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In a city of over 1.4 million people, picking out 20 for pretty much anything is a tall task. But that’s what we’ve done for the San Antonio Current’s first-ever People Issue — selected 20 folks doing captivating work in the Alamo City. Getting down to 20 made for some tough choices. But we think our final list — which includes artists and activists, a chef and a Spur — represents the diverse makeup of the city itself. Some of them inspire us, some entertain, some make the city go. All of them help make San Antonio what it is.

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Spot Barnett
Saxophonist and bandleader

We don't have Etta or Aretha. Nor do we have Jimi or Jackie. No Brother Ray, Otis or James. We can't claim Elvis, Chuck or Richard. We can't brag about B.B., Muddy or Wolf. We do, however, have Spot.

"There's no spots on Spot," said early Spot Barnett disciple and collaborator Augie Meyers, who, along with a young R&B-loving gringo named Doug Sahm, used to sneak into various "black and tans" to see Spot pull the pain and passion, articulations of the human spirit, from his saxophone.

If San Antonio had been home to more popular, wealthier record labels we may be listed alongside Memphis, New Orleans, Detroit and Chicago as one of the hotbeds of American musical activity in the 20th century. However, our little-big city modesty has kept us from being cited with these historic metropolises, and it's to the detriment of many of our incredible musicians that this is so.

Barnett, as a son of San Antonio and one of its most revered musicians, is not only competent in many of the styles that drift from saloons and cantinas, night clubs and taquerias out into the corpus of the city, but he's a master, and he has the credentials to prove it.

Barnett was SA's premier bandleader throughout the '50s and '60s. He was also the bandleader for a couple of artists by the names of Ike and Tina Turner, a member of Ray Charles' band, backed up James Brown and worked extensively with the depressingly under-mentioned Bobby "Blue" Bland.

We may not be home to the Mount Rushmore of rock figures who, through exhaustive praise, press and promotion rule the reams of American musical history, but claiming a musician the caliber of a Vernon "Spot" Barnett is just fine by me.

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Melanie Cawthon
Outreach & Development VP,
Reaching Maximum Independence

While recovering from a back injury and finding work through a temp agency, Melanie Cawthon discovered the world of nonprofit work. “I’d been in catering prior to that … and they placed me at nonprofit and ministry of the church I grew in,” Cawthon said.

That was the late ‘90s. Fast-forward to 2015, and she is vice president of outreach and development at Reaching Maximum Independence (RMI) — an organization that helps people with intellectual and developmental disabilities work and live as independently as possible.

“I do fundraising and development and event planning,” Cawthon said. She is also co-founder of AccessAbility Fest — a free, open festival created for people with all disabilities — and disABILITYsa.org, an online one-stop website for sharing info, resources ideas and support.

Cawthon’s been with RMI for four years, but has learned the finer points of helping people from an array of populations, including child services, homelessness and child sex abuse, but her greatest passion is working with people who have disabilities.

“One of the things I love about working with individuals with disabilities is the infectious joy that they have and everything that happens is wonderful and amazing,” she said. “And it just kind of teaches you a significant level of gratitude for everything you have for yourself.”

Cawthon also tries to break down barriers by bringing different organizations together to serve people of all types of disabilities, rather than focusing in on one area, like a physical disability.

“Because, you know, most organizations’ operate in silos. So to take on a project that benefits the entire community is sometime outside the scope of some organizations traditions,” she said of AccessAbility Fest and RMI’s Fiesta Especial.

“It’s a great pleasure and honor to be able to serve my community by making sure they have resources they need to achieve those goals and successes,” Cawthon said.

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Chuck Cureau
Master of Ceremonies,
San Antonio Spurs

If you’ve been to a Spurs game anytime over the last eight seasons, you’re probably familiar with Chuck Cureau. At a svelte 6-foot-2-inches with a self-described “light bulb-shaped bald head,” the in-arena host for the Spurs leaves a lasting impression. A bundle of energy that embraces challenges, Cureau even filled in as the PA announcer for the team in his rookie season, despite knowing little about basketball.

