Support Local Journalism, Join the SA Current Press Club.

High Hopes for Luminaria’s Ninth Chapter 

click to enlarge cover-16_45.jpg
If you’re only as good as your last performance, one might argue that Luminaria has a lot to prove this year. Although it promised all the makings of an exciting new chapter staged in a footprint anchored by the San Antonio Museum of Art, the multidisciplinary arts festival’s 2015 programming suffered greatly from severe weather tied to Hurricane Patricia. While flash flooding resulted in the cancelation of multiple outdoor components, SAMA sheltered from the storm and buzzed with a nervous energy as damp festival-goers crowded into memorable — if slightly steamy — presentations by the likes of Chicano performance artist/activist Guillermo Gómez-Peña and avant-garde composer William Basinski. Down the street, scattered showers and gusts of wind only amplified the cinematic drama of San Antonio-born chanteuse and David Lynch collaborator Chrysta Bell’s first-ever local concert. In a nutshell, mother nature may have (once again) cast a wet blanket over Luminaria, but many who braved the elements experienced something strange, beautiful and unpredictable. In an effort to reclaim some of what was washed away, a series of rescheduled and reconfigured Luminaria “Take Two” events kicked off in a vacant lot in November (with the Chris Sauter/Buttercup collaboration Plato’s Drums) and wrapped in late February with an evening of indoor/outdoor performances at the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts.

Devised by former San Antonio Mayor Phil Hardberger in the multidisciplinary vein of illuminated nighttime arts festivals like Paris, France’s citywide Nuit Blanche, Luminaria has evolved, morphed and bounced around downtown since its inception in 2008. Along the way, the festival has collected fans and critics in somewhat equal measure. Those who were “there” from the get-go often mention the odd dichotomy of seeing contemporary art surrounding Alamo Plaza (2008-2010) or installations popping up in Peacock Alley. Some found the Hemisfair years (2011-2013) lacking in local representation while others enjoyed investigating exhibits and performances in and around the historic structures that dot the park. As for its outing in River North (2014), the largely commercial footprint (connecting Central Library, the Southwest School of Art, the Tobin Center and parts of the River Walk) confused some but inspired others to wander and find hidden gems that blurred artistic boundaries — namely artist and filmmaker Kevin Cacy’s tricked-out vintage pinball parlor staged in an unmarked warehouse and a conceptual takeover of the delightfully divey My Brother’s Bar.
click to enlarge MURAL BY IKER MURO
  • Mural by Iker Muro
Although governed by a board that’s worked with an array of artistic directors and producers over the years, Luminaria didn’t have an executive director until Kathy Armstrong was appointed in 2015. Formerly director of exhibitions at the Southwest School of Art, Armstrong helped curate Luminaria in 2011 and served as associate artistic director in 2013. As part of her development plan, Armstrong reinstated an open call for artists and implemented a six-member Artistic Advisory Committee. In a 2015 interview with the Current, Armstrong described the open call as both “a reminder of the wealth of talent in our community” and “a great opportunity for artists who are under the radar.”
Beyond weighing in on hundreds of artist-submitted project proposals, each year’s Artistic Adviso
  • Luminaria executive director Kathy Armstrong photographed by Sarah Brooke Lyons
ry Committee members are given a unique opportunity to help shape Luminaria’s programming by personally inviting artists to participate (even those get vetted by the group as a whole). Possibly more importantly, the committee has already welcomed members who’ve been vocal critics of pervasive issues within San Antonio’s arts community. Comprised of  David Alcantar, Angela Covo, Danielle King, Joey Lopez, Jeannette Muñiz and Octavio Quintanilla, the 2016 Artistic Advisory Committee helped Armstrong build a wide-ranging, four-day program taking shape November 9-12 in a new Eastside footprint connecting the Carver Community Cultural Center, the Hays Street Bridge, Dignowity and Lockwood parks, the Ella Austin Community Center and points in between. Besides its lived-in neighborhood appeal, the festival’s new digs boast character and visual interest that easily rival the industrial, slightly impersonal aura of recent years.

