samamba cultural integration

How Can We Address Loneliness Through Cultural Engagement?

A Case Study on Barcelona’s Ten-Year Municipal Strategy Against Loneliness & Experience Production Studio SAMAMBA.

In an era dominated by digital communication, the paradox of isolation looms large. What was once considered a major stress factor has now evolved into a more insidious issue — digital loneliness. This phenomenon, amplified by the illusion of companionship through screens, obscures genuine social connections and skills, often leading to mental health problems and diminished cognitive performance.

The 2018 European Commission (EC) Policy Brief on Loneliness sheds light on this growing concern, identifying digital communication technologies as one of three key factors contributing to the decline of social connections among adults. According to data from European Social Surveys, 7% of adults across Europe are affected, with Hungary ranking among the three loneliest nations.

Digital loneliness is not merely the absence of physical interaction but a complex interplay of factors that erode the quality of social connections. The challenge lies in bridging the gap between the convenience of digital communication and the need for meaningful, in-person connections.

Barcelona against loneliness

In 2020, the city of Barcelona confronted the pervasive issue of loneliness with an innovative and comprehensive approach, giving birth to the “Barcelona Against Loneliness” initiative. Recognizing the global challenge of loneliness exacerbated by modernity, urban development, and increasing individualism, Barcelona aimed to address this societal ill that touched every age group, from children to the elderly, and especially impacted the younger population, a trend accentuated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The city’s response was the creation of a ten-year Municipal Strategy Against Loneliness (2020–2030), characterized by four strategic, transversal, and complementary lines of action, along with 25 specific objectives.

Municipality’s marketing action to promote “Barcelona Contra La Soledat” in Barcelona’s subway station.

The first line of action focuses on raising awareness and generating knowledge about the impact of loneliness on the well-being of the city’s inhabitants. Communication campaigns were launched to prevent and destigmatize loneliness, disseminating information about available services for emotional care and prevention from both the City Council and social entities. Mechanisms are being deployed to involve citizens in decision-making processes regarding local policies on loneliness.

The second line of action involves deploying resources and services to prevent, detect, and address situations of loneliness. Preventive services aim to foster connections and satisfactory relationships by promoting access to educational, cultural, and leisure activities. Efforts are being made to reduce the digital divide, especially among older people and vulnerable groups, by facilitating face-to-face interactions.

The third line of action seeks to restructure the city and its areas into community spaces to combat loneliness. Public spaces were transformed and naturalized to encourage social interactions and reduce loneliness. The city was made physically and communicatively accessible to promote cohesion and social connections. Care networks were strengthened to detect and reduce loneliness, and alternative housing solutions were explored. Local facilities were reinforced as relational, inclusive, and emotional support spaces, and group support services were expanded.

The fourth line of action aimed to adapt the functioning of the municipal organization to the challenges posed by loneliness. Measures are being implemented to address the loneliness of municipal workers, including the establishment of organizational resilience mechanisms. Services and programs are being reviewed to incorporate an anti-loneliness perspective, and tools and resources were provided to municipal professionals to integrate this perspective into their responsibilities.

Barcelona’s ten-year plan against loneliness stands as a model of a holistic and forward-thinking approach, acknowledging the multifaceted nature of loneliness and providing a framework for communities worldwide to reconnect with themselves, with others, and with the environment.

Arts & culture can help us fight loneliness

Amidst this gloomy landscape, there exists a beacon of hope, that is being applied by Barcelona’s Municipality itself — cultural and creative activities. These pursuits not only serve as antidotes to social isolation but also carry significant potential for enhancing mental well-being and endurance.

By engaging in cultural and creative activities, individuals can break free from the shackles of digital loneliness. It proposes a revolution in the perception of urban culture, positioning creative activities as valid forms of regular mental training, akin to the success witnessed in the body fitness movement.

Cultural engagement has the power to reshape how communities interact in the digital age. By leveraging advanced technologies and design thinking, urban centers can promote and facilitate creative activities that encourage meaningful social interactions.

The shift towards integrating cultural activities into the fabric of daily life is not just a means of combating digital loneliness but a proactive step towards building resilient and connected communities. It recognizes the importance of fostering social bonds through shared experiences, providing individuals with the tools to navigate the digital realm without succumbing to its isolating effects.

The battle against digital loneliness cannot be won through the mere advancement of technology. Instead, it requires a paradigm shift that embraces culture as a powerful tool for forging genuine connections in an increasingly digital world. By harnessing the potential of cultural and creative activities, urban centers can redefine their role in promoting mental well-being, resilience, and a sense of belonging in the face of digital isolation.

Samamba‘s approach to cultural experience

In the context of digital loneliness, the impact of cultural and creative activities gains new significance. However, the challenge is not limited to the broader population but extends to the unique experiences of expatriates facing the trials of integration and the quest for a sense of belonging in a foreign land.

