PechaKucha 15: It’s Not Where You Are, It’s Who You’re With

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PechaKucha San Antonio nearly packed the house at the Carver Community Cultural Center‘s Jo Long Theatre Tuesday night.

“I was a little bit disappointed at how many of you have never been to the Carver,” said Carver Executive Director Yonnie Blanchett after a sea of hands were raised after emcee and WOAI-TV anchor Randy Beamer asked, “How many of you are here for the first time?”

“Hopefully that will change … hopefully you’ll hear something that will make you want to come back,” Blanchett said of the theatre that was established in 1905. “This season we’re presenting some of the most exciting and innovative artists on the scene today. Grammy award winner jazz artist Gregory Porter, Grammy nominated Heritage Blues Orchestra, the legendary Dianne Reeves, the list just goes on.”

While the Carver presents award-winning music, dance, and theater performances year-round, the educational programming is equally robust. Weekend classes, residencies that allow international artists to interact with the public and school districts, summer camps, and more can be found at thecarver.com.

PechaKucha San Antonio is a moveable feast, one that spotlights different venues around the city that many newcomers – and even long-time San Antonians – have never visited. May’s event spotlighted the Guadalupe Theater on the Westside and last night PechaKucha San Antonio brought more than 250 attendees to enjoy an iconic Eastside performance space.

(Full Disclosure: The Rivard Report is a media sponsor of PechaKucha San Antonio.)

Let’s dig into the presenters:

Mitch Hagney, Urban Farmer

LocalSprout CEO Mitchell Hagney expertly monitors his hydroponic crops. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

LocalSprout’s Mitchell Hagney expertly monitors his hydroponic crops. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

Going first is never easy, but local hydroponic farmer Mitch Hagney started the night off with an informative, yet light-hearted look into the world of urban agriculture. Hagney founded LocalSprout in 2013 and the “business has been growing as fast as the plants.”

LocalSprout grows arugula, lettuce, tomatoes, kale, in vertical columns inside a converted shipping container. There are no pesticides or herbicides. However, he said, decisions on what to grow are a lot harder to make with such limited space.

“We discovered that building good, personal relationships with specific  restaurants and growing exactly what they needed instead of deciding to grow something and then market it out – that was the correct way to do this,” Hagney said.

Hagney is working with the San Antonio Food Bank and its unused greenhouse to grow hydroponic produce. The greenhouse bounty will provide the Food Bank with a regular source of fresh produce once the 600 plants started last week reach maturity. The greenhouse also has become an educational tool and a place for Venture Lab to host classes.

“There are all sorts of ways to produce good agriculture in cities,” he said. “Things like this teach kids about the surrounding environment– not just agriculture, but the entire system that is all around us.”

David Ericsson, Slumlord Trillionaire

David Ericsson found his architectural damsel in distress in Dignowity Hill, an abandoned building in the middle of a residential block on Pine Street. It was a fixer-upper, but he saw potential in its bones – and an atrium.

“I filled about 10 sketchbooks … I had a new idea every 10 seconds.” he said. “But the atrium (idea) always stuck.”

David Ericsson's Dignowity Hill project. Courtesy photo.

David Ericsson’s Dignowity Hill project. Courtesy photo.

Throughout the design and construction process, he received notices from the City. He had to build a security fence, and he discovered plumbing and structural problems were more serious than expected. Ericsson said he learned a lot about himself and what he wants in a home. A former apartment dweller, he realized his new house was a blank slate, one that left him with more questions than answers.

Today he lives in the nearly completed space with landscaping a facade work still to be done.

“I would have never done it if I knew what was going to happen,” he said. “If you are going to do it, stay really realistic and roll with it.”

Erica Salinas, Innovation Engineer

“Let’s say you’re walking down the street and $15 falls out – would you even notice?” Erica Salinas asked the audience. “Honestly, I might not.”

