Each month, it seems the finalists for the Awesome SA $1,000 grant consist of more and more developed and creative ideas. All concepts presented by these passionate individuals are “awesome” in their own way, but recently it’s been harder and harder to anticipate the winner.

Last night, the local chapter of the Boston-based, international Awesome Foundation selected Ben Judson as July’s recipient. His idea/creation: wabiStory, a location-based storytelling application, is the first digital idea to receive the grant which is funded by 10 local trustees (including the Rivard Report).

Ben Judson (center), creator of wabiStory, poses for a photo with Awesome SA sponsors and board/trustee members in the production room at The Richter Co. Photo by Iris Dimmick.
Ben Judson (center), creator of wabiStory, poses for a photo with Awesome SA sponsors and board/trustee members in the production room at The Richter Co. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

[Read more about Awesome SA’s beginnings here: “Amazing! The Awesome Foundation Spreads to San Antonio.”]

It was crowded in The Richter Co.’s lobby on Broadway Street, a local clothing design and manufacturing operation in downtown San Antonio. Approximately 40 curious community members of all ages enjoyed complimentary drinks from Alamo Beer and music from DJ Steven Lee Moya before and after all four finalists took to the microphone to describe their awesome idea – each as compelling as the last.  (See each finalist’s application and more photos below.) The decision, however, had already been made.

Grant recipients are chosen based on loose guidelines: it has to impact the quality of life in San Antonio (read: make it awesome) and it has to be doable.

Judson, a local “web developer, writer, and community developer,” humbly accepted the award for his innovative app that initiates location-inspired stories (fiction and non-fiction), poems, images, and other storytelling mediums only when a user is in that specific location. It’s already made and operational, the grant money will go towards paying current and future story contributors.

“(wabiStory) directly connects people to unique places through the artist’s perspective,” Judson said during his presentation to the crowd.

Courtesy of Ben Judson
“It’s part geocaching, part literary magazine, part site-specific installation,” stated wabiStory creator Ben Judson in his Awesome SA application. Photo courtesy of Ben Judson.

So far, 26, 90-second contributions have been recorded and “left” around town by Judson and contributors with more in the works from local authors, poets, musicians, artists, and other storytellers. Locations include spots on the North Side, downtown, and Midtown so far, but Judson hopes to gain stories from all over San Antonio to include in wabiStory. The Arsenal Street bridge, Friendly Spot, San Pedro Springs, Lucky Bingo,  Mr. Lucy’s Tattoo are but a few examples of where these digital breadcrumbs have been left behind.

Judson himself curates storytellers and locations for high-quality work that will “enrich (the user’s) experience of these cool places … and engage the public in a dialogue of place.”

The mingling crowd at The Richter Co. during the Awesome SA award ceremony. Photo by Iris Dimmick.
The mingling crowd at The Richter Co. during the Awesome SA award ceremony. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

The app is named for the Japanese term, wabi-sabi. Wikipedia will tell you: “represents a comprehensive Japanese world view or aesthetic centered on the acceptance of transience and imperfection … Characteristics of the wabi-sabi aesthetic include asymmetry, asperity (roughness or irregularity), simplicity, economy, austerity, modesty, intimacy and appreciation of the ingenuous integrity of natural objects and processes.”

Judson explains: “It’s basically imperfect perfection.”

Which is probably why users will find many locations off the beaten, beautified path – not exactly places the San Antonio Convention and Visitors Bureau would showcase to visitors (i.e. Lucky’s Food Mart downtown), but places where connections have been made – inspiration was had – by locals. works on any smartphone browser and there is an app for iPhones. Those interested in creatively or monetarily supporting wabiStory, contact Judson via email at

Eugene Simor, founder of Alamo Beer Company, jumped at the chance to sponsor the casual award ceremony.

“Because it’s local,” Simor said. “The more people that support local businesses, the more prosperous San Antonio will be.”

Mario Guajardo, co-founder of The Richter Co., was happy to host the event in the company’s headquarters. Guajardo is also an Awesome SA sponsor.

