Favelas in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil


Favela Painting is the name of a series of community artwork in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, painted by Dutch artists Jeroen Koolhaas and Dre Urhahn (Haas&Hahn) with the help of local people. Favela Painting is supported by the Firmeza Foundation (based in Netherlands) in the creation of striking artworks in unexpected places. It collaborates with the local community to use art and color as a tool to inspire, create beauty, combat prejudice and attract attention. The Foundation facilitates the worldwide realisation of art interventions, and looks after their maintenance. It also develops relevant spin-off projects in the areas of education, socio-economic, social support and development of local people involved in the projects. The project is mainly funded by grants and donations and the main idea is to collaborate with the local people to create community artwork.



Brasilian Context · Favelization

At the beginning of the 20th century, the agriculture was the main economic goal for the families in Brazil, produced in the small towns as a familiar entrepreneurism. In the second half of the 20th century, the industrialization of the economy in Brazil provoked the movement of thousands of inhabitants from the countryside to the cities.  The large influx of people and the lack of planned urban development to host the new housing request provoked loss of control in the occupation of the ground and the auto-construction of housing. This loss of control caused a strong crisis in the new metropolis, which were developed the zoning of the cities by ‘ghettos’ depending on the economic status (‘favelization’). The new neighborhoods in the city did not have the construction knowledge and the economic feasibility to build their houses, then they started to use non-manufactured materials, using the things that they had at hand, generating informality in the urban planning, conquering the public surface without developing public infrastructures and others urban problems which have hindered from planning a sustainable urban development.

At least half of the coming Third World urban population explosion will be credited to the account of informal communities. Two billion slum dwellers by 2030 or 2040 is a monstrous, almost incomprehensible prospect, but urban poverty overlaps and exceeds the slums per se. Indeed, Slums underlines that in some cities the majority of the poor actually live outside the slum stricto sensu. UN ‘Urban Observatory’ researchers warn, moreover, that by 2020 ‘urban poverty in the world could reach 45 to 50 per cent of the total population living in cities.



One fifth of the population of Rio de Janeiro lives in Favelas. Nowadays, economic opportunities in the cities of Brazil and the cultural development of the society had led to a development in the favelas and cultural and education intervention in its social structure. Architecture and Urban Planning are being used as a tool of development in the favelas, solving the main initial problems, creating an interesting network of public spaces, designing community centers, schools, stimulate the traditional trade, preserving the environment and offering credits banks for education and professionalization of the citizens.

In other way, the high levels of Tourism in the city of Rio de Janeiro, thanks to the publicity of the international sport events (World Football Cup 2014 and Olympics Games 2016), make the streets of the city in the main postcard of itself. For that, it is growing a new urban art and new goals for favelas to beautify for this macro-events. In order of that, the informality of the establishment, the potential of culture and arts, and the strong social movements in the cities make easier the possibilities of this urban art, attracting international artist to work in Brasil.

This is what happened with two dutch young artist in 2005, when they started to work together for a project in the favela Vila Cruzeiro in Rio de Janeiro.

Social Issues and Controversies

The strong economical difference in the population of Brazil makes very difficult the possibilities to develop a sustainable economic with the equality of opportunities. People, who live in favelas, have limited their opportunities to develop themselves. Generally, they don’t have high education, and there is a high percentage of illiteracy among the adult people. This fact is worsening because of the lack of public infrastructures for culture and education, which increase the inequality and make more difficult their development. The opportunities of entrepreneurism are limited and the political interventions are insufficient. There is also the traditional social relationship between favelas and organized crime (drugs dealing, kidnapping, murder, …), even among people in favelas, which does not help to eliminate the bad concept of society who lives in them.


In the last years, the political decisions of pacification in favelas of the main cities in Brazil, Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, have improved the image and the concepts of favelas. The creation of Policia Militar has managed the pacificaçao of the main favelas in Rio de Janeiro (one of the firsts was Dona Marta) through the Batalhão de Operações Policiais Especiais (BOPE), who use military strategies to eliminate the organized crime, with all the consequences.

After the pacificaçao of the favelas, there are several interventions by different agents to keep the main Human Rights and become the favela into a peaceful area: urban infrastructures, schools, NGO’s, workshops, housing improvements, outsourcing, entrepreneurism facilities…

Firmeza Foundation is a NGO which develop the cultural exchange between Brazil and the Netherlands. The main projects are taken by Favela Painting in the city of Rio de Janeiro, in pacified favelas. They are in charge of keeping the urban art works in Vila Cruzeiro and Dona Marta, and develop the social workshops and entrepreneurism in the area. Also, they search for external funding to make the projects reals.

