The City’s Department of Arts & Culture on Wednesday recognized one local arts organization and five renowned San Antonio creatives for their contributions in the fields of music, dance, literature, visual arts, and arts administration.
Musician Vernon “Spot” Barnett, visual artist César Martínez, dancer Belinda Menchaca, arts administrator Paula Owen, poet Carmen Tafolla, and the Russell Hill Rogers Fund for the Arts are this year’s Distinction in the Arts honorees.
“We want to celebrate San Antonians for using the arts to tell our story, to be our beacons, and to preserve cultural legacy for generations to come,” Councilman Roberto Treviño (D1) said at Centro de Artes before naming the honorees. “Arts and culture are a big part of San Antonio’s identity, and I believe that wholeheartedly.”
The annual program, initiated by Treviño and now in its third year, honors individuals who have worked to advance and maintain San Antonio’s cultural vibrancy. Committee members who aided in the selection process include Rene Barilleaux, Henry Brun, Freda Facey, Valeria Hernandez, and Faith Radle.
“Out of the many deserving individuals in San Antonio who have committed their lives to enriching our community through the arts … this year’s honorees embody what the Distinction in the Arts award stands for and we are excited to celebrate their dedication, hard work, and their significant achievements,” said Distinction in the Arts Committee Chair Freda Facey.
A celebration of the honorees’ achievements will take place on Oct. 17 at the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts from 6-9 p.m. The event is free and open to the public, but seating is limited. To RSVP, click here.
“After 25 years I say it’s about time,” Barnett told the Rivard Report. “I am among the few on this earth that actually followed their dream and did what I always wanted to do. From the time I was 7 or 8 years old, all I wanted to do was to play music. God bless me to be able to do that with some success.”
Vernon “Spot” Barnett – Music
Barnett, who was born in San Marcos in 1936 and moved to San Antonio in 1940, is considered one of the most important bandleaders in the city in the 1950s and ’60s. He was born into a musical family whose members played instruments at churches on the Eastside. He got his first saxophone at the age of 9 and also learned to play the piano.
A tenor sax player, Barnett played blues with J.R. Moore and Big Walter Price and toured or recorded with artists such as Bobby “Blue” Bland, and Ike and Tina Turner. Musicians such as the late like Doug Sahm and Texas Tornado Drummer Ernie Durawa have cited Barnett as an influence in their music.
Carmen Tafolla – Literary Arts
Tafolla, an internationally published poet and writer from the city’s Westside, was San Antonio’s first Poet Laureate and served as Texas State Poet Laureate in 2015.
Tafolla has authored more than 20 works, including five books of poetry, and her writing has been included in more than 200 anthologies, textbooks, journals, magazines, and newspapers. She has been involved in many local arts and culture organizations in the greater San Antonio region and is a co-founder of CantoMundo, a national poetry workshop for Latino poets.
Tafolla’s poetry, in her own words, aims to celebrate the city, its river, its people, its barrios, and its cultura.
Tafolla also is a recipient of the Americas Award, two Tomas Rivera Book Awards, the Charlotte Zolotow Award for Best Children’s Picture Book of 2010, and the Art of Peace Award.
Belinda Menchaca – Dance
Menchaca, education director for the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center, has served the organization for 25 years and created the Guadalupe Dance Academy as a training ground for all ages. Since her arrival at the Guadalupe in 1992, Menchaca has worked as dance program director, programs manager, and marketing director.
As education director, Menchaca oversees all classes and education outreach programs, as well as tours, workshops, and summer camps. She graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in journalism from Trinity University. She continues to teach Flamenco dance for children and adults.
“The reason that San Antonio is loved by so many people is because of its arts and its artistic contributions to the world, so I’m very honored to be recognized,” Menchaca told the Rivard Report. “You do it for the love of your community, the love of the people that you impact. I think the fact that I teach dance is just a small part of it – it’s how it impacts the children’s lives, their families, the discipline, and the self-confidence. The fact that they become professional dancers is just the icing on the cake.”
César Martínez – Visual Arts
Martínez is a San Antonio-based artist who was born in Laredo. He was a major figure in the Chicano movement from the 1970s and ’80s, known mostly for his portraits that shed light on Latino art history.
Some of his more famous paintings are from his series of portraits of pachucos, Mexican-Americans who wore zoot suits and participated in nightlife and street gangs.
Martínez’s work had been included in landmark exhibits at the Museum of Contemporary Art and Centro Cultural de la Raza in San Diego, the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, the Museo de Arte Moderno in Mexico City, the Smithsonian Institute, and more.
Paula Owen – Arts Administration
Owen, who is a writer, practicing artist, and curator, has been president of the Southwest School of Art since 1996. The school has grown in size, scope, and influence, and thanks to Owen, its students can now pursue Bachelor of Fine Arts degrees. She holds a Master of Fine Arts in painting and printmaking from Virginia Commonwealth University and has exhibited her work in many group and solo shows throughout the country.
Owen currently serves on the board of the Public Art Committee, Visit San Antonio’s Task Force, and Centro San Antonio. She has served on boards and panels of other regional and national organizations, including the National Endowment for the Arts.
Russell Hill Rogers Fund for the Arts – Patron/Foundation
Russell Hill Rogers, a prominent local businessmen and philanthropist who was active in the arts for more than 40 years, served on several local museum boards. After his death in 1986, an organization was established to honor his “support, encouragement, and preservation of the creative and performing arts.”
The purpose of the organization is to benefit arts organizations and make art widely available to residents in Bexar County. The fund has supported many cultural organizations such as ARTS San Antonio, Blue Star Contemporary Art, Carver Community Cultural Center, Children’s Chorus, Gemini Ink, Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center, Jewish Community Center Theater, and the San Antonio Symphony, among others.