Plans coming together for new arts and music festival

Performers from La Fundación de las Culturas Oaxaqueñas in Oaxaca, Mexico, perform at the McAllen Convention Center on Friday, Oct. 12, during a City of McAllen press conference unveiling MXLAN, a 5-day citywide cultural festival taking place July 2018.

McALLEN — In an ongoing effort to woo out-of-towners and combat what local leaders believe has been negative national media attention, McAllen’s inaugural and Mexican-themed arts and music festival, MXLAN, seeks to do just that.

Run by the McAllen Chamber of Commerce on a nearly half-million-dollar budget, with the city likely contributing $65,000, MXLAN will seek to attract visitors from across Mexico and South Texas to the Convention Center area, where the five-day festival will be held in late July. It will feature a Oaxaca-style street parade, food markets, art exhibitions and live performances

The event being held in the summer, when temperatures exceed 100 degrees, caused some concern when the chamber was initially discussing this event. But chamber president Steve Ahlenius said he did not see it as a downside.

“Minneapolis-St. Paul does their winter festival in January,” Ahlenius told city commissioners during a workshop on Monday. “Sometimes you just embrace what some people view as your biggest weakness.”

Most of the outdoor events will take place after 7 p.m. around the Convention Center, Ahlenius said, with most of the daytime festivities held inside the Convention Center and the neighboring Performing Arts Center. Not to mention, there will be tequila and mezcal tastings.

The five-day festival is intended to drive visitors to the city in a typically slow month, Ahlenius said. But that wasn’t the only driver.

“We were looking at how we can help drive hotel occupancy, retail sales, trade,” Ahlenius said. “And, how can we buffer some of that criticism that was happening in Washington and Austin toward Mexico.”

Of the more than 3,000 hotel rooms across the city, Ahlenius hopes to fill all of them, with visitors from the Rio Grande Valley, Mexico and across Texas. Ahlenius told commissioners about marketing preparations the chamber is making for the major Texas metros, and cities in Mexico.

Ahlenius and his colleagues recently traveled to Oaxaca, the Mexican state this inaugural festival seeks to honor. Plans are in the works to possibly offer flight packages to Oaxacans through Aeromar, the Mexican commercial airline that flies between McAllen and Mexico City, which also has routes to Oaxaca.

Ahlenius ambitiously said he hopes this festival will become the hallmark Hispanic cultural event in the United States. He knows there has been heightened attention on the border during the Trump presidency, which has made the border a focus.

In light of the attention, the festival will also feature a panel discussion exploring “border issues,” hosted by Texas Monthly, the Austin-based magazine.

“Maybe that one after the tequila,” McAllen Mayor Jim Darling said.