Randy Beamer, News 4 San Antonio anchor, emcees the event. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

The Tobin Center for the Performing Arts hosted PechaKucha Vol. 36 Wednesday night. A full house of inquisitive locals gathered to watch and listen as six San Antonians shared short presentations, each like a small window into the unique passion, history and wisdom of the presenter.

Themes of the evening included understanding, compassion, humor, ecological consciousness, artistic and personal independence, and hope.

Since 2011, PechaKucha, the Alamo City’s version of a global phenomenon, has brought together artists, entrepreneurs, city leaders, academics, and more to deliver bits of their expertise and enthusiasm. 

The PechaKucha format was first developed in Japan in 2003 by Klein Dytham Architecture. It has since spread to more than 900 cities worldwide. The parameters are simple. Six presenters get twenty slides each. Each slide is shown for only twenty seconds, making for a total of six minutes and 40 seconds per presentation.

Wednesday’s presenters included author and Trinity University professor emeritus Robert Lopez Flynn, electronic R&B singer-songwriter Alyson Alonzo, upholsterer and entrepreneur Reggie De La Garza, artist Missi Smith, photographer Michael Nye, and multidisciplinary artist David Zamora Casas. Randy Beamer, a News 4 San Antonio anchor and previous host of PechaKucha events, and Rivard Report Editor and Publisher Robert Rivard emceed.

Flynn presented first, offering up humorous and bawdy reflections on his hometown of Chillicothe, Texas, in particular his experiences with the congregation of the town’s lone Baptist church and that church’s feud with the tiny town’s lone Methodist church. 

The 88-year-old Flynn, as well-known for his satirical and humorous writings as for his work in western fiction, leaned heavily on the former and kept the crowd giggling.

Alonzo told the story of her journey to music. Something of a San Antonio music legacy, Alonzo’s godfather Oscar Lawson was a founding member of the pioneering Westside soul band the Royal Jesters, though she “didn’t really understand what a big deal they were” until much later.

Though keyboards had always fascinated her and compelled her to create music, Alonzo’s shyness held her back from singing until she was over 18 years old. After trying to work in bands in which “the music was just never really lining up,” Alonzo said she found her comfort zone and her creative sweet spot making the kind of electronic bedroom R&B music that she makes today

She ended her presentation by giving recognition to six other LGBTQIA musicians working In San Antonio, a nod to the work she does on air with Queer Vibes, her weekly radio show on Trinity University’s KRTU station. 

De La Garza also shared her personal journey, along with something of a call to action.

Her mother worked for a furniture store when De La Garza was growing up, and she was fond of watching the workers there upholster and repair furniture.

“This,” she said, “was my first encounter with the possibilities of preservation.”

It was also where her interest in textile design started, as “walking through two decades of these manicured and mostly gaudy interior settings” spurred her imagination.

She was in the midst of studying for a career in the music business when she decided to return to this inspiration from her past. She apprenticed for two years under a master upholsterer, before starting her own business Shangri-La Homestead Upholstery and Soft Furnishings.

De La Garza shared that her love of her craft has grown alongside a commitment to preservation, as opposed to constantly buying new items.

“Unsustainable materials beget cheap furniture,” she said, arguing that the convenience of new, mass produced furniture shouldn’t cause us to overlook its consequences for the environment, for communities, and even potentially for our own health.

Smith’s presentation marked a shift from largely autobiographical reflections to broader, more nebulous, even poetic expressions. 

Rather than a straightforward or how-to look at the creative process, Smith’s presentation was it own artistic creation. Following a pattern of stating a noun, like “origin,” “substructure,” or “intuition,” and then layering personal definitions upon them, Smith offered food for contemplation, as well as advice.

“Each tool serves a purpose,” she said, “but it is through the artist that the work is materialized.”

She ended by praising the diversity, talent and warmth that she’s found in San Antonio’s artistic community since moving here in 1984.

In Nye’s presentation, titled “Every Person, Every Place is a Map to Somewhere Else,” he blended bits of autobiography with poetic reflections, like “there are no accidental destinations in sleep” and “dreams have airy roots,” before reflecting on the magic and mystery of photography and discussing poignant lessons learned from his work on the traveling exhibition My Heart is Not Blind: On Blindness and Perception.

“To understand another person,” he said, “we must consider things from his or her point of view.”

“Listening is the purest form of generosity. It’s a window into a larger world than our own. Every place, every person is a map to somewhere else.”

Casas, whose performance artist’s flair and sense of drama closed out the evening, delivered a presentation that was about his own work and its social and political aims.

With light and moody synthesizer sounds playing behind him, Casas proclaimed his own mission.

“I tell my story with interconnected, life-affirming, visceral narratives,” he said. “I use word and image to develop themes of love, loss, and redemption.

Casas offered insights into his artistic practice entwined with cryptic warnings like “the river, she is dying” and “Mother Earth is burning.”

He makes his work, he said, “to raise awareness of preserving cultural heritage and celebrating diversity.”

Shortly before concluding, Casas spoke a few dedications.

“I honor the women and men of Aztlán, who bring picante flavor to the white bread world,” he said.

“In solidarity, we witness the gentrification of our once charming pueblo. We pray for city sponsored, equitable individual artist funding and we pray for the children at our United States detention centers.”

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James Courtney

James Courtney is a freelance arts and culture journalist in San Antonio. He also is a poet, a high school English teacher and debate coach, and a proud girl dad.