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Published on Thursday, April 11, 2019

City of San Antonio’s Arts Commission Announces Honorees for 2019 Distinction in the Arts

Awards to be Presented October 10 at Tobin Center for the Performing Arts

CONTACT:  Javier A. Flores, Department of Arts & Culture
Carol Schliesinger, Department of Arts & Culture


SAN ANTONIO (April 10, 2019) – The arts will take center stage on Thursday, October 10, 2019 at Tobin Center for the Performing Arts when the City of San Antonio’s San Antonio Arts Commission presents its fifth Distinction in the Arts awards program. Eight honorees will be recognized for their outstanding achievements in and contributions to arts and culture in San Antonio. This year’s program includes, for the first time, a culinary arts category.


The 2019 Distinction in the Arts honorees are:

  • Arts Administration: Graciela Sanchez
    Graciela Sanchez has spent decades as an arts and community activist and has been a force for the preservation and cultural history of San Antonio’s near Westside. She co-founded the Esperanza Peace and Justice Center in 1987 and under her leadership, the Esperanza has organized events and programming for diverse audiences that have focused on social issues and cultural heritage.
  • Arts Patronage: Harriet O. Kelley
    Harriet O. Kelley has been active in San Antonio’s arts community since the early 1980’s. She has worked tirelessly to ensure African American artists are represented in major art museums in San Antonio and around the world. The Harmon and Harriet Kelley Collection of African American Art has donated and lent pieces to Museums around the world.
  • Culinary Arts (Two Recipients): La Familia Cortez and Bruce Auden
    La Familia Cortez
    Restaurants began in 1941 when founder and family patriarch Pedro Cortez purchased a fledgling café in San Antonio’s Market Square. With family recipes and a dedication to customer service, that humble beginning planted a seed that has grown into some of the most iconic restaurants in San Antonio, as well as the cornerstone of the city’s Historic Market Square and the heartbeat of Latino culture in the Alamo City. The family has been a strong supporter of the Latino arts community.
    Chef Bruce Auden is a leader in the culinary industry, not to be measured by popularity and celebrity status, but within a framework of his contribution to the evolution of San Antonio’s culinary arts. Seven James Beard Foundation Best Chef - Southwest Award nominations are a testament of admiration by his peers. Equally importantly, Auden kitchens have served as place where culinary stars are born - nurturing top San Antonio chefs.
  • Literary Arts: Jim LaVilla-Havelin
    Jim LaVilla-Havelin is a working poet, teacher, and community arts activist and organizer, whose tireless commitment to his craft and to nurturing the craft in others, has made an appreciable difference in the lives of writers, students, and those institutions which celebrate the literary arts. For many years, he has led San Antonio’s national poetry month efforts.
  • Music: Las Tesoros de San Antonio
    Las Tesoros de San Antonio are a group of elder women who grew up in the Westside of San Antonio and whose incredible singing careers soared both locally and internationally in the 1940s, 50s, and 60s. These women reemerged and joined artistic forces to preserve Mexican and bicultural musical expressions through their singing and storytelling. Although Janet Cortez and Rita Vidaurri have passed, Blanca Rodriguez and Beatriz Llamas continue to perform.
  • Performing Arts: George Cisneros
    George Cisneros is a composer and technology artist, and co-founder and director of music and media at URBAN-15. He is a long-time proponent of experimental and community-based artworks utilizing interactive electronics, video, sound, and performance. Through Cisneros’ teaching and compositions, he has engaged thousands in discovering their own creative expression.
  • Visual Arts: Kathy Vargas
    Kathy Vargas created her own style of photography in 1970. Vargas has been described as a Chicana artist but her oeuvre goes beyond race, class, or gender. Her work has dealt with death and loss, life and hope, and sexuality and identity. She has led programs at the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center, teaches at the University of the Incarnate Word.

Distinction in the Arts, initiated by District 1 Councilman Roberto C. Treviño, honors those who have worked to advance and maintain the cultural vibrancy of San Antonio in the fields of music, dance, literary arts, visual arts, arts patronage, culinary arts, and arts administration. Distinction in the Arts recognizes artists, individuals, and organizations who have provided enduring and effective cultural leadership, displayed exceptional artistic accomplishments and/or have made a significant contribution and impact to the San Antonio arts community.

“The arts continue to be an important part of our city’s identity and what has made us a top cultural destination nationally and internationally. We must honor and thank those who have made it their life’s work to maintain this legacy,” Councilman Treviño said. “For this year’s Distinction in the Arts, we are especially excited to honor San Antonians who have made tremendous contributions in culinary arts.”

For the first time, nominations were made through a public process that took place December 2018-February 2019, then reviewed and scored by the Distinction in the Arts Committee of the San Antonio Arts Commission. Committee members include: Freda Facey, Henry Brun, Rene Barilleaux, Valeria Hernandez, Carmen Tafolla, Ph.D., and Amanda Garcia. A total of 54 eligible nominations spanning all seven categories were received. The 2019 honorees were approved today by the San Antonio Arts Commission.

The reception on October 10 is free and open to the public, but tickets are required and will be available through the Tobin Center box office beginning in September. A free reception will immediately follow the program as an opportunity for the community to meet the honorees. The evening will also include live performances and readings in celebration of the award recipients.

More information on the Distinction in the Arts program is available at

Your guide to arts and culture in San Antonio is

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