Risking it all for the Arts

Bohemia creator Amanda Hixson shows off the magazine's most recent issue.

Story by Whitney Van Laningham

Photos by Debra Gonzalez

Amanda Hixon isn’t interested in “normal.” She zigzagged between various careers before finally deciding to become a true “bohemian:” one who practices an unconventional lifestyle in the company of like-minded people, involving musical, artistic or literary pursuits.”

In the past 12 months, she has gone from schoolteacher to editor-in-chief of her own magazine. Her goal is nothing less than to unite Waco artists and raise awareness for the local arts community. But despite personal success, Hixon faces daily financial struggles that threaten to sink the Bohemia Literary Arts Journal and everything else that she has worked so hard for. In short, Hixson is risking it all to showcase Waco as a hub for art and culture.

Waco is the perfect city for Hixson’s artistic revolution. Where most people see a city dominated by parking garages and chain restaurants, Hixson sees a Mecca for neophyte artists to begin their careers and a haven for professionals to showcase their craft. She has dedicated the past year to this project, and for someone who can truly be classified as a starving artist, has already made quite a bit of progress.

“We couldn’t have started this in another city,” Eric Doyle, managing editor at Bohemia, said. “Because there’s such a need for what we’re trying to do in Waco, there was just a groundswell of support. It was very humbling.”

Hixson moved to Waco in 1998 at the age of 22. She chose to major in journalism because of her childhood dream to someday publish her own magazine.

“I used to make ‘magazines’ for my mother growing up,” she said. “I would also make ‘newspapers’ by stapling together old bits of newspaper and folding them up.”
Her passions for writing led her to work for the Baylor Lariat, Baylor’s student newspaper, as a staff writer.

“Interviewing was my strength,” Hixon said.

In her last year of college, Hixson’s life took an unexpected turn.

“I left Baylor due to extensive health and poverty problems,” she said.

An invasive surgery left her too emotionally and physically unable to return to school. The realization that she could have lost her life made Hixson re-evaluate her decision to be a journalist.

“Around the time I decided to leave Baylor, September 11th was being heavily covered in the media. At this point, I was just so happy to be alive [after the surgery]. I didn’t want to be a journalist anymore if I had to cover stories that were just making me sad,” Hixson said.

Without a college degree, Hixson found herself working at Wal-Mart and living paycheck to paycheck. She used food stamps to pay for her groceries and struggled to make ends meet.

“I’m an independent spirit,” she said. “I left my parents’ house when I was 17, and I haven’t taken any money from them. Sometimes it’s really hard.”

Still, Hixson began volunteering on the side with a local Girl Scout troop to branch out from her job at Wal-Mart. It was then she discovered her passion for teaching, and enrolled in McLennan County Community College’s four-year teaching program.

In 2003, Hixson started professor Jim McKeown’s creative writing class at MCC. McKeown took an interest in Hixson because of the obvious dedication and focus involved
in her writing.

Avery Jackson reads an original piece at Bohemia's open mic night.

“She would have a vision for a project, and when she has a vision, she always follows through with it,” McKeown said.

The two of them teamed up after McKeown published several of Hixon’s poems in MCC’s literary journal, The Stone Circle
.
Despite the fact that Hixson was making a steady living as a teacher, having been hired at JH Hines Elementary, she felt that there was something greater that she could be doing for the community. She quit her teaching job in early 2011 to start working on the magazine.

“I couldn’t say no to her,” McKeown said. “She was one of the best students I ever had. At first I thought she was just going to ask me about printers and other advice kind of things. [After meeting with her] I realized that this was going to be so much bigger than the neighborhood rag.”

Hixson arranged a meeting at On the Border to pitch her idea about starting Bohemia. In attendance were Doyle, McKeown and a handful of other writers and poets.

“There was salsa on everything,” Doyle said. “We had no artists. When we first showed up for that meeting, we were all writers. That’s how we decided to be a literary journal, because we had all that writing.”

But when different personalities started showing interest in Hixson’s project, things really started happening. Artists, journalists, photographers and musicians started showing their support for Bohemia.

“Journalism is great,” Hixson said. “But I wanted to showcase actual art. I wanted to feature emerging artists and regional artists who are at the peak of their field.” Through Bohemia she provides a unique networking system that allows artists, writers, musicians and photographers to connect, as well as providing the support and encouragement that they need to continue creating. Hixson operates under the theory that if you give artists an opportunity, they will embrace the inspiration and be able to accomplish their goals.

Most artists in the Waco community can empathize with Hixson’s financial situation. Her creativity costs more than her bank account actually holds, and she is constantly treading water to keep the Bohemia project afloat. In the process, producing creative material for free has consumed Hixson’s life. All revenue garnered by advertising sales and donations is immediately devoted to the cost of printing and distributing the magazine. None of the money goes to the artists, let alone to the visionary bringing them all together.

Hixson’s only source of income is through her husband, Donnie, who is the manager of Domino’s Pizza. Even the $100 a month rent at the Croft Gallery was unaffordable, and she recently had to relocate across the street. She relies completely on community support and her own creativity for success.

Despite this, Hixson and the other “Bohemians” have managed to produce. “We always get the money,” Doyle said. “Sometimes we have to be creative about finding revenue sources, but I know that someday we are going to be successful, and that makes it worth it.”

When James Lafayette, owner of Legacy Art Café, heard that Hixson was losing the Croft office, he offered her a rent-free space above his gallery and coffee shop. Artists and writers have accepted bylines instead of cash payment for their work, and poets are able to perform their work in front of a crowd almost every weekend at the open-mic nights that Hixson helps sponsor. Countless volunteers donate food, useful products, time and energy to the project.

The community’s support has kept the magazine alive, but only as a result of Hixson’s vision and motivation. “In a year filled with ups and downs, the growing pains of any startup endeavor, none of us has seen a dime. Somehow, Amanda has convinced a team of Waco’s most talented artists to work a highly stressful, full-time job for free,” Doyle said.

Publishing the work of talented, unknown artists helps them get their foot in the door of the elusive world of art and entertainment. “There is really nothing for young artists in the communities between Austin and Dallas,” Hixson said. “We provide an outlet for any kind of art.”

Hixson meets with every kind of artist imaginable, from conventional painters, sculptors, and photographers to edgy tattoo artists, glass blowers, fashionistas. Hixson is so dedicated to her job because she truly believes in the artists that she fosters. She strives to give a voice to the individuals struggling to have their art form as their primary source of income.

“A lot of people here are hungry for others to see their work,” she said. “They want an audience. That’s what every artist or writer wants; for people to hear what they have to say.”

Find more info at: http://www.bohemia-journal.com

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