The opening night of "The Saga" video art installation on San Fernando Cathedral in Main Plaza. Photo by Iris Dimmick.
The Saga video art installation is projected onto the facade of San Fernando Cathedral in Main Plaza. Credit: Iris Dimmick / San Antonio Report

Reflection and appreciation, education and arts, legacy and history. These are the watchwords of San Antonio’s Tricentennial Commemorative Week running May 1-6, the special 300th birthday celebration marking the May 1, 1718, establishment of the San Antonio de Valero mission, and the formation of the presidio sent four days later to protect it.

The new Commemorative Week SA300 logo acknowledges the dual role of the city of San Antonio and Bexar County in the city’s founding. Credit: Courtesy / SA300

The mission later known as the Alamo has been called “the center of public life” in San Antonio by Mayor Ron Nirenberg, and it anchors the five-mission UNESCO World Heritage site. The site represents pivotal moments in local and regional history, before and after the famous battle of 1836, and remains central to special Tricentennial-themed reconsiderations of the community’s collective past.

Commemorative Week is focused on “doing something of lasting importance, building a legacy for the community, celebrating our diversity and our unity, and educating kids about the past and the future,” said Carlos Contreras, executive director of the Tricentennial Commission.

Six days of Commemorative Week celebrations beginning Tuesday, May 1, and continuing through Sunday, May 6, will involve City and County officials, national and international dignitaries, and the residents of San Antonio and Bexar County.

A new Tricentennial logo acknowledges the cooperation and central roles both the City and the County have played in local history and the “300” celebration.

May 1: Day of Reflection

Commemorative Week will open in Main Plaza on a solemn note, with 21 area faith-based organizations contributing blessings through song, dance, and prayer.

Festivities begin at 5:30 p.m. with a special reception hosted by the Archdiocese of San Antonio, then a “300 prayers” community gathering, in which members of the public are invited to contribute prayers, blessings, thoughts, and wishes for the future.

An hour after the 6 p.m. community gathering, a program begins with an indigenous drummer performance, followed by speeches and the lighting of a commemorative flame, to burn in Main Plaza throughout the week.

An evening candlelight vigil and citywide ringing of church bells will pay homage to San Antonio’s “historic roots in sacred lands of native people,” said SA300 spokeswoman Laura Elizabeth Mayes, along with the missions and peoples who built the community.

The events are focused on unity and “the confluence of faiths and communities of San Antonio,” Mayes said.

The celebration closes at 9:30 p.m. with a playing of The Saga, the story of San Antonio’s founding told through visuals projected on the façade of the Plaza’s San Fernando Cathedral.

May 2: History & Education

After reflection comes education, one of the guiding principles of the Tricentennial effort, according to Contreras.

Day Two will promote learning throughout the city. Libraries from each of the San Antonio’s 10 council districts will feature STEM activities (educational shorthand for science, technology, engineering, and math-based curriculums) at their branches for parents, children, and teachers.

The entrance to the Confluence and Culture: 300 Years of San Antonio History exhibit at the Witte Museum.
The entrance to Confluence and Culture: 300 Years of San Antonio History exhibition at the Witte Museum. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

For greater reach, VIA Metropolitan Transit will partner with SA300 on a mobile history lab, a city bus converted to a rolling manifestation of the Witte Museum exhibition Confluence and Culture: 300 Years of San Antonio History.

The release of a special “300” celebration commemorative book, led by designer and Tricentennial Commission member Lionel Sosa, is planned for 10 a.m. The location for the release and book signing has not yet been determined.

Higher education institutions around Bexar County will contribute to the “Tree-centennial,” a planting of 300 trees at multiple university and college campuses designed to leave a lasting legacy that will shade future generations of students.

Because optimal tree-planting season is in October, the Tree-centennial celebration will be largely ceremonial.

May 3: Founders Day

Four schools will collaborate to celebrate the founders of the multifaceted community that would come to be known as San Antonio.

