City leaders and community members apply to make downtown Waco a Cultural District

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Supporters of the the letter of intent for Waco to become a designated Texas cultural arts district pose for a photo at the signing at the Waco Suspension Bridge on Thursday.

A sun-washed Waco Suspension Bridge rose above city leaders yesterday as they signed their application to make downtown Waco into a Cultural District. The signing doubled as a celebration of the landmarks and distinct visual culture that make Waco a strong candidate for the Cultural District designation.

Mayor Malcolm Duncan, City Manager Dale Fisseler and executive director of Creative Waco Fiona Bond each spoke before they and other members of the community signed the application.

The application is the culmination of years of development in Waco. If approved by the Texas Commission on the Arts, Waco would become eligible for state-sanctioned funding and support. The movement to receive Cultural District status has been spearheaded by Creative Waco, a local non-profit organization that promotes and fosters the city’s cultural growth.

“The project emerged originally from a recognition of our arts and cultural resources,” Bond said. “Waco has an amount of activities that it didn’t have even a few years ago.”

Receiving a Cultural District designation would be state recognition of the value of Waco’s growth. The state has already approved 29 Cultural Districts in large cities like Austin and Dallas as well as smaller cities like San Angelo and Bryan. Last year, the state allocated $5 million to develop and promote these districts in an effort bring even more artisans and business owners to these communities.

If Waco’s application for Cultural District designation is approved, it will be eligible for a portion of this funding, which would be dedicated to promoting and marketing the city.

“It allows Waco to be promoted at the state and national levels as a place that takes the arts seriously,” Bond said.

Bond said Waco has all the necessary components to be designated a Cultural District. She listed Waco’s location at the Brazos River crossing, the opening of Magnolia Market, the success of the Baylor athletics program and the recent flourishing of businesses downtown among the many factors that contribute to the city’s cultural development.

Creative Waco has been responsible for raising awareness of these initiatives and coordinating the different efforts to make downtown Waco a cultural destination.

Megan Henderson, the director of Waco’s Downtown Development Corporation and a member of the task force for Waco’s Cultural District application, said the city is uniquely poised to become a new Cultural District.

“People getting started in life can afford land, buildings and businesses here,” Henderson said. “If you’re excited about making art, starting businesses or making amazing coffee, we want you here.”

Henderson pointed to the Waco Hippodrome, Dichotomy and Wildland Supply Company as several examples of the city’s influx of new businesses opened by young entrepreneurs. Henderson said increasing awareness of Waco’s opportunities through the Cultural District program will continue the city’s growth.

In addition to the businesses that have opened downtown, local artisans like clothing designer Leslie Medlin have the space to create and sell their own goods at spaces like Anthem Studios Artisan Market and the Waco Downtown Farmers Market. Bond said these opportunities allow local artists and creators to find success and a customer base for their goods.

Bond said these opportunities have not always existed in Waco, and the city’s recent growth is a testament to the dedication of business owners and city leaders who have made it prosper. The state’s support would make those outside Waco aware of the city’s potential, opening up even more opportunities for creatives who want to call Waco home.

“Waco has had its ups and downs along the way, but it has all the ingredients to be a great cultural hub,” Bond said. “It’s time. It’s Waco’s time.”