to discover his abilities and sell his art with Samuel, he went from being his family’s biggest burden to being its top provider.

riera studio art brut cuba outsider art
A gallery room at Riera Studio in Havana. Photo: Samuel Riera

What’s ironic is that Samuel is a product of the system that makes it challenging for the artists in his program to sell their work. He’s both a graduate and… a professor. Well, he was a professor until he gave up his career to dedicate himself to supporting the outsider artists.

To check out Riera Studio’s Etsy store and support their program, go here.

Riera’s program receives no institutional funds or financing. Everything to support the gallery and the artists is paid for from Samuel’s personal income as an artist. He seeks out international art scholarships and fellowships when possible and promotes the sale of his artists’ works. Being an independent art program though, means limited funding available to him in Cuba.

samuel riera's art brut cuba outsider art
Artists at work at Samuel Riera’s Art Brut Cuba program.

In light of the worsening economic crisis on the island, Riera is now engaged with a number of new initiatives to keep the program moving forward. One of these is the production and publication of the studio’s first Art Brut Project Cuba catalog book. “Art Brut” is the origin of the term Outsider Artists, created in the late 1940s by French artist Jean Dubuffet to draw attention to an art form with little or no connection to existing art styles.

Related Post: Samuel Riera’s Art Brut Cuba Gives Outsider Artists a Platform

In light of US sanctions on Cuba however, Riera Studio is unable to raise money or crowdfund the production of this book. So, to fund the project a friend of Samuel’s in the United States has launched a store on Etsy. The store sells images of the studio and portraits of the artists involved with Riera Studio. Once enough money is raised through the US based Etsy store, the book will be published in the Netherlands. 

riera studio art brut cuba outsider art

If you’d like to learn more about Riera Studio, get your name on a list for the book or get in touch with Samuel, please visit the Riera Studio website. I know he’d love to hear from you and would be grateful for your support. 

To check out Riera Studio’s Etsy store and support their program, go here.

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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 and 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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