In 2008, Jeroen Koolhaas and Dre Urhahn were working on a large mural in the Vila Cruzeiro favela of Rio de Janeiro when a high-end car with dark-tinted windows pulled up. Out got a young man of humble origin who had become famous the world over. Adriano, a global football name was playing for Inter at the time. He had heard strange rumours and wanted to see for himself. What the two Dutch artists had done was turn the long flight of concrete steps that has always existed in Vila Cruzeiro into a river with large carp flying above the waves.
As well as this fun element, the real significance of Haas&Hahn’s work lies not only in their artistic interpretation of places but also and most significantly in the involvement of the local communities in the creation of works of huge visual impact – murals that have brought colour to buildings erected with makeshift materials and given the shantytown a new future.
After Vila Cruzeiro, Haas&Hahn – who always live in the neighbourhoods where they are working – moved to the Santa Marta favela, also in Rio de Janeiro, and in 2010 put together and trained a team of 25 young residents, with whom they repainted Praça Cantão, the district’s main square. After attracting the attention of the Philadelphia Mural Arts Program, between 2011 and 2012, the two artists were invited to work in the north of the American metropolis and turn Germantown Avenue into a gigantic mural painted in vivid colours.
That was how the Philly Painting project started, described by the two artists as “an experiment of urban acupuncture.” Fifty-four buildings were repainted over eight months with the aid of a team of workers, sourced and employed in north Philadelphia. This means that the social impact does not end with the work of art in itself or a reborn local awareness. It has effectively impacted on the local unemployment rate (26.3% according to the Philadelphia Jobs Commission), which Philly Painting has helped to reduce.
Two years later, Jeroen Koolhaas and Dre Urhahn decided to return to Brazil, where they want to pursue their dream of repainting an entire favela with the aid of the Vila Cruzeiro community but without applying for government resources. To do so, they have launched an appeal on Kickstarter to fund “Favela Painting is back to Rio!” – a project they hope to start in 2014. Dutch artists who speak perfect Portuguese (nothing could be farther from their own tongue!), Haas&Hahn will very likely hit the mark.