“I remember sitting down there, courtside, dead center, sweat just pouring off of me,” said Cureau with a chuckle. “I was just scared to death.”

Cureau eventually transitioned to the position he was originally hired for and has entertained fans ever since. His basketball acumen has grown over the years, and along with the Coyote and DJ Quake, he puts forth his best effort to energize the home crowd.

“Probably an hour before the game, I will walk around the AT&T Center,” said Cureau. “Walk the plaza level, sometimes walk the balcony level and just kind of look at the crowd … Those are the people that I’m there to hype up and ensure that they have a good time.”

A modern day Renaissance man, Cureau has acted alongside Academy Award winner Kevin Spacey, and holds down a full-time job as a curator for SeaWorld in addition to his duties with the Spurs. Despite a packed schedule, it’s obvious the Silver and Black hold a special place in his heart.

“What I hear from people who come to their first NBA game or who have come from other cities and experience our NBA game, people seem to be blown away with the game presentation and the show around the game,” said Cureau. “Of course, first and foremost it’s about the game of basketball and it’s about those players out their playing for our team, but I think it’s the whole experience. It’s a party in there.”

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Alvaro Del Norte
Accordionist and bandleader,
Piñata Protest

If singer, songwriter, accordionist and norteño-punk wizard Alvaro Del Norte were going to be made into a fictional lotería card, he’d be El Chingón (colloquial Spanish for “all around badass with an angsty streak”). As ringleader of the nationally acclaimed norteño, mojado punk band Piñata Protest, Del Norte has proven a gifted songwriter, a cyclonic and riveting performer, and one hell of an intuitive accordionist.

Piñata Protest, a local favorite since its inception in 2006, boasts its own Freetail-brewed beer and has increasingly garnered national attention with its 2012 and 2013 releases, Plethora “Reloaded” and El Valiente. Del Norte’s newish side project, Los Callejeros de San Anto, finds the punk rocker with the Tex-Mex swagger trying out more traditional, accordion-fronted borderland ballads and jams.

Born in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, Del Norte and his family came to San Antonio as undocumented immigrants when he was four years old. One of his earliest memories is all too typical of the undocumented experience.

“One night, la migra showed up at our door calling out my mother’s name, asking us to come outside — someone ratted us out. My mom, brother and I hid in a closet, terrified, for what seemed like eternity. The loud knocking and shouting eventually stopped. This is my earliest memory of life,” Del Norte said.

Del Norte believes that growing up in San Antonio led him to dream up Piñata Protest’s signature fusion style. “I feel that both [punk and norteño] are musical styles that are expressions of the working class, of the downtrodden, of protest, of love, of celebration and of everyday life,” he remarked.

Luckily for Del Norte and the boys, San Anto agrees.

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Elsa Fernandez
Owner,
Eye Candy Boutique

Elsa Fernandez takes nothing for granted. After running her own pop-up shop for three months as part of the Center City Development & Operations Department’s effort known as OPEN Downtown Pop-Up Shops, she signed a lease to make her store, Eye Candy Boutique at 531 Navarro St., a permanent part of San Antonio.

Eye Candy stocks clothes for plus-size women — a surprising anomaly since more than a third of the women in the country are considered plus-size. Now that Eye Candy is getting some good buzz and love from locals, she’s staying Downtown for the time being.

“It doesn’t feel real,” said Fernandez about her dream coming true. She has a bachelor’s and master’s in merchandising and has worked as a store manager and visual merchandising manager. When she was in school, perma-chic Fernandez, 32, created a business plan for a plus-size store. Last year, she went all in — she quit her job, created a business plan and sought financing. After a few events, she heard about the city’s pop-up program and applied. Eye Candy Boutique was born.

“I’ve learned a lot along the way,” she explained. “I’ve been listening to advice from other business owners and taking note of what I want to do and what I definitely don’t want to do. I did a lot of research before I ever opened the shop, and that’s really paid off.”

As a boutique owner, Fernandez wants to make her customers happy. “I have customers who come in asking for a dress for a quinceañera or a wedding, and I want to make them look their best.”

