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TEDGlobal 2014

Haas&Hahn: How painting can transform communities

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Views 1,678,891

Artists Jeroen Koolhaas and Dre Urhahn create community art by painting entire neighborhoods, and involving those who live there -- from the favelas of Rio to the streets of North Philadelphia. What's made their projects succeed? In this funny and inspiring talk, the artists explain their art-first approach -- and the importance of a neighborhood barbecue.

- Favela painters
Working as Haas&Hahn, artists Jeroen Koolhaas and Dre Urhahn splash color onto urban walls -- and train young painters in the process. Full bio

Dre Urhahn: This theater
is built on Copacabana,
00:12
which is the most famous
beach in the world,
00:15
but 25 kilometers away from here
00:18
in the North Zone of Rio
00:20
lies a community called Vila Cruzeiro,
00:22
and roughly 60,000 people live there.
00:25
Now, the people here in Rio mostly know
00:28
Vila Cruzeiro from the news,
00:30
and unfortunately, news
from Vila Cruzeiro often
00:32
is not good news.
00:36
But Vila Cruzeiro is also the place
00:38
where our story begins.
00:41
Jeroen Koolhaas: Ten years
ago, we first came to Rio
00:43
to shoot a documentary
about life in the favelas.
00:46
Now, we learned that favelas
are informal communities.
00:49
They emerged over the years
00:52
when immigrants from the countryside
00:54
came to the cities looking for work,
00:55
like cities within the cities,
00:57
known for problems like crime, poverty,
01:00
and the violent drug war between
01:02
police and the drug gangs.
01:04
So what struck us was that
01:05
these were communities that the people
01:09
who lived there had built
with their own hands,
01:10
without a master plan
01:13
and like a giant work in progress.
01:14
Where we're from, in Holland,
01:17
everything is planned.
01:19
We even have rules for
how to follow the rules.
01:21
(Laughter)
01:24
DU: So the last day of
filming, we ended up
01:25
in Vila Cruzeiro, and
we were sitting down
01:27
and we had a drink,
01:30
and we were overlooking this hill
01:31
with all these houses,
01:33
and most of these houses looked unfinished,
01:34
and they had walls of bare brick,
01:37
but we saw some of these houses
01:38
which were plastered and painted,
01:40
and suddenly we had this idea:
01:42
what would it look like if all these houses
01:43
would be plastered and painted?
01:46
And then we imagined one big design,
01:48
one big work of art.
01:51
Who would expect something like that
01:54
in a place like this?
01:56
So we thought, would that even be possible?
01:58
So first we started to count the houses,
02:01
but we soon lost count.
02:04
But somehow the idea stuck.
02:06
JK: We had a friend.
02:09
He ran an NGO in Vila Cruzeiro.
02:11
His name was Nanko,
02:13
and he also liked the idea.
02:15
He said, "You know, everybody here
02:17
would pretty much love
to have their houses
02:18
plastered and painted.
02:20
It's when a house is finished."
02:22
So he introduced us to the right people,
02:24
and Vitor and Maurinho became our crew.
02:26
We picked three houses in
the center of the community
02:29
and we start here. We made a few designs,
02:32
and everybody liked this design
02:34
of a boy flying a kite the best.
02:36
So we started painting,
and the first thing we did
02:38
was to paint everything blue,
02:40
and we thought that looked
already pretty good.
02:43
But they hated it. The people
who lived there really hated it.
02:45
They said, "What did you do?
02:48
You painted our house in
exactly the same color
02:50
as the police station."
02:51
(Laughter)
02:53
In a favela, that is not a good thing.
02:55
Also the same color as the prison cell.
02:57
So we quickly went ahead
and we painted the boy,
03:01
and then we thought we were finished,
03:05
we were really happy, but still,
03:06
it wasn't good because the little
kids started coming up to us,
03:08
and they said, "You know,
there's a boy flying the kite,
03:11
but where is his kite?"
03:13
We said, "Uh, it's art.
03:15
You know, you have to imagine the kite."
03:17
(Laughter)
03:20
And they said, "No, no, no,
we want to see the kite."
03:21
So we quickly installed a kite
03:24
way up high on the hill,
03:26
so that you could see
the boy flying the kite
03:27
and you could actually see a kite.
03:30
So the local news started writing about it,
03:32
which was great,
03:34
and then even The Guardian wrote about it:
03:35
