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Ready or Not: Rio on the Eve of the Olympics

On the ground in Rio, Philip Evanson, co-author of Living in the Crossfire, reflects on what life is like as the games begin.

For the months leading up to the 2016 summer Olympics games, media reporting has been largely critical of Rio de Janeiro’s, and by extension Brazil’s ability to complete preparations for the mega sports event. This critical viewpoint was shared even by the Brazilian patrician press with perhaps A Folha de São Paulo taking the lead. A stream of reports from inside and outside Brazil focused on delays and mishaps. As late as July 1st,  The New York Times published an article Brazilian journalist Vanessa Barbara about “Brazil’s Olympic Catastrophe.” The article took us into a world of chaos and uncertainties that seemed an inherent part of preparations for the Rio Olympics. Thomas Bach, the German president of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) said that Brazil was an example of a country that liked to wait until the final hour to complete a big task such as preparations for the Olympics. However, he remained optimistic and sure that the Brazilian hosts would get the job done in time for the opening ceremony August 5.

This was his view just the day after delegations of athletes from several countries, including Brazil itself, refused to occupy their assigned residences saying they were unfit for habitation. They entered apartments where pipes leaked, toilets might not flush, and electric wires were exposed. In fact, only 15 of 31 new high rise apartment buildings in the Olympic Village were ready to receive delegations as of Sunday, July 24 when they opened for occupancy. 630 workers were quickly hired to work around the clock to complete the work by Thursday. This was one more public relations disaster and not to be overcome so quickly. Ministry of Labor inspectors made an unexpected visit. They found that Brazilian labor law was being flouted. Workers had not been hired according to rules of formal sector employment. They were working longer hours than permitted, in one case 23 hours straight, and not enough time was allowed for meals. The Ministry fined the Rio Olympic committee nearly $100,000. Still the work was completed and delegation complaints then turned to praise.

Now in the early 21st century, the port area in downtown Rio is once again a main target of urban renewal. Demolition of an old, dirty elevated freeway, remodeling older buildings and putting up new ones has dramatically changed the area, making it an inviting zone of high interest. For the residents of Rio and visitors, the important lures will be new museums and cultural centers. The Museum of Tomorrow is architecturally the most striking and important structure. Hailed by The Guardian on its inauguration in 2015 as one of the world’s most extraordinary contemporary buildings, it is dedicated to the idea of human and planetary sustainability.

My wife Regina and I decided to see changes in the port area and downtown Rio. We took a ride on the new light rail tramline that circulates between the bus station and the domestic Santos Dumont airport. We could see how in much of the area traversed, the planned renewal has largely been completed and ready to receive tens of thousands tourists who will come to the Olympics. There are Olympics connected projects in the area that are not strictly about sporting events. We got off at the stop on the newly christened Olympic Boulevard where Brazilian graffiti artist Eduardo Kobra is finishing an enormous multicolored mural “We are all one.” The mural celebrates the unity of the human race in five continents, and the search for peace. We wanted to see it, and to see him at work partly because we live in Philadelphia which is a leader in the outdoor mural movement and have become interested in this form of public art. Kobra’s mural is spread over a block long cinderblock wall and occupies about twice as many square feet as the world’s next largest mural. We watched him spray paint areas while standing on a hydraulic lift platform, but there were strong gusts of wind that must have made the work more difficult than usual. He was working from what seemed a color chart. We plan to return to watch again this remarkable work in progress. Kobra is hurrying to complete it by the official opening day of August 5.

