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By Chesney Hearst, Senior Contributing Reporter

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – The ongoing renovation of Rio de Janeiro’s Zona Portuária (Port Zone) is reinvigorating the area’s cultural scene. From growing events and festivals, to newly opened cultural centers and museums, the zone, including Saúde, Gamboa, and Santo Cristo, is becoming not only a destination for commercial projects but is also enticing residential investments in what may become a vibrant community that merges modernity with tradition.

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Inside Gamboa’s event hosting venue, Sacadura 154, press image.

The event hosting space known as Sacadura 154, is one example of a modern Port Zone venue quickly growing in popularity. Located in the neighborhood of Gamboa in a building that was formerly home to the club The Week and next occupied by the club Usina, the space is now known simply by its address, Sacadura 154.

Designed to host a variety of events, from corporate parties, conferences and product launches to exhibitions, award ceremonies, concerts and parties, the venue officially debuted last September when it hosted the opening ceremony of the 16th edition of the Festival do Rio, Rio’s International Film Festival.

Live performances and parties followed and recently included several shows that were part of the Rio Music Conference (RMC) Club Week.

In March and May, Sacadura 154 is scheduled to host three Queremos sponsored live concerts: Canadian singer-songwriter City and Colour on March 14th, Australian musician Chet Faker on March 19th, and UK band Jungle on May 14th.

Located next door at Sacadura 155 in Gamboa, is the more traditional Trapiche Gamboa. Established in 2004, the venue is well known for hosting live samba and is the site where TV Brasil’s program “Samba na Gamboa,” hosted by Diogo Nogueira, is recorded.

The sounds of samba are what draw many to the Port Zone as it has been a tradition in the area since the 1920s. One of the biggest draws is to the famous roda de samba events, Pedra do Sal, which take place in Morro da Conceição on Monday nights. Many locals and visitors alike attend the weekly event, as Pedra do Sal is considered the birthplace of modern samba.

The region also includes the Historical Circuit of African Heritage, a route of cultural and historical sites that mark the city’s role in the African slave market. Among the sites are the Cais do Valongo (Valongo Quays), the location where one million slaves are thought to have arrived in the city; the Cemitério dos Pretos Novos, considered the largest cemetery of slaves in the Americas, Pedra do Sal and the Centro Cultural José Bonifácio,the first public school in Latin America and a current reference center for African-Brazilian culture.

Other re-purposed spaces in the region include the Fábrica da Bhering in Santo Cristo. Once a multi-story building that served as a factory for Bhering chocolates, the space now houses artists, craftsmen and designers, who are known to regularly open their doors to the public for events and behind the scenes views of their work spaces.

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The Baile Black Bom event, which celebrates Afro-Brazilian culture with the sounds of 70s funk, R&B, and hip-hop, is also held regularly at Pedra do Sal, photo courtesy of Alan Camargo.

The region also offers museums that both pay homage to the past and look forward to the future. The Museu de Arte do Rio (Art Museum of Rio), or MAR, is known to house varied exhibitions, and the Museu do Amanhã (Museum of Tomorrow), which once officially open, promises to house interactive installations, games, and audiovisual displays that celebrate advances in science and technology.

The site of the Museu do Amanhã is located in the Port Zone’s section of Pier Mauá. The main port of call for cruise ships, the area is also home to Armazéns, or former warehouses. Those spaces are now used to host events including parties and have served as Festival do Rio’s Pavilhão do Festival (Festival Pavilion) and home to editions of ArtRio, one of the largest art fairs in Latin America.

Additionally, editions of Art Rua, an urban art festival that runs concurrently with ArtRio, have taken place in the Port Zone neighborhood Gamboa.

“Gamboa is a neighborhood that was forgotten by the citizens,” curator of Art Rua, Pedro Araripe told The Rio Times in 2013, “and now it’s passing through a process of revitalization that is giving the place a new perspective, and our idea is to transform it into a design district, like the Wynwood in Miami.”

The ambitious Porto Maravilha (Marvelous Port) urbanization project was originally initiated by Rio de Janeiro Mayor Eduardo Paes and is a central part of the city’s plan for redevelopment ahead of the 2016 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

Structural projects include the removal of the elevated highway, the Perimetral, the construction and recent opening of the Rio 450 tunnel, and the ongoing Light Vehicle on Tracks (VLT) project. All three works serve to better connect the Port Zone to other areas of the city. Additionally for those without cars, bike stations have been inaugurated in the area and there are plans for public walks and pedestrian spaces.

However, with many Port Zone projects delayed and some not expected to reach completion until after the 2016 Olympics, in addition to protests over the displacement of current residents, residential developers have lagged behind commercial ones.

With an ongoing economic slide and the real estate market cooling, it remains to be seen if the Port Zone of the city can merge modernity and tradition to truly become marvelous, but it is clear that cultural and artistic endeavors in the region are increasingly growing in popularity.

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