Agents and Actors involved


NGO Firmeza Foundation

Favela Painting (multidisciplinary team founded by Jeroen Koolhaas and Dre Urhahn)

20 young people who live in the favela hired to work on it and volunteers of the favelas.

Citizens from Vila Cruzeiro  and Dona Marta, favelas from Rio de Janeiro, Brasil.

AkzoNobel (company of paintings, The Netherlands)

Rob Admiraal (tattoo designer)

The Philadelphia Mural Arts Program is pleased to serve as a fiscal sponsor for the Project.

1.711 backers in CROWDFOUNDING are involved for the recent project in Rio de Janeiro.

Social Networks (facebook, youtube,…) become the project into an international social commitment.

IBISS (Brazilian Institute for Innovations in Social Heathcare) is a local organizsation fighting social exclusion in over 50 favelas in Rio.


In 2005 Firmeza Foundation NGO went to Brazil to shoot “Firmeza Total”, a documentary about the youth in favelas (slums) of Rio and Sao Paulo. In this work, they were very impressed about the topography in favelas. They imagined how beauty could be increased by painting the houses’ facades.

In 2006 they came back to Brazil to do a research for this project. They visited many favelas to find the best suitable place to paint.


Three artworks have been completed under Favela Painting as of 2013. In 2006, the Dutch artists Haas&Hahn conceived the idea of creating community-driven art interventions in Brazil. Named ‘Favela Painting’, their first efforts produced two murals which were painted in Vila Cruzeiro, Rio’s most notorious favela. The first mural is entitled ‘boy with kite’, next to a sport field and has a surface of 150 m2. The second mural proved to be more challenging, with a surface of 2000 m2. Painted on a staircase in the heart of Vila Cruzeiro, it depicts a flowing river with Koi Carp fishes in the style of a Japanese tattoo, designed together with Rob Admiraal. The artworks for the murals are painted in collaboration with the local youth. They were training and hiring as painters. They took part in the tricks of the trade and were empowering by contributing to the development of the artwork. These projects received worldwide press coverage and have become points of pride both within the community and throughout Rio de Janeiro.

Using a grassroots-based bottom-up approach has proven to be a key factor in the success and final results. In order to generate support and approval for their activities, the artists always make the favela their home. By spending their time within the local community, they’re able to connect to their surroundings more easily, winning the hearts and minds of people. In their point of view, the inhabitants of the favela are a legitimate part of the city, but not seen that way from the outside. Using these beliefs, they work with the locals to paint the artworks, literally helping them changing the face of their community. Over the years, inhabitants of the favela’s have become aware of this method, and are actively requesting their favela to be turned into an artwork. As one woman from Vila Cruzeiro said: ‘Eu não gosto de ver museus, mais agora eu moro em um’.


Past Project Details:


LOCATION: Vilacruzeiro, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

DATE: 2006-2007

AREA: 150 m2

boy with kite


LOCATION: Vilacruzeiro, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

DATE: 2008 (8 months)

AREA: 2.000 m2

Mural in VIla Cruzeiro


LOCATION: Praça Cantão, Dona Marta, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

DATE: 2010 (1 months)

AREA: 7.000 m2

o morro
END USER: 34 houses and nearby favela residents
IMPLEMENTING AGENCY: Soldados Nunca Mais Program of the Ibiss Foundation
ARTISTS: Jeroen Koolhaas, Dre Urhahn, and young men living in the rio Favelas
FUNDER: Grants, donations, sponsorships
COST:  467.430 RS  (150.000 €)

New Project Details:

NAME: BACK TO RIOvideoyoutube backtoriofp
LOCATION: Vilacruzeiro, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

DATE: 2014-201X

BENEFACTORS: 19.511 citizens

AREA: 5.593 houses


back to rio

Strategies and Levels of Intervention


One of the main goals of this art intervention is to create an identity of the favela through urban art. To manage this goal, Firmeza Foundation made participative the Favela Painting project, taking the citizens part on the decisions.  Through community workshops, they got involved citizens in the artwork. Young people were hired to do the paintings and they got professional knowledge of construction and as painters.

