Lights, music, and color filled Hemisfair and spilled onto the River Walk during the 12th annual Luminaria Festival on Saturday night.

The two-day festival will feature 50 artists, musicians, filmmakers, performance artists, dancers, and writers.

“Luminaria helps bring the world to San Antonio and show the world what we have to offer in art and culture and all the things that make our city a great place,” Mayor Ron Nirenberg said to a throng of attendees at the main stage to kick off the evening.

More than half of the participating artists, who are selected by a committee of curators, are local. Some hail from other countries such as Mexico, Spain, and France.

Organizers estimate that the festival will attract 20,000 over the two days of events. 

“Every year this has gotten bigger and better and this night is no exception,” Nirenberg said.

The main stage was ablaze with professional fire jugglers and elaborate costumes as musical theater group Lunar Fire performed the first of several shows there. Three women held canisters of flammable fluid that gave the appearance from afar that they were balancing fireballs just above their palms.

While Lunar Fire continued their set, children crawled under a large artisan net and sat on pillows while watching videos of performance art. The woven canopy of the piece, “Asopomora – Connectivity” by Nigerian artist Olaniyi Rasheed Akindiya, also known as Akirash, was illuminated with flashing and moving lights. It was unclear if the toddlers understood that the fort was meant to be a place for meditation and reflection, but it did give some parents a chance to take a breath.

Luminaria attendees explore a woven canopy temple with meditation space created by artist Akirash.

Across the pedestrian boulevard, the Herrmann Building’s porch was drenched in blacklight that brought hanging nostalgic objects – a tricycle, a stuffed animal, and more – and paintings to life. San Antonio painter Albert Gonzales’ installation aimed to “tell a story to the younger generations, connect with his generation of young adults in San Antonio, and pay respect to the generations before him,” according to the artist’s statement. Attendees took turns posing for photos in the surreal homage to generations young and old.

Local artist Albert Gonzales’ installation titled Space – Continued features neon floating objects and room to have a photograph taken.

Luminaria was founded in 2008 by then-Mayor Phil Hardberger, who wanted to bring the flavor of other large festivals, such as Nuit Blanche in Paris, and Madrid’s La Noche en Blanco to San Antonio. It started in Alamo Plaza, and hopped around to showcase the downtown landscape – new and historic – for years until it landed back in Hemisfair.

Luminaria was founded because “we want the entire United States to know that we have so much talent and beauty in San Antonio,” Hardberger said during his opening remarks. “It’s not only to show other people what we can do – but to show ourselves what we can do.”

Most art during Luminaria’s nighttime program plays with light and interaction – even attendees participated by wearing brightly-lit, handmade costumes for a costume contest. The festival stretched beyond visual art to include performance and musical arts. An open-mic stage in the historic courtyard in Yanaguana Garden featured several songwriters, vocalists, and musicians. The main stage featured musical and performance art all night, and two short plays took place in the River Walk level of the Henry B. Gonzales Convention Center.

Sunday programming will include a community arts day at Hemisfair, with an artist market, ticketed artist brunches, workshops, and demonstrations, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. A special closing performance at Mission San José by Mike Ryan y Los San Patricios, will take place from 4 to 6 p.m.

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“The Mike Ryan Coyotes (MyCryin’Coyotes) morph into an Irish punk/folk/rock band to explore the cultural and historical connections between the Irish diaspora and the Mexican people – recalling the history of the San Patricios Battalion,” according to the Luminaria website.

Click here for a complete list of artists and descriptions of their projects.

But there was at least one unsanctioned performance during the Saturday night event.

In the middle of the pedestrian Boulevard through Hemisfair, two people wearing Guy Fawkes – or “Anonymous” – masks stood silently back-to-back holding digital screens. Crowds gathered to watch videos showing animal cruelty in the meat industry.

A man wearing an anonymous mask holds a monitor that displays video of slaughtering of animals.

Some parents cringed and walked away angrily while other attendees watched in curious horror. Jeff, a longtime vegan, explained the health and environmental benefits of veganism to a receptive mother and two children.

Jeff, who declined to give his last name, said the demonstration was organized by Anonymous for the Voiceless, an animal rights organization.

Iris Dimmick

Iris Dimmick

Senior reporter Iris Dimmick covers City Hall, politics, development, and more. Contact her at iris@sareport.org