Based in Pousos, Portugal, SAMP is a very old institution and music school with a long history of developing socially engaged practice with the very young, the very old and marginalised communities. Its artistic director, Paulo Lameiro, arrived at the school as a student aged eight, and was director of the Lisbon Music School before taking over at SAMP. He leads a team of 40 professionals, and 80% of the organisation’s activities take place outside of the school building. It receives funding from the ministry of education as well as local social institutions including the Hospital de Santo André, and trusts and foundation.
Mission: making music with the community
Pousos itself is a small village of some 11,000 inhabitants, but as it’s only a 10-minute drive from the city of Lieria, in reality SAMP reaches a mixed rural and urban community. For Paulo Lameiro, this has several advantages: “because we belong to a little community the families are very close and we have a lot of people that help us in little or big challenges, but our activities grow so much around us that we work also with urban communities, for instance creating different projects for old people that live in day care in the city”.
Founded in 1873, SAMP has been pursuing community-engaged projects for 25 years; although its “main goal is to work on music with the community”, it has expanded its activities to incorporate theatre, dance, and “a lot of therapeutic and social projects”. The aim is social change, although Lameiro explains that might not be visible or easy to quantify. “All these projects change people: political people, technicians, doctors, psychologists, police, the army, all of these professionals. They have a new way to look to people and this is art’s great power. In an art project it’s much more easy to involve different people with different ideologies, economic conditions and so on, together in one experience – and if you invited these people to become part of the experience they change themselves.”
From birth to death
For Lameiro, each strand of community activity has supported the development of the next, as well as shifted the approach of the music school. He speaks about these activities consecutively, beginning with birth:
1: The babies project
Begun in 1991, the project Berço das Artes, Cradle of Arts, is “where we learn all the things that we use in all our other projects”. It’s designed for babies and children between zero and five years old, with their families, working with music, theatre and dance. This project led to the creation of specific activities for babies with disabilities, including Caixinha das Artes, Little Box of the Arts, and also Amar os Sons, Loving the Sounds, for disabled children aged between six and fourteen.
When the local hospital realised that it was “receiving babies and families with some skills – for instance, autistic babies or children who communicate with specific sounds – and that all these babies came from our school”, it invited SAMP to create a project for the hospital. This led to Allegro Pediátrico, in the paediatrics service and neonatal service, and a “laboratory of music therapy, working with the chronic pain service and oncology”, as well as to a music therapy project within the school itself.
2: New Springtime
This project for the elderly happens in daycare centres and individuals’ homes, situated to a radius of 100km around the school. Through this work, says Lameiro, SAMP discovered that “our society is prepared to take care of children, but we have few things to help us take care of our parents”. The aim with this project is not to flood participants with nostalgia because “it’s more important if old people just feel themselves as they are. We try to share that we can learn new things and become a new person at the end of life, but it’s not easy to help people to understand this. So there is an equilibrium: between old music, memory, work on evoking memories, and mixing this with the contemporary, being together and understanding our world.”
3: Marginalised and vulnerable social groups
New Springtime has led to the development of multiple other projects, including Aqui Contigo, Here With You, for dying people; one for pregnant women; plus “a new kind of work with populations with problems: gypsies, prisoners and social problems in the community”. In prisons, for instance, musicians from SAMP will work with prisoners and guards to stage a Mozart opera, replacing some of the libretto with rap lyrics written by the performers themselves. These projects, says Lameiro, “teach us a lot about the way our society takes care of those of us that make mistakes, and the way that we take care of the differences between each other and the way we work on these differences, in the jail and out of the jail, in the school, in the state, in community projects. This project teaches us a lot about our role in society.”
Working with vulnerable people in this way requires flexibility and responsiveness. Says Lameiro: “I try to prepare our musicians to create new things, to create poetry, to do new music, to play contemporary music. But it’s very hard to find professionals that do this, because particularly classical musicians from conservatoires are very closed in their way. So I have 12 teachers who don’t come from the music school: they are more freelance actors/musicians, and with these professionals it’s possible to begin something new.”
But even with the right professionals, SAMP faces challenges from institutions: from “political directors, social technicians, the clinical team in the institutions.
Some of these people accept new challenges, but some of them don’t want to, they are afraid of this. You need to know all the specific rules of each institution, to learn how to speak to a guard, how to speak to the director and how to speak to the justice minister. So we need to have social and emotional competencies, you need to adapt in each moment because all these people change at each moment, so we need to improvise, and improvise with competency and artistic skills.”
And the risk of burn-out is great. “I have professionals who work with healthy babies and dying babies, with old people happy and old people dying, working in the morning in the hospital and in the afternoon in the mountain. At the end of the week our brains experience so many emotions we need to do psychotherapy for ourselves.”
SAMP remains dedicated to this work because “the power of art is much bigger than therapy power. The arts help people, not only to feel better as human beings and connected with our physical space, the planets, our society, but changes them as people. We observed during 25 years of babies classes that the arts transform us as people, and when we begin to work in the hospital, with the people in the frontiers of life, of health, of social rules, we discover that what we do changes society. It’s not only evaluating social impact: it’s cultural impact, it’s civilisation impact.”
What Lameiro wants to focus on now is reshaping “our teams, so it’s not just social with art, health with art, it’s much more complex. We need a new kind of professionals and we need to prepare universities and high schools to be prepare these professionals not only in the generic way. These projects need to have schools, professionals, official budgets.” He also wants to build up resources for more effective research and evaluation of the work, to be used in particular to prove to the government that this work should be integral to society, not additional. But while all this requires money, he avoids emphasising a need for money: “I believe money is not a problem: ideas and people are the problem, not money. This is not only a budget problem, it’s a way of understanding this work.”