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 the same):
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.