The University of Texas at San Antonio’s Institute of Texan Cultures (ITC) will look to the future with its inaugural Texas Star Heritage Award Gala on Jan. 19. The event signals the beginning of a new era for the institute, with a possible name and location change under consideration.

“We’re probably going to see a changing face of the institute over the next few years,” ITC communication specialist James Benavides said.

As the HemisFair redevelopment shapes the profile and function of the institute’s immediate surroundings, the museum will have to decide whether to stay in its current location or move. Wherever its physical home ends up, there are major updates in store for the 49-year-old institution. Some of the current exhibits are outdated, Benavides said. Digital technology has changed the way people consume information, and a linear timeline of display cases and plaques does little to capture the imagination.

The Institute of Texan Cultures (bottom left) from an aerial view taken in June of 2016.
The Institute of Texan Cultures (bottom left) from an aerial view taken in June 2016. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

All this will require funding and community support, and the gala aims to start that process. Tickets for the event, to be held at the institute, are available on the ITC website.

Rather than go with a typical Texas theme, the Texas Star Heritage Award gala committee chose a star-filled, galactic theme, seeking to emphasize the global community that came together to create Texas and that will play a role in its future.

It will be a night of culture, because that is what ITC does best, Benavides said. The affair is black-tie optional, and “cultural heritage attire” also is welcome. Expect kilts, sarapes, and at least one 18th-century Spanish military uniform.

The gala will honor Karta Technologies founder G.P. Singh, LiftFund CEO Janie Barrera, and consulting firm OCI GroupWhile planning the event, gala organizers asked each honoree which cultural heritage they most identified with and used the responses to shape the food and entertainment for the evening.

As guests approach the institute on the night of the gala they will be greeted by mariachis playing on the bridge. Later, bhangra dancers and the Children’s Ballet of San Antonio will perform, along with musicians from the San Antonio Symphony playing an original piece written for the event.

“Our Texas Stars reach beyond Texas,” ITC Executive Director Angelica Docog said. “Each community leader [being honored] understands the importance for transforming San Antonio into an international city. They enable us to become a leading partner in a global platform. Our museum is proud to recognize their contributions to society and our world.” 

INDIVIDUAL CATEGORY Dr. G.P. Singh, Sikh Dharamsal
INDIVIDUAL CATEGORY Dr. G.P. Singh, Sikh Dharamsal

Singh, who founded San Antonio’s largest defense contractor, will be honored for local contributions to cultural preservation and honoring of heritage. He has worked to foster understanding of the Sikh community, bringing the Smithsonian Institute’s “Sikhs: Legacy of the Punjab” to San Antonio and becoming a docent of the exhibit. 

REGIONAL CATEGORY Ms. Janie Barrera, Founder and CEO of LiftFund
REGIONAL CATEGORY Ms. Janie Barrera, Founder and CEO of LiftFund

Barrera founded the microlender LiftFund, whose work now reaches 13 states. The small businesses supported by LiftFund are building on a tradition that reaches back to the streets of La Villita, Barrera said. The seventh-generation Texan, who comes from a long line of restaurateurs and grocers, said that the “Gone to Texas” entrepreneurial spirit has always been part of her family.

“That culture includes entrepreneurism,” Barrera said. “Not only to help your own family by providing work, but also helping the economy.”

OCI Group describes itself as social purpose consulting firm that emphasizes economic and leadership development. The founding members – H. Analco González, Luis G. González, Ixchell González, Olivia Travieso, Anita Fernández, and José Vidal – met through the National Hispanic Institute.

The firm has been instrumental in bringing Lyft to San Antonio, along with other organizations that increase minority participation in local government, business, and culture. Its work is marked by a focus on economic and leadership development through social responsibility.


“Our core value of conducting business in a way that is inclusive, filled with community impact, and driven by social purpose all stems from our backgrounds,” Analco González said. “We chose to start this company in our hometown of San Antonio, to build upon our family legacies and contribute toward shaping this city’s promising future.”

Each of the founding members has lived or worked abroad, and they have brought those experiences back with them.

“I think we’re going to see some more great things come from them,” said Elizabeth Eguía-García, ITC director of advancement.

Dr. Ricardo Romo, UTSA President with The ITC Lifetime Achievement Award
Dr. Ricardo Romo, UTSA President with The ITC Lifetime Achievement Award

The ITC gala also will honor UTSA President Ricardo Romo with a lifetime achievement award. Romo, who announced plans to step down in August, will join the ITC as a historian after taking a sabbatical.

That’s not the only future development for ITC.

“A museum is about experience,” Benavides said.

As the museum prepares for its 50th anniversary, part of the city’s Tricentennial celebration, patrons experience more immersive, thematic exhibits, Benavides said. The current Los Tejanos exhibit is taste of what is to come. With hands-on interaction with artifacts and the replica school, kitchen, and plaza, the exhibit is about stepping into history, not merely reading about it.

The gala, which will include a silent auction, will raise funds for the coming changes, whether it be refurbishment or a new building, Benavides said. 

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Bekah McNeel

Bekah McNeel is a native San Antonian. You can also find her at her blog,, on Twitter @BekahMcneel, and on Instagram @wanderbekah.