Luminaria, San Antonio’s multidisciplinary contemporary arts festival, is now in its eighth season. This event is free and open to the public and the two-day festival will take place Oct. 23-24, from 7 p.m. until midnight. This year, Luminaria leaves the traditional boundaries of downtown for the Museum Reach of the San Antonio River to center around the San Antonio Museum of Art (SAMA) and Maverick Park.
An interactive exhibit from the Convergent Media Collective at the University of the Incarnate Word, will likely be a Luminaria hit. The group plans on setting up a photo booth that will burn portraits of festival-goers into tortillas. With lasers. "Tortillas and Technology" is just one of dozens of installations planned for this year's festival.
VIA Metropolitan Transit (VIA), a first-time partner with Luminaria, took the opportunity on Wednesday morning to give media and VIP a taste of what's to come for this year’s festival. A mini-tour of the Luminaria footprint in the air-conditioned comfort of a VIA bus (with 4G WiFi, no less) included the beautiful voice of Bianca Saptet, who will perform this year alongside theater artist Debora Kuetzpal Vasquez and the dance troupe Zombie Bazaar Panza Fusion in a multi-media performance entitled “Curandera.”
In addition to the evening performances and installations, new this year are some daytime ticketed events. These include gourmet box lunches with an opportunity to interact with particular artists, master classes in dance and marimba, or a panel discussion. Also, on the educational front, SAMA will extend their hours from 10 a.m. until midnight. Admission fees will still be in place – members enter for free – but the special exhibition fee for “28 Chinese” will be waived in celebration of Luminaria.
These additional events are a bit of a riff on the idea of bringing education to the table in the form of a symposium format.
“The strategic plan that we are implementing has discussed a bi-annual plan," said Luminaria Board Vice President Ansen Seale. "The idea of: one year it’s a big party and the next it is perhaps smaller, more intellectual with workshops and things like that. And then, back to the big party.”
It is no secret that the history of Luminaria has been tumultuous. Even with the support of the City behind you, it is no small feat to pull off an arts festival of this magnitude. Over the past eight years, there have been challenges including the weather, varying opinions on content and organization, and the push and pull of personalities involved in implementation. Even the inevitable reality of board fatigue threatened the survival of this uniquely San Antonio event over the years. Luminaria approaches its eighth year on what seems to be firm footing.
“Last year was the first year of our strategic plan,” said Luminaria Board President Liz Tullis. Construction on the traditional Hemisfair site pressed the necessity of a change of locale to the River North site focused on the Tobin Center, and we saw a seasonal shift from spring to autumn. On a short timeline, there was also a curatorial approach in terms of artist selection rather than the open-call format that local artists had become accustomed to. There were growing pains, to say the least.
“At that point we were looking at how we were doing the overall production," Tullis said. "This year, we decided that we needed to solidify and get that one person who would look at it as not only the event, but who would really give us ongoing organization and structure. Someone who could provide continuity, and that was Kathy. This year, it really feels like we are focusing on the art.”
Kathy Armstrong, formerly of the Southwest School of Art, has been hired on as executive director to lead Luminaria through its five-year strategic plan.
Luminaria management has listened to community feedback and is working hard to remain responsive while delivering a first-rate arts experience to that community.
In a return to the open-call format, the Luminaria Artistic Committee (all local creators) has green-lighted a selection of works featuring dancers and choreographers, poets and filmmakers, musicians, muralists, composers, and actors. There are 31 performance sites within the footprint representing more than 50 participating artists. The majority of the artists represented live and work right here in San Antonio. There are also artists represented from New York, Virginia, Paris, Los Angeles, Mexico, Korea and, of course, Austin. Click here for the full roster of featured artists.
Armstrong took a moment to acknowledge team members on the tour and then introduced Felix Padrón, director of San Antonio’s Department for Culture and Creative Development (DCCD). The DCCD has been a partner in the event since its inception and Padrón had a few words to kick off the tour.
“This is a very exciting time for Luminaria and not only because of the location here at the San Antonio Museum of Art, one of our hallmark institutions. The event has grown tremendously," Padrón said. "Luminaria is about supporting, nurturing and paying attention to our local talent and giving them an opportunity to really shine and exhibit their creations in a very public way for two days. There is also the opportunity to interact with national as well as international talent.”
Padrón was also very complimentary of Armstrong, voicing the prediction that she will be at the helm of Luminaria for “a long time.” This sentiment was common among board members and community partners alike.
As we gathered on the SAMA courtyard to get a look at what this season holds in store, Jeffrey Arndt, President and CEO of VIA, shared his vision of what art means to him and the community.
“Art gives us the opportunity to view the world through someone else’s lens," Arndt said. "That’s what art is, the chance to really expand our own consciousness.”
In addition to expanded consciousness and VIA services, Luminaria is also encouraging smart transit options including biking (with the added convenience of a bike valet) and walking. In past years, parking has undeniably been a headache for attendees of the festival, so taking responsibility for seeking alternatives to the automobile seems like a move in the right direction.
After a summer away from the city, former San Antonio Mayor Phil Hardberger joined the preview tour. Luminaria was originally his vision, born of a desire to create a platform and marketplace for the many talented local artists that he has encountered. Hardberger, who is still involved with Luminaria's board, said the goal was to get the world to see what San Antonio is capable of. His support of the art goes beyond his years of public policy making. He and his wife Linda make art an important part of their personal lives by collecting and attending live performances whenever and wherever they can.
Hardberger admitted his initial opposition to bringing artists in from outside San Antonio.
“It has moved in a different direction and I admit I was a foot-dragger on that," he said. "I wasn’t so sure that I wanted to see artists from Berlin. I thought it was a distraction. Now, I think you have much more of a balance. San Antonio artists still have the spotlight. We should always keep it that way.”
“I think Phil’s original idea was to benefit the artists of San Antonio, and what we have realized is that you can’t do that in a vacuum," Seale said. "You can’t do that by building a wall around San Antonio. The best thing for our artists is to invite other people in, to see what they are doing and getting our artists to go to other places.”
The one thing that is clear is that Luminaria will continue its metamorphosis.
“It is a movable art festival," said Production Manager Ethel Shipton. "Influences will change from one year to the next. Listening to what the community is asking for is important.”
Shipton has been involved with Luminaria since 2008 and feels that they are in good shape going into the home stretch of logistics.
“Last year was a sharp learning curve, there were challenges with all the changes," Shipton said. "But once you understand the mechanisms of it, once you learn it, you get it. You figure out your partners and how everyone is going to participate. It’s like building a layer cake. Partnerships are key to success.”
Seale echoes this credo, “Bring everyone on board. Everyone in the footprint has to sign on.”
Shipton said there will be a visitor survey this year to get community comments on what people like, what they don’t like, and where the festival will go next “so the public has a voice. We get an idea of where the city is at and where the most interest is. It is a tool and a good way to have buy-in everywhere.”
Take an opportunity to check out the website and take a good look at what the crew at Luminaria have in store for us this year. Some will be familiar faces and others will bring new energy to our city that we have not seen before.
“San Antonio artists are world artists and have been for decades. It is great to have another platform to show that,” Shipton said.
*Top image:"Tortillas and Technology" from The Convergent Media Collective at the University of the Incarnate Word. Photo by Tami Kegley.