“This is how people get to know about cool (things happening) in town and a good way to connect with other people,” he said. “It helps generate awareness of creativity.”

Other finalists were, as usual, encouraged to apply again as “most finalists and winners have applied two, three, or even four times,” said Rachel Holland, Awesome SA trustee and HemisFair Park Area Redevelopment Corporation executive assistant.

A model of "Little Italy" by local architect  Roberto Treviño representing the Christopher Columbus Italian Society and the newly formed Piazza Di Columbo nonprofit – a finalist for the Awesome SA grant. Photo by Iris Dimmick.
A model of “Little Italy” by local architect Roberto Treviño representing the Christopher Columbus Italian Society and the newly formed Piazza Di Columbo nonprofit – a finalist for the Awesome SA grant. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

Iris Dimmick is managing editor of the Rivard Report. Follow her on Twitter @viviris or contact her at

Here are the runners-up, described in their own words for their grant applications (updated with photos from last night’s award ceremony):

Roberto Carlos Treviño:  Piazza Di Columbo (Little Italy)

Courtesy of Roberto Treviño.
Courtesy of Roberto Treviño.

A little about me:

Roberto Carlos Treviño
Roberto Carlos Treviño.

My name is Roberto Treviño and I am a local architect representing the Christopher Columbus Italian Society and the newly formed Piazza Di Columbo 501(c)(3). I am small business with a diverse portfolio of project types. I have lived in San Antonio for over fifteen years and wish to contribute to the social and cultural fabric of our community. I am currently in Leadership San Antonio class 38 and have been asked to serve on the Zoning Commission and the Airport Advisory Committee. Thank you, kindly.

Here’s my idea:

Every major city in this great country has its unique cultural corridors or neighborhoods and some cities are defined by them. San Antonio is no different with its incredible pioneer history. This city will celebrate 300 years of its existence in 2018. Most people know the city for the “Alamo” and the spirit of rugged individualism. This is a great city with hidden treasures all throughout the region. I believe one of those treasures exists at the heart of where the city began its nearly 300 year existence. Little Italy San Antonio represents everything this city was founded on. As early as the 1870s Italians from southern Italy specifically from a town in the Calabria region known as Spezzano della Sila migrated to San Antonio. They would settle in the northwest part of downtown and band together to form their very own Italian neighborhood. In 1890 they would create the country’s oldest Italian organization known as the Christopher Columbus Italian Society.

In 1927, the midst of the Great Depression their organization intrepidly built the now historic San Francesco Di Paola church and the CCIS Hall. In the late 1950s the highway act commissioned I35 and I10, cutting through the old italian neighborhood. The only remnants of the neighborhood are the church, the hall and Christopher Columbus Park. Little Italy San Antonio is a non-profit development seeking help to salvage the authentic history that exists today. Members are getting older and their generation is threatened with consequence of a forgotten legacy. LISA will provide a community/cultural center rich in authentic italian history that is unique to San Antonio. We must tell this story where it began and ensure a legacy that we can all appreciate. San Antonio is Awesome, especially for its history which is weaved into the fabric for all of us to enjoy.

How I will use the money:

Roberto Treviño representing the Christopher Columbus Italian Society and the newly formed Piazza Di Columbo nonprofit – holds up a plaque of all that remains of Burlington, Vt. "Let's not let that happen to San Antonio's Italian community," he said. Photo by Iris Dimmick.
Roberto Treviño representing the Christopher Columbus Italian Society and the newly formed Piazza Di Columbo nonprofit – holds up a plaque of all that remains of Burlington, Vt. “Let’s not let that happen to San Antonio’s Italian community,” he said. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

Your award would be used for the inception of our project that begins with a sign denoting “Piazza Di Columbo”. The signage has been approved by HDRC, Parks and Rec, Diego Bernal, VIA, Judge Nelson Wolff and County Commissioner Paul Elizondo. we have all elements to construct the project except for the lighting. $1000 would represent the lighting of this sign which is crucial to our design. Lastly, your award goes beyond monetary value. Your award would represent the very first private donation

Is your project a start up business?

