Once you adjust to life on the San Antonio soundstage, you lose your
sense of wonder at the inevitable path-crossings. So I wasn't surprised
to run into Mayor Phil Hardberger and his wife Linda at Central Market
the day after Luminaria 08, the inaugural City-sponsored "citywide"
arts festival. The event, conceived, funded, and produced in months,
was heavily criticized by yours truly for
kickstarting with monies from the HOT fund, and for
lacking a meaningful application and selection process.
I wasn't bitching from a place of naivete. I understood that this was
to be the Super Target of art events (I say this as a Super Target
customer). Or maybe it's better to call it a Cultural Fiesta (and I say
that as a great
lover of Fiesta). The idea is to expose San Antonians (short-term) and
the rest of the world (long-term, and think hotel packages) to the
breadth and depth of our local cultural offerings, yielding more local
self-esteem, great copy in far away publications, and enormous crowds
as time goes by.
If you set the bar relatively low (or define success in general terms),
last night was a home run: A big crowd (although, having attended many
a Fiesta event, I'm skeptical of the 100,000 number I heard secondhand
from the Luminaria camp), good live music, happy people, stuff to do.
But if you measure it against the possible, the first Luminaria could
have been held in 09 (when our Mayor would still be in office) and been
all that the hyperbole promised.
I think Luminaria has significant potential value, but it needs to
define itself. In art you get what you curate for, and this was not a
curated event. The traveling world already knows we throw a great party
-- if that were your goal, you'd come for Fiesta. We also put on some
fine musical/cultural events, and thanks to the Fall Arts Festival
package, it's easy to visit for the Accordion Festival, etc. And if
you're a contemporary art fan, one night, no matter how grand, can't
compete with the variety and quality on display during Contemporary Art
Month. If I were booking a flight from NYC, i.e., I'd be coming in for
the opening of the annual Blue Star show, curated this year by David
Rubin, and the myriad other happenings that weekend. We can always use
another reason to get out of our houses and celebrate the specialness
that is SA (and I say that with complete sincerity; Saturday night was
a blast), but why not ask for more?
Nonetheless I congratulated the Mayor when I saw him this afternoon,
and I meant it sincerely. The family and I headed downtown a little
past 7 yesterday evening and had a great time wandering from Presa to
Alamo Plaza and beyond. While Barrio Massive was jamming at the
intersection of Broadway and Peacock Alley -- with an altar made of
Jesse Trevino's larger-than-life portrait of Mexican-American singer
Rosita Fernandez nearby, and a flashy set of brilliant art cars behind
them -- it was a perfect San Anto night. Peter Zubiate and Katie Pell's
excellent work was a step away and while many of the other usual
suspects and I crossed paths, I also bumped into hundreds of unfamiliar
faces, who seemed to be having a grand time.
Were they looking at the art? One of the better art hubs, I thought,
was the video installations in the Kress Building, particularly the
back-room Marlin Lounge -- but when I stopped in it was relatively
empty. The radio-broadcast lounge looked to have a decent crowd around
8 for its live performances, but when we returned to the
Broadway-Peacock intersection after Barrio Massive had finished their
set, we almost didn't recognize it. The crowds had left with the music.
This is just one anecdote, and I didn't attend any of the stage
performances at Jump-Start and Magik, i.e., which leads to my list of 3
things Luminaria can do to make next year's event worlds better (this
is off-the-cuff; I'll add to it as time goes by, and invite you to do
1. Use our fantastic spring weather to the festival's advantage: Don't
isolate any of the stage performances in venues off the main Luminaria
paths. Every corner is an opportunity to see dance, a short play or
excerpt, etc. If there are events at Magik and Jump-Start, i.e., Cirque
du Soleil caliber street eye candy should guide us the entire way (and no,
colored lights are not adequate).
2. Organize the "citywide" daytime info by neighborhood, region, or
type in the PR and guide materials. A big list of places that have
special events is like the all-you-can-eat buffet. Only the glutton and
the picky eater discover the hidden gems.
And most importantly,
3. Schedule the main thoroughfares and venues by invitation and
curation. Vary the curators every year for variety and to avoid ongoing
favoritism. Take come-one come-all applications for the spokes and
secondary venues, and organize them carefully for maximum experience.