Before Thomas Edison’s 1878 commercial light bulb came Humphry Davy’s electric “arc light” of 1802, and Warren de la Rue’s vacuum-tube light bulb of 1840. Much later, in 2014, three Japanese scientists won the Nobel Prize for inventing energy-saving blue LED lights.
All of these forms of lighting – and anything else luminescent that artists can invent – will brighten the 11th annual Luminaria contemporary arts festival at Hemisfair, Saturday, Nov. 10, from 7 p.m. to midnight.
As in the past, the main part of Luminaria takes place in the dark of night, so artists are charged with making artworks that glow in the dark, incorporate flame or electric light, or otherwise play with the theme of illumination. In previous years examples included phosphorescent paint and propane-fueled towers of flame. This year, artworks will feature portable LEDs, light strings, glass tubes with chemoluminescent liquid, video, shadow play, and fluorescence.
Sound is also an important component of the festival. Composer Nathan Felix will stage a new “headphone opera,” The War Bride, that allows audience members to wander among performers as they listen and take in visuals by sculptor Chris Sauter.
Indie bands are featured on the main stage, situated by The Magik Theatre with the new 25 Windows and a Frame mural by Spanish artist SAN (Daniel Muñoz) serving as a backdrop. Local bands Buttercup, Deer Vibes, and Cadillac Muzik will perform, among others.
This year, a new stage for acoustic music and performance joins the lineup at the Mexican Cultural Institute, featuring San Antonio jazz artist Aaron Prado and performance artist Anna De Luna. Musicians Azul, Jay Wile, and Joel Adrian will perform on the Yanaguana Stage.
For a respite from what promises to be a cold November evening, the indoor UNAM stage will showcase readings by the Hemisfair Plaza Poets, a group assembled especially for Luminaria, and a reading by Nan Cuba from her new novel He Didn’t Kill Nobody But Mom. Juan and Armando Tejeda also will perform songs from their new project Raiz Xicanx, a concept album that traces multiple musical influences and cultures.
Although it’s an official Tricentennial event, Luminaria is not specifically focused on San Antonio’s 300th anniversary. However, a few among the more than 50 artists and collaborative groups involved focus on Tricentennial themes.
Artist Suzy Gonzalez, of local group Dos Mestizx, brings a version of her curated Remedios Sagrados project, in which 10 artists focus on indigenous wisdom, and an Austin-based collaborative group that includes Rosa Nussbaum, Kevin Choi, Trent Tunks, and MaKayla Rutt will honor Hemisfair’s past with a mobile popup installation titled The Ghost of Germantown.
Just into its second decade, Luminaria appears to have found its home at Hemisfair. When first conceived by Mayor Phil Hardberger in 2008, city officials closed down major downtown streets for the festival, which drew an audience near 100,000, he said at a special media event Friday night.
The festival had two goals, he said. “One was to show San Antonio themselves how much talent was here and unrecognized, and that you didn’t have to go anywhere, you could see it right here.”
The other was to help artists make a viable living in San Antonio. “I do think we’ve been successful in that,” he said. However, “it could be bigger,” he said of the event, which now regularly draws around 20,000 attendees. “We have not equaled the crowds we had the first two years.”
Assistant City Manager Lori Houston was on hand for the media event to introduce Luminaria. Houston said the budget for the first two editions of the festival far exceeded the current budget, in large part due to the costs of closing city streets.
Board member Stuart Allen, who showed as a featured artist in Luminaria’s first year, said having a home at Hemisfair helps the festival’s recognition among its potential audience.
“I think repeating in the same footprint is a really good idea, and people are starting to associate it with a certain time of year and a certain place. Ultimately that’s a good plan,” Allen said. “This is such a great venue, that it just makes sense.”
Hemisfair Chief Executive Officer Andres Andujar agreed. “Luminaria attracts thousands of locals to your urban park and brings light to the ease of access, enlightening our community to amazing world-class art,” he said.
“Look around and notice the audience,” Andujar continued. “This is exactly who we are, this is San Antonio’s DNA at its best. It is our history, our future, our culture.”
Check the Luminaria website for further information on both days of festival programming, information on parking, and maps of the grounds.