It was “chit-chat” time, Japanese style, at the Pearl Thursday night. The fifth edition of PechaKucha San Antonio drew an animated crowd of mostly young members of the city’s creative class at the Center for Architecture in the Full Goods Building for an evening of good food, Alamo Beer and some very inspirational stories of personal journeys and the pursuit of art.

PechaKucha Night in San Antonio
PechaKucha NIght in San Antonio

Eight individuals took to the dais to show 20 slides x 20 seconds on subjects ranging from architecture and photography to yoga,  wine and the pleasures of food and family. And then there was the man enveloped, Houdini incarnate,  in chains.

Thank you, Vicki Yuan of Lake/Flato Architects, the behind-the-scenes impresario at PechaKucha San Antonio. If San Antonio could reproduce this event like so many fishes and loaves, the creative scene in San Antonio would take a truly giant leap forward. Yuan announced plans to post videos of the performers/presenters online for those who could not attend.

Meanwhile, PechaKucha unfolded in more than 60 other U.S. cities Thursday evening. The concept arrived in San Antonio just about this time last year. It originated in Tokyo, thanks to Klein Dytham Architecture, which conceived and staged the first PechaKucha, Japanese for the sound of the phrase “chit-chat”. It has since spread to nearly 500 cities in almost every country where people are free to express themselves.

Mat Kubo in chains, before his great escape
Mat Kubo in chains, before his great escape

If you happened to miss the most recent event, make a note of May 24, when the sixth PechaKucha San Antonio event will be held. It’s the best $5 deal in town, gaining you a comfortable seat, a couple of drink tickets and a place at the buffet.

Want to be on the program rather than in the audience? Make your case with organizers at the Architecture Foundation at

Crawfish boil on in the Pearl parking lot!
Crawfish boil on in the Pearl parking lot

Randy Beamer of News 4 WOAI-TV, arguably the best broadcast journalist of his generation in South Texas, served as master of ceremonies, as he has for previous PechaKucha San Antonio events. He wore one of the few ties in the house, but otherwise performed without tethers, expertly whipping the audience into a frenzy, introducing the presenters as if they were boxers entering the ring in Las Vegas and, afterwards, interviewing them with just the right amount of attitude.

Liz Tullis, a speed-talking strategic planner, was the first to take to the microphone with her nine-year-old son, Conrad, safely ensconced in his recumbent wheelchair alongside the dais. Conrad was born a normal baby but he nearly drowned after falling into a swimming pool when he was 17 months old.

“Conrad is a healthy and happy boy,” Tullis declared, a mother’s spirited and emotional homage to a child grabbing the audience by the lapels and never letting go.

It’s easy to take for granted what we have here in San Antonio, so it struck a chord when Tullis praised the nationally-recognizeed UT Health Sciences Center in recounting the treatment Conrad has received over the years, and the ongoing brain research underway there.

“We have never had to leave San Antonio for treatment,” Tullis said in her UTHSC shout-out.

Tullis ripped through her slides and hit the time clock with near perfection, a performance standard essential to PechaKucha. Actors enter and exit the stage at a pace that leaves the audience breathless and begging for more. And so they did Thursday night.

Want to know more about the Tullis family? Check out It’s a San Antonio love story.

Helen Pierce, an award-winning architect at Alamo Architects, brought a drier wit and a quieter style to her presentation of several designs competitions she entered, including one she won for a sewage treatment facility design in Miami. About the time of her presentation, the Pearl’s free wireless network disconnected me for what would prove to be 31 frustrating repetitions, preventing live blogging of the evening’s wild rumpus. Later, I read Pierce’s resume and checked out PierceWorkshop. She has done very well in a number of design competitions.

Jose Barroso, architect-cum-sculptor from Monterrey, Mexico, was third. He talked about pain, asking the question, “What is pain?” The wireless crashed again, evaporating several more freshly constructed paragraphs. This was pain. Struggling to establish a connection, I glanced up from time to time at Barroso’s slides, which depicted various prostrate figures in bronzed undress. A lifeless minotaur  lay in repose, the man-bull’s surrender leading me to contemplate my own capitulation.

