Museu de Favela Community-Led Tours

Community Development through Ethical Tourism: Museu de Favela (MUF) Case Study

With Museu de Favela (MUF) tours in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, local residents are the protagonists, deciding how their community, culture and identity are shared with visitors.
Elisa Spampinato
Elisa Spampinato

Travel Writer at Traveller Storyteller


Museu de Favela Community Led Tours
Photo by MUF


Case Study Title:
Museu de Favela Community-Led Tours

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Museu de Favela (MUF), a locally-owned and managed group offering tourist services, cultural activities and events

Key Lessons:

  • Local residents are key stakeholders AND the protagonists, sharing their knowledge and skills to enable community tour experiences.
  • "Cultural Mediators", by facilitating the interactions between visitors and residents, ensures educational and respectful encounters.
  • Revenues generated through tourism activities are managed by MUF, to ensure fair distribution of benefits across various groups.
  • To ensure safety, MUF employs its local knowledge in navigating the relationships, power dynamics and daily realities of the community members through constant and direct dialogue.
  • Ensuring success of community initiatives requires gaining trust, support and commitment from local stakeholders, which is a long-term process.

Community-Led Tours - Opportunities for and by the Local Residents

Museu de Favela (MUF), on Cantagalo Hill in the centre of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, is a locally-owned and managed group offering tourist services, cultural activities and events in the community, with the mission of serving as “an open air museum” that “transforms the whole favela in a touristic monument which values the cultural collective memory”.

The visitor experience is carefully crafted so that the stakeholders – the local residents – will be engaged in innovative and productive business opportunities articulating their knowledge and sharing their skills. The residents are the protagonists, deciding how their community, culture and identity are shared with visitors.

The example of MUF highlights various opportunities and challenges associated with tourism development, and the importance of local engagement and leadership when sharing the stories of local communities with travelers.

Cultural Mediator - For Community Tourism Success

The MUF does not use the word “guide” but “Cultural Mediator” to refer to the person who accompanies the tourists during the tour. This title highlights the role they play, which goes beyond simply guiding visitors and providing explanations.

The Cultural Mediator facilitates the interactions between visitors and residents, and ensures the tour is conducted in an educational and respectful manner.

Local guide with a group of tourists visiting the favelas
MUF Cultural Mediator with a tour group (Photo by MUF)

Only those who come from the community have the opportunity to become a MUF Cultural Mediator. MUF, through its Núcleo de Acervo e Memoria ("Memory and Cultural Archive Team") and Central Integrada de Visitação (CIVISMUF, which are two of the several technical teams of which the MUF is composed), works with some of the MUF founders who have gone through a guide training course offered by a partner university (at the beginning of the project in 2009) and become official registered guides.

This way, MUF is able to offer training to anyone interested in becoming a Cultural Mediator and ensure quality and consistency in the important roles that Cultural Mediators fulfill.

Fair Distribution of Income - Opportunities from Tourism Development

The presence of tourism in the area is seen by the MUF as a gain for the whole community; an opportunity to boost local development, both directly and indirectly.

The fee for Cultural Mediators is calculated on a percentage discussed and approved by the Directors of the MUF and the Administrative team. Since the Cultural Mediator’s work is linked to the entire chain of production of the services that exist in the community, the whole community benefits from these tours.

This chain includes the local businesses (such as B&B accommodations, cafes, restaurants and shops) as well as the local artisans, performers, musicians and other artists that live and conduct initiatives in the favela.

The project Rede MUF is an example of this. The Rede is a network of artisans who live in the community and who, among other things, work with recycled materials with a focus on ecology, waste management and local environmental protection. Their artworks can be found in one of the shops visited by the MUF tours, with 90% of the sale going to the artisans, and 10% to the MUF.

The Rede MUF’s main goal for the future is to create a professional database where the residents can register themselves and the work they offer and publish it in order to connect them with the potential clients.

Safety Concerns - Challenges Associated with Tourism Development

This is a very complicated issue and there are many factors that need to be taken into consideration when we try to approach the subject. Safety is of course a critical aspect of not only tourism success (due to its impact on the community’s image), but also community well-being in general.