After Fernandez signed a year lease for the shop, she renovated and held a re-launch. The store now holds more of everything — from statement pieces for all sizes, to apparel for plus-size sets from street style to party wear.

“I never really stop working,” Fernandez said. “I want to keep the shop going and get more customers. My work isn’t done yet.”

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Lorenzo Gomez
CEO,
Geekdom

Lorenzo Gomez makes his gig sound more like a cruise director than a tech executive.

Gomez is the CEO of Geekdom, the co-working tech startup space that celebrated its fourth anniversary in early December. He describes the business as a place where members of SA’s feisty tech community lend each other a hand and let their ideas coalesce.

Giving people a place to work is important, but Gomez said the real mission is bringing people together — an especially important task given the grinding, solitary nature of work in the entrepreneurial trenches.

“What Geekdom is is part co-working space and part community. Without the community it’s just a cold, boring, soulless space,” Gomez said.

And that community has produced results: Gomez said the group’s member companies are worth about $40 million combined. As they grow, so too does their impact on San Antonio. That’s what Gomez truly hopes the company does: lift all the boats for a place that’s historically lagged economically behind similarly-sized cities like Phoenix and San Diego.

“Every time we help a company get to a point where they can hire their first employee, we are realizing our mission. That is really what inspires me everyday to keep doing what we’re doing,” Gomez said.

Gomez’s long-term vision is for Houston Street to evolve into a mini-corridor for tech Downtown. The dream is to “run into more tech people than tourists” by the Alamo. The best way he knows to do that, he said, is by nurturing a spirit of cooperation, shared success and reciprocity at Geekdom.

“If you’re not helpful you’re really not going to last in our ecosystem, and that’s how we want it,” Gomez said. “I actually think it’s a reflection of San Antonio.”

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Anya Grokhovski
Artistic Director,
Musical Bridges Around the World

Anya Grokhovski is an esteemed concert pianist, a musical educator and an important community advocate for the arts. Hailing from a family of professional musicians in Moscow, where she received her bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees in piano performance and pedagogy from the Russian Academy of Music, Grokhovski taught music before coming to the U.S. in 1989. In a recent phone interview, speaking of her first impressions of America, Grokhovski said “[her] first trip to Walmart felt like [she] had arrived in Versailles.”

In 1991, Grokhovski moved to San Antonio to take a position as staff accompanist at the University of Texas at San Antonio. She recalled being warmly welcomed. Now, she thinks of her arrival to the Alamo City as something destined, noting that it “feels like home to [her] now.” So naturally, wanting to test her San Anto mettle, I asked her where she likes to eat Mexican food. “You’ll probably laugh at me,” she joked, “but I always eat at Las Palapas.” I did laugh, but assured her that it’s better than Taco Cabana. Plus, Grokhovski gets points for detailing the perfection of Palapas’ roasted salsa.

For Grokhovski, speaking generally, it is music that has consistently helped her connect with new communities and individuals. And it’s this sense of cultural and personal connection through music that is at the heart of Musical Bridges Around the World (MBAW), Grokhovski’s greatest contribution to SA. MBAW, a nonprofit founded in 1998 on a small scale, puts on designedly diverse musical performances and educational programming. With an eye toward bridging cultural gaps and uplifting at-risk communities, MBAW has produced radically innovative collaborations and reached thousands of SA youth. The organization will present its third International Music Festival next February.

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Ken Little
Artist and professor,
University of Texas at San Antonio

Around 1959, a 12-year-old Ken Little penned an essay called My Utopia, writing, “I want to be the most famous artist of the 20th century.  Now that may sound like some stage struck kid, but I am serious. The idea of becoming a run-of-the-mill commercial artist haunts me. I would rather not be an artist than be lost in the crowd.”

Little may have lightened up since then, but his artistic ambitions certainly never waned, and through the decades he’s crafted a career deeply rooted in the arts, often juggling multiple roles at once, from sculptor (his new series of signature bronze masks will be shown in Houston next year), to public artist (he just installed a commission for Frost Bank), to musician (he’s hoping to record a new album in the next year).

