The appointment of new leadership for the City’s Tricentennial Commission, the public nonprofit organization charged with mapping plans for San Antonio’s 300th anniversary celebrations in 2018, were announced on Monday by City Manager Sheryl Sculley.
Edward Benavides, the former chief of staff for the city manager who has served as acting director of the Tricentennial Office, was appointed CEO. Asia Ciaravino, the dynamic arts director and CEO who reinvigorated The Playhouse, was appointed chief operating officer.
At first, there was only going to be one position, said Katie Luber, Kelso Director of the San Antonio Museum of Art who serves as one of five co-chairs of the Commission. It became clear during candidate interviews that both political and cultural professional backgrounds would be needed in the leadership.
“They have such wonderfully compatible skill sets that will make the Tricentennial something way better and bigger,” Luber said. “They’ll do more than just get the job done.”
Now that the basic structure of the Commission has been worked out, steering committees formed, and officers hired, “the real work can begin,” she said. “It’s now really coming together. How do we want to celebrate this momentous occasion?”
The next Commission meeting will take place on Wednesday at 9 a.m. in the Plaza de Armas Building, 100 Military Plaza.
The Commission has hired KGBTexas to develop marketing strategies and branding for the year-long celebration. They’ll unveil the Tricentennial logo and other marketing initiatives during its January 2016 meeting. Until now, planning for the Tricentennial has been largely a volunteer effort. Mayor Ivy Taylor announced the creation of the Tricentennial Commission and the Tricentennial Organizing Committee in April.
“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and a tremendous endeavor,” Benavides said Monday. This has been a big week for the native San Antonian who was married on Saturday. “It’s not just a city activity, this will be a community wide celebration over a 12 month period. … It’s my job to make sure we put the vision together and make it a reality.”
Benavides has served as Sculley’s chief of staff for the past five years and has been at the city for nearly 14 years.
“Ed has this really exquisite understanding and knowledge of how city and county governments work,” Luber said. “And he knows everybody – he’s able to navigate the city hierarchy so well. And that’s not something that’s to be taken lightly.”
Since he was appointed as interim director two months ago, Benavides has attended formal and informal meetings with the 14 commissioners and five commission chairs. So far, the theme of “inclusivity” has risen to the top of conversations, he said. “(The City) wants this celebration to include all our residents.”
From neighborhood level participation to attracting the international community to take a first or second look at visiting or investing in San Antonio, four main components will be emphasized, he said: arts and culture, economy, education, and community service.
“While festivals and parties are important – and San Antonio is good at those – this is also an opportunity to showcase who we are as a community to the world,” he said.
Ciaravino is leaving the Playhouse, a theatrical performance and education organization founded in 1912 as San Antonio Little Theatre, at the end of December after nearly three years as its CEO and 17 years experience in the nonprofit sector.
“If you can run an arts organization, you can run anything,” Ciaravino said, laughing. “It’s going to be emotional and really hard to leave … but I don’t feel the guilt that I would if I was leaving them in a tough spot.”
Ciaravino said the performance art organization is now, for the first time, out of debt.
“We’re in the black and above the black” while the company continues to expand its programming. Throughout December, she’ll be working with her team to make new leadership hires and complete other initiatives.
“Basically wrapping it up with a neat little bow,” she said. “All (the new CEO) will have to do is keep the momentum going.”
Ciaravino will be bringing her event production skills, connections in the community, and passion for San Antonio to the position. As an actor, one of her most valued abilities is listening, she said.
“This could be an artistic director type position, but it also embodies the function of how producers patch everything together,” she said. “It’s not just about a party or a commemorative book. It’s going to be something that’s comprehensive – that leaves a legacy behind. … I’m on fire for it.”
She also sees inclusiveness as a key element in the Tricentennial celebrations.
“Working with the Playhouse and working in this market, I’ve always thought: how we can give everyone a voice?” she said. “We need to be inclusive and make everyone feel valuable.”
The Commission is currently formulating a “300 Days of Service” community service initiative,
The positions are temporary in nature, carrying with them a three-year commitment, but that doesn’t seem to concern either of the two appointments.
“I’m not too concerned about what will happen after 2018,” Benavides said. “I’m just so excited and privileged to be part of this event.”
Ciaravino had a similar attitude.
“I’m not really worried about it,” she said. “I’ll continue to find new ways to impact San Antonio on a large scale.”
The celebration will center around two key dates. May 1, 2018 will be the 300th anniversary of the founding of San Antonio de Valero Mission – known as the Alamo – by Spanish Franciscans. May 5 marks the 300th anniversary of the founding of the San Antonio de Béxar Presidio and the Villa de Béxar settlement.
“Edward and Asia are proven community leaders who bring high levels of energy, enthusiasm and expertise to their jobs. I’m really excited that they’ve agreed to take on this challenge,” Sculley stated in a news release.
*Top image: A view of the Torch of Friendship, located in the traffic rotary of Losoya, Commerce, Market and Alamo Streets in downtown San Antonio. Photo courtesy of the San Antonio Convention and Visitors Bureau.