The way the MUF faces this complex subject and maintains its place in the territory is through effective communication with all the segments of the community, and in particular with the local decision makers and power wielders, both the institutional leaders (i.e. the local politicians and community representatives) and the "informal" ones (including those who are powerful because of their illegal influence such as drug trafficking, and are part of the real power dynamics of the community), achieved through a constant and direct dialogue.

O CIVISMUF (the team within the MUF that is responsible for the tours) only delivers a tour if it can guarantee that the route along the planned circuit is totally safe for that specific day. With its constant presence across the territory, the MUF is a recognised and respected entity that is an integral part of the community.

Overcoming Barriers - Making a Difference for Community Tourism Success

We can say that the favourable geographical location of the slum complex was a great condition. Plus, the investment by the federal and local governments has played a key role in initiating the process. These two factors both have been extremely important, but the success of the project lies also in other intangible factors.

In the first place, the determination of the 16 founders (13 of which are residents) in being consistent to the core values of the MUF, contained in the charter of the organization, as well as their persistence shown in transforming those values into actions towards the realization of the collective dream.

Also crucially, by ensuring the transparent use of the money received through their projects and initiatives, always reinvesting in the community, the MUF succeeded, over time, in demonstrating the value of tourism opportunities and in building trust and commitment among the residents.

MUF was initially linked of one of the government-led PAC-Social programmes, which had been investing in slums of the city of Rio de Janeiro and initiating different kind of social projects. Because of this, some residents had a cynical, mistrusting attitude towards MUF in the initial stages of the project.

Few months after its launch, the MUF institutionalised itself, becoming a private association of community interest, which has made it easier for community members to support and participate in the project and, above all, it gave to the MUF the full independence of action needed to perform in accordance with their own values.

There are many such factors that have made MUF’s success possible: the participatory planning process to set up the project; continuous consultation with community members; the clear and well-organized management structure; and the effective monitoring and evaluation systems.

Meeting of resident association members and local tour guides
Meeting with resident association members and local tourists guides (Photo by MUF)

It's important to understand that all these require time, and that it is essentially a step-by-step process that supports and inspires the participants through the daily work done collectively. A key lesson for any community initiative, however, is that the relationships you build over time with the local stakeholders will be vital to success, and that they need to be built on the foundation of trust and responsibility.

For example, MUF works with volunteers, and not only acknowledges the importance of their work in contributing to the community, but also takes their personal responsibility very seriously. They have established clear rules for the volunteers, such as a minimum amount of time of commitment (4 months) and weekly timetable for each volunteer. The volunteers are expected to have the same commitment, dedication and adherence to their mission that they are putting in their daily work.

This, again, is only possible because of the trust and reputation MUF has established within the community.

Sense of Ownership and Belonging - The Importance of Local Engagement

Over time, the constant dialogue with the residents and the consultation process in place for every decision that will affect and involve the territory, made the locals give away the initial resistance and come to understand the dream that the core group of the MUF had and, gradually, the whole community started to share in the same dream, making it their collective dream.

And when there is a problem related to MUF's activities, they implement a mediation approach, engaging all parties in a cooperative learning process.

Because of these steps MUF has taken to carefully and respectfully engage community members, the residents feel good about representing their territory to participate in the project, because they understand they are an essential part of their own development.

The process of creating the collection of the murals of the Casas-Telas circuit is probably the best example to understand how the sense of belonging to a collective identity was created and reinvigorated.

This is the way the paintings of the Casas-Tela tour came to life. A local graffiti artist (ACME) carefully designed the current circuit which was planned so that it could cross the all three communities which form the slum complex (Cantagalo, Pavão-Pavãozinho), and with the help of other artists, created the murals.

The creation of these murals - showing memories collected through interviews with the older residents of the community – was a result of the dialogue between the owner of the house, the MUF and the artists, discussing together the content of each mural, displaying four themes related to the local memory: 1) Origin and history, 2) Leisure, Culture and Coexistence, 3) Difficulties of Survival, 4) points of Historical interest.



Visual expressions of community culture, history and identity (Photo by MUF)
Visual expressions of community culture, history and identity (Photo by MUF)