Last year, I have participated as a volunteer in the first edition of the ÚNA festival, which took place in May 2019. Since the very beginning, I found it incredible that such a small group of students had managed to create a brand-new cultural initiative with a strong social, artistic, literary and environmental value. After that first edition, the festival gained the appreciation and the support of everyone involved: because of that, it was decided that a second edition would take place. I was thrilled to hear about that and I wanted to find out more about the festival in general and this second edition in particular: I have therefore had the pleasure of interviewing the lovely founder and director of the ÚNA festival, Isabella Noero.
[qmunicate]: What is the ÚNA festival?
[Isabella]: ÚNA (Uniting Narratives with Arts) is a charity fostering cultural exchanges with traditional and Gaelic-speaking communities in Latin America and Scotland respectively, through the cultural annual ÚNA Festival in Glasgow. ÚNA Festival was established by students and alumni of the University of Glasgow in 2019 and this year it will host its second edition digitally on our platform: ÚNA TraDigital Festival, 23rd-27th July.
ÚNA Festival features a number of filmmakers, artists, activists, poets and musicians from Latin American and Scottish backgrounds, addressing “myth” and storytelling as a way to find parallels between traditions and cultures. Central to this year’s theme will be water, as 2020 marks Scotland’s Year of Coasts and Water and UNESCO World Water Day 2020 in Latin America and the Caribbean.
Although we are primarily a festival celebrating cultures and traditions, we aim to create a safe space for the voices and stories of the people in Scotland and in the Global South alike who continue to be directly and indirectly oppressed and affected by climate change and by the current globalised system.
ÚNA TraDigital is in a way a bite-size teaser of the next physical edition of the festival in November 2021 during COP26 in Glasgow.
[q]: What is the aim of the festival? What values is it attempting to promote?
[I]: Our goal is to foster inter-cultural dialogues between Latin America and Scotland through the arts, sustainable environmental practice and dialogues on the socio-political fabric of both regions. By identifying areas of comparison and contrast between the regions we seek to nurture an open platform for artists and communities from BME and Indigenous communities, underscoring the pivotal role of these groups in shaping and enriching our cultural landscape. In this sense, we do not wish to speak for these communities, but rather, we wish to amplify their autonomous voices within a system that too often conceals their identities from the public view. Providing educational resources is definitely one of the main aims of the festival; following our online festival TraDigital at the end of July, we will be making most of our content accessible online in an ÚNA archive.
[q]: Did the first edition of the festival turn out to be how you expected? Were there any unexpected outcomes?
[I]: The first edition was a wonderful learning curve that allowed us to strengthen ties with the Glasgow University community as well as establish a wider network in Glasgow. As with all first editions of large-scale events, there were some things that turned out differently than expected but on the whole the festival ran smoothly, and the level of audience engagement was extremely encouraging. Especially as a small-scale student-run event, it was heartening to see how enthusiastic our audience was about the programme and that they were keen to see more similar events in the future!
[q]: What are the main changes that you intended to make for the second edition of the festival in comparison to its first edition (before the outbreak of Covid-19)?
[I]: For the second edition we wanted to showcase a similarly diverse and wide-ranging programme in terms of the participating artists and speakers but tie all these elements together in a more coherent way. We really wanted to underline to the audience that a running theme connected all the events within the programme to lend it a sense of continuity. Of course, we have had to significantly adapt our programme and working practices due to COVID; however, many of the original participants will be taking part in the festival digitally, so even though we can’t hold a physical festival, a lot of our original events are still going ahead on our platform TraDigital.
Taking into consideration the difficult times we are in terms of uncertainty and social change, I do believe there is a silver lining in all this pointed towards community building and rethinking the unsustainable globalised “normal” world we were so used to navigate. There is also an overarching sense of solidarity and empathy in the air, which has been rather empowering from the perspective of seeing how open and understanding our artists, volunteers and collaborators have been in this process.
[q]: How is the initiative going to take place during the current pandemic? How will people be able to participate?
[I]: ÚNA is a free event, open and available for all. We will be holding our events through the online platform (www.unafest.com). It is a very accessible approach: you simply sign up to our eventbrite event which they can find on our Instagram, Facebook page or website and we will send them their free ticket and programme with instructions and info on the events and filmscreens.
On the days of the festival people can open our platform and begin an immersive experience with brand-new content! Showcasing the “behind the scenes” aspects of visual arts and music, as the artists themselves are coming from different regions in Central and South America and Scotland, they will be presenting their own songs, creative processes, and answering questions from their own homes during quarantine. This creates a much more intimate approach with our audiences!
I’d say to follow our social media channels to stay tuned on updates, exclusive info and future exciting events!
[q]: Was this initiative personally enriching for you? In what way?
[I]: It still is! ÚNA is in a way a grass-roots initiative growing slowly to become one of Scotland’s primary festivals fostering a rich and extensive cultural and environmental exchange between stories, peoples and regions. I consider ÚNA as a drop of water in a massive river of wonderful environmentally and culturally aware initiatives and it has just been magical to see it gain momentum bit by bit. On a personal level, it has been extremely enriching to continue making mistakes, growing and learning by constantly keeping an open mind and building relationships with people whether they live in major international cities or in settlements in the Andes or the Amazon Rainforest. Our programme grows organically everyday – participants suggest other members from their own networks and connections with other Indigenous communities throughout Central and South America, as well as African diaspora and Gaelic-speaking creatives in Scotland. Diving into every conversation thinking that I’ll learn something new is what drives me to continue opening these spaces of connectivity, spiritual connection through arts, and essentially celebration of life! This is precisely the message and vibe we want to transmit to our young audiences, our agents of change and builders of whatever it is we will call our “new normal” in the months and years to come.
[Viola Ragonese – she/her]
[Photo credit: ÚNA]
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