Fittingly, a number of projects drew creative inspiration from the area itself. “There were quite a few proposals thinking strategically about this neighborhood, about people’s sense of its history, people’s sense of its identity,” Armstrong told us. In addition to projects by artists Kaldric Dow and Arlene Mejorado (both of which are covered in the pages that follow), Annele Spector and Kitty Williams’ collaborative performance Classics Lounge and the Griot Grille is billed as a storytelling soul kitchen in the heart of the Eastside. “They have been researching the history of juke joints and the music tradition in this neighborhood,” Armstrong said. “Their theater performance will be essentially recreating that juke joint but with lots of flavor about what used to happen here.”
click to enlarge MURAL BY LOS DOS
  • Mural by Los Dos
Unsurprisingly, the activation of the Hays Street Bridge — which plays host to performances, light installations and poetry readings on Thursday night — tops the “must-see” list of many involved in this year’s Luminaria. While Armstrong’s equally excited to see that transformation unfold, she seems most proud of the 2016 festival’s potential to live on through “legacy” projects — namely the permanent murals created by Iker Muro (Spain), Daniel Eime (Portugal) and Los Dos (El Paso) in collaboration with Public Art San Antonio — and forge new bonds between visitors and the Eastside’s cultural landmarks.

Luminaria Cheat Sheet

Day 1
(postponed due to rain)
What: Mural Unveiling for Iker Muro, Daniel Eime & Los Dos 
When: 6-8pm Wed, Nov. 9
Where: Cherry Street from Nolan Street underpass to the Hays Street Bridge Price: Free

Day 2
What: Festival Night featuring Aerial Horizon, ARCOS, Brett Elmendorf, Calico Club, David Hale, Diego Bernal and Ernest Gonzalez, Joan Frederick, Kara Salinas, Margaret Craig and The Hays Bridge Poets 
When: 8-11pm Thu, Nov. 10
Where: Hays Street Bridge 
Price: Free

Day 3
What: Festival Night featuring Annele Spector and Kitty Williams, Arte y Pasión, Ballet San Antonio, Cuerpo Etéreo, Diana Kersey and Kambri Hernandez, Dixon’s Violin, Garrett T. Capps and Phillip Luna, Gemini Ink, Joe Reyes and Paul Fauerso, Margaret Craig, The Renaissance Guild, Sarah Brooke Lyons, Saakred, Sujata Ventateswar and Greg Hinojosa, The Three Artistas and more
When: 8pm-midnight Fri, Nov. 11
Where: Carver Community Cultural Center (227 N. Hackberry St.), Idea Carver Academy (217 Robinson Pl.), Dignowity Park (701 Nolan St.), Lockwood Park (801 N. Olive St.) Price: Free

Day 4
What: Open Studios & Open Houses
When: Noon-4pm Sat, Nov. 12
Where: Multiple locations, visit for details
Price: Free

What: Arts & Technology, Eastside Stories & Multi-Arts Collaborations Brunches 
When: 11am-12:30pm Sat, Nov. 12
Where: Multiple locations, visit for details
Price: $35

What: Photography & Wheatpaste, Storytelling, Contemporary Dance, Ceramics, African Marimba & Martial Arts Workshops 
When: 1-4pm Sat, Nov. 12
Where: Multiple locations, visit for details
Price: $10-$20

What: Closing Party featuring Fishermen & Spot Barnett
When: 8-10pm Sat, Nov. 12 
Where: Healy Murphy Center, 618 Live Oak St.
Price: $55

Attendees are encouraged to take advantage of free public parking at the Alamodome (Lot C) and underneath I-37 at Austin St.; VIA’s special Luminaria bus route; and onsite bike valet services courtesy of Pop Up Pedal.

Support Local Journalism.
Join the San Antonio Current Press Club

Local journalism is information. Information is power. And we believe everyone deserves access to accurate independent coverage of their community and state. Our readers helped us continue this coverage in 2020, and we are so grateful for the support.

Help us keep this coverage going in 2021. Whether it's a one-time acknowledgement of this article or an ongoing membership pledge, your support goes to local-based reporting from our small but mighty team.

Join the San Antonio Press Club for as little as $5 a month.

Read the Digital Print Issue

January 12, 2022

View more issues


Join SA Current Newsletters

Sign Up Now

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


© 2022 San Antonio Current

Website powered by Foundation