Artists stand in front of their winning entries for the poster design of the 2019 Tejano Conjunto Festival.
Artists stand in front of their winning entries for the Tejano Conjunto Festival's 2019 poster contest. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

For the first time in the 38-year history of the Tejano Conjunto Festival, a high school student has won its annual poster competition.

A senior at Communication Arts High School in Northside ISD, Ciara Casarez joins such prestigious prior winners as noted artists Vincent Valdez and the late Jesse Almazan in the long line of creatives whose designs have represented the traditional San Antonio music event.

“The fact that the winner was a high schooler did not play into it at all, it just happened to be the one that rose to the top,” said Cristina Ballí, executive director of the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center. A Conjunto music specialist, Ballí took over management of the festival last year from its founder and longtime director Juan Tejeda.

The poster contest has regular categories for middle and high-school submissions, and Ballí pointed out that Brentwood middle schooler Abel Hernandez won in 2014. But for a student at any level to win in the overall category – open to all – was still rare, she said.

Casarez won with a digitally created design featuring a mosaic mural motif  that depicts a dancing couple, two musicians, and the Tower of the Americas rising above a golden sunset.

Casarez said she found pictures of the two musicians online and felt they represented the spirit of the festival, which she had been to last year. What she didn’t realize is that she had selected images of Tejano Conjunto music legends Flaco Jimenez and Max Baca.

The 2019 Tejano Conjunto Festival poster by artist Ciara Casarez
The 2019 Tejano Conjunto Festival poster by artist Ciara Casarez. Credit: Courtesy / Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center

Jimenez and Baca are worldwide ambassadors of the regional music form, Ballí said, one reason the contest judges felt Casarez’s poster would be a good representation of San Antonio for the city and to the world.

In debating their criteria for the winning design, the judges ask key questions, she explained, such as “What does this say about us, about our people, our community?” and, “Does this represent the community, the culture?” The judges liked that Casarez’s submission showed “elders” dancing, Ballí said, “and of course it has some iconic musicians on there.”

Ciara Casarez
Ciara Casarez Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

Casarez received an honorable mention in last year’s contest, but still did not expect to become the overall winner this year. Casarez’s mother Charissa said her daughter waited anxiously all week for the results of the contest to be announced, then “Sunday when they called, you could hear her scream in her room,” Charissa said. Her daughter ran down the stairs to tell her mother. “She was very happy,” her mother said, in part because the first place prize comes with a $1,500 check, which she might use as a down payment for college.

Casarez said digital interactive media teacher Jill Barton taught her the mosaic illustration technique she applied to the poster design and was the first person outside the family she told of her win. Casarez said she’d been inspired by a neighborhood mosaic mural during the festival last year – likely Jesse Treviño’s Veladora adorning the historic Guadalupe Theater, according to Yadhira Lozano, communications and special projects director for the Guadalupe.

Photographer Al Rendon, who has documented the festival for most of its 38-year run and was on hand for the announcement, said he liked Casarez’s tile-like design. “For not having a lot of detail because of the style, it’s still a very strong graphic image,” he said.

Rendon said the posters are a part of the festival’s history, “and there are some incredible artists in that collection. Several others in there have gone on to be very successful artists. I think it’s a great honor for their portfolio, and hopefully it will encourage them to keep up their art.”

All entries to the 2019 poster contest will be on display, along with a lineup of past winning posters including Valdez’s original painting for the 2005 festival, at the Guadalupe through May 31. A small selection of Rendon’s historic photographs of the Tejano Conjunto Festival and Selena also will be on view.

The 38th annual Tejano Conjunto Festival will take place May 15-19 at the Guadalupe Theater and Rosedale Park, with more information here. To see a complete list of winning poster designs, and the preliminary band lineup for the 2019 festival, click here.

Senior Reporter Nicholas Frank moved from Milwaukee to San Antonio following a 2017 Artpace residency. Prior to that he taught college fine arts, curated a university contemporary art program, toured with...