Two San Antonians are among a new group of artists honored by the Texas Legislature. Visual artist Jennifer Ling Datchuk has been appointed Texas State Three-Dimensional Artist for 2021, and accordionist Eva Ybarra will be the Texas State Musician for 2022.
Ybarra, known as “the Queen of the Accordion,” joins San Antonio musicians George Strait and Flaco Jimenez to be so designated, and Datchuk joins sculptors Bill FitzGibbons and Ken Little, who received recognition in 2012 and 2014, respectively.
An Ohio native, Datchuk said that when she first learned of her nomination she wasn’t sure what the designation meant, but when she saw “the caliber of names and practices I deeply admire on that list, I felt honored to just be nominated and recognized by a community of artist peers.”
She acknowledged that to receive such a designation hasn’t yet sunk in.
“I haven’t caught up to it because I feel like I’ve been really fortunate to receive these really well-established and recognized awards, but that has only happened within the past two years of my practice, so I’m still shocked,” she said.
Datchuk, head of the ceramics department at Texas State University, was named a 2020 United States Artists fellow. Ybarra is a 2017 National Endowment for the Arts National Heritage Fellow and has been inducted into several conjunto music halls of fame.
The artists are generally not aware of who has nominated them to become Texas state artists, but Ybarra said she recognizes the efforts of her bajo sexto student Ileana Vasquez on her behalf. Vasquez told her that she made the nomination because she believed Ybarra belonged in the same category as Strait and other well-recognized male singers, Ybarra said.
Ybarra said that when she and Vasquez learned she’d be named Texas State Musician, “she cried, and I cried, and we cried together.”
Ybarra also thanked her Conjunto Siempre bandmates, in particular her assistant and vocalist Sandy Rodriguez. Datchuk thanked her spouse Ryan Takaba, an accomplished sculptor who first brought her to Texas 10 years ago.
“I feel I’ve really fully matured and developed as an artist while living in San Antonio and Texas, and it’s been a lot of Texas-based institutions and curators and a community that has really helped me be at this place in my career,” she said. “I feel nurtured by my community and my community foundation is in Texas.”
The Texas Legislature convenes every two years and among its statutory duties are to name state poets laureate, two- and three-dimensional visual artists, and musicians.
Any Texan can submit nominations for the three posts during a biennial open call, and nominations are considered by panels of experts in related fields. Their top 10 selections are forwarded to appointees of the governor, lieutenant governor, and speaker of the house, who make the final selections for the current legislative year and the following year.
The Texas Commission on the Arts (TCA) manages the nominations process. Anina Moore, TCA director of artist services and communications, said that while the artists do not receive a monetary award, and thus are given no specific duties to fulfill their roles, designating state artists serves multiple purposes.
“We hope all the artists consider it to be a huge honor and recognition,” Moore said.
“We hope it also helps legislators feel confident about the variety and quality of artists practicing their art forms all across the state. There are many different ways that this recognition helps promote the arts” in Texas.
Though the designees weren’t able to travel to Austin for the usual public ceremony due to the coronavirus pandemic, Ybarra said she still celebrated in her own way.
“No celebration over there,” Ybarra said. “But in my heart, yes.”
Disclosure: Jennifer Ling Datchuk is a member of the San Antonio Report’s board of community advisors.