Op Ed: Is the New, World Class Luminaria Blowing off Local Artists?

Share on Nextdoor

Luminaria, 2013

I have been involved with Luminaria since the very first year, and between 2009 to 2013 I was a member of the Luminaria Steering Committee, representing San Antonio filmmakers and media artists. Probably, I should have gotten a watch or something by now, though I certainly did enjoy having a front row seat to a particular corner of local politics.

All of the artists, administrators, city employees, and various officials who have worked so hard behind the scenes for Luminaria over the years have more often than not found themselves in exhausting conflicts, sometimes public, sometimes private. It's tough walking that line between honoring the direct authenticity of the artistic impulse and dealing with the pragmatic reality of staging a publicly-funded community arts event. But I am proud to have worked with so many amazing people to have pulled off six years of these large-scale presentations. We dealt with major construction projects, which prompted the change of location (for the second year); the vagaries of south Texas weather (which forced the rescheduling of Luminaria during the fifth year); as well as periodic and often strident public criticism, some of it clearly warranted. But ultimately, I think every year Luminaria has given the city of San Antonio something for which it can be proud. And I know I have been amazed and humbled by what a mostly volunteer-run organization has managed to create.

And so, as we move into year seven of Luminaria there has been a recent announcement of some major changes. Three are highlighted: 1.) Move the event to November; 2.) make Luminaria a two night celebration; and, 3.) move the footprint into the shadow of the Tobin Center. None of these should come as any surprise, as they’ve been written about as probable changes in the press for almost a year.

But this brings us to the fourth major change, which has happened to Luminaria and seems not to have made its way into the recent press release. The people. Luminaria used to be touted as an artist-run event. But where are the artists?

From the very beginning working artists were involved in making Luminaria happen. And by the second year a more official structure was created to insure that the artists would be well represented by installing a steering committee of artists, at least two per artistic discipline. It was a group of very diverse and passionate individuals, as it should be.

Where are those diverse voices? Where is that room full of people whose faces run the spectrum of complexion? Where are the accomplished traditionalists, the edgy radicals? Where are those to advocate for the LGBT communities? Where are the brilliant subversives quietly plotting in the corner? We need these chaotic and inspiring people shouting, advocating, politicking, and, ultimately, to some degree or another, compromising. For Luminaria 2014 to be truly a San Antonio experience, we need this room full of people, and we needed them several months ago. Plenty of lead time is needed not just to plan the event itself, but to mindfully arrange to be inclusive of such a wide array of voices which make up this city.

And as comfortable as it is for people to talk about the major divide in this city as some rather abstract “economic gap,” it is really as much of a question of race today as it has ever been. In the past, a group photograph of the Luminaria Steering Committee would provide two quick pieces of information. One, you would see a diversity of ethnicity, gender, and economic status, not too dissimilar from the demographics of the city. And two, for those familiar with the local arts and cultural scene, you would see at least someone from your neighborhood, community, or in some other way possessed of an affinity with your own core values.

In the early years of Luminaria this conscious and proactive attempt at inclusion (not always successful, mind you) was openly spoken about and unanimously embraced on the level of the steering committee. This conscientious attempt at including diverse voices began to recede over the years, until it was no longer spoken about, at least not in my hearing. The strength of a diverse committee who was in direct communication with the artists meant that San Antonio artists, in all disciplines, had a fighting chance of learning what was going on with Luminaria—because we all know that this city runs on chisme.

But now, this “new and improved” Luminaria is being planned and managed behind of wall of silence. It seems that, these days, I don’t move in circles rarified enough to remain current on the publicly-funded arts scene. Of course this is very troubling to me. I have dear friends in most of the community arts and cultural organizations in town (and most are shockingly candid), but for the last year we have all been left out of the loop and not invited to the table. For an event which is heavily funded by our hotel occupancy tax, this lack of transparency doesn’t sit well with many of the local artists and arts administrators with whom I talk.

But the most troubling thing about all this, is that revulsion which many San Antonio bureaucrats and politicos seem to have towards this city’s indigenous arts and cultures. This strident demand to make San Antonio a “world class city” by bringing in artists of international prominence has some value. I mean, it’s cheaper to have an artist brought to me, than it would be for me to travel to see that artist. But I somehow doubt the horde of tourists filling our city’s streets are coming here for a “world class” experience. Nope. They come here to see our indigenous, idiosyncratic, authentic, and oftentimes rasquache culture. And it’s awesome. That’s what brought me here ten years ago. And that’s why I remain.


Scroll to read more Arts Stories & Interviews articles


Join SA Current Newsletters

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.