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Distinction In The Arts Awards

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Presented biennially by the San Antonio Arts Commission in collaboration with the City of San Antonio Department of Arts & Culture, Distinction in the Arts honors artists, and organizations or individuals who have provided enduring and effective cultural leadership, displayed exceptional artistic accomplishments and/or have made a significant contribution and impact to the San Antonio arts community. The program was initiated by District 1 Councilman Roberto C. Treviño with the inaugural celebration held on November 17, 2015.


DIA Award Honorees

 For the first time, the 2019 Distinction in the Arts (DIA) honorees were nominated by the public. After the closing of the nomination process, the Distinction in the Arts Committee of the San Antonio Arts Commission reviewed all nominations and supporting credentials before recommending honorees to the San Antonio Arts Commission. DIA honorees were recognized at a public awards ceremony at the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts on Thursday, October 10, 2019.


Culinary Arts - Bruce Auden

Chef Bruce Auden is a leader in the culinary industry, not to be measured by popularity and celebrity status, but within a framework of his contribution to the evolution of San Antonio’s culinary arts. Seven James Beard Foundation Best Chef - Southwest Award nominations are a testament of admiration by his peers. Equally importantly, Auden kitchens have served as place where culinary stars are born - nurturing top San Antonio chefs. Chef Auden’s influence in San Antonio’s culinary community is undeniable.

Chef Bruce Auden is a leader in the culinary industry, not to be measured by popularity and celebrity status, but within a framework of his contribution to the evolution of San Antonio’s culinary arts. Seven James Beard Foundation Best Chef - Southwest Award nominations are a testament of admiration by his peers. Equally importantly, Auden kitchens have served as place where culinary stars are born - nurturing top San Antonio chefs. Chef Auden’s influence in San Antonio’s culinary community is undeniable.


Culinary Arts - La Familia Cortez

La Familia Cortez Restaurants began in 1941 when founder and family patriarch Pedro Cortez purchased a fledgling café in San Antonio’s Market Square. With family recipes and a dedication to customer service, that humble beginning planted a seed that has grown into some of the most iconic restaurants in San Antonio, as well as the cornerstone of the city’s Historic Market Square and the heartbeat of Latino culture in the Alamo City.  The family has been a strong supporter of the Latino arts community.

Visual Arts - Kathy Vargas

Kathy Vargas created her own style of photography in 1970. Vargas has been described as a Chicana artist but her oeuvre goes beyond race, class, or gender.  Her work has dealt with death and loss, life and hope, and sexuality and identity.  She has led programs at the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center, teaches at the University of the Incarnate Word, and is a member of the City’s Centro de Artes Committee.

Arts Administration - Graciela Sanchez

Graciela Sanchez has spent decades as an arts and community activist and has been a force for the preservation and cultural history of San Antonio’s near Westside. She co-founded the Esperanza Peace and Justice Center in 1987 and under her leadership, the Esperanza has organized exhibitions, film festivals, educational forums, arts collectives, readings, and performances for diverse audiences that have focused on social issues and cultural heritage.

Performing Arts - George Cisneros

George Cisneros is a composer and technology artist, and co-founder and director of music and media at URBAN-15. He is a long-time proponent of experimental and community-based artworks utilizing interactive electronics, video, sound, and performance. Through Cisneros’ teaching and compositions, he has engaged thousands in discovering their own creative expression.

Music - Las Tesoros de San Antonio

Las Tesoros de San Antonio are a group of elder women performers who grew up in the Westside of San Antonio and whose incredible singing careers soared both locally and internationally in the 1940s, 50s, and 60s. These women reemerged and joined artistic forces to preserve our Mexican and bicultural musical expressions through their singing and storytelling. Although Janet Cortez and Rita Vidaurri have passed, Blanca Rodriguez and Beatriz Llamas continue to perform, continuing the unique ensemble that represents the important sound of San Antonio and the Mexico/Texas border.

