How Street Art Can Transform Communities

Rio de Janeiro's mountainside favelas are iconic because they illustrate Brazilian life. They offer a distinct perspective to the people’s culture compared to tourist attractions like Carnival in Rio de Janeiro or the city’s famous Museum of Tomorrow. They are neighborhoods scarred by characterizations like slums, overcrowded, or poor. Dre Urhahn and Jereon Koolhaas, also known as the art duo Hass & Hahn, came to Rio sharing these misconceptions. They left understanding their mistaken prejudgment and with a new appreciation for the humanity, they grew to love.



The pair were originally tasked with making a documentary about the hip-hop music festivals in Rio, but their experience led to a totally different project. They had an idea to reform the persisting stigma of residents in the community with a visual statement, a mural. They knew that they were waging a war on predisposition, so they wanted to confront viewers with something beautiful and force people to think differently about the impoverished areas. They wanted to remove the veil of poverty and reveal the people’s identity, so often overlooked. Urhahn and Koolhass enlisted the help of the community to build their project, through a collective effort. Once completed, the mural made headlines:The Guardian called it “Notorious Slum Become Open-Air Gallery” and those who helped were not labeled as criminals, they were now “artists.” Once they realized the magnitude of what they had created, Urhahn and Koolhass continued to create works of art in other neighborhoods.


At drawchange, we know that this rediscovery of identity is brought through the connection of art. Our core curriculum identifies Dream Building, Creation, and Self-Esteem, as crucial components of identity development and rediscovery. One of our recent drawchange DIY projects, “Crumple Art”, asks children to crumple paper as they express their frustrations, but then to unfold the paper and to recreate the crushed lines into beautiful art. Drawchange projects like this one are designed to teach children to rethink “damaged” resources like crumpled paper into beautiful creations.


Art takes what is seen as “ugly” by society and reveals its beauty.


Art gives people the strength and the voice to express and process their hardships and transform them into experience to build a better future.


Art gives people the power to change their own narrative, just like the residents in the favelas.


Learn more about how we utilize art to transform impoverished children on our About Us page.


Source: Hass&Hahn & TED Radio Hour, (2014, October). How painting can transform communities [Video]. TED.

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