Not Overrated: A Series Episode 1: San Antonio: The Saga.

I’m often skeptical about things that guidebooks, user-review websites, or visitor bureaus describe as a “must see.” Sometimes that skepticism is spot on and the place in question is schlocky, underwhelming, or so overrun with tourists that it can’t be enjoyed. In San Antonio, however, I’m discovering that many recommended events, experiences, and places are as the kids of the 90s say “legit.”   First up in this occasional series: San Antonio: The Saga.  

The Bailey family is no stranger to artistic light projections; having marveled at them in Montreal and in Saint Paul, where a plume of steam from the downtown district energy plant was illuminated in different colors. It’s mesmerizing to witness projected light transform objects into something else.  

The Saga is on a whole other level. It’s 24 minutes long; choreographed to a variety of different music; and provides a colorful snapshot into the history of a US city that is more than 300 years old. It is projected onto the stunning San Fernando Cathedral, which was built between 1738 and 1755 and is the oldest standing church building in Texas and the longest .

The artist, Xavier de Richemont, an Algerian-born Frenchman, describes himself as a video painter and has installations in Europe, Mexico, Canada, and North Africa. According to his website, Richemont’s first US installation was in Mobile, Alabama (!!) in 2012/2013 where “Hokushima” was commissioned for nine months to inaugurate the video gallery at the Alabama Contemporary Art Center.  

Richemont was commissioned by the Main Plaza Conservancy to debut The Saga in 2014. The Conservancy, a nonprofit committed to bringing vitality to the city’s central square, raised private and public funds to secure the rights to the program for 10-years (until 2024 if you are keeping track!) Visitors can see the show multiple times per week, with three screenings on Tuesdays, Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays.  

We headed out for the 9 PM showing on the first of February. Just enough chill to justify the purchase of hot cocoa and churros from a food truck, even though this Minnesotan was wearing flip flops! The plaza was filled with what seemed like a mix of tourists and locals, young and old, first timers and appreciators. Most of us had our cameras out to take video or photos of the spectacle unfolding before us – I kept texting my family in MN and Singapore to show them what I was seeing. The colors, the cascading imagery, the celebration of the peoples that are of this place, the music, and the constant question: “how did he do that?!?” It was remarkable. It was free to experience. It is place-making and civic pride at its best!  

A 2014 Express News blog quotes Richemont:  ““There’s so much beauty and rich history that isn’t on the river, and while that’s beautiful, the city needs to reconnect with all of the beauty up here,” Richemont said, motioning toward the Main Plaza’s liveliness, the foot traffic and rush of the fountains. He says wants to remind locals what it’s like to see San Antonio for the first time, to embrace the culture, to feel like he does. He wants San Antonians to know how lucky they are.”

It’s a great reminder and a lovely gift to residents and tourists alike. Be sure to check it out before 2024 rolls around!  

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