Literary Arts - Jim LaVilla-Havelin

Jim LaVilla-Havelin’s contribution to the literary life of San Antonio is immeasurable. A working poet, teacher, and community arts activist and organizer, his tireless commitment to his craft and to nurturing the craft in others, has made an appreciable difference in the lives of writers, students, and those institutions which celebrate the literary arts. In his community work, he has always stressed inclusivity and a vast array of voices and experiences.  For many years, he has led San Antonio’s national poetry month efforts.

Arts Patronage - Harriet O. Kelley

Harriet O. Kelley has been active in San Antonio’s arts community since the early 1980’s. She has worked tirelessly to ensure African American artists are represented in major art museums in San Antonio and around the world. The Harmon and Harriet Kelley Collection of African American Art has donated and lent pieces to Museums around the world. She has championed arts education for under-served children and worked closely with the Carver Community Cultural Center as well as serving on the Board of the San Antonio Museum of Art.


In celebration of San Antonio’s Tricentennial, Distinction in the Arts 2018 honored all 16 of the previous honorees for one unforgettable and historic evening. Performances included The Jim Cullum Jazz Band, Westside Horns featuring Spot Barnett, Juan and Armando Tejeda, Guadalupe Dance Company accompanied by Mariachi Azteca de America, and Teresa Champion accompanied by Chayito Champion. The celebration also included readings by Dr. Carmen Tafolla, Naomi Shihab Nye, and John Phillip Santos.


Visual Arts

Vincent Valdez

César Martínez - Visual Arts

San Antonio-based César Martínez was born in 1944 in Laredo, Texas. A major figure in the Chicano Art Movement of the late 1970s and 1980s, Martinez’s portraits are icons of Latino art history. 

Martinez’s work has been included in the landmark exhibits La Frontera/The Border: Art About the Mexican/U.S. Border Experience, the Museum of Contemporary Art and Centro Cultural de la Raza, San Diego; CARA: Chicano Art: Resistance and Affirmation 1965-1985, organized by the Smithsonian Institute; and Hispanic Art in the United States, The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. 

He has also shown at the Mexican Fine Arts Center Museum, Chicago; Museo de Arte Moderno, Mexico City; the San Antonio Museum of Art; and the Contemporary Arts Museum, Houston.

Literary Arts

Dr. Carmen Tafolla

Dr. Carmen TAfolla - Literary Arts

Dr. Carmen Tafolla, San Antonio’s Inaugural Poet Laureate, is an internationally published poet and writer and a native of the city’s West Side barrios. She is the author of more than twenty books, including five books of poetry. Her literary works have appeared in more than 200 journals, anthologies, textbooks, magazines, newspapers, and kindergarten “Big Books.” The tremendous diversity of her writings and her speeches reflect a joyful celebration of community, and an affirmation of individual and cultural strength. 

Dr. Tafolla has been involved with a myriad of local arts and cultural organizations as a board member and artist participant and has presented at all of the colleges, universities and school districts in the greater San Antonio region. She is also one of the co-founders of CantoMundo, a national poetry workshop and creative development space for Latino poets. Alex Haley, author of Roots, called Tafolla “a world-class writer”.


Vernon Spot Barnett

Spot Barnett - Music

Vernon “Spot” Barnett was the most important bandleader in San Antonio in the 1950s and 1960s. He was born in 1936 in San Marcos and moved to San Antonio in 1940. At the age of nine, he got his first sax from Sears. He got his start playing blues with Jr. Moore and Big Walter Price. He toured the world with Bobby “Blue” Bland, Ike and Tina Turner, and others as a player and musical director. In addition to recording his own songs, Spot recorded with Jr. Moore, Big Walter Price, Bobby Bland, Ike & Tina Turner, and the Westside Horns to name a few.  

Barnett has influenced generations of San Antonio musicians, he and his colleagues have been living witnesses, participants and guiding forces—they were white, black and brown musicians who mingled in ways that were not happening as often anywhere else in Texas. He was a signature influencer on the ‘West Side tone’ with musicians Arturo “Sauce” Gonzalez, bassist Nano “Freddy Hill” Aguilar, singer “Little Roger” Gonzalez and West Side Horns’ legends Louie Bustos and Al Gomez. Barnett was also an influence to up and coming musicians such as Doug Sahm, and Future Texas Tornado Drummer Ernie Durawa.

