Highlands High School junior Yiovanna Plascencia explains her art piece "A New Beginning" to U.S. Representative Lloyd Doggett (D-San Antonio).
Highlands High School junior Yiovanna Plascencia explains her artwork A New Beginning to U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-San Antonio). Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

For the third time since 2016, a student from Highlands High School has won the annual Congressional High School Art Competition. U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett of the 35th Congressional District was on hand at the school Monday to congratulate Yiovanna Plascencia, who won with a three-dimensional sculpture made from a recycled library discard.

The 16-year-old Plascencia’s work, titled A New Beginning, presents a hardcover book open to Chapter 3, with burned edges around its pages and folded-paper roses growing out of the center binding. Plascencia,  junior at Highlands, described the work as referring to her own sense of having made mistakes in her life, then recognizing the potential of turning new chapters, growing, and moving forward.

“I like to have meaning behind my artwork,” she announced to the crowd of fellow students, teachers, family, and representatives of the San Antonio art community gathered for the award ceremony. Her comment earned an enthusiastic nod from Doggett.

Doggett called A New Beginning a creative and unusual piece of work and a metaphor for life. “No matter how many wrong turns and misguided direction[s] we go … that self-growth and blossoming from your past is still possible,” he said. “I like that optimistic attitude.”

Doggett used the occasion to draw a connection to the current political situation in the country. “This piece reminds me a little of our own country,” he explained. “We may have made a big mistake in 2016, but, like your artwork, I believe that democracy will ultimately prevail, and I hope that in 2020 we do have a genuine new beginning for our country.”

Doggett called to mind previous winners of the art competition from Highlands and Brackenridge High School and said what’s notable is “the important role that immigrants play in our country and how much talent comes into this country through immigrant families.”

“Folks who went through a big struggle to get here,” Doggett continued, “now are contributing and making America a better place.”

Plascencia is the child of immigrants from Mexico, and her mother, Consuela, and grandmother Maria Rosa Morales, both originally from Guanajuato, were on hand to celebrate their daughter’s achievement. Through translator Rosario Plascencia, Yiovanna’s aunt, Consuela said her daughter showed artistic talent at an early age, and Morales noted that Yiovanna is the family’s first artist.

After the ceremony, Plascencia said she intended to go to college to work toward becoming a kindergarten teacher. Her newfound recognition has her thinking about maintaining work as an artist even as she pursues her life goals.

“It really does, because I didn’t see myself as an artist. It was just something I really liked to do,” she said.

Yiovanna Plascencia's piece "A New Beginning."
Yiovanna Plascencia’s A New Beginning started with a discarded library book. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

With five years of teaching, her art teacher Rachel Alvarado said A New Beginning is “like nothing else that I’d seen before,” and said she thought “it would have a shot at winning because it’s so interesting.”

Alvarado said she hopes the award “encourages her to stay in the arts and to – as she moves forward in education – keep that value of the arts.”

Highlands Principal Julio Garcia praised his teaching faculty as helping the school transition through a major redevelopment and said how important it is to have “the right students. I think the students from this neighborhood are champions. They go through a lot of things in their life, and they overcome those barriers, and it shows when one of them actually goes and gets recognized at the national level.”

Having new facilities, Garcia said, “allows them to really express themselves, having the materials that they need, and having the teachers to push them to really express their feelings.”

Since the national Congressional High School Art Competition began in 1982, more than 650,000 students have participated, Garcia said. “It’s a great opportunity for students to really showcase who they are, their culture, their beliefs,” he said.

Plascencia’s work will hang near the ground floor entrance to the Capitol, Doggett said, along with winners from other congressional districts throughout the country, arranged by state from Alabama to Wyoming. The work of the 2019 award winners will be on display for one year.

Avatar photo

Nicholas Frank

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...