Honoring the Southside, Texas A&M University-San Antonio will highlight Native American and Latino/a contributions through dance performances and art exhibitions.

On the Eastside, St. Philip’s College will spotlight the contributions to local history made by African Americans with a keynote speech by Prairie View A&M University President Ruth Simmons, a play about the life of civil- and women’s-rights leader Artemisia Bowden, who founded St. Philip’s, and an exhibition featuring 22 black artists.

The University of Texas at San Antonio will hold a recruitment event for underrepresented communities, featuring a Mini Folklife Festival to highlight diversity.

And on the 10th anniversary of a fire that closed down the campus, Our Lady of the Lake University will honor the Westside with walking and biking tour of murals in the area.

In the interests of making SA300 celebrations accessible to all, Morgan’s Wonderland will host a free day for the public, with a special interactive puppet show focusing on the history of San Antonio.

The evening features the Founders Day Gala, a ticketed event at the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center for locals to mingle with dignitaries “from all over the world,” Mayes said. All of San Antonio’s sister cities will be represented.

The gala is a fundraising event to help raise money for the yearlong Tricentennial celebration, Contreras said, and will offer premium local fare and performances throughout the evening by indigenous dancers, a mariachi band, and the Mt. Zion First Baptist Church Choir.

May 4: Arts for All

“San Antonio’s vibrant art community will be on full display on May 4,” Mayes said.

Perhaps the biggest event of the day, meant to recall the Tricentennial year for decades to come, will be the 8:30 a.m. unveiling of a grand new piece of public art.

A gift from the mayor of Mexico City, Alas de la Ciudad (Wings of the City) by artist Jorge Marin, will be dedicated in its place beneath the Tower of the Americas. The new sculpture will be a complement to La Antorcha de la Amistad (The Torch of Friendship), gifted to the city on the occasion of the 1968 HemisFair.

Art venues throughout San Antonio will open their doors to the public with free admission from 3-6 p.m., with many special, Tricentennial-themed exhibitions on display. Also, Musical Bridges Around the World will present performances at the Carver Community Cultural Center.

The Carver Community Cultural Center. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

To encourage exploration, Mayes said, “tours of public art will be available free of charge at multiple locations across the city, and curated explorations of neighborhood art will take place in several communities.”

From 6-9 p.m. at three Mission sites – Mission County Park, Mission San Juan, and Mission Concepción – Bexar County will convene a variety of local nonprofit organizations for a festival, culminating in a fireworks display along the Mission Reach of the San Antonio River.

Fireworks viewing locations are at Concepción, the park pavilions, and Camino Coahuilteca.

May 5: Legacy Day

Day Five of the weeklong celebration will focus on the dedication of San Pedro Creek, in its first phase of redevelopment.

The timing of events has not yet been determined, but will include mariachis strolling along the creek, performances from the Classical Music Institute and Urban-15, and a special illumination of murals along the creek at 8:15 p.m.

May 6: Military Appreciation Day

Caisson Unit members present the United States Flag during a practice.
Caisson Unit members present the United States Flag during a practice. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

No celebration of San Antonio and Bexar County would be complete without a day set aside for appreciation of military service members. The final day will “honor our military, which has been here since 1718,” Contreras said.

Fort Sam Houston will open to the public for the first time since 9/11, Contreras said, and all military branches will be celebrated.

The Army Fife and Drum Corps will play at 2 p.m. on the fort’s Parade Field #3, followed by a polo match, and the Black Daggers parachute team will contribute a 4 p.m. aerial performance. The Marine Silent Drill Team will perform at 4:35 p.m., and the day ends with fireworks at 9 p.m.

Mayes said a sponsorship from USAA is making Tricentennial military programming possible throughout the year.

In total, the week’s events, from solemn reflection to festive appreciation, are meant to “celebrate our diversity and the unity that we share as a common people,” Contreras said.

Be advised that details are still in the planning stages for Commemorative Week events. For updates, check the SA300 website for specific information.

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...