The forthcoming Monarch Butterfly and Pollinator Festival, which will take place from Oct. 20-22 at the Pearl and the Instituto Cultural de México, started with the simple idea of hosting a celebration of Monarch butterflies and other pollinators, but as word about the festival continued to spread, it pollinated more programming and ideas, and inspired others to join in on the planning.

“The magnetism of Monarch butterflies is good for other pollinators. There are so many ways to connect people and we can use this event to leverage interest in education and awareness in other species,” Monika Maeckle, organizer of the event and founder of Texas Butterfly Ranch, told the Rivard Report in September.

The fact that the festival takes place in San Antonio has only added to its momentum, considering that the city was named the first official “Monarch Champion City” in the United States – a unique designation by the National Wildlife Federation for cities that adopt all of the federation’s 24 recommendations for Monarch conservation. In addition, the Monarch butterflies migrate through the “Texas Funnel” as they make their way from Mexico to the U.S.

Distinguished leaders from Mexico, the U.S., and Canada – from various stops along the route of the Monarch migration pattern – will be in San Antonio for two panels during the festival, one at the Instituto Cultural de México on Thursday, Oct. 20, and another at the Pearl Stable on Friday, Oct. 21.

Ignacio Arcas
Ignacio Arcas Credit: Courtesy photo

Day One – THURSDAY, OCT. 20 | 6-9:30 p.m. (Free)

Kicking off the festival on Oct. 20, the Instituto Cultural, 600 Hemisfair Plaza Way, will host a photo exhibit of nature photographer Ignacio Arcas, whose photographs of Monarch roosting sites will grace the outside and inside walls of the Instituto. Arcas, who has dabbled in taxidermy and photography throughout his life, was born in Mexico City in 1969, where his passion for nature blossomed as he lived next to one of Mexico’s most famous national parks, Parque Nacional El Chico.

“For me, photography is an exceptional medium to promote the conservation of the environment, (and create) awareness in the population through my photographic work,” Arcas stated in an email.

In addition to Arcas’ photo exhibit, a special installation by artist David J. Romero titled De donde vienen las mariposas – “From where the butterflies go” – will be available for viewing at the Instituto the same day. His artwork replicates the Monarch butterfly roosting sites and will be exhibited in the Instituto’s main lobby.

That same opening day, the Instituto will feature a special program and discussion from 6-7 p.m., where Consul General of Mexico in San Antonio Héctor Velasco Monroy will open the event with a welcome. Arcas will be present to share details on his experience shooting migratory species, and Maeckle will speak about the Monarch migration, the importance of the Texas Funnel, and the Monarch’s relevance in ecology.

Joining Arcas and Maeckle is Mexican researcher and forester Cuauhtémoc Sáenz Romero, who will address the challenges of Monarch roosting site conservation and the effect of climate change in Michoacán, Mexico. Cocktails will be provided at the end of the discussion.

Hanging from above the exhibit spaces of the Instituto will be beautiful silk dresses and coats inspired by Monarch butterflies, crafted by Mexican designer Pineda Covalin. Instituto Cultural de México Director Mónica del Arenal personally went to Mexico City to pick up the exclusive pieces, some of which are part of the permanent collection and, thus, no longer available for sale.

“This will only be an exhibition,” Del Arenal said in Spanish, explaining that the pieces will not be for sale. “One of the dresses opens up (on both sides) as if it were the wings of the butterfly. This piece will be hung (from above).”

Founded in 1996 by Cristina Pineda and Ricardo Covalin, the company’s mission is to showcase unique products inspired by Mexican and Latin American designs and historical themes.

Del Arenal said that the panel with Arcas, Maeckle, and Sáenz at the Instituto is a recent addition to the program.

“We will have a dialogue table with a photographer (Arcas), a scientist (Sáenz), and an activist, who is Monika,” Del Arenal said. “So the idea is to have three different visionaries come together to talk about the topic and their experiences (regarding the butterflies).”

Sáenz said he wasn’t fully aware of how great the interest in Monarchs in Texas was, even though San Antonio is such an important place for the butterflies’ migration.

“I think that citizen input is extremely important when it comes to placing value on the importance of Monarch migration,” he added. “Going from that to concrete action, such as by cultivating more Asclepias (Milkweed) to help feed the butterfly larvae.”

The event is free and open to the public. Arcas’ exhibit along with Romero’s installation and Covalin’s silk pieces will be on display until January 2017.