We are now in the countdown phase to the opening ceremony—counted in days (now only 3 as this is being written), hours, minutes and seconds. An Olympic media slogan aims for social inclusion “Somos Todos Olímpicos,” or “We are all Olympians,” but a poll published on July 19 showed that 50% of the population was against the 2016 Rio Olympics, 40% in favor, and 10% did not know where they stood. 63% think Brazil will be worse for the Olympics. A certain lack of enthusiasm, even opposition to the games was obviously taken to heart by Rio de Janeiro Mayor Eduardo Paes whose emotional fever chart is always on display. In an interview on August 1st with A Folha de São Paulo. the mayor lamented the fact that Brazilians were in a bad mood due to the hard times (three years of recession),  also the political crisis of impeaching a president, and the endless Operation Carwash investigations of corrupt practices in the highest places of politics and corporate business. He said to the contrary that Brazilians should feel good about the Olympics. Largely by themselves, Brazilians had been able to overcome all the problems and emergencies associated with the games and that similar problems occurred in other summer Olympic games. The IOC was grateful for the way we responded to contingencies, and surprised that Brazilians had such a low opinion of themselves. Paes called it “our complex of being a mongrel people.”As for critical local press reporting, including in A Folha de São Paulo, it had contaminated public opinion when times were so difficult, in effect, turned people against the Olympics. However, looking at Rio de Janeiro’s ongoing urban transformation as spurred by the Olympics, the mayor brightened. He was sure it would be “more profound” than what even had occurred in the famous Barcelona Olympics of 1992 when Barcelona consolidated its reputation as a great cosmopolitan city.


Celebrating Mural Arts Month

This week in North Philly Notes, we celebrate Mural Arts Month with a rundown of the various events sponsored by the City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program.

Phila Mural Arts 30_smThis October, amid the crisp fall leaves and sunny blue skies, we hope you’ll join the City of Philadelphia Mural Arts program for Open Source. 14 artists from Philadelphia and around the globe joined forces with Mural Arts to create a citywide, month-long explosion of phenomenal public art that’s housed all across the city. With over 40 Open Source events in October, there is something fun, unusual, educational, or fascinating going on almost every day. Not sure where to start? Here’s an Open Source overview.

Explore new things

Expand your horizons with Open Source lectures and artist talks. Shepard Fairey talks about Jasper Johns at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Sam Durant and others walk us through the labyrinth of the criminal justice system, creative people from across Philadelphia join the conversation with our muraLAB Live, and so much more. The wide-ranging discussions and intellectual explorations are the perfect time to get a taste of the innovation fueling Philadelphia’s creative life.

Phila Murals compTour the city

Discover the story behind the art with an Open Source tour. Guest tour guides like Mural Arts Executive Director Jane Golden, Open Source curator Pedro Alonzo, and Streets Dept photojournalist/blogger Conrad Benner will lead you through the art of Open Source, giving you the insider’s view of the biggest outdoor exhibition Philadelphia has ever seen. You can tour the art on the northern side of the city, the southern side of the city, all around Center City, or grab a combination ticket and see it all.

Get creative

You’ve read about the art. Now, come make your own! Check out street artist MOMO at The Franklin Institute to try your hand at art and geometry or join Heeseop Yoon on October 29 to learn how to use masking tape to create art.

MoreMuralsParty with the artists

Find Open Source in Center City on October 16 for our Philly DJ Mural Block Party, as we celebrate the end of the Philly DJ Mural Project, a yearlong program with a creative spin on music education for youth. Celebrate Shepard Fairey’s new mural, honoring Philly’s rich DJ history, and dance for hours to jams from Rich Medina, Cosmo Baker, Illvibe Collective, and Scratch Academy.

Need more Open Source? Visit opensource.muralarts.org for information about the exhibition, events, and the Mural Arts program.

Bruce Jackson: Pictures from a Drawer

The cover image for Jackson's book, Pictures from a Drawer

The cover image for Jackson's book, Pictures from a Drawer

This is the book’s cover illustration. It shows, in one image, everything I did and was trying to do with these images.

Most of the image has a dulling yellow patina, which obscures detail in both light and dark areas of her face and her clothing. The clear rectangle shows the results of some work I did on that image in Photoshop CS3. Mainly, I reduced (but didn’t remove entirely) the level of yellow and applied a bit of sharpening to what was left. I also shifted the greys and blacks a bit. With some of the other images I tinkered with some other color channels as well.

It was a matter of trial and error, of working with those various color and density controls until I got a balance that seemed right to me. (This is fast and easy on the computer, but very complex, very slow and very expensive in a darkroom, which is why I couldn’t do this book until now.) As I worked with the images more, I found myself going back to images I thought I’d finished earlier and redoing them. I also found myself developing relationships with the images themselves: even though I know nothing about the lives of any of these individuals I would come to feel, after looking at them on my monitor for many hours, that they needed to be lighter or darker than I’d previously printed them, or there should be more or less yellow or magenta. I can’t explain that: it’s just a matter of feeling, like music.

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