Patron / Foundation

Russell Hill Rogers

Russell Hill Rogers Fund for the ARts - Patron / Foundation

Russell Hill Rogers, a San Antonio businessman, philanthropist and patron of the arts, was active for over 40 years active in most of San Antonio’s arts organizations. He served on boards of the San Antonio Symphony Society, the San Antonio Museum of Art, and the McNay Art Museum. 

Shortly before his untimely death in 1986, Mr. Rogers established the Russell Hill Rogers Fund for the Arts for the “support, encouragement, and preservation of the creative and performing arts.” Its specific purpose is to benefit arts organizations and provide arts offerings available to residents of Bexar County. The Russell Hill Rogers Fund for the Arts has supported numerous cultural organizations, including ARTS San Antonio, Blue Star Contemporary Art, Carver Community Cultural Center, Children's Chorus, Gemini Ink, Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center, Jewish Community Center Theater, KLRN-TV, KPAC, Las Casas Foundation/Majestic, McNay Art Museum, San Anto Cultural Arts, San Pedro Playhouse, San Antonio Museum of Art, San Antonio Symphony, Southwest School of Art, Witte Museum, Youth Orchestras of San Antonio, as well as numerous colleges and universities.


Belinda Menchaca

Belinda Menchaca - Dance

Ms. Menchaca is the Education Director of the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center (GCAC). She is celebrating her 25th Anniversary with the GCAC and has served in various capacities including Dance Program director, Programs Manager and PR/Marketing Director since beginning at the GCAC in 1992. She created the Guadalupe Dance Academy as a training ground for all ages and continues to teach Flamenco dance for children and adults.

Ms. Menchaca now serves as Education Director overseeing all Academy classes, educational outreach programs, school tours and visits as well as workshops and summer camps. Over the years Menchaca has developed successful outreach programs, which provide educational lecture demonstrations for elementary, middle and high school students. A native of San Antonio, Belinda graduated from Trinity University in 1984 where she earned a Bachelor of Arts degree with a major in Journalism.

Arts Administration

Paula Owen

Paula Owen - Arts Administration

Paula Owen began her tenure as President of the Southwest School of Art in1996. Since then, the school’s size, scope, and influence have grown considerably and a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree program has been added, enhancing its dedication to facilitating the development of 21st Century skills through art. Owen has served on national and regional boards and panels, including for the Pew Artist Fellowships and the National Endowment for the Arts. She currently serves on the board of Centro San Antonio, on VisitSA's Cultural Task Force, and on the Public Art Committee. 

Owen is a published writer and co-authored the book, Objects and Meaning: New Perspectives on Art and Craft, published by Scarecrow Press. She has also been the curator of many exhibitions and written numerous exhibition catalogs. Paula Owen is also a practicing artist and holds an MFA in painting and printmaking from Virginia Commonwealth University. She has shown her work in numerous group and solo shows throughout the nation.


Visual Art

Jesse Trevino

Jesse Trevino, Visual Art

  • Known for his large scale photo realistic murals
  • Trevino moved to San Antonio in 1948 and received his BA from Our Lady of the Lake University,
  • Later received his MFA from the University of Texas San Antonio.
  • In 1987 he was honored with the National Hispanic Heritage award as Artist of the year, and
  • The Bexar County Hidalgo Award in 2014.

Literary Arts

Dr. Thomas Ybarra Frausto

Dr. Thomas Ybarra-Frausto, Literary Arts

Tomas Ybarra-Frausto, Ph.D. is an independent scholar of Latin American and U.S. Latino arts culture. He was formally the associate director of creativity and culture at the Rockefeller Foundation.