Day Two – FRIDAY, OCT. 21 | 6-8 p.m.

The Pearl Studio, located at 200 E. Grayson St., will play host to the “Climate Change and the Monarch Butterfly Migration Symposium” from 6-8 p.m.

There will be limited seating at this event, and tickets cost $10 per person. To purchase tickets, click here.

The panel will be moderated by Rackspace Corporate Communications Vice President Dan Goodgame, a global leader in cloud computing. Goodgame, a best-selling author and finalist for a Pulitzer Prize, worked as a top editor at TIME and Fortune and served as a White House Correspondent and foreign correspondent in Europe and the Middle East.

Catalina Trail “discovered” the Monarch roosting sites in Michoacán, Mexico after years of searching as a citizen scientist.
Catalina Trail “discovered” the Monarch roosting sites in Michoacán, Mexico after years of searching as a citizen scientist. Credit: Courtesy photo

At the panel, Maeckle will take the place of Catalina Trail, the woman who, alongside her husband Ken Brugger, led U.S. scientists to the Monarch roosting grounds in Michoacán, Mexico in 1975, and was consequently featured on the cover of National Geographic in 1976. Trail was 25 years old.

Trail, who was born in Morelia, Mexico, but now resides in Austin, was slated to attend the festival as a panelist, but is unable to attend due to health reasons. Maeckle will provide ample information about Trail’s life and the adventure that led her and Brugger to discover the millions of Monarch butterflies roosting in the Oyamel trees in Michoacán’s Cerro Pelón.

Joining Maeckle is Cathy Downs, a citizen scientist and local Monarch expert who works for Monarch Watch, as well as Canadian atmospheric scientist Katharine Hayhoe, who was recently dubbed “a national treasure” by Anthony Leiserowitz, the director of the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication. Hayhoe is also an author and the current director for the Center for Climate Change at Texas Tech in Lubbock. Sáenz rounds out the lineup of panelists; he is widely known for proposing that the Monarch roosting sites be moved to a higher altitude in order to save the butterflies from the coming impact of global climate change.

The panel will showcase how the three countries in the Monarch’s migration route are interconnected and provide an accessible way to understand complex problems such as climate change, the role of pesticides, and more.

“I’m very excited to discuss ways in which even urban and suburban areas can contribute to Monarch and pollinator conservation and to introduce resources which can bring Monarchs into the classroom,” Cathy Downs stated in an email to the Rivard Report. 

This event will likely be live streamed. Check here for updates.

Day Three – SATURDAY, OCT. 22  | 9 a.m.-1 p.m. (Free)

The Pearl, located at 303 Pearl Pkwy., will host the free Monarch Butterfly and Pollinators Festival that begins with a parade at 9:30 a.m. Costumes are encouraged and the parade will be led by “Pedaling Pollinators,” a group with butterfly-themed bikes from San Antonio Earn a Bike Co-op.

A butterfly release will begin at 10:30 a.m., where children and adults can learn how to appropriately tag Monarch butterflies and may also participate in a visually stunning butterfly release. There will be a second release at noon, and the Pearl’s weekly farmers market will be in full swing, and will include a live bee hive demonstration, native plant sales, butterfly and caterpillar story time at The Twig Book Shop, live caterpillars and other critters, and more. Saturday’s events are free and open to the public.

The Rivard Report asked both Maeckle and Downs what it is about butterflies that makes them so popular and fascinating to children and adults alike.

“Monarch butterflies, to me, are an icon,” Downs stated. “Easily recognizable, loved and cherished by all, they are the best model for teaching conservation of wildlife and pollinator habitat to adults and introducing science and nature to students in the classroom. Each life cycle stage is beautiful and exciting and their migration is unique to the world stage.”

“I think they are just beautiful and intriguing,” Maeckle said. “The way they dance through the air and catch your attention … (it’s) mostly to do with their appearance and way they move around … they don’t bite. It’s also fascinating to read about metamorphosis …”

The Monarch butterfly population has tripled since last year. Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone
The Monarch butterfly population has tripled since last year. Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone

The Monarch Butterfly and Pollinator Festival is sponsored by the Pearl, Trinity University, HEB, San Antonio River Authority, Rivard Report, Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, and Texas Butterfly Ranch.

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Rocío Guenther

Rocío Guenther has called San Antonio home for more than a decade. Originally from Guadalajara, Mexico, she bridges two countries, two cultures, and two languages. Rocío has demonstrated experience in...