But regardless of what’s stacked on his plate, the one place you will always find him is the classroom. Since 1974, Little has taught at universities in Florida, Montana and Oklahoma before moving to San Antonio in 1988. Today, he teaches sculpture at both graduate and undergraduate levels at the University of Texas at San Antonio. Here, his lessons extend beyond ceramic technique and into an intuitive realm, where students learn to “listen” to the materials. And his standards are high.

“Walking into the classroom and talking to my students is almost on a parallel level with walking into my studio and making things. I’m asking them to submit themselves to certain standards about what they need to do, and to make an effort in what they need to do — a similar effort to the one that I make,” Little said.

And just what would he say to that ambitious 12-year-old student he once was? “Chill out, it’s all going to work,” he chuckled.

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Joey Lopez
Professor,
University of the Incarnate Word

Joey Lopez lived in Austin for a decade where he got firsthand experience in the tech world. “Even 80 miles away is a whole other world,” he said. “Young adults were treated as having just as much radical potential as anyone else.”

Lopez is an associate professor with a convergent media concentration in the Department of Communication Arts at the University of the Incarnate Word. He is also a founding member of the Convergent Media Collective, which aims to help nonprofits effectively use social media.

“We consulted on BiblioTech when it first came out,” he said. “And we began working the hacker space 10BitWorks. They call it a maker space now, that’s the trend.” 10BitWorks is an educational, volunteer nonprofit where people can learn everything from software programming to robotics.

“I started working with them a lot heavier and one issue is they wanted a laser cutter,” Lopez said.

So, instead of just raising money for a laser cutter, Lopez said he pitched a two-tier system, where people could donate money to learn to use the machine or because they wanted others to be empowered to learn to use the laser. They raised $12,000 in 45 days and bought it, and it’s been used by the community — young and old — ever since.

One of his missions, now, through meet-ups, is to bring “facilitators” together for good, so that people don’t duplicate social work outside of what he calls the “Pizza Slice,” an area of San Antonio from Interstate 10 to Downtown to Highway 281 where he said the majority of San Antonio’s wealth can be found that is predominantly Anglo.

“We’re being efficient. We’re collaborative,” Lopez said.

So far they’ve had two of the meet-ups.

“We want to bring together artists and technologists interested in advocacy in the community, in that other 70 percent on the west, south and east sides of San Antonio [that aren’t in that ‘Pizza Slice’],” he said.

For Lopez, lessons learned in life have showed him his mission is to help empower people through technology and advocacy where it’s needed most.

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Rey Lopez
Nightlife promoter

After the success of his first drag show at a straight nightclub (Old San Juan Restaurant and Discotek) in 2011, starring RuPaul’s Drag Race alumna Manila Luzon, promoter Rey Lopez believed he could do it again.

“I went knocking on the doors of the gay clubs to see if anybody would be interested in taking me in,” Lopez said. “Nobody wanted to work with me because, at that time, the clubs didn’t think it was an investment to bring in those girls [RuPaul’s Drag Race contestants].”

Eventually, the Silver Dollar Saloon gave Lopez an opportunity to shine and generate a loyal following during their Thursday night drag shows. He created Rey Lopez Entertainment (RLE) and started booking both local and national talent.

Today, Lopez has become known for his annual birthday celebrations, where he brings in several of the country’s premier drag performers to celebrate his big day and for his weekly “Drag Me To Fame” shows, where local queens get a chance to compete. The first RLE Birthday Bash, held at the Bonham Exchange in 2012, was the first event in the country to unite a dozen Drag Race contestants and was attended by over 1,200 fans. This year’s RLE Birthday Bash at the Aztec Theatre marked Lopez’s 40th, and brought together 12 Drag Race alumnae. “I’m surprised by how many people I’ve been able to reach, and by how many people know of the shows, but I’m not gonna give myself all the credit because I know those girls are very popular,” Lopez said.

