Luminaria at HemisFair Park. Photo courtesy of Luminaria 2011.
Luminaria at HemisFair Park. Photo courtesy of Luminaria 2011.

If you’re the kind of person who shows up first at the party, it will take more than a little stamina to experience Luminaria V from start to finish Saturday night. The annual arts and light extravaganza at HemisFair Park starts at 5 p.m. and builds momentum until the night finale, the magical lantern release at 1 a.m.

The real show is after dark, and sunset doesn’t arrive until 7:57 p.m. The night sky, weather permitting, will be part of this year’s festival. There will be a “supermoon” experience along with the human-made light wonders, maybe even a few meteors arcing across the night sky if we are lucky.

Live music, theater and dance performances, visual arts, not to mention food and beer, will get festival-goers through the last hours of daylight and the South Texas heat into the cool darkness and fantasy of light. Food trailers join the dozens of food stalls this year. Organizers said 300,000 people attended last year’s event, and they expect an equally large crowd this year. This will be the last time people experience HemisFair Park in its present state. Improvements fueled by funds remaining from the last bond and those expected to be approved by voters in the May 12 election will allow the City to begin an ambitious schedule of park improvements soon afterwards, a project likely to take more than a few years in its entirety.

Luminaria at HemisFair Park in San Antonio
The grand finale: Come see the magical release of lanterns.

From curated to adjudicated selection of the artists

Richard Rosen, Luminaria’s artistic director (a volunteer position) whose full-time job is serving as executive director of Magik Theater, said this year’s festival was planned with an eye toward improving the quality of visual and performance art rather than allowing the number of artists to continue to grow. Rosen, his co-artistic directors and steering committee members spent two months meeting with small focus groups of artists in each medium and exploring ways to best evolve as an event.

“We made a major change beginning last year when we started to curate the event and this year we brought in outside adjudicators,” Rosen said. “The artists were chosen by people who had no idea who they are. Last year there was so much art it was almost overwhelming. This year we want to give people more time to enjoy a visual artist or a musical performance. Looking ahead, I see a combination of adjudicated and curated art.”

Luminaria in San Antonio is a festival of light.
A festival of light from Luminaria 2011.

Luminaria is still a relatively small budget operation compared to festivals in other cities, although it is growing. Last year, artists received $250 stipends. This year, artists who applied were encouraged to request a specific sum tied to the cost of their art production. Thus a poet might receive $500 this year, while a film maker facing significant production expenses might receive $5,000. Rosen said 90% of the artists are from San Antonio, and their selection by judges from other Texas cities enhances their chances for invitations to perform or exhibit in other markets. And, yes, the art you see on display at HemisFair Park is for sale if the artist so chooses.

The coming construction projects at HemisFair means organizers will have to rethink future Luminaria festivals, at least for the next few years. The Park could still serve as the base, but satellite venues might be required, depending on the state of construction. At the same time, there is a growing desire to expand the event. I’ve written about the possibility of exploring the nexus of technology and art and how one is influencing the other. Rosen said Rackspace, among other sponsors, is keen to see Luminaria grow in both size and scope.

Richard Rosen is the artistic director of Luminaria in San Antonio.
The calm before the storm: Luminaria artistic director Richard Rosen

Don’t drink and drive: walk, pedal, ride the trolley or take VIA Park and Ride

It’s too late to reserve the balcony at the Fairmount or the pool at the Alteza atop the Grand Hyatt, so forget about throwing a party for best friends with swank overnight accommodations. Coming from afar? VIA Park and Ride will collect Northside residents at Crossroads Park and Ride, and Southside residents at the Madla Transit Center. It’s $2.50 each way, and seniors, students, children and Medicare recipients ride for half fare. Buses will run from 5:30 p.m.-1:30 a.m.   Riding the bus will save you a lot of time, the cost of parking downtown, and if you’ve had one too many, endangering your life and others by getting behind the wheel late at night. It would be great to continue the trend started at Fiesta this year and make May like April, with zero alcohol-related fatalities.

If you live anywhere near downtown, consider walking or riding your bike, which you can safely store with the Bike Valet from 7 p.m. to 12 a.m. at the corner of S. Alamo Street and Cesar Chavez, thanks to Southtown’s SA Cycle Bike Shop. Another option is to use the occasion to enroll in the city’s ever-expanding B-cycle program. You can even download a free app to locate the network of venues for checking out a bike and then deciding where you want to drop it off, including the station right at HemisFair Park.

It will still be in the 90s when the party starts, but it will cool off by 10 p.m., making for a pleasant stroll home. For those unable or unwilling to make the walk, consider VIA’s “Yellow Route” trolleys. They will circulate throughout the greater downtown area every 15 minutes and get you there for $1.

You’ll have a lot more fun if you come downtown without a car.

San Antonio's Luminaria.
Light as art. (All Luminaria photos courtesy of Luminaria)

Friday was get ready day

“The park is busy and buzzing,” said Sara Pruneda, Luminaria’s solitary full-time employee as she surveyed technical preparations a little more than 24 hours before the start. It’s almost unbelievable that such a massive undertaking is accomplished with a single employee. Then there’s the volunteers: Rosen, his two co-artistic directors, and a board and steering committee that add up to a few dozen people, all volunteering their time and expertise. A cast of 300 festival volunteers work the actual event. Funding comes largely from sponsors, and is augmented by the City and t-shirt and beer sales.

Is it a growing arts festival, something that is truly unique while also maturing in quality, an event that will bring national attention to the city? Or is Luminaria another Fiesta-like beer and fast food gathering?

Luminaria's only employee
Sara Pruneda

“This is an art-driven event,” said Pruneda, who earned her degree in arts administration from Trinity University in 2008. “This is the first year we had outside adjudicators come in and choose the artists. Luminaria is growing as an arts event and in terms of respect, in San Antonio and throughout Texas.”

To grow and prosper, Luminaria will need to become an official undertaking of the city’s Office of Cultural Affairs with a budget of significantly greater magnitude.. If that happens, Luminaria probably grows from a local party to something that falls under economic and cultural development, a destination event for visitors from far and wide as well as a great gathering of locals. San Antonio’s arts community deserves that kind of recognition and is ready for it to happen.

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Robert Rivard

Robert Rivard, co-founder of the San Antonio Report, is now a freelance journalist.