Many meaningful words were expressed during the 38th PechaKucha San Antonio presentation Thursday night, but perhaps the most meaningful were “and then.” Several speakers used these exact words to recognize how the coronavirus pandemic had altered the course of their lives, their presentations, and Pecha Kucha itself, presented locally for the first time ever as a live online event.

After 10 years of presentations in many different locations including Confluence Park and the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts, for many San Antonians the format is familiar: Each of six speakers shows 20 images, describes in 20 seconds each, for a total 6-minute-and-40-second presentation, expected to tell a story or make a point concisely and engagingly. The year 2020 marked a special moment for PechaKucha, which started in Japan and is now a worldwide phenomenon, with the date 2-20-20 named International PechaKucha Day.

What was new for PechaKucha 38 was that it became the 20th online event so far this year, according to Mark Dytham, one of the worldwide event’s founders, who joined the San Antonio version for the first time ever.

Principal organizer Vicki Yuan called Dytham’s virtual presence “the silver lining of these remotely connected times” in her introduction.

Dytham marked the situation as “a new era” for PechaKucha. “It’s actually very strange in this moment of social distancing,” Dytham said. “The PechaKucha community has become closer together just because I can drop in and talk and say hello,” whereas visiting any of the 1,233 participating cities worldwide would otherwise have been impossible, he said.

Given the backdrop of coronavirus and the recent Black Lives Matter protests, just holding the event became a major decision for the eight-woman organizing team behind PechaKucha.

Principal organizer Vicki Yuan spoke to the situation in her introduction to the presentation. “[We] stand in solidarity with our black community today and every day,” she said.

Proceeds from donations to PechaKucha were to be split between the San Antonio Food Bank and Black Outside, a central Texas organization that offer transformative outdoor experiences to Black youth.

Presenting first was Jess Elizarraras, a “curiosity connoisseur” who said she was new to Zoom, widely in use since the pandemic shutdown forced many to connect to workplaces, friends, and families online. The online event was only her third time using the video conference platform.

Elizarraras ably navigated the platform to tell her “Millennial Love Story” of meeting her boyfriend last year, who became her fiancé, and then her husband. The “and then” of Elizarraras’s presentation was that their wedding was scheduled to take place during what became the pandemic shutdown.

“Our already-small wedding was shrinking,” she said, due to restrictions on travel and large gatherings, but it still took place at Hemisfair with a few close loved ones in attendance.

Singer Garrett T. Capps hosting the event, and congratulated Elizarraras for “making lemons in a time of crisis,” then laughed at himself for his metaphorical error. More practically, he asked Elizarraras what advice she had for anyone in a similar position, and she recommended event insurance, to account for the unpredictable future.

By the second speaker Gabriela Santiago’s turn, 164 viewers had tuned into PechaKucha’s YouTube channel. Santiago addressed her talk to her sixth grade class at Lamar Elementary, a “collaborative classroom” that had to adapt quickly when their “and then” moment came, forcing classes online.

Santiago told her class “you are the future, show us the way,” recognizing her students’ resiliency in responding to the unpredictable and changing conditions of their young lives.

“Compost Queen” Kate Jaceldo spoke next, describing the evolution of her business pre-pandemic and how current conditions have made her efforts even more meaningful, in converting food waste into usable resources.

“This is such a new industry there aren’t best practices” yet, she said, vividly showing how effective use of compost for gardening can substantially reduce the effects of climate change by reducing methane emissions food waste would otherwise cause.

Following a brief intermission, photographer Ben Yanto spoke of his conversion to become a dog fosterer, and said his “and then” moment was framing the pandemic as a moment to consider pet adoption while cooped up at home during the pandemic. Since the pandemic descended, Yanto said five dogs had found new homes through his efforts alone.

Chef Gabriel Ibarra followed, advocating for a better use of animal-derived food products not only during the pandemic, but afterwards. Though a farm-to-table food sourcing movement has emerged in recent years, “farmers don’t know how to sell to restaurants, and chefs don’t know how to buy from farms,” which needs to change, he said.

The sixth speaker was “theramin fanatic” Jess DeCuir, a musician who at age 41 discovered a modern electronic instrument that she called “the perfect pandemic device” because of its no-touch operation. Its operator works the instrument by “literally pulling the notes out of the air,” she said, showing several images of noted theremin performers and herself operating the instrument by moving their hands in proximity to its electric receptors. The instrument had dark origins as a covert listening device, a fact that resonated with current surveillance methods for tracking coronavirus spread and protest participators.

As a presenter for PechaKucha volume 37, the last such event before the pandemic made such gatherings of hundreds of San Antonians impossible, this reporter wondered how the formerly live events compared to the online version.

Past presentations in front of live audiences had left her “waaaaay more stressed out,” Jacelda said in a text after the event.

But using Zoom for the virtual presentation, she said, “was much more relaxed and the most stressful part was making sure I stayed on time with the slides.”

The stress can make twenty seconds can pass like the snap of a finger. If only the coronavirus pandemic would evaporate so quickly.

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Nicholas Frank

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...