This project is an extension of the 123 year old Christopher Columbus Italian Society through the newly developed Piazza Di Columbo 501.c3

Please visit the website the italians put together.

How will this benefit San Antonio as a whole?

This project will be another great destination for locals and tourists. LISA will work to partner with other existing elements of our community such as; Hemisfair Park, Main Plaza, La Villita, the Alamo, the Riverwalk and the San Pedro Creek improvements.

How did you hear about us?

I heard about your group through Facebook and followed up by attending an award ceremony.

Kelly Schaub: Community Supported Art

Courtesy of Kelly Schaub.

A little about me:

Kelly Schaub
Kelly Schaub

I am a life-long supporter of the arts, a nonprofit administrator and serial entrepreneur. I have founded Arts Mall – San Antonio to create a community of business-savvy artists and art-savvy consumers/patrons. I am passionate about nurturing new connections between the arts and our community.

Here’s my idea:

CSA-San Antonio (community supported art) is a new model for collecting art and supporting local artists in San Antonio. CSA-San Antonio is launching a subscription service for locally produced art. Similar to the boxes of fruit and vegetables one might get from a local farmer as an agricultural CSA, CSA-San Antonio will offer “shares” of art to feed the public’s cultural appetite and sense of adventure.

Nine local artists will be chosen to create 50 pieces for the inaugural CSA season. Each share will consist of works across several disciplines, potentially including painting, printing, sculpture, textile, decorative objects, ceramics, music, lighting, t-shirt, collage and books. Additionally, workshops have been held to assist artists with the application process and learn to treat their art like a serious business endeavor.

CSA-San Antonio makes contemporary art accessible by connecting San Antonio-based artists to the community, and in return that community provides significant support for their work. Shares will available for purchase, with each shareholder receiving nine original works of art commissioned specifically for CSA-San Antonio. The shares will be distributed at three art-centric community events, allowing shareholders and the general public to meet our artists, and be exposed to other awesome art forms being created in San Antonio.

Becoming a shareholder in San Antonio’s first Community Supported Art initiative will allow patrons to enjoy the benefits of affordable, high-quality, local art while supporting artists working in our community. This simple program will benefit our city and the local arts community. Artists get support for the creation of new work, as well as exposure and distribution. CSA shareholders receive multiple works from local artists to expand or begin a new art collection, thus becoming an integral part of the growing San Antonio Arts Community. All of this promotes the idea that our city values art and artists.

How I will use the money:

A grant from Awesome SA will help CSA-San Antonio to reach a larger audience of artists and patrons. A call for artists is posted, artist info sessions have taken place at Geekdom, and promotional efforts have begun. Curators from the local art scene are on board, a website is in place and the kickoff party is being planned.

Kelly Schaub presents her case for Community Supported Art, much like a subscription to local artists work. Photo by Iris Dimmick.
Kelly Schaub presents her case for Community Supported Art, much like a subscription to local artists work. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

The CSA model is self-sustaining, as sales of shares cover payments to the artists, and assist with producing the community pick-up events.

Is your project a start up business?

Yes. CSA-San Antonio is the first project blending art and community to be produced by the startup organization, Arts Mall Productions, located at Geekdom. Arts Mall is creating a community of business-savvy artists and art-savvy patrons. A monthly social media breakfast for arts organizations (SA SMARTS) has begun, with great representation from arts groups and the city of San Antonio.

Arts Mall will continue to replicate projects that have proven to be a successful intersection of art, commerce, and community. When the needs of artists are addressed, the community also benefits, and in many cases can thrive. Art is unique. Artists make a community unique. Arts Mall is exploring various models that work in other industries, in an effort to create these intersections.

How will this benefit San Antonio as a whole?

A greater connection between artists and their community will create jobs for artists and small business development for San Antonio, along with creating more livable neighborhoods, a healthier local economy, increased cultural engagement, regional pride and mutual respect among diverse members of the community. CSA-San Antonio is the first of many projects that I am undertaking to make these connections.

How did you hear about us?

Through Geekdom and The Rivard Report. We were a finalist in March as well.

