Up On The On. (

On Thursday, January 30, the San Antonio River Foundation (SARF) will take over the Charline McCombs Empire Theatre to raise funds for their Confluence Park project with a novel event: the Rio Viva Diva fashion show.

The River Foundation’s mission, “to promote educational, cultural, and scientific projects and activities that enhance the conservation, stewardship, restoration, preservation, and enjoyment of the land and water resources of the San Antonio River basin and its tributaries,” has resulted in some of the most recognizable additions to the river in recent history.

Rendering of Confluence Park courtesy of SARF.

Since the San Antonio River Authority (SARA) established SARF in 2003, the organization has primarily focused on the San Antonio River Improvements Project (SARIP) to create a linear urban park snaking through the city.


“Everything that the River Foundation does helps to build a better San Antonio. We thought that Rio Viva Diva would be a great way to get people excited about shopping local while supporting our cause,” said SARF special events/volunteer coordinator April Carnahan, “and that it would be a fun way to engage a different group of people and let them know what we’re doing.”

The event begins at 6:30 p.m. with time for wine, champagne, food and mingling before the half-hour fashion show starts at 7:30 p.m. First conceived as a “girls night out”-type function, Carnahan reported that based on the ticket sales so far ($100 per person, by the way), men and women alike (some 350 in total, Carnahan guesses) will be in attendance next week.

The Charline McCombs Empire Theatre (photo courtesy of Parish Photography)
The Charline McCombs Empire Theatre. (Photo by Parish Photography)

There will be a raffle ($50 per ticket) for five high-dollar items, and fashion “swag bags” for all ticket holders filled with items donated by local boutiques. Two bags will contain a “silver ticket” and “golden ticket,” entitling the bearers to some super lush prizes (either an 18k gold ring from a local jewelry designer or a Cinco Vodka party for up to fifty people).

Notable women from around San Antonio will serve “models” for the evening, including SARA general manager Suzanne Scott and SARF board member/CEO of Rio San Antonio Cruises JoAnn Boone. They’ll showcase trends straight from the racks of local stores like Aquarius Boutique, Penny Lane, Adelante Boutique, Gallo y Dama and more.

Carnahan and the SARF team, along with help from 40 volunteers, have worked for several months to plan the event. All proceeds will benefit the SARF capital campaign for Confluence Park, a former industrial lay down yard at the convergence of the San Antonio River and San Pedro Creek, near Mission Concepción. Situated in one of the most urbanized and economically disadvantaged parts of town, the park will serve as a “destination for learning and recreation,” using smart design and integrated environmental systems to provide opportunities to engage with and educate the community about native ecological systems, the river and conservation.

Rendering of Confluence Park courtesy of SARF.

SARF raised almost $12 million in private dollars for the Museum Reach section of the San Antonio River Improvements Project (SARIP) stretching from Lexington Avenue to Grayson Street. This includes such well-known installations as “The Grotto” by faux bois (false wood) artist Carlos Cortés, with eerie faces and realistic stalactites and stalagmites emerging from the craggy, man-made cave. Donald Lipski’s iconic “F.I.S.H.” sculpture, an illuminated school of sunfish (San Antonio River natives) hanging from the I-35 overpass near Camden Street, also comprises a part of the Museum Reach.

The Grotto (left) and F.I.S.H. (right).  (Photos from the SARF website.)
The Grotto (left) and F.I.S.H. (right).
(Photos from the SARF website.)
Maverick Tiles (top) and HemisFair Panels (bottom). (Photos from the SARF website.)
Maverick Tiles (top) and HemisFair Panels (bottom). (Photos from the SARF website.)

But the project includes smaller, subtler installations, too: The Maverick Tile Mural, on the River Walk wall near El Tropicano Hotel, depicts romanticized images of life in a Mexican Village. The piece dates back to the 1930s and was rescued from a house demolition in the late ’90s by art historian Susan Toomey Frost.

Likewise, the Hemisfair Panels across from the San Antonio Museum of Art add a delicate international flair to the Museum Reach. These metal tiles from Taiwan were a part of that country’s pavilion at the 1968 HemisFair and present an interlocking, swirling pattern called leiwen, a “thunder” pattern used on bronze vessels by the ruling elite in ancient China.

Improvements also extend southward, of course, into the Mission Reach area: the eight-mile section stretching south of downtown from Lone Star Boulevard to Mission Espada.

The River Foundation’s goal, “to transform the Mission Reach by adding educational and recreational opportunities and artistic strokes to the environmental restoration underway by the River Improvements Project,” can be seen in such additions as Mark Schlesinger’sUp on the On” just southwest of Roosevelt Park. The footbridge mixes natural river rocks with painted, textured rocks that glow softly at night.

Up On The On. (Photo from the SARF website.)

[For more on the Mission Reach and Confluence Park, check out this recent story by Tracy Idell Hamilton in Texas Architect.]

Known for creative and enjoyable fundraising events (the Spring River Social, RiverTini Pour Off, etc.), SARF may just have set themselves up for another win with Rio Viva Diva.

“We’ve been receiving a lot of good feedback about the [fashion show],” said Carnahan. “Now that the word is out, folks are reaching out and asking if they can be involved. This year is already planned, but local shops and boutiques saying to keep them in mind for next year.”

Miriam Sitz is a freelance writer in San Antonio. A graduate of Trinity University, she blogs on Miriam210.com. Follow her on Twitter at @miriamsitz and click here for more stories from Miriam Sitz on the Rivard Report.

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Miriam Sitz

Miriam Sitz writes about urbanism, architecture, design, and more. Follow her on Twitter at @MiriamSitz