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Rio de Janeiro city profile | city data

Rio de Janeiro epitomises Brazil for many people, and its hosting of the 2016 Olympics will give it a chance to showcase its vibrant culture for the world to see. Yet the day-to-day realities of managing such a large, dynamic but turbulent city continue to pose challenges. Cultural policy in the city therefore aims both to sustain the city’s cultural assets and to use culture to address wider social and economic tensions.

City data: Key facts

Geographical area: 1,200 sq. km

Total population: 6,320,446

Total national population living in the city: 3.2 %

Education level – with degree level or higher: 14.5 %

GDP (PPP) million: US$ 194,900

Creative industries employment: 2.75 %

City Portrait

For many foreigners, Rio de Janeiro epitomises Brazil. From Copacabana beach and the statue of Christ the Redeemer on Corcovado mountain to the Carnival and the Maracana stadium, Rio’s image has seemed as glamorous as its nickname, cidade maravilhosa, the marvellous city, would suggest. In 2012, UNESCO declared the whole of Rio a World Heritage Site, making it the first city to be recognised in this way. Its profile will grow even further in the next few years as it hosts the 2016 Olympics and the final of the 2014 World Cup. Yet Rio has not been the capital of Brazil since 1960, and is now only the second-largest city in the country. The city acquired a reputation for violence and poverty – memorably captured in the film City of God – that it has only recently begun to shrug off.

The years leading up to the 2016 Olympics give Rio a unique chance to showcase and improve its cultural infrastructure. A large scale urban redevelopment programme is underway in the harbour area. It aims to revitalise public spaces, build new water, sewer and drainage networks, and improve the provision of urban public services. Cultural infrastructure is a key component of the programme: a new museum, the Rio de Janeiro Art Museum (MAR), has already been created and a flagship high-tech science and environmental museum, to be known as the Museum of Tomorrow, is under construction and will open in March 2015. The project, which is designed by the Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava, has attracted support from public bodies at municipal, state and federal levels, as well as from private sector organisations.

A major challenge with such schemes, though, is to avoid displacing the poor who live in the city centre, and ensuring the large investments made actually benefit residents. A social programme, Morar Carioca, has been established to provide people living in areas undergoing redevelopment with alternative housing.

Culture is seen as an important way to address social tensions. It is strongly promoted by the municipal office. This is intended to position Rio as the country’s cultural capital but also to use culture as a tool for urban transformation, economic development and social inclusion. Through five key programmes focused on supporting and implementing local cultural and creative projects, the municipal authorities want to widen cultural production, democratise access to culture, expand the network of public cultural spaces, protect and encourage cultural diversity, and promote local culture at national and international levels. The Creative Economy Support Programme invests in production, commercialisation, infrastructure and training in the sector, with an emphasis on cinema and TV. The private sector is also heavily involved in sponsoring culture in the city, particularly large festivals, cultural infrastructure projects and creative economy developments.

A comprehensive and diverse cultural programme supports these ambitions. It includes a number of large cultural centres, a system of public and mobile libraries, cultural spaces, cinemas, museums, theatres and planetariums. The Arts City (Cidade das Artes) is the city’s leading music venue, based in the western district of Barra da Tijuca. It includes Latin America’s second largest hall for opera and classical music, seating 1,800 spectators, and has recently been redeveloped to function also as a multidisciplinary cultural complex. Since 1993 the municipality has provided residents in the north and west of the city with eight large exhibition tents in which music, theatre and dance performances are offered, as well as various arts training, including capoeira, guitar and yoga, at no cost or for minimal fees. Aimed at tackling social exclusion and revitalising public space, the project has been a way of democratising access to culture while at the same time promoting local artists and sharing the management of cultural venues with civil society organisations.

Rio de Janeiro’s creative economy is an important and growing source of wealth. In music, the city’s impact is growing. It has long had a vibrant music scene, being the home of samba and bossa nova, but more recently funk has emerged as a new mass cultural phenomenon in the city. The writer Heloisa Buarque de Hollanda describes it as ‘the affirmation of the voices of the urban periphery in the cultural market’. Rio is today one of the world’s main producers of funk.

Rio is also the major centre of the audiovisual industries in Brazil, and is home to Globo, Brazil’s largest media conglomerate. In film, the Rio Festival is Brazil’s most important film festival. The prints & advertising company owned by the municipality, RioFilme, has invested in about 300 feature films and 130 short films since 1992. Its mission is to promote and develop Rio’s audiovisual industry, recognising its cultural, social and economic value. In 2010, RioFilme opened the first 3D movie theatre ever to be located in a Brazilian favela: CineCarioca Nova Brasilia, which attracted an audience of nearly 200,000 in its first 33 months of operation.

This project (and others like it) demonstrate Rio de Janeiro’s belief that investing in culture and creativity can help to address some of the city’s deeply ingrained inequalities. The Olympics and the World Cup will allow the rest of the world to see close up how much progress has been made in these areas.