Mary Elizabeth Cantu & Gabriela Santiago: Spare Parts Mini Museum

Courtesy of Spare Parts.

A little about me:

Mary E Cantu Spare Parts awesome sa finalist
Mary Elizabeth Cantu

Spare Parts supports: cultural & environmental sustainability; affordability & accessibility to the arts; & community, education & creativity, green-style. Spare Parts’ purpose is unprecedented in San Antonio. It is the leader in reuse education through the arts. Spare Parts responds to: a noted lack of creativity in K-12 classroom, City of San Antonio’s “Creating a Pathway to Zero Waste” 10-year plan, and our thriving arts and cultural community that makes a positive impact on the economy.

Here’s my idea:

The car trunk closes and spare parts drives to the West Side of San Antonio. We’re greeted by the school secretary and are led to the library where two tables await us. A class of excited second graders enters and sits down. No buses were needed for this free field trip. The spare parts MINI ART MUSEUM (MAM) came to them.

Binders found at thrift stores were painted white and spare parts curatorial and education staff selected from their permanent collection a series of miniature masterpieces for the students to tour. Equipped with magnifying glasses, they explore the museum on a docent-led tour. The standard size of each artwork is approximately two-by-three inches and each museum wing (binder) can house up to 6 works. Kids are amazed at the small-scale but intrigued by the diversity in artwork on exhibit. Size doesn’t matter here. What matters to spare parts is the accessibility to fine arts experiences when bus funds dry up and curriculum enrichment falls by the wayside.

After the tour, the MAM educator passes out art materials for students to create their own contribution to the collection. Upon completion students install their own wee work in hand-crafted spare parts frames and the MAM education hangs a new exhibition in minutes.

The children’s artwork remains on exhibit for other classes to visit while proud young artists stand by their work, explain to their peers their process and share their creativity with the whole school.

Students have the option to keep their work or donate them to the spare parts MAM permanent collection where they will continue on their journey to other schools and communities. We thank the teacher, class and librarian, close our museum walls and turn off the spare parts MAM lights. The spare parts MAM fits back into the car trunk. The Museum will reopen to visitors today at another school, for a docent-led tour with another group of student for a truly unique museum field trip.

How I will use the money:

Beginning in August to kick-off the school year we’ll need: $240 to create 30 durable, reusable frames utilizing reusable and eco-friendly materials for mini artwork to be installed in and hung after each student makes their own museum masterpiece; $60 for magnifying glasses and other visual aids; $100 for MINI ART MUSEUM educational resource development and printing costs; $600 to cover Spare Parts MAM art instructor’s fees (10 school site visits).

Mary Elizabeth Cantu (right) and Gabriela Santiago tell the tale of what the Spare Parts Mini Museum would provide for the community. Photo by Iris Dimmick.
Mary Elizabeth Cantu (right) and Gabriela Santiago tell the tale of what the Spare Parts Mini Museum would provide for the community. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

Is your project a startup business?

This project is brand new (program) of Spare Parts and will be our first outreach program to directly reach San Antonio students in the classroom. So far, we have collected artwork from participants at a couple of spare parts happenings. We briefly introduced the spare parts MAM to a group of camp kids this week and they loved it!

How will this benefit San Antonio as a whole?

The sky is the limit with this project. We are most focused on bring art experiences to schools and neighborhoods that don’t always have the opportunity to visit museums or engage in art making and have the opportunity to have their artwork hung in a museum. We envision the spare parts MINI ART MUSEUM receiving national attention though this distinctive fine arts and all-inclusive experience. Guest curators could select work from our collection and create exhibitions. Artists could be asked to partake in residencies, too. Then we would share internationally-recognized contemporary art with the San Antonio community.

How did you hear about us?

Through Facebook & Twitter. We especially love the Thrift Off SA and Little Libraries projects you funded! Thank you for offering these awesome projects the financial support they need to make San Antonio awesomer (it should be a word)!

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Senior Reporter Iris Dimmick covers public policy pertaining to social issues, ranging from affordable housing and economic disparity to policing reform and mental health. She was the San Antonio Report's...