School of Advanced Study, University of London’s ‘Stories from El Salvador’
By Dr Ainhoa Montoya, lecturer in Latin American Studies at the School of Advanced Study, University of London
Ainhoa Montoya, from the School of Advanced Study, University of London, reflects on her amazing event which drew together members of the Latin American community. Find out how she placed her target audience at the heart of her public engagement, from choosing a community-focused venue to conducting the event in Spanish.
Can you tell us a little bit about your event?
This storytelling activity explored Salvadoran citizens’ struggle for a national ban on all forms of metallic mining in their country. To do so we employed audio-recorded voices, video and performed narration led by myself and an audio producer. I had already recorded the testimonies of Salvadoran anti-mining activists as part of an academic research project. When I and an audio-producer (with whom I had already worked) heard about the Being Human Festival we thought it could be a fantastic opportunity to disseminate my research findings to a wider audience.
‘Stories from El Salvador’ was held at London’s Latin Village, Seven Sisters Indoor Market, a unique venue with a majority of Latin American and BAME traders, which has been described by the United Nations as a ‘renowned space for social and cultural interactions’. The storytelling of Salvadorans’ struggle served to draw parallels with the difficult experiences undergone by the traders to preserve their market.
Who were your target audience? How did this impact your choice of venue?
We wanted to engage the large Latin American community in London so decided to run the event in Spanish and host it at Latin Village, a predominantly Latin American community market in North London. Among others, we promoted the event to local interest groups and Latin American community organisations, in English and Spanish. We also placed posters and flyers around the market and its vicinity.
Hosting the event at Latin Village, a local Latin American market under threat of closure, gave it a unique atmosphere. It gave attendees the opportunity to draw parallels between the Salvadoran and UK experience of how local populations mobilise legally as well as politically against capitalist ventures that have a direct impact on their immediate habitats and livelihoods.
What worked particularly well in the planning, design and delivery of your events? Did you face any challenges?
The venue worked incredibly well, transporting the audience to Latin America as they listened to the stories. It also enabled us to reach a local audience beyond academia. Linking our event on Salvadoran anti-mining activists to the ongoing campaign to Save Latin Village provided useful opportunities for cross-fertilisation and support. Running the event in Spanish also opened up attendance to a wider Latin American demographic.
I found it gratifying to realise the interest the activity raised, how a diverse audience felt easily drawn into it and appreciated and enjoyed learning about a small country which most knew little or nothing about before attending the event. The Salvadoran catering was also a big hit!
Nevertheless, we did have to work hard to find the best channels to reach our desired audience and, especially, reaching an audience beyond academia. We can become too immersed in our own academic networks and it is challenging to reach those well beyond them.
Do you have any top tips or lessons learned for future Being Human event organisers?
1. Make sure your Being Human activity is one that you are passionate and knowledgeable about. I found the experience incredibly worthwhile, but it did take time to organise so it is important you choose an event that you will want to dedicate time to.
2. Try and build a support team around you – this could come from departmental colleagues, the wider university or external partners. It is difficult to manage all of the details by yourself and really helpful to have others to share responsibility and act as a sounding board.
3. Think carefully about the best venue for your activity and, insofar as possible, try to take it out of the university as this can be a great way to engage non-academic audiences.