For years before, and after, being designated as a Texas Cultural District, several individuals and organizations have combined their efforts to develop the city’s cultural and artistic identity.
Fiona Bond, executive director of Creative Waco and Cultural District Committee member, said Creative Waco began two and a half years ago with the purpose of growing Waco as a cultural hub.
“When you think of a place like Santa Fe or you think of a place like Fort Worth or Austin, you immediately think of a city where creative and culturally successful and talented people can thrive and can be supported to make good ideas happen,” Bond said. “I really want that for Waco.”
Creative Waco dedicated its first year as an organization to developing the application for Waco to be designated as a cultural district, Bond said. To achieve this, the organization created the Cultural District Committee, which combines cultural organizations and community leaders.
Bond said the committee spent a lot of time looking at the previous decade of planning for Waco, and they found that each plan always included a cultural component. However, there had not been a central organization tasked with actually accomplishing city’s cultural ambitions.
“Even in our first months, it kind of became obvious that it was really important for there to be a focal point and an organization that existed to actually implement the different things that people wanted to see in Waco,” Bond said. “We were successful in getting that cultural district designation thanks to the weigh-in from literally hundreds and hundreds of people.”
Waco was named a Texas Cultural District by the Texas Commission on the Arts on September 7, 2016.
Bond said being designated as a cultural district opened up doors to funding. Even more importantly, it provided a framework for developing a community cultural identity — Waco’s Cultural Plan.
“Now, as an organization, everything we do is about putting arms and legs on that cultural plan,” Bond said. “We exist to implement that cultural plan.”
According to Creative Waco, Baylor University, McLennan County and the Greater Waco Chamber of Commerce are among the many groups helping to execute Waco’s Cultural Plan. Several organizations’ planning documents were implemented as part of the city’s cultural goals, including The Art Center of Waco, City of Waco Comprehensive Plan, Public Improvement District Action Plan and more.
Waco’s Cultural Plan has three goals, according to Creative Waco.
The first cultural goal is to grow and support successful, sustainable arts organizations in Waco. In order to help achieve this first goal, Creative Waco has a couple of funding programs, Bond said.
“Any non profit organization that has a great idea about something that’s innovative or something that’s going to be high impact in relation to the cultural plan can apply to us four times a year to get help to do that,” Bond said.
The second cultural goal is to develop a hub of cultural activity in downtown Waco to attract residents, businesses and tourists. Currently, Creative Waco is working with the city to bring more public arts to Waco, Bond said. The biggest project at the moment is the Sculpture Zoo — a series of different animal sculptures that will go in Cameron Park on approach to the Cameron Park Zoo.
“We have applications from artists all over the world for the sculpture zoo, and that will commemorate the 25th anniversary of Cameron Park Zoo,” Bond said.
The third cultural goal is to engage the creative sector in revitalization, entrepreneurship, education and economic development.
The Art Center of Waco plays a big part in the city’s arts education. Program coordinator Claire Sexton said the organization offers an arts-based summer camp program, as well as art classes for children and adults available throughout the year.
The Art Center of Waco’s newest education program is a mobile art gallery called “Art Expedition,” which features a large cargo trailer retrofitted to be a gallery that they take to various schools.
“The arts are so beneficial at any age, but especially at young ages,” Sexton said. “It helps make brain connections that wouldn’t happen otherwise. Children who had art classes at younger ages do better in school, have better motor skills — there’s just a lot of tangible and intangible benefits of having access to the arts.”
Sexton said that for a city to be a place where people want to live, there needs to be something more than just places to shop and eat. There needs to be places like The Art Center of Waco, which is important in creating the lifestyle and culture of the community.
The Art Center of Waco is full of people who are passionate about visual arts and who want to be able to provide the community with access to the arts, Sexton said.
Bond said she wants young, talented people to be able to their cultural and artistic ambitions in Waco.
“My vision for Waco developing as a cultural hub is that part of Waco’s core identity would become a place that artists and creative people can thrive and be successful making a living,” Bond said.