It’s a beautiful spring day when I meet with Fiona Bond and Rae Jefferson of Creative Waco. We’re in front of Dichotomy, Waco’s popular coffee and spirits shop, eating burritos from the food truck across the street. People from all walks of life pass us as jazz music buzzes from the coffee shop’s speakers. It’s the perfect setting to discuss the creative energy of Waco.
“There is something fundamental to us as human beings that demands creativity,” says Bond, the director of Creative Waco. “It’s like an itch that we need to scratch.”
Bond, a native of the United Kingdom, knows that Creative Waco can scratch that itch. Founded last April, the organization is a nonprofit that focuses on growing and supporting the creative culture of Waco.
“Creative Waco is a little bit like a council for the arts,” Bond says. “We do the job of bringing together arts organizations, funders, policy, desires of our community, and put them all together in a format that can drive a powerful agenda for making Waco a cultural hub.”
But make no mistake: Waco is not the next Dallas, Austin or Houston. It has the potential to be something new that can blossom with its own distinct flavor.
“We have a unique opportunity – we get to do the thing that really has happened hundreds of years ago in most cities in the West,” Bond says. “We get to be the generation that defines the city’s cultural identity. And that’s something that for most Western cities, the boat has already left.”
For Rae Jefferson, Bond’s intern and a senior journalism major at Baylor, Waco’s dynamic is changing drastically and for the better.
“I have friends who, when they were freshman here – seven, eight years ago – hated it. They were so bored,” Jefferson says. “That’s not the same message I hear from students now. I think Waco has done a good job with taking what it has and really expanding it.”
Waco’s creative expansion, ironically, is credited by its size. Unlike larger Texas cities, like Dallas or Austin, Waco’s smallness allows people to be intimately connected to the community.
“You get really familiar with the places that are here and the people that are here,” Jefferson says excitedly. “It’s easier for you to invest in the community when it’s small enough for you to actually access the entire community.”
“And the city is small enough for a person to make a difference,” Bond chimes in. “It’s a city on a human scale.”
Waco’s size also allows great performances (that might be overlooked in other cities) to thrive. And surprisingly, Waco draws globally recognized names, such as cellist Yo-Yo Ma and violinist Joshua Bell.
“I had the privilege of taking my two children to see Yo-Yo Ma, and in the orchestra – playing with Yo-Yo Ma – were three of their music teachers,” Bond says. “We are a town of not many more than a hundred thousand people, and yet, we have a symphony of the kind of quality that can play with top artists.”
But it doesn’t matter if a world-class musician is performing or not. Waco’s success as a cultural hub lies in its community. Creative Waco approaches all events, performers and artists – both world-class and up-and-coming – with the idea of community engagement.
“I love the Texas Food Truck Showdown because it shows that Waco really is so central to this area,” Jefferson says, eyeing Sergio’s across the street. “Food trucks come from Dallas, from Austin, from Houston, from all these crazy places. Waco has that capacity to be the meeting point for so many different kinds of people. And also – there’s really good food.”
The Texas Food Truck Showdown is only one of several ways for the community to be engaged in the arts. Waco has plenty of artsy hot spots and experiences, some of which are undiscovered gems.
“I love going to Waco Civic Theatre, Art Center Waco, Art Forum of Waco, Art on Elm, Waco Cultural Arts Fest . . . who am I leaving out here?” Bond asks, laughing. “These are all just staples of our cultural landscape. They’re all organizations who do what they do very well.”
Bond and Jefferson continue to excitedly describe Waco’s artistic groups and efforts, but it’s clear that these organizations have one thing in common: a desire to enrich Waco in shared experiences through art.
“The arts are a great unifying theme,” Bond says emphatically. “I’m proud to say that on my board – at a time where great political divisiveness has never been higher in the
U.S. – I have the former chairs of both the Democratic and Republican parties. And it’s because the arts unite.”
But the arts also push t
he community forward, which is a major part of Creative Waco’s plan. Creative Waco is currently working on obtaining Cultural District status for Waco from the Texas Commission of the Arts. This proposed cultural district will be a designated area in the city that spotlights the Waco’s unique flavor. It will be a local and tourist hub and a venue for promoting the community’s economic development.
“Applying for Cultural District status has been an ongoing process since last year,” Jefferson says. “We just got approval from the county to set up this district here. The process will go on from there.
But getting Cultural District status isn’t just Creative Waco’s private project; the community can definitely contribute. Creative Waco is currently selling canvas tote bags, both blank and uniquely hand-painted by local artists. These bags not only raise funds for the art community, but also allow buyers to show support of the proposed cultural district.
“The more support from the community we can show for the cultural district, the more likely we are to get it,” Bond says. “So we’ve been selling the tote bags. We’re auctioning them off at the end of April, beginning of May.”
Bond shows me a few of the bags. They’re gorgeous, of course, but what strikes me about them is the amount of love and passion that is splashed across them. The bags are a manifestation of the care between the Waco community and the arts. That care continues to grow.
“In ten years’ time, I see snapshots that are not just about the arts and culture,” Bond says, smiling. “It’s really about an ecosystem of thriving for the entire community. That’s why I’m here.”