"Notorious slum becomes open-air gallery."
03:37
JK: So, encouraged by this success,
03:41
we went back to Rio for a second project,
03:44
and we stumbled upon this street.
03:47
It was covered in concrete
to prevent mudslides,
03:50
and somehow we saw a sort of river in it,
03:53
and we imagined this river
to be a river in Japanese style
03:57
with koi carp swimming upstream.
04:00
So we decided to paint that river,
04:03
and we invited Rob Admiraal,
04:05
who is a tattoo artist,
04:08
and he specialized in the Japanese style.
04:09
So little did we know that we would spend
04:12
almost an entire year painting that river,
04:14
together with Geovani
and Robinho and Vitor,
04:17
who lived nearby.
04:21
And we even moved into the neighborhood
04:23
when one of the guys that
lived on the street, Elias,
04:25
told us that we could come
and live in his house,
04:28
together with his family,
04:31
which was fantastic.
04:33
Unfortunately, during that time,
04:34
another war broke out between the police
04:36
and the drug gangs.
04:38
(Video) (Gunfire)
04:40
We learned that during those times,
04:54
people in communities
really stick together
04:57
during these times of hardship,
04:59
but we also learned a
very important element,
05:01
the importance of barbecues.
(Laughter)
05:04
Because, when you throw a barbecue,
05:07
it turns you from a guest into a host,
05:09
so we decided to throw one
05:11
almost every other week,
05:12
and we got to know everybody
in the neighborhood.
05:13
JK: We still had this
idea of the hill, though.
05:17
DU: Yeah, yeah, we were talking about
05:19
the scale of this, because this painting
05:20
was incredibly big,
05:22
and it was insanely detailed,
05:24
and this process almost drove
us completely insane ourselves.
05:26
But we figured that maybe,
during this process,
05:32
all the time that we had
spent in the neighborhood
05:35
was maybe actually even more important
05:37
than the painting itself.
05:39
JK: So after all that time,
05:42
this hill, this idea was still there,
05:43
and we started to make sketches,
05:46
models, and we figured something out.
05:48
We figured that our ideas, our designs
05:51
had to be a little bit more simple than that last project
05:53
so that we could paint with more people
05:57
and cover more houses at the same time.
05:59
And we had an opportunity to try that out
06:03
in a community in the central part of Rio,
06:05
which is called Santa Marta,
06:08
and we made a design for this place
06:09
which looked like this,
06:12
and then we got people to go along with it
06:13
because turns out that if
your idea is ridiculously big,
06:15
it's easier to get people to
go along with this. (Laughter)
06:19
And the people of Santa Marta
06:22
got together and in a little over a month
06:25
they turned that square into this.
06:28
(Applause)
06:30
And this image somehow
went all over the world.
06:37
DU: So then we received
an unexpected phone call
06:41
from the Philadelphia Mural Arts Program,
06:44
and they had this question
06:48
if this idea, our approach,
06:50
if this would actually
work in North Philly,
06:51
which is one of the poorest neighborhoods
06:54
in the United States.
06:57
So we immediately said yes.
06:58
We had no idea how,
07:02
but it seemed like a very
interesting challenge,
07:03
so we did exactly the
same as we did in Rio,
07:06
and we moved into the neighborhood
07:08
and started barbecuing.
07:10
(Laughter)
07:12
So the project took almost two years to complete,
07:17
and we made individual designs
07:21
for every single house on
the avenue that we painted,
07:22
and we made these designs together
07:25
with the local store owners,
the building owners,
07:27
and a team of about a dozen
young men and women.
07:29
They were hired, and then
they were trained as painters,
07:34
and together they transformed
their own neighborhood,
07:38
the whole street, into a
giant patchwork of color.
07:41
(Applause)
07:46
And at the end, the city of Philadelphia
07:52
thanked every single one of them
07:55
and gave them a merit for
their accomplishment.
07:57
JK: So now we had painted a whole street.
08:01
How about we do this whole hill now?
08:04
We started looking for funding,
08:08
but instead, we just ran into questions,
08:09
like, how many houses
are you going to paint?
08:13
How many square meters is that?
08:16
How much paint are you going to use,
08:18
and how many people are you going to employ?
08:20
And we did try for years to write plans
08:23
for the funding and answer
