At its first visit to the new Confluence Park on the city’s South Side, PechaKucha San Antonio enjoyed a shorter format, a cool breeze, and a slate of speakers willing to roll up their sleeves to build meaningful bridges.
The 30th edition of the local speaker series – devised 15 years ago by architects in Tokyo to inspire concise and thought-provoking presentations – featured six back-to-back presentations by one of the park’s pioneers, an arts and culture ambassador, an urban farmer, an emerging artist, a public relations expert, and a local jazz legend.
Standing at the podium beneath Confluence Park’s signature petal pavilion, San Antonio River Foundation Executive Director Robert Amerman kicked off the night with a theme that persisted throughout: “Makers gonna make.”
A box of hand-me-down Lego blocks sparked his interest in building things as a child, Amerman said. That curiosity never died, leading him to dabble in sculpture, gallery representation, architecture, technology, and eventually his role in making Confluence Park a reality.
“The act of building is tied to the act of destruction,” he said, and striking a balance between the two is part of the many iterations that lead to a final product. “We must be willing to make mistakes and messes in the process” if we expect to “build something that matters, something with authenticity.”
The collaboration that goes into major projects “begins with respect, requires us to listen to one another, and find consensus,” he said, “and we need that culture of making now more than ever.”
Mónica del Arenal, who recently resigned as director of the Instituto Cultural de México at Hemisfair, views art and cultural representations as the maker of connections among people from different backgrounds. In her various roles, she has worked to connect the cultures of Texas and Mexico in a collaborative and diplomatic way, especially in light of “a difficult political climate.”
“Authenticity and tradition must be preserved,” she said, “and this is the best time for us all to share” those cultural connectors.
It took many messes, misfortunes, and community members getting their hands dirty for Cecile Parrish to reach her goal of establishing two urban farms for IDEA Public Schools in San Antonio. The in-ground farm on its Monterrey Park campus on the city’s West Side has yielded more than 4,000 pounds of produce for the school’s 11 campus cafeterias since the beginning of the year, she said.
But the project does more than provide lessons, agriculture, and nutrition to her students: Through the hands-on work, Parrish gets to know the challenges of children who are socioeconomically disadvantaged and helps them develop a sense of self.
“When I press them to dig deeper on what it is they love about farming, they say, ‘the peace and love it brings,’” Parrish said. “I think we can all agree we need more of that in our lives.”
A maker of art, Ethan Gonzalez is a member of the Southwest School of Art’s first class graduating with a bachelor of fine arts degree. Walking his audience through the process of creating his final thesis project, a sleek array of terra cotta disks, Gonzalez described the “transformation and purification” that went into his creation – in both the material and philosophical sense.
“Materials are not passive,” he said, “and to raise the material status of ‘stuff,’ we must cultivate aesthetic openness.
“As we give shape to art, we give shape to our lives.”
Public relations chief Trish DeBerry has filled many roles in many shoes: after a decade as a TV reporter, anchor, and producer, she switched gears and coordinated the campaign for then-Councilman Ed Garza, who became the second Hispanic mayor of San Antonio, and eventually ran for mayor herself. Now she manages campaigns for a host of clients in various industries and markets.
“As one of six kids, you learn to speak up and compete with the boys,” she said. Her own path inspired her to encourage young women to chase their dreams, no matter how daunting.
Fifty years of traveling roads domestic and foreign has yielded an abundance of experiences for jazz cornetist Jim Cullum, who began his presentation by playing a few tunes on a cornet he bought in 1955 for $8. Images of him playing for Pope John Paul II, at Carnegie Hall in New York City, in Guadalajara, Mexico, and with Louis Armstrong flashed across the screen as Cullum humorously recalled making music and memories with his father and industry greats.
PechaKucha Vol. 31 will take place Aug. 28 at the Empire Theatre.