As an expatriate, the realization of the profound impact of native culture on our perception of the world and the difficulties of integration became apparent. Many fellow expats, including myself, found ourselves grappling with a sense of isolation, struggling to connect with the established local community, especially outside the confines of the workplace.

With ample time for self-reflection during the pandemic, I delved into the realms of psychology, mental and emotional health, and sociology — subjects that had always intrigued me. This journey inspired a vision: to create a cultural experience studio that aimed at alleviating the loneliness experienced by expats, fostering a sense of community, and facilitating integration into the local culture.

samamba events
Expats in our gamified ‘Treasure Hunt’ Tour @Montjuic: pick up any trash we find and dispose of it in the appropriate bins, creating a sense of connection and responsibility towards their new home! SAMAMBA, 2023.

Hailing from Brazil, where a playful, happy, adventurous, and creative spirit is ingrained, I embarked on a mission to explore the emotional and social impact of play and imagination on adults. Extensive research revealed positive outcomes, not only in deepening interpersonal relationships but also in building self-confidence. Thus, the idea of producing experiences focusing on enhancing human connections through play, art, storytelling, and co-creativity took shape and SAMAMBA was born.

The purpose of our experiences is to go beyond the conventional notions of social gatherings. It aims to create a unique space where people can engage in activities that tap into the innate human capacity for play and creativity. By harnessing these elements, the event endeavors to not only reduce the feeling of loneliness but also cultivate a sense of belonging among a community.

samamba events in barcelona
Guests in “How To Cubism?” 360° Experience | SAMAMBA, 2023

SAMAMBA recognizes that building connections among people — and especially expatriates — requires more than traditional social interactions. Play, art, storytelling, and creativity serve as universal languages that transcend cultural barriers, providing a platform for expats to connect on a deeper level. Through participatory endeavors, individuals can collaboratively shape their experiences, fostering a sense of ownership and shared identity.

This venture aligns with the broader theme of using culture and creativity to combat digital loneliness. Tailoring the initiative to the specific needs of the expat community exemplifies the adaptability of cultural engagement in addressing unique challenges faced by individuals navigating a foreign environment.

Participatory Art Experiences and Gamified Cultural Tours can transcend physical boundaries, fostering a sense of connection among individuals who most likely would not be interacting without our safe, thrilling, and explorative activities. Moreover, cultural initiatives can be designed to cater to diverse interests, ensuring inclusivity and reaching a broader audience.

samamba art events
Participants Co-Creating a Puzzle Artwork during “A Time For Everything“ Art Experience | SAMAMBA, 2023

In the era of digital communication, where screens often substitute genuine connections, SAMAMBA’s initiatives stand as a testament to the transformative potential of cultural engagement. By creating a space where individuals, especially expatriates, can connect through play, art, storytelling, and creativity, SAMAMBA goes beyond traditional surface-level social interactions. This not only alleviates the feelings of loneliness but also nurtures a profound sense of belonging within a community. As witnessed in activities like the ‘Treasure Hunt’ tour, SAMAMBA encourages participants to take an active role in shaping their experiences, fostering shared identity and ownership.

In essence, SAMAMBA’s commitment to creating a vibrant, inclusive, and engaging cultural space reflects the essence of Barcelona’s strategy against loneliness. Both entities contribute to a paradigm shift that recognizes culture as a powerful tool for forging genuine connections in an increasingly digital world, offering a promising path toward building resilient, connected, and thriving communities. The experiences envisioned here strive to bridge the gap, offering expatriates a pathway to meaningful connections, a sense of belonging, and an exploration of the cultural tapestry of their adopted home.

Originally published on
Main image: Luminarium Installation at Sziget Festival | Photography: XAV XAVIER

About the author

My world revolves around communications, artists, and culture, as I collaborate with numerous creative minds, galleries, venues, production companies, and collectives both in Barcelona and globally. My Master’s degree in Arts & Cultural Management from the Universidad Internacional de Catalunya honed my expertise in navigating the intersection of arts, culture and business.

With a User Experience Design background, I apply design thinking and a user-centered approach to my projects, resulting in unique endeavors such as SAMAMBA: an experience design studio that seeks to enhance human connection and critical thinking through arts, culture, and play. 

Furthermore, I mentor and devote myself to artists to boost their careers and assist them with branding and business affairs such as creating personalized communication materials, designing websites, writing content, refining their artistic branding, and developing effective strategies to foster network expansion through strategic partnerships. 

Last but never the least, I write articles on arts, design, culture, and society, as well as poems, which I perform in open mics and spoken words events as my melodramatic alter ego PAGOO.

xav xavier

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