In September, Lopez presented one of his biggest events yet, bringing together 30 entertainers for Out in the Park at Six Flags Fiesta Texas. “It’s been four years and it’s been nothing but surprises and good things,” he said.

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Angela & Rick Martinez
Owners and operators,
Slab Cinema

The camera pans up a pair of tight-as-Saran-Wrap denim Wranglers careening over pearl snaps stretched to a taut tension across John Travolta’s brawny torso. Women crumble into a communal squeezebox of coos, oohs and ahs. This was my introduction to Slab Cinema: the ombré descension of dusk punctuated by a pockmarked limestone wall, that evening’s canvas for Urban Cowboy.

Urban Cowboy is my wife’s all-time favorite movie and its screening in Hemisfair Park in 2010 served as one of our first dates. This is the kind of earnest sentimentality that has kept Angela and Rick Martinez carting around the wires and wares of a bygone pastime for 12 years.

Originally the proprietors of San Antonio’s only VHS rental establishment, Planet of the Tapes, the Martinezes moonlight in the portable-drive-in “business,” doing it, simply, for the love of the medium. “Some of our best childhood memories involve going to the drive-in with our families. Slab Cinema provides us with a chance to make memories with our own children, while giving us an outlet to help build community and give others the opportunity to make memories with their families.”

That quote is not their corporate mission statement. It’s not posted all over a pristinely produced website as the feel-good cliff note to a profit-driven endeavor. It’s directly from the duo and sums up their interpretation of the outdoor movie experience, their passion and their purpose.

The pair has screened hundreds of films all over the city, from the cobblestoned banks of the San Antonio River to the historic Mission Drive-In. They have faced hit-and-runs, violent weather and stolen equipment to provide us a glimpse into the magic they felt growing up and offer us to experience it with our children, and to maybe feel a little like kids ourselves.

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Steve McHugh
Chef and owner,
Cured

At 40, chef Steve McHugh is no whippersnapper, and he’s totally at peace with that. After working for Dickie Brennan and Ralph Brennan and chef Chris Brown at Metro Bistro, and after more than a decade under John Besh (the Wisconsin native opened Lüke San Antonio), McHugh opened his dream eatery at the Pearl in 2013. At two, Cured still shines as one of the city’s best restaurants, and it’s by design as McHugh and wife/partner-in-crime Sylvia handle all aspects of the restaurant. From employing team members they would enjoy working with to calling the “salt guy” that supplies the building’s water softener, McHugh does it all in stride while visiting with tables and expediting dishes from the line. Though he always had an entrepreneurial spirit, McHugh gleaned a lot of his chef persona from his time with Besh.

“When I started working with John, it was the first time I worked with a chef that gave as much attention to the front [of the house] as to the back,” McHugh explained over breakfast tacos at Pete’s Tako House. “He used to force me to get out and talk to the guests ‘Go see how they liked your food, go explain your special.’”

His Midwestern charm helps, but the traveling for food and wine festivals (despite bouts of motion sickness), media training and process skillset (“I got really good at packing boxes” he says of Besh’s frequent cooking trips), is what’s helping Cured and San Antonio — a city he chose to call home after beating non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and being told to keep his stress level down — stand out.

He leans on his staff, including Robert Rodriguez, Forrest Hyde, Wacey Jamison, Mark Gunnoe and William Rivera, to make service great.

His advice for young cooks — build your resume, work for somebody. “They hate when I’m on that line because I’m scrutinizing everything, I’m tough,” McHugh said.

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William McManus
Chief,
San Antonio Police Department

Since officially coming back as chief of the San Antonio Police Department in October, William McManus has been busy. He’s dealing with how the department will handle putting more body cameras on the street, an inquiry from the FBI and the small matter of managing over 2,000 sworn officers.  

But his top priority so far has been revamping the way his department — and perhaps San Antonio itself — approaches homelessness. For years, homeless people have received ticket after ticket for offenses such as camping and panhandling. And while McManus said his officers will enforce the laws on the books, he realized after some time away from the force that the homeless couldn’t simply be arrested away.

