By Meredith Wagner | Arts & Life Editor
When Los Angeles native Rebekah Hagman drove into Waco for the first time on July 4, 2017, she intended to plant her feet there. How she would go about doing so, aside from moving her and her spouse’s personal belongings to a new home, she wasn’t exactly sure. “We took a big leap of faith,” Hagman said.
A handful of months later, that leap of faith turned into Cultivate 7twelve, a collaboration of multiple artistic parties, including nonprofit organizations, yoga instructors, filmmakers and independent artists, located at 712 Austin Ave. Hagman, director and owner of Cultivate 7twelve, said that, among many purposes, Cultivate exists to be a space for the creative individuals and organizations in Waco to gather and connect.
With a background in communications, marketing and nonprofit work, Hagman said her vision stems from a desire to witness, for example, an interior designer and an aspiring sculptor find common ground, learn from one another and ultimately create a diverse artistic community.
“Let’s put those dots together,” Hagman said. “That’s my passion. I think when those connections happen, it’s just a testimony for the need of a physical space. In so many ways, it doesn’t matter how many classes we have, or if we have ten pieces of art on the walls or 50 — It’s really the fact that we’re here downtown, and that we keep our doors open, and we have a spirit of invitation here.”
Downstairs, the well-lit venue extends far beyond the towering front doors and storefront windows. Upon entry, visitors are greeted by a retail space, where locals and tourists can purchase the work of various Waco artists. Beyond the storefront, a grand piano and a tucked-away staircase, is the art gallery that changes every first Friday of the month.
Currently on display is the work of nationally recognized Waco native Charles Wallis. The gallery, titled “World of the Empath,” is a collection of years and years of his work. “World of the Empath” explores Wallis’s coming to terms, so to speak, with his own personality — the realization and ultimate acceptance of being an “INFJ” and an “empath.”
INFJ, which stands for ‘Introversion, Intuition, Feeling, Judging,’ describes a personality type often characterized by highly intuitive, empathetic and compassionate personalities. The term “empath” generally describes a “paranormal ability to apprehend the mental or emotional state of another individual.”
These traits combined often lead to a strong emotional capacity when interacting with the world, which Wallis describes in detail on the placards accompanying each of his pieces.
“This exhibit is really celebrating his own revelation and the freedom it’s given him to kind of make sense of his own journey,” Hagman said.
Many of the gallery’s viewers have related to the exhibit on a personal level. “On our opening night, we had six or seven people crying openly,” Hagman said. “This exhibit could [alternatively] be called, ‘How to understand your artist friends better.’ I think for anybody that has a love of art, or friends that are artists, this is a show that is well worth your time.”
Upstairs, a long hallway of studios and desks line the walls sporadically, creating a sense of organized chaos. More intriguing than your average cubicle, sections of the open space are brimming with cushioned seating, easels, an assortment of lighting and walls that somehow abstain from creating a sense of divisiveness, as would be expected.
Among the organizations that make up the open-office spaces is Creative Waco, a nonprofit that seeks to support Waco’s growing creative community. Creative Waco hosted a pop-up shop called “Waco 52” during last August in the same location, which inspired Hagman’s interest in the location and sparked her vision of what soon would come to be.
Also located upstairs is Central Texas Artist’s Collective, Deep in the Heart Film Festival, the Art Center of Waco, and five local artists who have planted their studios in the lofty open air of the downtown building.
According to Hagman, the space has served as a launchpad for the careers of multiple local artists.
“It’s not that artists weren’t succeeding before,” Hagman said. “But now they’re succeeding in a way that people can actually feel invested in — that, I think, is making a huge difference.”
In addition to the expansive office space, one room at the end of the long hallway serves as a studio for figure drawing courses, additional artistic displays and — interestingly enough — yoga classes.
Houston junior Atalie Wu has been instructing yoga in the studio space upstairs since last October. Teaching classes on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, at a cost of $8 per class, Wu said she would encourage every Wacoan to try it for themselves. “I think yoga should be in everyone’s lives,” she said.
In addition to practicing yoga at a local studio, Wu encouraged Wacoans to practice at Cultivate supplementally because of its safe and inspirational atmosphere. There are often pieces of art lying around or posted on the walls in the yoga studio, which Wu said can allow students to deepen their yoga practice and be more reflective. “[The art] makes this even cooler because it contributes to the class,” Wu said.
As for Cultivate’s vision as a whole, Wu said the space serves as a community for starting important conversations.
“[Conversation] doesn’t have to be about art. It can start off as art, but lead up into something else,” she said. “I think it’s a really great place to meet new people.”
Hagman’s visions for the space and the future are plentiful. For the next first Friday of the month, Feb. 3, Hagman plans to add more of Wallis’s work to the current exhibit and open a new exhibit upstairs called “Meet the Oswalds,” which will be a collection of work from married Waco artists Sean and Hillary Oswald.
In the more distant future, specifically May of this year, Cultivate 7twelve and Creative Waco have joined forced to bring in a work of art by Banksy, a world-renowned artist, political activist and film director –– making it the first time a Banksy piece has been featured in a Texas gallery. Banksy’s piece will be on display for an exhibit titled, “This is Where I Draw the Line.” Street artists are invited to submit their work and potentially be featured alongside one of the modern art world’s most talked about names.
Hagman encouraged Baylor students to explore their city and stop by for the coming events.
“It’s really easy to feel like nothing is as important the next test, or the next … assignment or the next party. And that’s true. It’s an important time in your life for all those things to be a priority. But, I think we all grow exponentially when we step outside of ourselves and look around,” Hagman said.
Reflecting back on her own experiences stepping outside of her comfort zone, Hagman recognized the importance of being challenged and called for students to do the same.
“We may be boxing ourselves in in ways that we don’t even realize … I guess that would be my … pull for students. Come and be challenged. Come and let yourself — your ideas — be challenged.”
As for long-time Wacoans, the opportunities for connecting to the fast-growing city are more plentiful than ever before. Just as Hagman planted herself in, and ultimately came to love, an unfamiliar city, she said locals should learn to rediscover the uniqueness of their surroundings.
“I think Wacoans need to fall back in love with their own city and let themselves be romanced by what’s here.”