Commissioners Sort Through 700 Events to Emphasize Tricentennial High Points

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The Tricentennial Commission celebrates the future 300th birthday of San Antonio with inflated balloons.

Scott Ball / Rivard Report

San Antonio 300 balloons rise above the crowd during the 2016 Fiesta Flambeau Parade.

Acknowledging media and community criticism of the formidable number of events – more than 700 – listed on its 2018 calendar, the Tricentennial Commission got to work Friday setting the criteria for which events should be elevated and promoted as more relevant to the observance of the city's 300th birthday.

These "once-in-a-lifetime events" will receive focus throughout the year with marketing and eventually marked on the commission's online calendar as such, said Carlos Contreras, the assistant city manager who took over leadership of the troubled commission less than eight weeks ago.

Addressing the calendar is the first order of business for the commission enjoying a largely successful – and chilly – New Year's Eve celebration Sunday night. On Day 5 of 2018, commissioners directed Tricentennial staff to begin the arduous task at hand: combing through and prioritizing those 700 or so events.

That's not to say that some events aren't as worthwhile as others, Contreras said, but there needs to be some way for San Antonians and visitors to discern between one-of-a-kind occurrences marking the city's 300th year and those that would have happened regardless of the Tricentennial – annual events, fundraisers, weekly lectures, yoga classes, spaghetti dinners, etc. Exceptions could be made for other major anniversaries.

"The goal is not take anything off the calendar," he told commissioners, "but how do we highlight these [Tricentennial events]?"

Much of the work on Friday also involved commissioners reviewing proposed criteria that will be used to select the highlighted events. Tricentennial staff came up with this preliminary list:

  • Does the event/activity specifically link to the founding of San Antonio, geographically or civically? (i.e. 1718, 1731)
    • Will it likely yield information important to San Antonio's history or prehistory?
    • Is it associated with the lives of significant persons or cultures in our past? (forward-looking)
    • Is it associated with an event(s) that has made a significant contribution to the broad patterns of our history?
    • Does it reflect history and culture of our city that's developed over time?
  • Does it embody or reflect unique characteristics of San Antonio's culture or significant and distinguishable elements of our community?
  • Was the event specifically crafted/curated/derived for the Tricentennial?
  • Does it commemorate a special anniversary?

Some commissioners also directed staff to consider such issues as accessibility, affordability, size of event, and events that highlight San Antonio's diversity and future.

As commissioners broke out into groups to review large packets of the printed calendar – 15 pages of extra-wide, double-sided paper – several expressed frustration with "excluding" some venerated events from the "top tier."

After the two-hour meeting, Father David Garcia, San Antonio's Archdiocesan director of the Old Spanish Missions and a Tricentennial co-chair, told the Rivard Report that he recognizes that tension.

"A little parish event – a parish festival that they've done for the last 35 years  – you know, it's nice, it's important, it's an official partner – but does it really speak to the history, to the culture, to the legacy, to all the things that we're trying to highlight with the Tricentennial?" he said. "I think what we can say is that you're still a full partner ... at the same time we'd like to [highlight] those events and those moments that best help us understand what we're celebrating."

Large, expensive exhibits and events that the San Antonio Museum of Art and the Tricentennial Commission itself are putting on won't happen again next year – if ever, Garcia said. "This is it."

But other smaller, events are also welcome to be recognized on the calendar as official Tricentennial partners, he said.

"Nothing is going to be left out," said Cynthia Teniente-Matson, co-chair and president of the commission, but "absent criteria" anything could be on the calendar.

In other words, as the saying goes, "if everything is very important, then nothing is important."

Commissioner Faith Radle, appointed to the commission by Councilwoman Shirley Gonzales (D5), said another important group of events to highlight are the ones that the Tricentennial Commission is funding.

"Let's look at the low-hanging fruit," she said. "The stuff that we're funding, let's get that up to the top."

Radle also suggested reaching out to organizing partners that have several or regularly occurring events "clogging the calendar" and asking them to highlight the most important ones.

There was an extensive application period last year for "partner" organizations who wanted to be included in the official Tricentennial calendar. The applications were reviewed by commission panels and largely approved. Tricentennial staff members also added some events that were missed. Now, they're adding even more that were overlooked during that round, said Vanessa Hurd, who is working as a commission consultant.

"This is not a redo of that process," Hurd said. "It won't be another vetting process as much as it's trying to pull up [Tricentennial-specific] from among all of our other events."

There has been a "disconnect in communication" with partners, Matson said. After they received a letter of acceptance onto the calendar, partners received "no communication or coordination" beyond that. It's a situation she hopes will be soon rectified by commissioners and staff.

The next Tricentennial Commission meeting will take place Jan. 10, when commissioners are scheduled to finalize the criteria for highlighting events and discuss next steps. They'll dive into the Commemorative Week events – those that take place during the formal anniversary week of May 1-6.

Another pending agenda item is the search for an executive to replace Contreras, who was intended to be a temporary executive director. But many commissioners have expressed a keen interest in retaining him and doubt that an effective replacement could be found for the job, which would last for less than a year.

2 thoughts on “Commissioners Sort Through 700 Events to Emphasize Tricentennial High Points

  1. This is clearly a move in the right direction! Every year, San Antonio and the surrounding towns promote a packed schedule of events…in fact more than we can attend. There’s so much going on that attending events could be a full time job. Adding Tricentennial events to this already rich and overflowing plate should have been done with more discretion…and now it looks like that discretion is being applied. Often, more is not better. It is very important to have official Tricentennial events prominently labeled and promoted so we can see the totality of this banner year effort. What does it mean to be a Tricentennial Partner, and go through the effort to plan, organize, fund and operate events and create lasting contributions to the community…if these things are not special and treated that way? So anyway it looks like things are on the mend. And it I were given the chance to vote, I vote to keep Carlos Contreras in this important job and to give this reenergized commission the support needed to make this truly a Tricentennial Celebration year!

  2. Happy to see they’re on the right track at last. I don’t see how Contreras can be replaced at this very late date. Tricentennial preparations have been embarrassing and it will look even worse if Benavides keeps his job with the City.
    When I moved here in the 1960s there was a popular joke with a kernel of truth in it: “Dallas is like a small New York. Houston is like a small Detroit. And San Antonio is like a big Cotulla.”

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