“They’re going to go somewhere. They just spring up somewhere else. And watching it from outside the department, it gives you a different perspective on it,” McManus said.

A key component of McManus’ plan is to develop multidisciplinary teams with other agencies such as Haven for Hope and the city’s Department of Human Services to bring resources directly to people on the street.

The idea is that hopefully at least one of the options — whether it’s mental health treatment, job placement or just a hot meal — will be what a certain person needs.

“There are homeless people who are not chemically dependent, who are not mentally ill, and just for whatever reason they’re on the street. It’s where they want to to be,” he said. “As long as they’re not breaking the law, they have a right to be there. Part of it is managing the expectations of those that expect to see the homeless people just shoved aside, and understanding that if they’re not breaking the law, and they want to be on the street, they can be on the street.”

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Patty Mills
Point guard,
San Antonio Spurs

Now in his fifth season with the Spurs, backup point guard Patty Mills has fully settled into his comfort zone in South Texas. He drinks local java from Indy Coffee Co., enjoys dining at the Pearl and has rocked out at SXSW. He also dreads allergy season, just like the rest of us.

“I think coming not just from Portland, but from the other side of the world, I got to really experience and open up to the culture of Texas, and that’s something that I’ve really enjoyed,” said Mills after a recent practice. “San Antonio is now the place that I’ve spent the most time in America away from Australia, away from home, and I think it’s a credit to the community, to the people of San Antonio, that have welcomed me with open arms, just as well as they have with everyone else on this team.”

Mills describes the environment in San Anto as humbling and admits that when recruiting his former Portland teammate LaMarcus Aldridge, it really wasn’t a tough sell.

“Coming from Dallas and going to school in Austin, he was very familiar with the place already, so it wasn’t like there was much new to tell him other than it is a family environment,” Mills said.

After working through a shoulder injury last season, Mills has regained the form that catapulted him to international fame. Along with maestro Manu Ginobili, he has paced the Spurs’ pass-happy second unit, overwhelming opponents with superior depth, particularly at home.

“There’s always a certain level of comfort playing at home,” Mills said. “It’s a number of things. Home crowd. Home support. To the simple things as being able to be in your own home, in your own environment, where you get to sleep in your own bed. There’s something about that that makes coming back home really special. We try to protect our home and protect our arena. It’s a special place.”

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Naomi Shihab Nye
Poet and author

Along-beloved member of the San Antonio arts and culture landscape, celebrated author Naomi Shihab Nye writes just about everything. From essays to poems, from novels to short stories, from kid’s books to songs, the self-described “wandering poet” possesses a boundless gift for the written word. Nye said she’s been “writing constantly, even submitting work to magazines, since [she] was seven years old.” Perhaps that’s why she’s been so active in arts education around the city, particularly creative writing.

Nye, who finds championing the arts as a way of “seeing each other as humans and defeating the belief in enemies and others,” wasn’t born in San Antonio but moved here by chance when she was 17. After a childhood spent in Missouri, Nye moved to Jerusalem with her American mother and Palestinian-immigrant father. After much turmoil, the family relocated to San Antonio. Nye mused “[her] family just had a good feeling about [San Antonio], and that good feeling has stuck with [her].”

“I’ve loved this city ever since, and I feel lucky that my parents picked a place that’s been so nourishing and engaging and delightful,” Nye remarked.

On her teenage experience in Jerusalem, Nye said it was “there [she] started to see that you could use writing as activism, rather than just description or lyricism.”

When we spoke, the cause of visiting artists and writers in schools was fresh on Nye’s mind. She believes strongly that it is in the city’s best interest if all our public school districts, San Antonio Independent School District in particular, move to rekindle school visits by working artists and writers. Her own past experience with such programs, she noted, was transformative for visitors, students and the community.

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Jenny Rabb Faz
Event Director,
San Antonio Cocktail Conference

She can plan a party in her sleep.

And they’re not Red Solo Cup ragers either. As event director for the San Antonio Cocktail Conference, Jenny Rabb Faz really does have a knack for powerful presentation.