Prior to joining the Rockefeller Foundation, Dr. Ybarra-Frausto was a tenured professor at Stanford University in the department of Spanish and Portuguese. He also taught UC San Diego, Tulane University, and the University of Washington. He served as chair of the Mexican Museum in San Francisco and the Smithsonian council, and has written and published extensively on Latin America and U.S. Latino arts and culture.

In 1998, Dr. Ybarra-Frausto was awarded the Henry Medal by the Smithsonian institution, and in 2007, the Mexican government bestowed “The Order of the Aztec Eagle” medal o him citing his life work in fostering cultural understanding between the United States and Mexico. In 2010, the National Association of Latino Arts and Culture awarded Dr. Ybarra-Frausto a lifetime Achievement Award for his contributions to the fields of Latino Arts and culture.



Jim Cullum

Jim Cullum, Music

  • An American jazz coronetist noted for his contributions to the Dixieland jazz tradition.
  • He has led the Jim Cullum Jazz Band and established the San Antonio jazz club, "The Landing," in 1963.
  • Traveled around the world including Mexico and Russia
  • Broadcast performances from the club on the Public Radio International series called Riverwalk Jazz since 1989.
  • He’s hosted numerous jazz legends at The Landing.
  • In addition to regular performances at "The Landing," Cullum has performed at venues like Carnegie Hall, The Kennedy Center, and Austin City Limits.

Supporting Organization

Aaronetta Hamilton Pierce

Aaronetta Hamilton Pierce, Supporting Organization

  • A distinguished civil leader and tireless volunteer
  • Over forty years as an advocate for art and cultural achievements of African Americans and for a myriad of social, cultural, and political affairs.
  • She has served on numerous boards including the San Antonio Museum of Art, the San Antonio Performing Arts Association, the Witte Museum, the Las Casas Foundation, United Way of San Antonio, Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee, and the Development Board of the University of Texas at San Antonio.
  • One of her greatest honors is serving as Inaugural Chair of the Martin Luther King Jr. Commission in 1986.
  • She also chaired the Mayor’s Blue Ribbon Committee on the role of city government in the arts which resulted in the creation of the Department of Arts and Culture.
  • Ms. Pierce was inducted into the San Antonio Women's Hall Of Fame (1984), Texas Women's Hall of Fame (1994).
  • She has been recipient of the Girl Scout Trefoil Award (1995), the United Communities of San Antonio's Humanitarian Award (2007), and the NAACP Community Service Award (2010)

Arts Administrator

Maria López De León

Maria López De León, Arts Administrator

  • Executive Director and board member of the National Association of Latino Arts and Cultures (NALAC).
  • In January 2013, President Obama appointed Ms. De León to serve on the National Council on the Arts. In 2012 and 2013
  • Ms. De León was named among the nation’s Fifty Most Powerful and Influential People in the Nonprofit Arts.
  • Ms. De León is a cultural organizer and practitioner dedicated to strengthening communities through the arts and has multiple years of experience working with Latino artists and arts organizations.
  • She serves on multiple arts and culture policy panels and is a noted speaker and advocate for the arts, cultural equity and social and economic justice.
  • Ms. De León serves on the board of the First People’s Fund and is an advisory council member of San Anto Cultural Arts and Women of Color in the Arts.
  • She studied Journalism at the University of Texas at El Paso.

Visual Art

Vincent Valdez

Vincent Valdez, Visual Art

American, born 1977

Vincent Valdez was born in San Antonio, TX. He received a full scholarship to The Rhode Island School of Design and completed a BFA in 2000.

Valdez' life and career has focused on the practice of drawing and painting. Recognized for his intensive devotion to skill and detail, his monumental portrayal of the contemporary figure remarks on a universal struggle within various sociiopolitical arenas and eras.

Exhibitions & Collections include venues such as : The Museum of Fine Arts Houston, The Ford Foundation, The Blanton Museum of Art, The Snite Musuem of Art at Notre Dame, Artpace, The Parsons School of Design, Paris, France, OSDE Buenos Aires, among others.

Valdez is a recipient of The Joan Mitchell Foundation Grant for Painters and Sculptors, The Skowhegan School of Painting ’05 and the Kunstlerhaus Bethania Berlin Residency ‘14.

