A group of 6 people, 2 playing instruments and 4 clapping, in South America

Royal College of Music’s pioneering arts research in South America

Monday 27 November 2023

How do music and the arts impact wellbeing in South American cities? Dr Tania Lisboa and researchers from the RCM’s Centre for Performance Science lead the way. 

Researchers from the Royal College of Music’s Centre for Performance Science are investigating the role of the arts in the social-cultural urban infrastructure in South America, one of only nine projects in the UK to be awarded a British Academy grant through the Knowledge Frontiers: International Interdisciplinary Research 2022 fund. 

The two-year project began in April 2022 and focuses on two South American cities, Salvador (Brazil) and Cochabamba (Bolivia), where unequal income distribution often leads to isolation, loneliness and poor health and wellbeing. Building on previous research which shows that cultural engagement promotes wellbeing, the project is investigating whether engaging with the arts can change peoples’ perceptions of their own social wellbeing. Findings from the case studies will provide practical recommendations for social change, inform policy making in South America and contribute to the global response to post-pandemic health issues. 

The first phase of the research is now complete and the initial survey of over 300 people has shown that engaging with cultural activities is an important part of feeling connected to other people, but also that barriers still exist to taking part in arts and cultural activities, particularly finance and physical accessibility. Initial cross-cultural comparisons with previous research at the RCM’s Centre for Performance Science further indicates that respondents living in South America may participate in cultural activities more frequently than those in the UK. However, while 97% of the citizens surveyed said that they engage in cultural activities at least once a week, the majority of this engagement was through individual activities such as listening to music and reading.  


The next phase will involve the creation of musical encounters constructed in the local context and based on each city’s musical and cultural traditions. Over eight weeks, participants will engage in group music-making such as song-writing, singing and instrumental playing that facilitates the exchange of views and experiences, and report on how it affects their perceptions of their own wellbeing. 

The project is led by Dr Tania Lisboa, Research Fellow at the Royal College of Music, who comments, ‘I am delighted to lead this project and it is a fantastic opportunity to bring together an interdisciplinary and international team of researchers, musicians and organisations to study the relationship between the arts and urban wellbeing. We have already unveiled some of the current barriers to engagement with the arts in the Global South, but also how important engagement with cultural activities is to social wellbeing. We hope that the next phase of the project – in the form of musical encounters – will be crucial to bringing together citizens who feel isolated, lonely and “othered“ to improve their sense of social-connectedness with others and with their city.‘ 

The international team encompasses expertise from humanities, social sciences, medicine and urban planning including Professor Rosie Perkins and Caitlin Shaughnessy, Royal College of Music; Diana Santiago, Federal University of Bahia, Brazil; Pablo Pérez Donoso and Marcelo Maldonado, Universidad Mayor de San Simón, Bolivia; and André Luiz Peixinho, Federal University of Bahia and Bahiana School of Medicine and Public Health, Brazil.  

Find out more about research at the Royal College of Music’s Centre for Performance Science and the Master of Science in Performance Science course.

This news item appears in the 2023 Autumn edition of Upbeat magazine.

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