Rabb Faz is one of the masterminds behind the 5-year-old conference that turns a sleepy post-holiday rush Downtown into a dazzling weeklong celebration of all spirited libations. Though January is normally considered a slow month for the bar industry, the conference, with its seminars, dinners, tastings and elaborate parties, now sets the tone for what’s to come throughout the year.

Next time you’re sipping on that boutique mezcal, or admiring an elaborate bar takeover during the SACC, you can thank Rabb Faz for her planning prowess. She, along with founder Mark Bohanan, executive director Cathy Siegel, event coordinator Elise Russ, prep crew captain Karah Carmack and logistics coordinator Carlos Faz, plan the festivities — plotting placement for brands and spirits, scheduling presenter seminars, collecting recipes from bartenders and making sure each event has enough booze.

Though San Antonio would still have a semblance of cocktail culture without the event, its grasp on the city wouldn’t be as strong without the educational bacchanal that is the conference.

To unwind, she’d much rather cozy up for Netflix binging with some wine. “I’m on a pinot noir kick, but I always love a glass of bubbles,” she laughed.

Still, the cocktail movement and the groups that Houston Street Charities are able to help — The Children’s Shelter, ChildSafe, Clarity Child Guidance Center, TEAMability and Transplants for Children will all benefit in 2016 — make the late nights worth it.

“All of us sacrifice something, whether it’s time away for our families, or friends,” Rabb Faz said.“But when it’s over, it’s such a feel-good that we made a difference and put on an amazing event.”

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Alex Rubio
Muralist and mentor

On December 12, 1989, with his mentor Juan Hernandez on one side and a young Vincent Valdez on the other, Alex Rubio put his distinctive curvilinear marks on a mural commissioned by the San Fernando Cathedral and made an important realization: He was finally a real artist.

That spirit stuck, and he has never forgotten the feeling of creating for his community. Today, his large scale paintings and prints have been widely collected and shown in Texas and throughout the U.S. in exhibits such as Cheech Marin’s groundbreaking 12-city tour, “Chicano Visions: Painters on the Verge,” and the summer 2016 exhibit at the Smithsonian affiliate Ellen Noel Art Museum in Odessa, Texas. But his energies remain deeply rooted in San Antonio, as he seamlessly shifts between his roles as creator, teacher and curator.

As artist-in-residence at Blue Star Contemporary Art Museum’s MOSAIC program, Rubio mentors high school students in art-making and business techniques year-round, five days a week after school and during the summer. He also serves as an adjunct for the community classes at the Southwest School of Art. Rubio said he seeks to inspire his students “to continue the investigation and exploration of media, to be prolific in studio work, focus and concentration, to be inspired by fellow contemporary artists and to seek out opportunities working with curators, museums and galleries.”

Rubio opened R Space (110 E. Lachapelle) in March 2011 so those same undiscovered and emerging artists could experience the professional practice of the exhibition process. “I had those opportunities as a young artist, and that personal mission of sharing that experience and offering these opportunities to the next generation of art-workers inspires me as an artist and as a curator,” he explained.

You can expect to see a whole lot more of Rubio’s curatorial efforts in the coming months — he’s opening a second venue, Rubio Gallery-South, this spring. “It will double the opportunity for artists to present, promote and introduce their work to the arts community,” he said.

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Robert Salcido
Regional Field Organizer,
Equality Texas

Robert Salcido is coming for the hearts and minds of San Antonians.

It’s no easy task. So how does he do it?

By talking to people — lots and lots and lots of people. And then getting them to talk to even more people, all in the name of LGBT education and justice.

“I would describe it as definitely a high-contact position,” Salcido said of being an organizer for Equality Texas.

For Salcido, 2015 was full of “ups, downs and everything in between.” The big win is obvious: The Supreme Court’s ruling on June 26 that same-sex marriage bans were unconstitutional was perhaps the biggest step forward for LGBT rights in U.S. history. But there’s much more work left to do, Salcido says.

