Philadelphia is in the midst of a makeover courtesy of world-famous Dutch artists Jeroen Koolhaas and Dre Urhahn, the duo also known by their suffixes: Haas & Hahn. The pair of painters is here thanks to a Knight Arts Challenge 2011 grant to the City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program.
Both artists are living in North Philly for a yearlong residency in which they will have a chance to reinvigorate an entire neighborhood with magnificent murals. The 2500 – 2800 blocks of Germantown Avenue, where they are currently residing, are described as a “visually inconsistent” corridor. They will overhaul the stretch of buildings utilizing existing colors in order to bring a sense of unity and connectedness to the neighborhood.
Haas & Hahn started off acquainting themselves with their neighbors by hosting barbeques and visiting local business to get a better portrait of the people and places they would be representing. Truth be told, they weren’t entirely unfamiliar with the location, however. Urhahn had a chance to visit the Germantown Avenue area and go shopping some 15 years ago. “We have friends here. We feel respectful and defensive of the neighborhood,” said Urhahn, “They are wary of people coming in. They want to see positive change.”
The two artists, along with Mural Arts, have also had a close working relationship with Village of Arts and Humanities, Diane Bridges of Neighborhood Enrichment Transformation Community Development Corporation (NET CDC) and Officer Williams of the City’s 25th Police District in order to build trust and communication with the community at large.
Not only will Koolhaas and Urhahn be renovating their temporary neighborhood with art, but they are also being challenged to inhabit the entire city — completing site-responsive projects in Manayunk and Center City as well — a daunting task, but one that the artists are meeting head-on. These painters are certainly no strangers to urban redevelopment. Often called the Favela Painters for their transformative artistic work in cities around the world, they are perhaps most famous for their colorful murals in the poor favela settlements in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Mural Arts and the painters have their work cut out for them, though, as they are dealing with more than 100 property owners in the area. The idea is to transform the once bustling neighborhood with beautiful art in order to attract customers and clients back to the area. They will have a team of local residents that will act as assistants for the project, which is slated to begin in May and wrap up in the autumn. With designs completed, the only thing left to do is the painting. Keep an eye out for the Dutch duo’s progress throughout the summer.