Well, the Luminaria Arts Night in San Antonio (if I can use the full title on the promo material) has finally come and gone. There were a few snags during the evening that I noticed, but mostly it seemed an outrageous success.
Mayor Hardberger, who won't let us forget that he brought this event to San Antonio, almost deflated the nascent energy of the day with his droning opening remarks. I can only assume Phil Hardberger learned to be a politician from watching way too many Frank Capra movies — and the high nasal twang of his voice mixed with his Mr. Smith Goes to City Hall aw shucks naive demeanor is about as easy to swallow as a mess of turnip greens washed down with corn squeezings. I don't doubt his heart is in the right place in his desire to bring the arts to a greater level of recognition, but, damn, boy, don't get up there and start gushing about how you never knew there was so much art going on in this city … 'cause, hey, I thought you claimed to have such a deep abiding love of the arts.
Well, um, whatever. What so many feared (or secretly hoped) would turn into an enormous train-wreck, turned out better than anyone's highest expectations. So, well done Mayor Hardberger and the CE Group. Not to mention whatever gods of random climatic fluctuations led to the almost perfect weather.
Actually, I really wasn't paying too much attention to the Mayor's speech. The stage from where he was addressing the crowd was across Alamo Street. I was stationed with Deborah and Ramon. The mandala Deborah had created, with the help of some kids, turned out vibrant and colorful. Ramon had some of the canvases from his Alamo show of the other week out on easels. But it suddenly turned windy, and he had to take them down.
We were waiting on Deborah's friend, Saul. He kindly donated use of his PA system, but he was caught in the ugly traffic that surrounded downtown. Finally he showed up. Liza Ybarra was also there. As Saul returned to his car for more equipment, Liza set up the sound system and microphone. Dr. Sreedhara stood back, waiting. He wore traditional Indian garb. The crowd milled about, curious and patient. Soon all the tech elements had been worked out.
Ramon stepped up to the microphone to give the blessing. He addressed the crowd as a leader in the local Native American community. He held a seashell with smoldering sage. What I like about the way that Ramon gives blessings to these sorts of arts events is that he takes a very intuitive off-the-cuff approach. There was a moment when he nodded over acknowledging Dr. Sreedhara, and he made some comment about how an “Italian sailor had mislabeled the inhabitants of the entire western hemisphere, and my people and those of this scholar from India are related in words if not in blood.”
Dr. Sreedhara dancing entranced the crowd. I saw no one walk away. The children came in close to the edges of the mandala, and sat and watched. I tried my best to photograph Dr, Sreedhara's feet destroying the mandala.
When he began dancing for a second time, I felt a tap on my shoulder. It was Alston. We drifted off into the crowd and wandered around Alamo and Houston Streets. She suggested I see an installation in a building on Houston. It was group showing of students from the UTSA New Media Program. The large space was divided into sections with works displayed on front and rear video projection, TV monitors, small flat screen monitors on the walls, and even a couple of video iPods playing two different pieces nestled in the scattered trash of an installation in a corner to which I heard a man mutter, “Looks like my kid's room.” Maybe one of the best group shows I saw Saturday night.
We hit the Kress Building a few minutes before my film would screen. As we entered, I felt a hand on my shoulder. It was Anna Gangai with her daughter and husband. I guided them all into the back screening room. And back there I saw Alicia Shaddeau in the audience. Also, Bryan Ortiz, Lee Hurtado, and Michael Druck. There was maybe ten more minutes of another film. But when it ended, Manuel Pena, who was over-seeing the tech of the film section, couldn't get my DVD to play. He put on Pete's piece (which was scheduled to follow mine) and brought in another DVD player — one he swore my DVD played on before. Pete's short piece was well received. Twice. It was set to loop. And as it was about to play a third time, I shouted out, “It's on a loop.” Not that I really cared if Pete's piece played all night long, but I had two of my actors in attendance.
Manuel couldn't get my DVD to play on the other machine. He suggested they play it in the lobby space. I made an announcement to the audience that those who wanted to see my film could move to the other room. There were maybe 35 people in the audience. And they ALL got up and began shuffling into the other room. I didn't for a second think that they were hardcore Erik Bosse fans (because I think I only have 2.5 of those), but sometimes people do whatever you tell them to do. And most likely they thought that the technical difficulties would involved any DVD scheduled for the night. But the problem was that the other room was packed. And there was a screening of a block of short pieces by students from NESA. Those films still had another 20 minutes to play out.
