Several changes are afoot at this year’s Luminaria festival. Not only has the event moved from spring to fall, it also will be a two-day event for the first time this weekend, Nov. 7 and 8.
This will be the first Luminaria to feature a slate of international and local artists. Last but not least, the venue has moved from Hemisfair Park to the area between the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts and the Southwest School of Art.
The overarching theme for this year’s Luminaria is “Between North and South,” according to Artistic Director Noah Khoshbin, with a focus on Latin America. The local artists who were selected “highlight those who made Luminaria what it is today,” Khoshbin said.
Local artists this year include Chris Sauter, Andy Benavides, Avi Avalos, Cruz Ortiz, Sarah and Victor Pagona, The Lullwood Group, and Shek Vega. Students in the Southwest School of Art’s bachelor’s degree program will also be represented.
Work is already underway for this year’s event. Three wall murals are in the process of being completed on two buildings across the street from the Southwest School of Art. One is being spray-painted by Vega and Nik Soupe. A long combo mural is being done by two Chileans, Basco Vazko and Dr. Lakra. In the alley between these two murals is yet another being painted by the Date Farmers, a duo from California consisting of Armando Lerma and Carlos Ramirez.
Music will be performed on about eight stages. Headline acts of note include Augie Meyers, The Texas Tornados, and Girl in a Coma. In keeping with this year’s “North and South” theme, the music is also primarily Latino-oriented, with everything from vocalist Azul to legendary conjunto accordionist Santiago Jimenez, Jr.
Running concurrently with Luminaria will be the Western Arts Alliance biennial retreat, the WAA Institute. They will be hosting a number of public workshops together for Luminaria Convergence: San Antonio’s Festival of Ideas. Workshops include “Generosity or Philanthropy: A Conversation on Hispanic Giving,” “Comida de la Calle: Culinary Crossroads,” and “Creative Placemaking – A Debate.”
Local performing artists will also get an opportunity to meet with arts professionals from Western Arts Alliance, but the Convergence event is already full. Other WAA Institute programs are free, but it is recommended to get to events early to ensure a seat.
Changes made to this year’s event by the Luminaria board have not been without controversy. A recent op-ed piece published in The Current by local artist and filmmaker Erik Bosse is representative of the discontent being articulated by some in the local arts community, who feel excluded from the process of putting together the event this year.
Instead of following the past process of having a panel select primarily local artists – a sometimes contentious process – this year’s event was curated by board members. Ethel Shipton was responsible for selecting local artists. Board member Ansen Seale and Artistic Director Noah Khoshbin, among others, worked to identify out-of-town artists. Having national and international artists – not to mention tight timelines – is what drove the need for a curatorial approach, according to Khoshbin.
Many in the arts community feel the Luminaria board has not done an effective job of communicating their vision until only recently. According to Khoshbin, this opacity was not intentional. Instead, it was caused by the mad scramble to implement all the changes. To the board’s credit, the event is put together on a tight budget. Volunteers are critical to the success of this event. In fact, volunteers are still needed. At this point, there is not enough money for an executive director – or a public relations firm, it would seem. However, artists and musicians are compensated for their work.
In an effort to raise funds, this year is the first where a Luminaria Patron Pass is being offered for $200. Benefits of the pass include exclusive access to artist receptions, access to the northern reach of the downtown River Walk for both nights, and a Luminaria T-shirt. Additional avenues of fundraising are also being pursued.
One potential challenge for this year’s event will be parking. This is the first time such a large event will be held in this particular area and many visitors from outside the center city are unfamiliar with this part of downtown. However, VIA will be offering a park and ride service from Crossroads Mall, a quick 10-minute bus ride away. Parking is free, and the bus fare is $2.50, cash only, each way. Passengers will be dropped off and picked up at Dallas Street, next to Madison Square Park, approximately one block from the event site.
Will the “new” Luminaria be successful? The driving force behind all of these changes is a five-year strategic plan, which was commissioned by the Luminaria board. The ultimate goal is to turn the event into a 10-day biennial that features a major kickoff event, complemented by exhibits and performances at various sites around San Antonio, such as Hot Wells. Under this format, Luminaria will alternate between a large festival one year, and a workshop format the next.
Luminaria organizers want the event to achieve international stature, such as Toronto’s Luminato Festival, or the Manchester International Festival. One of the primary goals is to bolster arts tourism in the city’s local economy and therefore the arts, of course. This is a divergence from the previous central mission of promoting the arts within San Antonio and the surrounding area, another cause for concern amongst some in the local arts community.
The biennial concept, along with the plan to develop international status, drove the change of date. Spring is a busy time for major arts events, but this particular time of November was essentially wide open. Since San Antonio is generally blessed with good weather this time of year, it offers a great opportunity to draw people to San Antonio. To this end, this year marks the first time Luminaria has been advertised in other markets. iHeartMedia (formerly Clear Channel) donated airtime on radio stations in Dallas and Houston.
Whether they are critics or cheerleaders, almost everyone in the arts community is curious to see what the “new and improved” Luminaria will be like. Judging from the caliber of the murals alone – not to mention the music lineup – it seems very promising. Will a great event be sufficient to assuage the criticisms being leveled at the Luminaria board? We shall see.