Best Of 2016

WINNER: Vincent Valdez

> Combining gritty yet lyrical hyper-realism with a searing social conscience, Vincent Valdez is rapidly becoming San Antonio's best-known artist nationally. Last year, the Southwest School of Art instructor served as the Texas State Artist for Painting and Drawing and won a $25,000 Joan Mitchell Painters and Sculptors Grant for "creating work of exceptional quality." This year, a New York Times writer covering the Ted Cruz campaign visited Valdez's West Side studio and called his painting of beer-drinking, iPhone-using, white-robed Ku Klux Klan members "a selfie for 21st-century America," reflecting the racial divides of the 2016 presidential race. The City will be unveiled September 9 in Valdez's one-man show "The Beginning Is Near" at Houston's David Shelton Gallery. Closer to home, a new mural based on his large-scale, black-and-white painting of a sinking sailing ship, Till Then, now graces the lobby of the Palmetto Center for the

Arts at Northwest Vista College. Inspired by the Mills Brothers' melancholic World War II-era song, the mural involved the work of dozens of local high school student volunteers led by Valdez and artist Alex Rubio. The pair worked together on community murals, that, back in the day, earned Valdez a full scholarship to the Rhode Island School of Design. Valdez's most disturbing series, "The Strangest Fruit" (pictured) is named for the Billie Holiday song and features portraits of his friends suspended in air as if by a hangman's noose, a chilling reminder of the more than 600 Mexicans and Mexican-Americans lynched in the United States.

WINNER: DeAnne Cuellar

> The SA native and communications coordinator for Equality Texas is a longtime equality advocate — a label that's exceptionally broad, but still doesn't quite capture the breadth of causes Cuellar supports. Cuellar's a practical communicator, organizer and clear thinker in a time when there are too few of them. And, at a time when polarization is the principal hallmark of public discourse, Cuellar gets her point across without being unnecessarily abrasive or obtuse. She's out to win, to make San Antonio a better and more equitable place for the LGBT community, women, underprivileged kids — anyone whose voice might be marginalized or doesn't get a fair shake — and she's smart about how she goes about it. Cuellar is also at the forefront of bridging the digital divide in San Antonio, both by working toward an open and fair internet for everyone and by ensuring that the web — just like water, electricity and other necessary utilities — is accessible to people all over the city. As tech companies concentrate in San Antonio — and as Google Fiber lays out thousands of miles of fiber optic cable throughout the city — voices like Cuellar's will become even more important to make sure that folks in digital deserts aren't left even further behind.

WINNER: Naomi Shihab Nye

> Cherished local author Naomi Shihab Nye writes striking, image-rich and empowering poetry, lively novels and short stories that hum with cultural vibrancy and are easy to digest, and children's stories and songs that hearken back to the potent, archetypal simplicity of classic myths and fables. And sometimes, perhaps when she's at her best, she deftly blurs the line between all of these. In her latest book Famous, a beautifully illustrated version of one of her most poignant and universal poems, Nye offers children a chance to play with notions of fame, self-love and the confidence that love bestows. "I want to be famous to shuffling men/ who smile while crossing streets/ sticky children in grocery lines/ famous as the one who smiled back," the poem's speaker ruminates, calling readers of all ages to regard fame with ambivalence and focus on the everyday difference that each person can make. Nye's upbringing is as eclectic as her work and boasts a multicultural aspect that, no doubt, contributes to the depth and breadth of her imagination and activism. Nye wasn't born in San Antonio, but landed here somewhat by chance when she was 17. After a childhood spent in Missouri, Nye moved to Jerusalem with her American mother and Palestinian-immigrant father. Then, after too much turmoil in the Holy Land, the family relocated here and the young Nye fell in love with the place. We think it's safe to say that we have fallen in love with her, too.

WINNER: Russell Rush

> Host of Mix 96.1's The Russell Rush Show, which airs Monday through Friday from 2 to 7 p.m., Iowa-born radio talent Russell Rush made his way to San Antonio in 2005 and never looked back. A graduate of St. Ambrose University, Rush, who is also an Emmy Award-winning creator of the web series The Russell Rush Haunted Tour, worked at WBNQ in Bloomington, Illinois before taking on hosting duties at the SA radio station. He was named "Radio Personality of the Year" by the San Antonio Media Alliance in 2008. "Funny story, I almost skipped doing radio to go to law school," Rush said. "My parents were almost proud of me." We're not sure how well he would've done in a courtroom defending jaywalkers, but Rush is a natural behind the mic. Even with the ever-changing radio landscape that sees plenty of radio talent make their rounds in the industry, Rush said SA has so much going for it, he doesn't see himself leaving anytime soon. In fact, he loves the city. "Too many radio people are focused on a big prize they never get — L.A., New York," Rush explains. "To me, it's about more than a market size. I've had opportunities to leave and try new things, but the people here are something special. There is no place else in the world like San Antonio. What we have here is so unique and incredible."

WINNER: The Coyote

> With a regular audience of 18,000 fans and over 12,000 followers on Twitter, the Spurs Coyote has a wide reach for his unique take on physical comedy. While the person behind the costume remains cloaked in anonymity, the Coyote is familiar to Spurs fans young and old, with a history that goes back to 1983. Before social media, the original Spurs Coyote, Tim Derk, was plucked from relative obscurity after performing in a Cole Porter music revue. Presented by Spurs brass with concepts for an armadillo and a mustached cowboy, Derk countered with the furry varmint based on his affinity for Wile E. Coyote. During his 21-year tenure as Entertainus Carnivorous, Derk appeared at over 1,110 games, averaging almost 200 community events across San Antonio each season. His playful sense of humor, spot-on timing and overlooked athleticism entertained generations of Spurs fans, before Derk hung up the fur in 2004.

"I had a good run as the Coyote," Derk told Spurs Sports and Entertainment before joining the Spurs front office later that year. "I left it all on the table. I danced on the ceiling, I jumped through fire and I managed to avoid wearing long pants for 48 years."

Today, the Coyote is a hoops icon that has traveled the globe, spreading hijinks across the hardwood and beyond. Averaging over 450 community appearances per year, it's rare to run into someone who doesn't have a Coyote story, making him, hands down, the most enduring mascot in SA.