One section of NIOSA is devoted to carnival games.
The Fall Heritage Festival attendance will be limited to 1,000 ticketholders, a stark contrast to recent NIOSA festivals (pictured here) that have annually drawn estimated crowds of more than 80,000 attendees. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

The four acres of the La Villita National Historic District will come alive with festivities for one night in November, despite cancellations of Fiesta and NIOSA due to the pandemic.

The Conservation Society of San Antonio announced Thursday that it will present the Fall Heritage Festival on Nov. 6, a one-day, all-outdoor event with appropriate modifications to help assure the safety of festival-goers.

Attendance will be limited to 1,000 ticketholders, a stark contrast to recent A Night In Old San Antonio (NIOSA) four-day festivals that have annually drawn estimated crowds of more than 80,000 attendees.

“If you say NIOSA, you think crowded. This is not going to be crowded,” said Vincent Michael, the society’s executive director.

One of Fiesta’s signature events, NIOSA is an annual fundraiser for the Conservation Society’s ongoing efforts to preserve San Antonio’s “historic buildings, objects, places and customs relating to all that is admirably distinctive to the state,” as stated in its press release announcing the fall festival. In 2019, NIOSA raised $1.4 million.

Cancellation of NIOSA 2020 has meant “a very austere budget” for the Conservation Society, Michael said, and one purpose of holding a fall festival is to raise funds to enable the society to continue operating until the next scheduled Fiesta, tentatively set for April 20-23, 2021.   

The other purpose is to offer pandemic-stressed San Antonians some relief after months of coronavirus-related shutdowns and cancellations.

Conservation Society President Patty Zaiontz said, “we still want to be able to give back to the community, not just in the programming and the advocacy events that we do, but to give people an opportunity to get out and have a little fun.”

Each $125 festival ticket includes all the traditional NIOSA offerings, such as Mr. Chicken chicken-on-a-stick, Maria’s Tortillas, margaritas, and other favorites available through touchless transactions at Plexiglas-protected booths.

Heritage displays will offer learning opportunities along with the food, music, and fun, Zaiontz said.

Music will be presented on two stages, with a 12-foot to 15-foot buffer zone between performers and audiences. Masks will be required for all patrons, staff, and volunteers, unless they are seated at a table for eating and drinking.

A full list of safety protocols is available on the NIOSA website.

As Zaiontz noted in the festival announcement, “a fall festival is nothing new for the Society.” In keeping with its mission of recognizing San Antonio’s heritage, Zaiontz recalled that the conservation society’s original 1936 festival was held in the fall to celebrate the harvest, and the 2020 version will be the Society’s 10th fall festival overall.

This photograph depicts San Antonio Conservation Society’s Fall Harvest Festival in the 1940s. Credit: Courtesy / The Conservation Society

In July, Zaiontz hinted at a plan to stage a fall event, hoping for a festival one-third its normal size. Though a 1,000-person limit is far below what she had hoped, the fall festival fulfills the society’s mission “to champion for bringing joy and celebration to the people of San Antonio,” as she said at the time.

Tickets went on sale at 10 a.m. Friday, and Michael encouraged anyone interested to purchase theirs quickly. There is a 10-ticket limit per order. Ticketholders are encouraged to bring nonperishable food items to the gates for donation to the San Antonio Food Bank.  

Senior Reporter Nicholas Frank moved from Milwaukee to San Antonio following a 2017 Artpace residency. Prior to that he taught college fine arts, curated a university contemporary art program, toured with...