One problem led to another. Again, it wouldn't bother me, but I had people who had come to see my film. Finally, it played. Only 45 minutes late. I don't blame Dora or Manuel. I blame that son of a bitch who invented the DVD. Hanging's too good for that bastard.
Later in the evening, I headed back to the rear screening room to watch some of Victor and Sandra's Aztec Gold TV shows. These are wonderful kookie man-on-the-street interviews, but the interviewer is in a suit and a Lucha Libre mask — Victor Payan in his persona of Lou Chalibre. And as I entered, I was happy to see that Victor was in character in his sports coat and wrestling mask, introducing each segment of Aztec Gold.
I perched on a raised bit of stage area where the projector was mounted and watched some of Victor's stuff I had not already seen on his YouTube page. All the while, behind me, Sanda (aka Pocha Pena) was passing out flyers for the upcoming CineFestival. And then I heard that familiar voice say, “Why, if it isn't Erik Bosse.” It was, of course, Jessica Torres, the talented young filmmaker who directed “Trick or Tweet,” one of the films from last year's 48 Hour Film Project (and my personal favorite). You never know when you'll see her. For a kid, Jessica gets around. In fact, she just came back from SXSW, where a film of hers screened.
“Trick or Tweet” played after the Aztec Gold episodes.
David Casas cracks me up every time I see the film.
And then, my film played again. Manuel was going to try to give me a second screening. And Victor — or should I say, Lou Chalibre — introduced me. He handed me the microphone so I could say something about my film. I blathered some nonsense. I was somewhat taken aback. This is the same masked man who interviewed Jack Black. Okay, admittedly this was hardly a Charlie Rose moment, but I still felt a bit discombobulated.
I walked back out and just wandered idly through the Luminaria district. Ramon Juan Vasquez was running the Writers Block, an open mike area on Houston Street. George Cisneros and Tim Walsh were painting the east side of the Kress Building with abstract video projection and laser art. The San Antonio Symphony was playing beautifully on a low stage in front of the Alamo. Artist Bill FitzGibbons had provided a striking backdrop by setting powerful LED lights to shoot up and splash ever-changing colored light onto the facade of the Alamo. And all the buildings on Alamo Street were splashed in colored lights and abstract shapes.
Best of all, there was a warm cozy vibe over the whole scene. The crowd level was just right. Not too many people to make movement a problem, but still plenty of people to fill the streets with a sense of excitement and discovery. As I was drifting about from event to performance space to installation, I was aware how congenial everyone was. So many other crowded streets fairs in San Antonio have a crass and vulgar feel with people walking about like zombies — but this was different. I walked up to the Jefferson Street Stage area just as Tim Walsh's laser show was starting up. Fog machines were pumping away and the lasers were cutting through the fog and playing across the palm trees over towards the Bromley Building. As I walked through all this movement and smoke and light and good will a woman ran up to me and spun me around. It was one of the URBAN-15 dancers. She's a rather prim school teacher.
“This laser stuff is great,” she said. “But I think we're supposed to be stoned.”
“Yeah. You're right.” And she was. As I was walking beneath the undulating swaths of laser light, I had this nagging feeling that something was missing.
Of all the outdoor festivals and parades and all this sort of crap San Antonio loves, this Luminaria was by far the most laid-back and enjoyable of these sorts of events.
I had a great time. And it looked like everyone else did too. The question is, will there be a Luminaria in 2009? The problem is that this whole initiative came from the mayor's office. What will happen when we have a different mayor? Luminaria should have been firmly ensconced in the Office of Cultural Affairs from the very beginning, with the mandate and fiscal infrastructure needed to keep this thing going into the future.
I want this to happen next year. (Sure, I want Luminaria 2009 to do a better job respecting and compensating the artists of San Antonio, but there's something wonderful with this project.) If you missed Luminaria, you missed something very special. Let's hope it will become a tradition.
There are a couple of pieces on the Emvergeoning blog where Ben does a good job of articulating the pros and cons of Luminaria from his percipient point of view from within the San Antonio art community. Give them a read. (And — if you haven't already — make sure you subscrib to the Emvergeoning RSS feed.)