Openings Brazil

Vik Muniz leads Rio’s regeneration

The artist is part of a creative group developing a cultural quarter in Lapa

Muniz hopes to bring Lapa’s rich and poor together

RIO DE JANEIRO. Brazilian-born artist Vik Muniz (below) is part of a creative consortium tasked with the development of cultural initiatives to improve Rio de Janeiro’s Lapa area.

The historic home of samba music, Lapa is the centre of Rio’s nightlife and one of the city’s most visited areas, despite the high rate of crime. “Lapa is the cultural centre of the city, but the rich and poor are still separate. We want to bring the two cultures together and inject meaning into the area,” said Muniz. He is part of a working group comprising renowned Brazilian chef, Alex Atala, art director and Cirque du Soleil set designer Gringo Cardia, events promoter and actor Perfeito Fortuna, project co-ordinator Malu Barreto and set designer and policy advisor, Paul Heritage.

Their proposals include an outdoor exhibition space, and an informal tavern with a street food-based menu created by Atala, his first in Rio, “where people can relax and drink. At the moment they have nowhere to stop,” said Muniz. The plans also include a school for performing arts, a small public library, a stage for hip hop as well as a graffiti wall.

The group is seeking private investment: the cultural projects should be “self sustainable”, according to Washington Fajardo, the director of cultural heritage, urban intervention, architecture and design at Rio’s city hall. He said that the “city is giving permission to use the public space and to develop cultural programmes with the commitment to keep, maintain and manage the quality of this site.”

Fajardo has been overseeing the wider redesign of the area, which is costing around $6m, with the introduction of initiatives such as heightened security and better street lighting. These measures are being balanced with a need to preserve the bohemian character of Lapa. The mayor of Rio, Eduardo Paes, told local press last year that: “There can be lively disorder, it’s part of the locale. No one wants to transform Lapa into Germany…but it needs organisation.”

The cultural site is at one end of an aqueduct that runs through the area. At the other end, the city hall has commissioned the Velha Guarda organisation to create a dance and music programme to “show young people the traditional composers and musicians of samba”, said Fajardo, who hopes the initiatives will encourage regeneration. “It’s a strategy to bring a new energy to this part of town. The most important thing for any downtown region is to have people living there, but right now we still have problems so it’s more feasible to invite cultural initiatives—then other people will come.”

These investments are part of a broader picture: in total, Rio is banking on receiving around $24bn for city-wide initiatives ahead of the World Cup in 2014 and the Olympic Games in 2016, according to local media.

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