Chief among his priorities is ensuring the city’s non-discrimination ordinance is being properly enforced as it pertains to sexual orientation.

“Being a queer man myself ... I want those protections just like anybody else, but I also see those other individuals not leading as privileged of a life as I do,” Salcido said. “There are some people out there who go to work each day not being able to be their true authentic self … simply because someone doesn’t agree with that.”

Which comes back to changing hearts and minds. Salcido emphasizes public education and outreach, getting folks to share their stories and lived experiences with others.

“Injustices that the LGBT community has to face every day — it’s one of those things that you just know is wrong,” Salcido said. “I see myself in a position that I have a voice for those who don’t have it. Until I have that taken away from me, I’m going to speak at the top of my lungs that these are injustices we need to face.”

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Pat Smothers
Political activist

On July 4, 2015, in response to Texas’ new abortion clinic regulations currently being considered by the Supreme Court, a massive new Planned Parenthood clinic opened in the Medical Center. Behind the 22,000-square-foot facility stood Pat Smothers, chair of the committee charged with finding funds for the $7.5 million bill.

Smothers, a former member of the Women’s Political Caucus board of directors in the ’80s and one-time chair for Ann Richards’ campaign for governor in Bexar County, has spent considerable time speaking up for some of the most frightened and marginalized members of society: victims of domestic abuse and family violence. After seeing Richards inaugurated, Smothers joined the board of Family Violence Prevention Services in San Antonio and spearheaded a committee that went on to build La Paloma de la Paz in 2012, accommodating up to 222 women and children and featuring medical clinics, a school and transitional housing.

Smothers’ political interests and the personal experiences of women at La Paloma converge in her unabashed support of Planned Parenthood. “Working with so many women at the shelter … reinforced my conviction that it is essential that women decide when they are able, capable and desiring to becoming mothers,” said Smothers.

The new center complies with requirements the Texas Legislature passed into law in 2013. Still, Smothers, a critic of those regulations, hopes the Supreme Court strikes them down. “It is difficult living in a state where the governor and lieutenant governor are constantly trying to deny women their right to medically safe abortions,” Smothers groaned. “That is why I agreed to head the committee to raise the money to build the beautiful new clinic that conforms to the new and unnecessary requirements.”

That contrarian streak informs much of her activism. “I choose to work on women’s and children’s issues that are woefully unrepresented ... controversial but essential. There are numerous other people that can support less controversial issues,” she said. 

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Anna Stothart
Curator,
San Antonio Museum of Art

Anna Stothart thinks back to the summers she spent as a child during the ’80s at the Ghost Ranch in Abiquiú, New Mexico. Years prior, her parents befriended potter Juan Hamilton, a confidant of painter Georgia O’Keeffe. That was when Stothart, hired to be The Brown Foundation Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at the San Antonio Museum of Art (SAMA) last February, found her calling. She just didn’t know it yet.

“It wasn’t something I was conscious of at the time, but having that history was an amazing thing,” Stothart, 37, said. “It led me to think about the role art plays in society and culture. I saw how much it helped enrich, educate and bring people and communities together.”

Originally from Bellingham, Washington, Stothart earned her undergraduate degree from Western Washington University in art history in 2005, and a master’s degree from Tufts University in art history and museum studies in 2007. She moved to Boston to work as a curatorial associate and then as assistant curator at the Institute of Contemporary Art.

Since her move to SAMA 10 months ago, Stothart has connected with what she considers a “vibrant and close-knit artistic community.”

“I’ve developed some great relationships,” she said. “I’m interested in figuring out what people in San Antonio — artists, educators, curators, collectors, patrons of the arts — get excited about.”

Next October, Stothart will curate an international exhibition tentatively titled “In the Dust of This Planet,” which will explore the parallels between zombie pop culture and society’s “underlying anxiety about the environmental crisis and human extinction.” It’s the type of show she hopes will engage a new audience.

“The benefit of working for an encyclopedic institution is to make those connections either visually or conceptually for the public,” she said. “Hopefully, that will draw a broader interest in the institution.”

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