Literary Arts

Naomi Nye

Naomi Shihab Nye, Literary Arts

Naomi Shihab Nye is an award-winning Palestinian-American poet, writer, anthologist and educator who describes herself as a “wandering poet.” She grew up in St. Louis, Jerusalem and San Antonio.

Nye is the author and/or editor of more than 30 volumes, and her books of poetry include: "19 Varieties of Gazelle: Poems of the Middle East," "Fuel," and "You & Yours."


Flaco Jiménez

Flaco Jiménez , Music

Flaco Jiménez began performing at the age of seven, with his father, Santiago Jiménez Sr, who was a pioneer of conjunto music and began recording at age fifteen as a member of Los Caminantes. He played in the San Antonio area for several years and then began working with Doug Sahm in the 1960s. Sahm, better known as the founding member of the Sir Douglas Quintet, played with Jiménez for some time.

Flaco then went on to New York City and worked with Dr. John, David Lindley, Peter Rowan, Ry Cooder and Bob Dylan. He appeared on Cooder's world music album Chicken Skin Music and on the Rolling Stones' Voodoo Lounge. This led to greater awareness of his music outside America and, after touring Europe with Ry Cooder, he returned to tour in America with his own band, and on a joint bill with Peter Rowan. Jiménez, Peter Rowan and Wally Drogos were the original members of a band called the Free Mexican Airforce.

Jiménez won a Grammy award in 1986 for Ay Te Dejo en San Antonio, one of his father's songs. He was also a member of the Tejano fusion group Texas Tornados, with Augie Meyers, Doug Sahm and Freddy Fender. The Texas Tornados won a Grammy award in 1990, and Jiménez earned one on his own in 1996, when his album Flaco Jiménez won the Grammy Award for Best Mexican-American Performance.

In 1999, he earned another Grammy award for Best Tejano Performance for Said and Done (released by Barbed Wire Records) and one for Best Mexican-American Performance as a part of the supergroup Los Super Seven.In 2012 Jiménez received a National Heritage Fellowship awarded by the National Endowment of the Arts. In February 2015, Jiménez won a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.

He also won a Best Video award at the Tejano Music Awards and earned a Lifetime Achievement Award from Billboard Latin Magazine for "Streets of Bakersfield" with Dwight Yoakam and Buck Owens. Jiménez's 2014 CD, Flaco & Max: Legends & Legacies, was issued by Smithsonian Folkways Recordings. In 2015, "Legends & Legacies" won Flaco Jiménez and Max Baca an award in the Latin Album category at the 14th Annual Independent Music Awards.

Supporting Organization


H-E-B, Supporting Organization

H-E-B, with sales of more than $22 billion, is one of the largest privately held companies in the United States and the largest private employer in Texas. H-E-B has been a leading corporation donating to and participating in the arts in the communities it serves.

In 2011, H-E-B received the distinguished Texas Medal of Arts Award in recognition for its vast contributions to the arts across Texas. In San Antonio, the corporation is known for its commitment to creating accessibility to the arts by sponsoring free access for families to museums in the city. Not only is H-E-B a place where Texans shop, it is a place to view public art and art created by local artists such as Alex Rubio, Vincent Valdez and the most recent announcement of H-E-B acquiring art by the late Chuck Ramirez.

The H-E-B Performance Hall in the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts is a recent example of the company’s long-term commitment to the performing arts, along with its long-standing support of the resident organizations including the San Antonio Symphony, Ballet and Opera.


Teresa Champion

Teresa Champion, Dance

Teresa Champion is a world renowned dancer who has had a lasting impact in the art world as an award-winning performer, teacher and advocate of the arts.

Champion, along with her husband William, are the founders of Flamenco in San Antonio. A native of San Antonio, Champion has danced for presidents, royalty, and alongside Mexican artists including Lucha Villa, Pedro Almendáriz, Lola Beltran, Mario Moreno (Cantinflas), and many others.

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Friday, June 18, 2021