Dr María Soledad Montañez discusses the fantastic work she has done with cultural and community partners, exploring the relationships she has built with communities in Southeast London and the lessons she has learned from delivering collaborative events.
Can you tell us a little bit about your event?
The event offered the opportunity to find out about Cartoneras, a unique grassroots Latin American publishing phenomenon, and the Latin American diaspora in London. A presentation by researchers Lucy Bell (University of Surrey) and myself was followed by a hands-on bookmaking workshop where the audience tried their hand at making their own cardboard books (the material that Cartoneras are classically made from), which explored the topic of migration.
We were particularly interested in reaching out to BAME communities in and around Southeast London, showing how the Cartoneras phenomenon was used as a creative engagement project with young Latin Americans in London, and as a way of (re)connecting young people with local, global and transnational issues.
Who were your cultural and community partners for this event and have you developed these relationships?
My research is focused on community engagement and so I regularly work alongside community partners. ‘Cartoneras in London’ served as a closing event for a programme with young Latin Americans in London that I have been delivering with the Indoamerican Migrant and Refugee Organisation, in partnership with the University of Surrey and Southwark Council. We held the event at the Migration Museum which offered the perfect platform and space to celebrate the end of a successful project.
I have been working with my community partners for two years. Building trust takes time and work, patience and understanding of the issues that community partners face (e.g. lack of resources, funding, etc). I have been working hand in hand with them in the design and delivery of community projects, programmes and events.
How did you ensure the event was mutually beneficial for you and your partners?
It is important to understand the needs of the community and support the involvement of the community in the planning of the event, and this might take time. We were ‘lucky’ in the sense that we have been working closely together for some time, and we had delivered previous workshops which greatly helped us to organise the event. By the time we got to the organisation of ‘Cartoneras in London’ as part of the Being Human festival, we had done most of the work. Having said that, I wanted to take some of the pressure off of our community partners, and tried to do most of the paperwork and sort out the logistics.
What were the major successes of this event and do you have any top tips for working with community partners?
Bringing together so many partners (local government, a local museum, a community organisation, two universities and two Arts and Humanities Research Council projects) was perhaps one of the greatest achievements. We had a great turnout, wonderful creations, and good discussions. The event was enjoyable and feedback was very positive. If you are planning on putting an event together with community partners try to always:
Understand the needs of the community and support the involvement of the community in the planning of the project.
Think about the budget. Creating a budget that is mindful of the organisation’s resources is key to having a more equal partnership. Include an administrative fee and overhead costs, and volunteer expenses. If working with families or women, consider including a budget to hire a mobile crèche.