When Vivian Zapata walks down the red carpet at the sixth annual Latin Grammy Awards tonight, she won't have to worry about winning awards.
She's already a winner.
The University of Illinois sophomore beat out hundreds of entries in a poster competition sponsored by the Chicago-based nonprofit arts organization Latino Art Beat to become the Grammy Awards official artist.
With her award, announced in August, Zapata also won a full-tuition scholarship to the university for this academic year. The scholarship was co-sponsored by the UI College of Fine and Applied Arts.
So you might think the stressful part is over. But there is still that carpet.
"I'm just gonna say, I'm very thankful to Latino Art Beat and the Latin Grammys," Zapata said over the phone from her home in Chicago two days before the event. "It's a dream come true, and I know this will be a big step forward (in my artistic career)."
Zapata has been stepping forward in her artistic career practically since birth. "Ever since I could pick up a pencil," she said, "(art) was always my first love."
A supportive family nurtured that love, encouraging Zapata to take elective art classes in her public schools. Her father covered an entire wall of the family's garage with her artwork. Her mother speaks proudly of Zapata's experience painting a library mural.
Zapata's undergraduate adviser, Robin Douglas, said the student has been a bright light at the UI.
"All of her instructors just think she's a fabulous student, person, artist," Douglas said in a phone interview. "Her enthusiasm for life is just wonderful, but she's very unassuming."
She's also a proven talent.
No stranger to competition, Zapata also won the district prize in a Congressional arts competition.
As a result, one of her pieces spent a year displayed in the U.S. Capitol.
When Zapata heard about the national competition during her freshman year to design the Grammy Awards poster, "I really wanted to compete, " she said. "I'm a Latina, and ever since I was little I always had exposure to that kind of music."
Naturally, Zapata started her endeavor with some mood tunes. She listened to Latin musicians like David Bisbal and Juanes and looked at magazines for ideas.
"It had to be something really festive, really full of energy," she said of her poster. "The music reflects all of that happiness and that energy."
The result is an all-out jam of color and symbol and movement.
You could almost sway to Zapata's painting, Douglas said. "It looked like music."
Douglas was so excited about the entry that she hand-delivered it to Don Rossi Nuccio, president and founder of Latino Art Beat.
"I said 'Don, this is your winner," Douglas remembered.
She was right.
It's been a whirlwind for Zapata ever since.
She attended the August announcement of Grammy nominees, where her work was unveiled to the public.
In October, she attended a glitzy awards presentation from Latino Art Beat at The School of the Art Institute in Chicago.
And this morning she was to catch an early flight to Los Angeles to walk that red carpet and, hopefully, meet the Colombian singer Shakira.
"I'm so excited about just the spectacle of the show, the people," Zapata said. "I'm gonna be exposed to art and music – my two favorite things."