Urban Arts Bring Life to Brazilian Slums

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On a hillside in a Rio slum, artists are working to transform the community - not just to beautify it - by tapping the incredible local creative energy. The video above (via CNN International's Urban Planet series) shows how residents of the Santa Marta slum are transforming their community itself into a work of art. Led by two Dutch artists and the energy of local creatives, the main square has become an artwork itself. A CNN story provides more background on the project.

The project is the brainchild of Dutch artists Dre Urhahn and Jeroen Koolhaas, who visited Rio's favelas for the first time in 2005 to shoot hip hop videos. People who come to the favela today say, 'Wow, how pretty.' It doesn't have that image of an ugly favela.

They created the Favela Painting project. "We wanted to do something that would give them an opportunity to become painters and that would call attention to the outside world to their situation," he said.

They first painted "Boy Flying a Kite," an enormous mural covering the sides of three buildings. Then residents painted a cement hillside with fish leaping in a river, which caught the eye of the local media."If you are able to get a positive message out about this place in the newspaper, then your project is a success. And we did. So that was very inspiring," Urhahn said.

Next, Urhahn and Koolhaas put Santa Marta on the drawing board.They found residents excited about the idea of a facelift for their community, a slum tamed by police and showing signs of a newly acquired purchasing power ... Brazilian paint company Coral, a subsidiary of Holland's AkzoNobel, offered to help with raw materials and training for locals.

Tigrao, or Big Tiger, was a drug dealer before he got involved with the project.

"It gave me a different outlook on life, showing me that an honest job can be a good thing," he said. "If Coral had 30 or 50 more job openings, I'm certain they would pull another 50 people off that wrong path."

They created a massive artwork covering 34 buildings that has attracted foreign and local tourists and boosted the self-esteem of residents. "Color brings status," said Carlos Piazza, AkzoNobel's communication director for Latin America. "What divides the city, the formal city, from the informal city? Painting, that's it." If donations come in, an entire favela could be next -- a monument created by the people who live in it for the entire city.
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Richard Florida is Senior Editor at The Atlantic and Director of the Martin Prosperity Institute at the University of Toronto. See his most recent writing at The Atlantic Cities. More

Florida is author of The Rise of the Creative Class, Who's Your City?, and The Great Reset. He is founder of the Creative Class Group.

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