Photo: Julian Love

Lots of blogs and magazines focused on social change have been celebrating the Favela Painting Project.

As the Mental Floss blog explained:

“Dutch artists Jeroen Koolhaas and Dre Urhahn are bringing vibrant art to unexpected places with their Favela Painting [P]roject. About one-third of Rio de Janeiro’s population lives in favelas, urban slums overrun with gangs and drugs. To prevent kids from getting caught up in the drug trade, the Favela Painting project pays Brazil’s youth to create murals for their communities. As a result, armies of teenage artists are giving their neighborhoods new faces—ones covered in bright, cheerful colors. The hope is that within the next few years, the entire landscape of favelas will become a massive work of art, drawing attention to the needs of the poor and filling the community with pride.”

Koolhaas and Urhahn recruited locals in Rio’s Santa Marta favela to spend a month learning painting techniques and transforming the gray-scale favelas into a vivid complex that looks as if someone took a prism and shattered it, scattering light across the whole favela.

The result–if you like color–is impressive; you can see before and after shots here.

The project is similar to a larger, worldwide initiative called Let’s Colour, which intends to “transform grey spaces with vibrant colour.”

On the one hand, these types of projects are appealing. They leave foreigners who come into “downtrodden” spaces feeling good about themselves and their work, good about what they can “give” or “share” with other people, and good about the connections they make with people who live in “grey spaces.”

“One has to consider whether these projects are anything more than the do-gooder’s equivalent of crack: a quick hit of a feel-good sensation that eventually wears off.”

On the other hand, I can’t help but wonder what happens when the artists go home and the colors fade. These types of projects are exciting and even temporarily transformative, perhaps, but they don’t lead to real social change. They don’t solve–or even really address–the kinds of problems that crowd people into tiny, grey concrete homes with little or no services. And even when these projects pay the painters, as Favela Painting does, one has to consider whether these projects are anything more than the do-gooder’s equivalent of crack: a quick hit of a feel-good sensation that eventually wears off.

What do you think? I’d love to hear your opinions in the comments.

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