Together with these workshops, they promoted workshops of photography and public art among the citizens.


The network of public art generated in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro (Escadaria de Santa Tereza de Selarón, Favela Painting, JR Favela…) provoked the ambicious of photography, art, paintings and construction capability in the citizens. To connect the public space of favelas with an ‘artgrid’ around the city of Rio de Janeiro makes touristic attraction for foreigns. Integrate the tourism in them may be developed as an outsourcing tool to change the point of view of favelas and their citizens.

Eu não gosto de ver museus, mais agora eu moro em um. I don’t like to visit museums, but now I live in one.

An old woman in Vila Cruzeiro.


Color is a common technic in Brazilian culture. Use color to improve the urban image of housing and public space in favelas, preserve the identity of people in Brazil and make it stronger. In order to paint the houses, the facades are improved by cement layer, which improve the interior conditions of housing and durability.

It collaborates with local people to use art as a tool to inspire, create beauty, com­bat prejudice and attract attention.



The improvement of the favelas view from the city center promotes the touristic attraction in favelas, which help to externalize the commerce and the opportunities of entrepreneurism. Before the pacificaçao, people from favelas did not have opportunities to develop their commerce more than the neighbor. Now the connections between the informal and formal city are advantage for both of them.

Successes and Failures

Since Favela Painting was painting in Vila Cruzeiro in the work of ‘Kid with Kite’, the national and international media show interest for the project. IBISS (Instituto Brasileiro de Inovações em Saúde Social) program of education in favelas, wanted to join their projects to make them more extensive in their goals to the whole favela.

In 2006 Favela Painting was exhibited in the Boijmans van Beuningen Museum (Rotterdam) and in Studio Apart (Amsterdam) in 2007, thanks to the pictures taken by the field workshops in Vila Cruzeiro. The artworks that were shown at the exhibitions were auctioned by Christies during different events organised by Favela Painting.

After that they got money to make real the project ‘rio cruzeiro’ in the same district. In Dona Marta with the art intervention in the Praça do Cantão, they finished the most important work increasing the area. All the facades were painted and, thanks to the location next to Copacabana beach, the project became very famous around the world.

In the last years, Favela Painting project has been exhibited in Germany, Miami, Netherlands, etc, in media as Art Magazines, Conferences, Exhibitions and Newspapers (Kallenbach Gallery, Schauraum für Kunst in Berlin, Storefront for Art and Architecture, Shenzhen Biennale, Miami Art Basel 2013).

presentations news exhibitionsmagazine 

Recently, they have managed the funding to paint the whole favela of Vila Cruzeiro. They will start next year.

Although we have vast experience working in Rio de Janeiro, the city can sometimes hold unexpected surprises. If for any reason it becomes too challenging or unsafe to execute the project in the planned area of Vila Cruzeiro, we will relocate to an equally visually stunning alternative location and still fulfill all project goals as described. Our projects have never gone exactly as planned, but have always yielded results greater than expected. We are flexible, dedicated and work with a great team. We’re excited and ready to go.




Favela Painting was born from a small project in the favela Vila Cruzeiro, painting a facade next to a sport infrastructure. It developed in another art intervention in the stairs of the neighborhood. Visual beautification, job creation and positive attention boost pride and self-esteem and help bridge social gaps in a creative and artful manner. The projects create a voice for the inhabitants, influence public opinion and media, and can help to change perception and remove stigma.

DSCN5009 DSCN5007davidfontcuberta, january 2014



· favelapainting.com

· Brazilian Institute for Innovations in Social Heathcare


· plataformaarquitectura.cl/2008/11/03/favela-painting/

· ecosistemaurbano.org/english/open-source-cities-series-3-favela-painting/

· archdaily.com/62689/favela-painting/

· kickstarter.com/projects/1953408692/painting-an-entire-favela-in-rio-de-janeiro

· ‘favelapainting’ channel in YOUTUBE.COM

· ‘firmezatotalfilm’ channel in YOUTUBE.COM

· openarchitecturenetwork.org/projects/dlygad2_painting_favelas

· arch2o.com/favela-painting-haas-hahn/

· telegraph.co.uk/news/picturegalleries/

· riotimesonline.com

· estadao.com.br/

· edition.cnn.com/2010/WORLD/americas/

· wikipedia.org/wiki/Favela_Painting

· designother90.org/solution/praa-canto-favela-painting-project/



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