For more than two billion people in the world, $15 is actually more than a week’s pay, Salinas said, and the risk of losing that money is high. One of the first steps to enabling the poor to “climb the financial pyramid” is to give them a place to put their money. During her travels in Kenya, Mali, and Burkina Faso, she found that Mobile Money does just that, allowing anyone with a cell phone to store and transfer money. More than 75 percent of Kenyans use Mobile Money.

Presentation slide via Erica Salinas.

Presentation slide via Erica Salinas.

“In one fell swoop, we’ve met the most basic financial need,” she said.

Mobile Money also allows for setting up saving plans, complete with incentives, and an easy connection to micro-lenders and emergency loans. Once these basic elements – the ability to securely store, spend, save, and transfer funds – are met, families and micro-entrepreneurs can thrive. Salinas holds a bachelors and master’s degree in electrical engineering and computer science from MIT. She dedicated her presentation to Ravindra Ramrattan, a friend gunned down in a terrorist attack in Nairobi.

“He dedicated his life to financial inclusion and ended up giving his life for this cause,” she said.

Sarah Brooke Lyons, Photographer/International Volunteer

In June 2014, Sarah Brooke Lyons, traveled to Burkina Faso as part of an Oak Hills Church mission trip. Her photographs from her second trip to Africa focus the everyday life of people living in Dano, a small village in a country with the lowest literacy rate in the world. About 75 percent of Dano’s economy is based on agricultural production, Lyons said.

“There is a very strong sense of community and family and a really lovely pace (of life) that slows everything down,” she said. “There is a relationship emphasis – a long time spent talking and learning about how your family is doing before you get to any business.”

Welcomed by this energy, the Richter family began repairing water wells in 2010 and subsequent missions have continued this work with Oak Hills Church, which also provides educational and medical help – especially for infants and young children. Most of the water wells in the area are more than 15 years old.

Burkina Faso. Photo by Sarah Brooke Lyons.

Burkina Faso. Photo by Sarah Brooke Lyons.

“It’s really the most wonderful thing to see a village that’s been drinking polluted water and spending their days traveling to get clean water to (now) have access (to clean water) … It’s joy,” she said. “They’d break out into song and dance.”

Volunteers have helped meet some of the community’s nutritional needs by planting non-native Moringa trees, also known as “the tree of life,” which has concentrated levels of vitamins in its leaves.

“In spite of all the dire circumstances that are going on in Burkina Faso and Ghana, it’s such a beautiful county filled with life and love and passion and color,” she said after sharing several stories of the people she met and photographed. “The best thing I can do is tell their stories.”

Houston Eaves, Agave Connoisseur

As beverage director of The Esquire Tavern and El Mirador, “I drink like it’s my job because it is,” said Houston Eaves.  A member of the Tequila Interchange ProjectHouston lives by the mantra, “Agave is vida. Agave is life.” 

Presentation slide via Houston Eaves.

Presentation slide via Houston Eaves.

He opposes modern distillation methods practiced  by big brands such as Jose Cuervo and Sauza. He shows a slide of large metal containers in a warehouse: “This is called a diffuser and it is an abomination of the cultural tradition of agave distillation.” This process leaves them susceptible to disease and failure as a result of mono-cropping. Eaves said the real roots of the agave spirit are not intended for mass production. A small batch has history.

“This industry is all family based,” he said, because the process can all be done by hand. “They’re doing it the way their grandfathers taught them … it’s something that is being lost because we’re drinking a whole bunch of shitty tequila.”

He recommends Tapatio, Fortaleza, Saber El Azul, and Ocho.

Shanon Shea Miller, Preservationist

“Preservation is about so much more than regulations,” said Shanon Shea Miller. “Smart preservation is a really powerful tool in our community.”

Inspired by historical tours taken with her grandfather in Washington D.C., Miller’s career in historic preservation has taken her all over the country, invaluable perspective in her job as director of the City of San Antonio’s Office of Historic Preservation. Preservation encourages development that respects sense of place, pride in history, sustainability, walkability, neighborhood revitalization, and more, she said.

