Arts Commission Director Rick Hernandez says a committee appointed by the legislature will trim the list of nominees and make the final selections. He says the winners are judged on the totality of their work, and how much they and their work exemplify "Texas" and "Texas" culture, because they will represent Texas and Texas art to the world.
"And we as an agency are particularly interested in that, because in the last couple of years we've started to get involved in diplomacy and protocol, so we're very much a part of the economic development activities of the state, and so we're beginning to send artists on trade missions to represent the cultural aspects of Texas, especially to foreign countries."
Last year alone, the Commission sent the official state artists and some of their works on trade missions to Japan, Korea and Mexico. Commission spokeswoman Gaye McElwain says having Texas artists out there marketing Texas to the world that way helps to preserve the qualities that make Texas culture unique.
"Absolutely that's a real important thing for us at the Commission on the Arts, because we are so concerned with preserving out culture for future generations of people. So it's very important as we're looking at these musicians that, not only do they have a lot of popular recognition, but they are also contributing toward the preservation of that culture, perhaps passing along their talent, what it is that they're doing from one generation to the next."
McElwain says the Arts Commission wants artists representing all styles in the four categories, and they work at picking people of all races and ethnicities in every part of Texas, urban and rural. Anybody can be nominated, but to make the cut and have a chance of being chosen, an artist must have a history and a body of work in his or her field.
"For example, if you are a poet laureate, we're going to want to look and see if you have works published and how long and how many pieces and things of that sort. If you're a musician we want to see that you've actually earned your living making music, teaching music, either in a school setting or from your home, or that you have commercial releases of your materials that people can purchase, things of that sort."
The current Poet Laureate of Texas is cowboy poet and country singer Red Steagall of Fort Worth. Others include the late Vassar Miller of Houston and Dr. James Hoggard of Midwestern State University in Wichita Falls.
The current State Musician of Texas is the legendary fiddler Johnny Gimble, who played with Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys. Others include Billy Joe Shaver, Ray Benson of the group Asleep at the Wheel, and classical pianist James Dick.
State Sculptors include James Surls of Athens and Jim Reno of Kerrville, and State Artists include George Boutwell and Kathy Vargas.
The arts commission will accept nominations from the public through the 11th of next month. There's more information -- and a link to the nomination form -- on our website KUHF dot ORG.