Local arts agency shapes Waco into cultural hub

[From left to right] Fiona Bond, Amanda Dyer and Kennedy Sam are a part of the Creative Waco team. Creative Waco is a nonprofit organization with a mission to support the art community in Waco.

By Claire Van Zee | Reporter

For years, people have looked outside of Waco for their entertainment and arts experiences, but with the help of Creative Waco, the local arts agency, the city’s arts and culture scene is evolving into a hub of its own, and quickly becoming a place students might want to stay in after graduation.

Current executive director, Fiona Bond and a group of locals came together in 2015 when there wasn’t any infrastructure supporting the art scene in Waco.

“At that time, every arts organization was constrained by the lack of opportunity and advocacy,” Bond said.

In order to make a change, the group worked to officially establish the city as a cultural district by the Texas Commission on the Arts. According to the Texas Commission on the Arts, cultural districts help to harness the power of cultural resources to encourage economic development and community revitalization.

Officially making Waco a cultural district was important to the group because they knew it would open doors to new funding and elevate local artists’ abilities to get funding from outside the city, Bond said.

“It’s just what makes Waco seem like more of a grown-up city when it comes to arts and culture,” Bond said.

Now the agency focuses on strategy, funding and catalyst projects that help to grow Waco as a center known for its arts and culture.

Kennedy Sam, director of marketing and communications at Creative Waco, said everything they do falls under three pillars — public art, funding, advocacy and professional development.

“Since our projects are so dynamic, they don’t always just fit into one. They often intersect. The main thing is just to make sure that Waco has a well-rounded arts and cultural community,” Sam said.

Another part of supporting the artistic growth of the city is nurturing the local cultural identity. Sam believes Waco already has an identity of its own, and they’re not trying to change that.

“The thing we don’t like is when people say Waco is going to be the new Austin,” Sam said. “We’re not trying to emulate a new Austin, Dallas or Fort Worth, we’re just trying to amplify the things that people are already doing to make Waco more Waco.”

Waco doesn’t need to copy someone else to be successful, Bond said.

“We don’t try to shoehorn ourselves into any particular shape. I think the city already has its own shape and its own peculiarities which are interesting enough without us having to impose any kind of identity on that,” Bond said.

Sam believes Waco is truly growing and diversifying in the arts.

“It’s just been so amazing to see how much Waco’s changed in the five years we’ve been established. Everything is very organic and really driven by locals wanting to bring cool things to Waco,” Sam said.

Creative Waco’s initiative also has its perks for Baylor students. Their hope is to make Waco the kind of place where people might want to stay after graduation.

They also hope to give new graduates a reason to stay by creating pathways for those with great ideas and creative assets that they could offer the community, Bond said.

“When you look at places you want to go, you think, ‘O.K., so what is the arts community like? What can I do on the weekend? What can I do after school or after work to relieve stress and have fun?” Sam said.

So if your city doesn’t have a notable arts and culture identity, it really is a struggle both to bring in new talent and to retain the current talent you have now, Sam said.

“I would really want students to realize that Waco is probably one of the richest places that they could dive into new arts experiences while they’re a student and experiment while it’s affordable,” Bond said.