When Jeroen Koolhaas and Dre Urhahn received the news that Philadelphia’s Mural Arts Program wanted them to come to design a pair of large-scale projects, they immediately knew that it would be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
Koolhaas and Urhahn, also known as Haas & Hahn, are a Dutch artist team hired by the Mural Arts Program in September 2011 to help transform the city with art. The duo, which is best known for their mural designs in the inner-city countryside’s of Rio De Janiero, have just completed one of their artwork projects here in the city titled Philly Painting.
Since April, the two have spearheaded the project that has transformed the outside of nearly 50 storefronts with vibrant paintings. Their goal was to develop a work of art that was so awe-inspiring that it would revitalize the corridor and energize the surrounding community. During their time leading the project, they’ve not only help transform the once thriving corridor, but they’ve bonded with residents in the community and have impacted many individuals involved with the project.
“There’s nothing really bad you can say about these two guys, said Muhammed Castas, a member of the Philly Painting crew. “They’re always energetic and always smiling. It’s just been amazing experience working with them.”
When Haas & Hahn arrived to the city they expressed the desire to reside in the same neighborhood as their project. By doing this they hoped that would able to familiarize themselves with the people they would be representing with the paintings. They eventually decided to settle on the 2400 block of Alder Street, which is only a few blocks away from the project location on Germantown Avenue. In their short time on the block, their upbeat and enthusiastic personality has had positive impact on residents.
“They’re both just truly incredible, said Eve Morris, a resident of the street. “They’ve been a joy to live next to. They’re like a light for the block.”
The two men hosted barbeques, small gatherings and visited several nearby businesses in an effort to ingrain themselves within the community. By deciding to reside in the neighborhood that they sought to strengthen, they were able to form genuine connections with residents.
“They wanted the people to know that they’re doing their work with integrity and weren’t just coming here and painting without their support,” said Jane Golden, director of the Mural Arts Program. “They didn’t want it to be about art that applied to a community but about art applied with a community.”
Before the duo began work on the project they took several pictures of buildings and streets throughout the neighborhood in order to study the color spectrum. They then formed a palette of 50 colors that they believed reflected the neighborhood’s personality. The store owners on the strip each selected their colors that the duo built-in in their design.
They also created a studio on the 2600 block of Germantown Avenue where residents can come by and express any issues they have with the designs. The studio is also used as a place for the duo and their painting team to unwind throughout their work day.
“Just spending time around them and seeing how embedded they are with their crew and the people of the block just says it all,” said Alex Gilliam, director of Public Workshop. “There not even from here but they’ve come here fit right it in. They’ve made it look so natural.”
Haas & Hahn worked alongside twenty individuals during the project, including six veteran muralists and fourteen individuals from the neighborhood. Mural Arts Senior Project Manager Shari Hersh oversaw the project and the painting team was led by Felix St. Fort.
“Being around them as much I have I’ve been able to see how truly great these guys are, said St. Fort. “I can honestly say that it’s no longer business. It’s a friendship.”
Keenan James was named the official tour guide of the Philly Painting project by Haas & Hahn. Every Wednesday throughout the duration of the project, James gave a half hour tour of the mural designs to visitors.
“I think they’re wonderful people and I appreciate that they’re here and gave me the opportunity that they did,” said James. “I’ve just truly appreciated being a part of the project.”
Both Haas & Hahn plan on returning back to Amsterdam but their experience here in Philadelphia will be one they will never forget.
“It’s been overwhelming, tiresome and amazing at the same time,” said Koolhas. “But at the end of the day I think I’ll look back at this as one of the best thing’s I ever done in my life.”
For another story on the project, see https://philadelphianeighborhoods.com/2012/12/05/fairhill-mural-project-aims-to-revitalize-part-of-germantown-avenue/