By Doug Gray, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO – Brazil’s Tintas Coral, continues to increase their charitable works with new support for Haas&Hahn, otherwise known as Jeroen Koolhaas and Dre Urhahn, two Dutchmen who have brought art to the favelas of Rio de Janeiro in a bold statement of intent for the much-marginalized communities.
Currently hard at work putting the finishing touches to their second Rio-based project in Dona Marta, Botafogo, the month-long work in Praça Cantao has transformed a small corner of the favela and brought positive attention back to the area.
“We have no political agenda, so we were wary of working in the recently-pacified Dona Marta, like it might be saying, ‘Hey, its okay to come here now’, but that is the last thing we wanted to put across,” said an enthusiastic Dre.
Indeed the O Globo reporter trying to draw from Dre a comparison between Dona Marta since the pacification and Vila Cruzeiro, a Zona Norte favela with a bad reputation for violence where the duo’s first project was based was given short shrift. “It is for the moradores (locals)” was the straightforward response, and one that was appreciated by those he spent months living with three years ago.
The point was made as Dre was sporting a Vila Cruzeiro Pela Paz t-shirt (Vila Cruzeiro for Peace), a reminder of his times there in 2007 when their first project was completed, a 150m mural of a boy flying a kite across a handful of houses next to the neighborhood football pitch. It was followed by another huge mural of a fish along a concrete slope protecting against mudslides completed in 2008, and both have had a hugely positive impact on the community.
This time around the thirty strong work force includes three young men from Cruzeiro who have been put up for the month in Dona Marta. One of them, Vitor, has been offered an apprenticeship in Recife with paint company Coral, sponsors of the current work, and as Dre proudly says, this marks exactly the kind of opportunity he hoped the work would create.
“When we first met Vitor he said to me he wanted to be a professional footballer, but that if any opportunity came along he would grab it with both hands. All the people on the team will get a diploma when we are finished and I believe that sense of achievement is what is really important.”
Another one of the Vila Cruzeiro “graduates”, Geovani, 23, said that the idea of tourism in Vila Cruzeiro, people visiting to photograph the mural, had had a positive impact. “At first we didn’t really understand what they were trying to do. These Dutch guys came in and drew a black and white fish on the concrete and we didn’t see why. Then the colors came, the people joined the team, and it became something beautiful.”
That first project required all of Koolhaas’ art expertise to outline the huge mural and the locals helped to fill it in across some 100 meters of previously gray concrete. This time around the idea is far simpler, though no less impressive, using geometric lines from a central spot to create radial paths of color onto 33 houses which the team have had a more hands-on involvement with.
“We spent 2009 in Holland mostly trying to figure out how to do our next project. It really began to take shape when we moved back to Rio and met with the Coral paint people. They have done some painting projects under the name Tudo De Cor Pra Voçe in Sao Paulo and Olinda, and it was the perfect match; they needed our input and we needed theirs.”
The CEO of the paint division at Akzonobel, Coral’s parent company in Holland, is Tex Gunning, a man Dre sees as being key to the success of the plan. Gunning redefined the idea of a global company whilst at Unilever, and his remarkable business successes have come as a result, rather than at the cost, of social responsibility. It was during a meeting with Dre at his Dutch home that the two realized that their visions for Rio’s favelas met in the middle and after a difficult year of head-scratching the wheels were finally put into motion.
“They wanted to give color to the community”, Dre continues, “We wanted to give art to the community. I see no reason why we cannot recreate this across 300 houses, 3000 houses, whether its in Rio, Johannesburg, anywhere in the world.”
And so therein lies the success of the new idea. Simple enough to be project managed rather than painstakingly “drawn” by Haas&Hahn, the most difficult obstacles this time was convincing the locals to let their houses be painted and the torrential rains which held up last week’s efforts. During the interview one of the team came over to let Dre know they were ahead of schedule for the day. “I have a bet with him,” Dre said afterwards with a grin. “One crate of beer if they finish it inside twenty days. They will.”
For more information on how you can make donations to the projects visit www.favelapainting.com