“Our built environment is so much a part of who you become later on,” Miller said. As a founding board member of the Power of Preservation Foundation, she also plays a large role in the Student Together Achieving Revitalization (STAR) program, which helps owners restore property and teaches students the technical and philosophic principles of what it means to truly “restore” a home.

And then there are the parties, of course. The Foundation holds popular yearly fundraisers and this year’s will be held at the Women’s Pavillion in Hemisfair Park on Oct. 23.

“Preservation isn’t just about the Alamo or the River Walk, it’s about the places that bring back memories of our lives,” she said.

Presentation slide via Shanon Shea Miller.

Presentation slide via Shanon Shea Miller.

Blanquita Sullivan, Textile Storyteller

San Antonio-native and fashion designer Blanquita Sullivan is constantly telling a story with needle and thread. Translated through silhouettes, patterns, prints, and colors, she’s telling you the story of Biqui, a fictional character she created.

Biqui, whose namesake is the childhood nickname of Sullivan, is an American artist, painter, and designer living in Paris. She prefers using typewriters, opening a window instead of turning on the AC, and lives above a Chinese restaurant owned by Miss Ling. Her many suitors are often yelled at by Miss Ling.

Blanquita Sullivan's Bonjour Biqui storyline and clothing line.

Blanquita Sullivan’s Bonjour Biqui storyline and clothing line.

“I really got carried away with it,” Sullivan said. Most of the story comes through in photography of her clothing designs for her online clothing store, Bonjour Biqui. Photos taken at her home and around her neighborhood typically employ family and friends as models for a more intimate storyline.

While researching her character, Sullivan stumbled upon a real-life Biqui.

Her real name was Suzanne Valadon, a painter and “seamstress” in the 1890s who had a love affair with Erik Satie. Satie went on to write a popular song, “Bonjour, Biqui, Bonjour” about her. She was a model for Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and other famous painters. The final, fascinating coincidence of the evening was that prints of paintings of Valadon – er, Biqui – were all over her home as she was growing up.

“I’ve been looking at her for most of my life without realizing it,” Sullivan said.

Michael Cirlos, Street Photographer/Visual Storyteller

What started as a Facebook page and one photographer’s mission to photograph 10,000 people in New York City has become a worldwide photography movement. Humans of New Yorkfounded in 2010 by photographer Brandon Stanton, has sparked countless photographers to establish their own “Humans of” websites and Facebook pages for their own cities – including San Antonio.

Humans of San Antonio (HOSA) is led by local photographer and foster care social worker Michael Cirlos. If you spend enough time downtown, you’ve probably seen him walk up to a stranger and take their picture.

For Cirlos, HOSA was the culmination of a journey started many years before.

“I didn’t always love San Antonio, in fact I hated San Antonio for most of my life,” he said. He left to travel and study psychology abroad where he picked up a passion for “community volunteerism, journalism and bicycle riding.” Ultimately, though, he came home for a girl.

“My efforts were short-lived – but, hey, everyone’s young and dumb once,” he said, smiling.

He graduated from UTSA and eventually discovered “how to love San Antonio again.”

His work as a substance abuse counselor was a wake-up call. “I wasn’t as open-minded as I thought I was … Instead of thinking that people just make bad decisions I realized that there are a ton of variables that can affect people in ways I never would have thought.”

Photo by Michael Cirlos/Humans of San Antonio.

Photo by Michael Cirlos/Humans of San Antonio.

He wanted to give back to the community by sharing stories and lessons of people living in downtown San Antonio.

“The city is evolving at a pace that is sometimes not visible to the naked eye,” he said, seeming to hold back his emotions. “But when you take a closer look and go outside what is familiar, you will find that there is more to offer.

“If I’ve learned anything at all from the Humans of San Antonio project, it is that it’s not where you are or what you’re doing. It’s who you’re with.”

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Humans of San Antonio, Today is Human Awareness Day

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2 thoughts on “PechaKucha 15: It’s Not Where You Are, It’s Who You’re With

  1. Amazing event last night. Some of the most inspirational speakers yet. They’re going to be hard to beat next time!

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