The San Antonio Tricentennial received a $1.1 million boost from the John L. Santikos Charitable Foundation on Tuesday. The money will go toward an exhibit at the Witte Museum that will celebrate San Antonio’s 300th anniversary in 2018.

It is the largest private donation to the year-long celebration so far, Tricentennial Commission CEO Edward Benavides told the crowd gathered for the grant announcement at the recently renovated Santikos Embassy 14 theater.

The City and Bexar County have committed a total of $12 million to the expected $18 million Tricentennial initiative that will have an estimated $120 million economic impact. Santikos’ gift, Benavides hopes, will spark more corporate and philanthropic contributions to close the $6 million – now less than $5 million – gap.

Researchers and historians have been working for more than one year on the exhibit “300 Years of San Antonio History: Confluence and Culture,” and they are still collecting data and artifacts that will help tell San Antonio’s story, Witte President and CEO Marise McDermott said. It will be complemented by an archaeology exhibit, “Gathering at the Waters,” which will dive into the 10,000 years of human history that developed around the San Antonio River and the San Pedro Creek.

The Tricentennial exhibit’s content aims to answer key questions about San Antonio for residents and visitors, McDermott said. Such questions include: “How did the establishment of the Spanish-colonial Missions influence the cultural and economic development of the city?” or “How did military conflicts define its timeline?”

“We’re bigger than a city, (San Antonio is) the center of the frontier,” McDermott said.

The work is far from over, she added, calling on the audience of City, County, and business leaders to “tell me what more we need.”

The Witte’s $60 million redevelopment will be completed on March 4 with plenty of time to finalize the exhibits.

The San Antonio Area Foundation manages the $605 million in assets bequeathed by local entrepreneur, real estate developer, and movie theatre mogul John L. Santikos, who died in December 2014.

Santikos was a member of the Witte for more than 20 years, said Area Foundation President and CEO Dennis Noll, and would visit 2-4 times per month.

The Tricentennial celebrations will focus on four overarching themes: History and Education, Arts and Culture, Community Service, and Commemorative Week. The Santikos Foundation is the latest partner in the History and Education initiative and the Commission is still accepting applications from nonprofits, businesses, and other organizations to officially commemorate the Tricentennial by hosting a sanctioned Tricentennial event in 2018. The deadline to apply is March 1, 2017.

Though the vision of the Commission has an $18 million price tag, there will be plenty of events and commemorations sponsored by other organizations as part of the official calendar, Benavides told the Rivard Report after the grant announcement.

CEO of Tricentennial Commission Edward Benavides introduces a video that highlights the future celebrations in 2018.
Tricentennial Commission CEO Edward Benavides said there will be several volunteer opportunities for San Antonians and visitors in 2018. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

“Much of what we’re doing is a collaborative effort with a sense of inclusivity,” he said. “It’s not just things that we, the Commission, will produce. We’ve reached out to hundreds of organizations and asked them what they want to do in 2018 – what do you want to show and share?”

He estimates that anywhere from 300-400 events will take place throughout the year.

In the coming weeks, the Commission will announce details about planned community service opportunities.

“We need volunteers to make all this happen,” he said. “We will be reaching out to the community – nonprofits, churches, schools – (and asking), ‘what community service project have you been wanting to do?’”

Iris Dimmick

Senior Reporter Iris Dimmick covers public policy pertaining to social issues, ranging from affordable housing and economic disparity to policing reform and workforce development. Contact her at iris@sareport.org