all those questions,
08:26
but then we thought,
08:29
in order to answer all those questions,
08:30
you have to know exactly
what you're going to do
08:32
before you actually get there and start.
08:35
And maybe it's a mistake
to think like that.
08:38
It would lose some of the
magic that we had learned
08:41
about that if you go somewhere
08:44
and you spend time there,
08:46
you can let the project grow organically
08:48
and have a life of its own.
08:50
DU: So what we did is
08:53
we decided to take this
plan and strip it away
08:56
from all the numbers
08:59
and all the ideas and presumptions
09:01
and just go back to the base idea,
09:03
which was to transform this hill
09:05
into a giant work of art.
09:07
And instead of looking for funding,
09:10
we started a crowdfunding campaign,
09:12
and in a little over a month,
09:15
more than 1,500 people put together
09:16
and donated over 100,000 dollars.
09:19
So for us, this was an amazing
moment, because now —
09:22
(Applause) —
09:25
because now we finally had the freedom
09:29
to use all the lessons that we had learned
09:32
and create a project that was built
09:34
the same way that the favela was built,
09:37
from the ground on up, bottom up,
09:39
with no master plan.
09:41
JK: So we went back,
and we employed Angelo,
09:43
and he's a local artist from Vila Cruzeiro,
09:47
very talented guy, and he
knows almost everybody there,
09:48
and then we employed Elias, our former landlord
09:51
who invited us into his house,
09:54
and he's a master of construction.
09:55
Together with them, we decided where to start.
09:57
We picked this spot in Vila Cruzeiro,
10:00
and houses are being plastered as we speak.
10:01
And the good thing about them is that
10:04
they are deciding which houses go next.
10:06
They're even printing t-shirts,
10:08
they're putting up banners
10:09
explaining everything to everybody,
10:11
and talking to the press.
10:13
This article about Angelo appeared.
10:15
DU: So while this is happening,
10:17
we are bringing this
idea all over the world.
10:18
So, like the project we
did in Philadelphia,
10:21
we are also invited to do workshops,
10:24
for instance in Curaçao,
10:26
and right now we're planning
a huge project in Haiti.
10:28
JK: So the favela was not only the place
10:32
where this idea started:
10:35
it was also the place that made it possible
10:36
to work without a master plan,
10:40
because these communities are informal —
10:43
this was the inspiration —
10:45
and in a communal effort,
together with the people,
10:47
you can almost work like in an orchestra,
10:49
where you can have a hundred instruments
10:51
playing together to create a symphony.
10:53
DU: So we want to thank everybody who
10:55
wanted to become part of this dream
10:57
and supported us along the way,
10:59
and we are looking at continuing.
11:01
JK: Yeah. And so one day pretty soon,
11:04
when the colors start
going up on these walls,
11:05
we hope more people will join us,
11:08
and join this big dream,
11:10
and maybe one day, the
whole of Vila Cruzeiro
11:13
will be painted.
11:15
DU: Thank you.
11:17
(Applause)
11:19

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About the speaker:

Haas&Hahn - Favela painters
Working as Haas&Hahn, artists Jeroen Koolhaas and Dre Urhahn splash color onto urban walls -- and train young painters in the process.

Why you should listen
It's an image seen around the world -- Praça Cantão, a square within the Santa Marta favela in Rio, blasted with stripes of rainbow colors that turn the jostling masonry walls into a brightly unified vision. Spurred on in 2010 by Dutch artists Jeroen Koolhaas and Dre Urhahn in collaboration with the local group "Tudo de cor para você", the painting was accomplished by 25 young people from the neighborhood, and reframed the square as a place of shared pride. The locals have since continued the project, with monthly painting task forces and other activities that have involved 800 people and transformed the aesthetic and the social psychology of the whole favela.
 
Known as "favela painters", Haas&Hahn have been working on community projects in Rio for almost 10 years. They've also worked in Haiti and Curaçao, and in 2011, they moved north into a tough neighborhood in northern Philadelphia, where they trained the Philly Painting crew to cover a worn-out commercial corridor in massive color blocks. They've returned to Rio in 2014 for a new project in the Vila Cruzeiro favela.
More profile about the speaker
Haas&Hahn | Speaker | TED.com