Arts and Culture Reporter Nicholas Frank was among the presenters Friday at PechaKucha Vol. 37. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

Nicholas Frank’s mother, Ruth, used to tell a joke.

“I got into a convertible with my friends,” he recounted her saying. “They took off, and I fell out and they kept going. They drove on, Ruthlessly.”

After the audience’s laughter dissipated a bit, he continued.

“In 2012, her brain had a stroke, and her brain drove on, ruthlessly, without her.”

Frank, an artist who is the arts and culture reporter for the Rivard Report, opened the 37th PechaKucha San Antonio event on Thursday evening with a six-minute, 40-second presentation about holding onto memories and his mother’s dementia. Hundreds gathered at the Hermann Sons Ballroom in downtown San Antonio to hear him and seven other speakers tell their stories in the PechaKucha format, which gives presenters 20 seconds to talk about 20 slides. This PechaKucha happened to fall on International PechaKucha Day – Feb. 20, 2020, or 02/20/2020.

In his presentation, Frank acknowledged he often failed to document key memories in his own life. He showed a photo of himself playing guitar for a BBC taping, but he was not legally permitted to share recordings of the performance. He has hundreds of beer photos on his phone, but only one picture of a gallery that he ran in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. His first presentation slide was completely blank.

“This is an image of maybe my most important show as an artist, titled ‘Nicholas Frank: Biography.’” he said. “That’s right, nothing. Chalk it up to a misunderstanding, but the curator took down the show before I could get images. Pics or it didn’t happen, right?”

Another speaker, Saint City Culinary Foundation founder Joel Rivas shared how his life has been redirected to support hospitality industry workers who struggle with substance abuse and mental health issues. People have turned their attention to sustainable agriculture and food production, but not toward maintaining a sustainable lifestyle for people who serve their food, he said.

“These men and women serve us every day,” he said. “They’re givers and sometimes give too much.”

Beto Altamirano, who co-founded civic engagement startup Cityflag, talked about his work in establishing an innovation center in the central African nation of Chad, while immigrant health advocate Laura Molinar spoke on her path away from and back to Texas after being horrified by what she called “atrocities” at the U.S.-Mexico border. Though she moved to Chicago and found resilience and mental toughness there, Molinar came back to Texas and began Sueños Sin Fronteras to help provide health care and support to immigrant women and children.

Some stories stayed much closer to San Antonio. Olivia Ortiz, CEO of design agency Burnt Nopal and wife of artist Cruz Ortiz, detailed the birth and early childhood development of her eldest daughter, Graciela. She knew something was not right when Graciela missed milestones such as learning how to crawl. Through early intervention, Ortiz was able to get Graciela one-on-one classes and help her gain verbal communication and independent movement.

Graciela was finally diagnosed in May 2016 with Rett syndrome, a neurological disorder that is also regressive. Graciela can no longer walk or talk, but is “cognitively aware” and still communicates with her mother through a speech device.

“We never taught her to read,” Ortiz said with pride. “We found she could spell phonetically when she began using her talker. With her talker, we’ve been getting a little window into her world. I heard her say, ‘I love you’ two years ago.”

This edition of PechaKucha was dedicated to artist Katie Pell, who died last December. In her memory, former students and colleagues shared how she impacted their lives. Pell led the Teen Studio Intensive Program at the Southwest School for Art, and Daniel Espinoza has been part of the program for two years. Pell always supported his artwork and encouraged him, he said.

“I’ve never lost anyone close to me before, and I miss her a lot,” Espinoza said.

Fer Quezada is studying at the Southwest School of Art and worked as an assistant to the Teen Studio program with Pell. She found a mentor in the late artist, she said. She saw in Pell qualities she wanted to develop as an educator.

But before she enrolled at the art school, Quezada said she was nervous and still very self-conscious, hyper-aware of others’ attention. But Pell helped draw her out. Quezada showed two art pieces – one created in high school at the height of her insecurity, a portrait of a girl with eyeballs surrounding her.

“This piece is called, ‘Ladies And Gentleman We Are Floating In Space.’ … It’s based on my constant awareness of my own body and the way it looks to other people,” Quezada said. “I was extremely insecure with myself and my appearance. I was very calculated in the way I talked, moved, and acted. I felt like I was always being watched.”

But Pell showed her that new people and social situations could be fun. Now, she’s hoping to complete a painting with a much lighter feel – trees, water, a girl in the middle, the sun shining in the sky. That rough sketch was inspired by her relationship with Katie, Quezada said.

“Talking with Katie has changed the way I viewed the world and myself,” she said. “I hadn’t noticed how much Katie had impacted my life and art. I am so grateful to have been able to meet such a strong woman.”

The next PechaKucha event is scheduled for June 2 at the Espee, formerly known as Historic Sunset Station.

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Jackie Wang

Jackie Wang covered local government for the San Antonio Report.