By Nathan M. Walters, Senior Contributing Reporter

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Thanks to the imagination of New York-based artists Maxine Nienow and Nicolina (members of the The Free Art Society), Rio is changing the notion of nautical art in Brazil and introducing a new dimension in the evolution of the street art genre. The project is FlutuArte, and it is responsible for transforming dilapidated fishing boats into mobile works of art.

FlutuArte, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil News
Maxine and Nicolina with a local fisherman, photo by FlutuArte.

Maxine and Nicolina have enlisted the help of both local and international artists to paint the top of fishing boats anchored in the scenic Quadrado da Urca (Urca Square). The area, in the shadow of the picturesque Morro da Urca, is quickly becoming a vibrant public gallery.

Nicolina mentioned the motivation for the project, “Maxine and I had come to Rio to work on different public art projects. One night we were sitting around the Quadrado just imagining what the area would look like if all the boats were transformed into canvases.”

The movement from imagination to realization has been swift, in three months many of the boats have been colorfully painted by local and visiting artists.

For the artists and the fishermen who own the boats, FlutuArte is more than just a public arts project. According to Maxine, “The idea is community improvement, about working with the owners to create something beautiful, creating a sense of pride in the community.”

The artists consult with the owners to create original designs that reflect both the interests of the owner and the approach of the artists. Perhaps the greatest success of the project has been a drastic improvement in the upkeep of the square and surrounding areas.

Urca is known as being one of Rio’s most idyllic locations. With the Sugarloaf (Pão de Açucar) to one side and Botafogo Bay to the other, it is no wonder the area remains one of the most sought after in the city.  Still, slumps in the fishing industry have taken their toll on the boat owners in the harbor, resulting in dilapidated vessels.

Rio Artist Pérola M. Bonfanti painting a boat, photo by FlutuArte.

“A lot of the fishermen have had to change their focus from fishing to tourists trips,” states Nicolina. “We think the artwork on the boats can improve this business for them. People come to check out the paintings and learn more about what the boat owners do. It’s good for Maxine and I because our passion is public art, but it is also a benefit for the owners.”

The project is expected to be completed in the coming weeks, and on June 29th at Quadrado da Urca, there will be a floating exhibition opening, including a procession of the seaworthy works of art (check-in starting at 12:30 PM) followed by a party upon return (4PM) complete with a photo exhibition, live music and performance.

Advance tickets are priced at R$20 with proceeds benefiting the Free Arts Society which provides funding assistance for public art projects. For more info on the project visit FlutuArte’s website.

The work continues daily, the group sometimes hosting paint jams with artists, musicians, and churrasco for helpers, but much is left to be done — not only for the June 29th opening but far beyond as these types of public beautification projects are much needed in Rio.


  1. FlutuFesta, the epic floating party will be Friday June 29th
    at Quadrado da Urca (Avenida Portugal and Urandi)

    Photo expo starts at 11
    boats load at at 12:00
    Boats leave at 13:00
    (more info at the link below)

    Prizes awarded for the best sea themed costumes!

    Buy advance tickets at special prices:

    See you there!


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