It’s hard to imagine downtown without the colorful murals, an abundance of local businesses and community engagement, but when Baylor alumnus Mike Trozzo lived in Waco, that was the reality.
“When I was in school, the only part that was downtown was the Ninfa’s corridor,” Trozzo said. “It felt much less viable as a place you could live after Baylor. I don’t know if you really thought, ‘What can I do or what can I give here?’ That tone seems to have changed.”
After graduating in 1999, Trozzo spent 10 years in Los Angeles working in production on shows like “Without a Trace” and movies like “Spiderman 3.” After a decade in the industry, Trozzo found the city of Waco on his mind. However, Waco was not yet on its way to reaching its full potential. Trozzo and other residents felt like the look of the city failed to adequately reflect the people in it. So they set out to improve the town they loved.
“My favorite thing about Waco is the quality of people there,” said Jenny Jameson, the artist responsible for the starry night mural at 11th Street and Columbus Avenue. “Waco is full of people that are excited about culture and art. The actual physical structure doesn’t reflect that well.”
Opportunity presented itself the day Robert Griffin III won the 2011 Heisman Trophy—a first for Baylor and a moment Trozzo regards as a win for the university and Waco. He began imagining a new era for the city, complete with a new title for the movement: Wacotown.
“We both got to celebrate it equally,” Trozzo said. “There was this memorializing moment to this Heisman Trophy. Wacotown wasn’t completely different, but it was a spin on the name of the city. I thought, ‘This is a way to point people towards a slightly different Waco. Something to rally behind’.”
Armed with inspiration from the Heisman win and a desire to bring Waco to life, Trozzo began working on his first mural. After some design changes stemming from licensing issues, he decided on the general idea to have a bear doing the Heisman pose. Knowing that he wanted to continue bridging the gap between Waco and Baylor, it was important to him that the design consisted of something that embodied both the university and the city. Playing on the word “oso”, Spanish for bear, he came up with the tagline, “oh so special Wacotown.”
The Heisman bear mural, located on Franklin Avenue and Fourth Street, was the first time the term “Wacotown” was introduced as an alternative name for the city. Since then it has become a thriving movement.
According to the Wacotown official website, Wacotown is “an effort to improve [the] community by creating art, hosting events and promoting all thing positive and progressive.”
Trozzo attributes some of the progression to a “growing, aspiring, getting better Waco,” partly because of the active citizens who are investing in the community and making improvements. Noting that an active citizen base is crucial to the project, Trozzo describes the Wacotown project as somewhat of an underground city brand, put together by a group of people who want to see Waco prosper.
“People in Waco were doing things,” said Becky Murphy, an artist who worked on the countdown to football on the Brazos mural. “They were starting projects or nonprofits or they were in grad school for something they were really passionate about. It’s a very alive group of people who live with so much intention and purpose.”
Working to engage the community and bring a sense of pride to the students and residents of Waco, the movement has blossomed. While Trozzo is hesitant to take sole credit for the Wacotown project, he is responsible for some of the recent art adorning the walls of downtown.
“It’s okay to love Waco and still think, ‘I’d like to see some growth in certain areas,’” Trozzo said. “I wanted to see people excited and not walking by trash. When there’s creativity, there’s energy and there are moments to grab on to.”
Trozzo created one of those moments in 2012 when he designed the mural on Dichotomy’s second floor deck. Originally, he planned on the Dichotomy mural being Waco’s skyline with the ALICO building and the courthouse. Once he got up on the deck, he realized how little sense it made to see the skyline on a wall when it was within view from the deck. Incorporating the letters of Waco, Trozzo came up with the mural that visitors of Dichotomy see now—a crisp blue and white linear design that subtly spells out the name of the city.
The opening of McLane Stadium was another big moment that called for commemoration. Rather than a one-time permanent mural, Trozzo thought a better idea was to amp up the energy by creating a collection of transient murals counting down the months until kickoff.
Individual artists were contracted to design each month resulting in a variety of style. A new design was unveiled on the first Friday of every month. The idea was that the revealing of each design would be a part of the First Friday festivities held in downtown once a month, supporting the commitment to community that the Wacotown project has expressed.
While the majority of his Waco murals have been memorializing a moment that Baylor and Waco share, Trozzo notes that a lot of the art people see on the walls downtown is not Baylor-oriented.
“There’s something really organic and really positive about people doing it at their own will as opposed to being paid by an institution to do it or supporting an institution,” he said.
Whatever the balance in art may be, Trozzo’s ultimate goal is to continue to support a thriving, community-based Waco where art can flourish. Wacotown is not and was never intended to be a commercial city brand aimed at driving tourism. It’s a movement rooted in authenticity to remind the residents that someone cares and to allow Waco to reflect its residents.
“Sometimes, city brands don’t feel really authentic,” Trozzo said. “Wacotown did things that help the city—made it prettier, made it more fun to be in, made it more interesting, made little moments of delight. We didn’t do advertisements. We didn’t do print ads. We didn’t do TV spots. I think that has far more value to a place of residence.”
Welcome to Wacotown.