The tone of Urban-15’s announcement for its “Pandemic-Proof” Mega Corazon poetry extravaganza is one of urgency and relief, that at least one event is immune to the coronavirus outbreak. Despite the challenges of a citywide shutdown, the neighborhood arts organization and performance troupe continues its 40-year tradition of bringing art to the San Antonio community.

The free, annual Mega Corazon performance poetry reading will go on as scheduled Monday, April 6, from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., with featured poets including new San Antonio Poet Laureate Andrea “Vocab” Sanderson, Octavio Quintanilla, Carmen Tafolla, John Phillip Santos, poetry slam champions Amalia Ortiz and Anthony “The Poet” Flores, Jim LaVilla-Havelin, Eddie Vega, Eduardo Garza, musicians Juan and Armando Tejeda, Génesis Linares, VirginX author Natalia Treviño, and others.

Each will read and perform poems submitted from home via video, the only difference from what was formerly an event taped at Urban-15 headquarters on South Presa Street.

A 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. segment focused on youth poetry is designed especially for students currently learning from home, and a 7 p.m. segment will highlight the Young Pegasus youth poetry competition that began in 1927. Three past competition winners will read their winning poems: Naomi Shihab Nye, Alice Canestaro-Garcia, and former San Antonio Mayor Henry Cisneros.

Mega Corazon can be livestreamed on Monday using this link.

The Mega Corazon event evolved from the Urban Verses poetry series that began in 2004. New technology brought the event to the internet in 2018 for an annual one-day “literary livestream,” said Urban-15 co-founder George Cisneros, a development that seems prescient with the coronavirus pandemic forcing many cultural activities online.

“Ironically, we were ahead of the curve on this one,” he said. The announcement states, “Always ahead of its time, Mega Corazon now finds itself strategically well-positioned to provide a much-needed artistic infusion into our strange, new reality of social distancing.”

But Urban-15’s programming has long been aimed at reaching a community beyond neighborhood boundaries, said Marisol Cortez, Urban-15 humanities advisor. “Even before the pandemic pushed everyone online, our aim has always been to use digital technology to create a truly community-based, grassroots humanities resource on arts and culture in San Antonio and South Texas,” she said.

Cortez compared the digital resources Urban-15 offers to public art, using the term “public humanities” in delivering traditional humanities content, such as history, film studies, and literature, beyond museums, universities and other academic settings.

“it’s really necessary work to do, to make [humanities] accessible to the community,” she said, “and to have the community participate in the production of humanistic knowledge.”

Mega Corazon is just one installment in Urban-15’s Hidden Histories series, an archive of video documentaries that tell local stories. Monthly episodes dating back to January 2018 feature a wide range of subjects, including 1920s Westside composer Cenobio Hernandez, the Alamo in film, Communion author Whitley Strieber on UFO sightings in the Olmos Basin, public education innovations, advertising before digital media, and most recently, early Tejano architecture and documentary photography with Michael Nye and Ramin Samandari.

Along with fellow members of the Westside Arts Coalition, Cortez cited Urban-15’s deep community roots as its primary means of learning and sharing these local histories. In fact, she invited Rivard Report readers to send in ideas for new episodes of Hidden Histories.

“If you have archives, you have your grandparents’ papers or photos, or you have interesting stories about San Antonio that haven’t been told, we’re very interested in all of that,” she said.  “We’d love to hear from the community.”

Cortez suggested readers email findus@hiddenhistories.tv with pitches for information to be included in the series.

The series, including Mega Corazon, is meant to be as accessible as possible, Cisneros said, and readily available technology only aids in the effort to tell San Antonio’s stories. “In this great meanwhile,” he said of the uncertain pause in daily life, “the smartphone is the delivery system.”

Nicholas Frank

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 an indie rock...