Mark Menjivar, an artist/photographer with a social conscience, introduced us to his avocado-colored ” luck file,” an office cabinet bursting with creative impulse — all neatly collated and catalogued. The collection began with his purchase of a used book in which he found several neatly-pressed  four-leaf clovers.  Menjivar, who is getting his MFA  in art and social work practice at Portland State University, displayed a comedian’s sense of timing in his presentation of found objects and his many lucky charms. He showed one carved talisman that had been given to his father, Milton, in Vietnam., who previously had been shot and riddled with shrapnel  multiple times.

“He was never shot again,” Mark said, erasing any lingering doubts about the effigy’s authenticity. A final slide showed a double rainbow. Menjivar made his exit, telling his cheering audience, “I hope you leave here tonight a little luckier.”

I thought of my own long gone rabbit’s foot, wishing Menjivar and all like him in attendance would stay in San Antonio. It’s a long story, but I know Mark’s parents from my days as a Newsweek correspondent covering civil wars in Central America. Milton and Frances Menjivar were stationed at the U.S. embassy in San Salvador. Milton was the head of what was then known as the US Milgroup. The couple led what a journalist would say were very interesting, somewhat spooky lives as government employees on assignment there. They remain friends today, and I hate to see their kid escape San Antonio’s creative gravitational pull. I told Mark so after his performance.

“Sorry,” he said, “I’m staying in Portland.”

The Rivard Report is thinking about launching a Keep Mark Menjivar in San Antonio campaign.

PechaKucha feast finale
PechaKucha feast finale

Mat Kubo, performance artist and Honolulu native who moved to San Antonio in 2009 where he is earning his MFA at UTSA, stood obediently still as a woman I think he identified as his mother  wrapped him from neck to waist in heavy chains.

“This is 100 feet of chain and I have 400 seconds to get out of it,” Kubo said as she finished, “and I’ve also got to finish my masters at UTSA, too.”

He then began to narrate his own slide show while writhing out of his chains, a human serpent shedding its skin. He showed scenes of a home office featuring items purchased from Walmart. Kubo said he returned everything for a full refund after dismantling the installation. How much of his life, I wondered, was spent at the store’s Return Desk, which seemed akin to a circle of Dante’s Inferno all in pursuit of one’s art.

As Kubo shed his shackles, he entertained us with a series of family portraits of himself posing with strangers who inexplicably agreed to accompany him into the family photo studio at the JC Penney store to pose. Two young women he met at South Park Mall posed with him for a decidedly non-family style photo.

Suhail Arastu, a yogi raised in San Antonio who left home with wanderlust, talked about how he walked out of one life–an undergraduate degree in classics and neurobiology from UC-Berkely–and landed in a small fishing village in Japan. He stood silently as his own slide show of perfectly captured images (I thoughtlessly referred to them as “snapshots” in an earlier version of this posting; they are far too expertly imagined and framed for that word to serve.) of life in Asia and Africa rolled across the big screen, a Radiohead cover playing softly in the background.

Fabien Jacob, Il Sogno‘s Lyon-born sommelier, was next. His enviable French accent probably saved him as he launched into an earnest lecture about grapes and wines of the world complete with atlas-like maps.

“You say shiraz, I say syrah,” Jacob said. It was very old media for this crowd, but wine lovers in the audience know he has a native’s deep understanding of good Burgundy.

Hugh Daschbach, the national sales manager for Cinco Solar, which does large commercial solar water installations, comes from a food-obsessed Louisiana family. The Trinity University graduate was just back from Mardi Gras with slides chronicling his family’s latest culinary adventures. One image showed a brother’s scrambled eggs returned to standing egg-shells topped with a dark dollop of caviar.

Daschbach was the evening’s final presenter, a risky proposition with a restless audience, but the crowd was all his as he finished a treatise on the art of a Louisianan crawfish boil by announcing that some fellow Louisiana natives were putting the finishing touches on an actual crawfish boil in the Pearl parking lot. Everyone, Daschbach announced, was invited to help themselves. Without further ado, people regrouped outside for a free feast and a new experience, as if nothing less was expected or delivered at PechaKucha San Antonio.

Miriam Sitz writes about urbanism, architecture, design, and more. Follow her on Twitter at @MiriamSitz