After showing an Austin audience what Waco artists and their creativity can do, organizers of the art exhibit “Waco 52” are bringing it home.
Rather than the exhibit’s short six-day run in the state Capitol, the Waco showing will run through August, beginning Friday, and feature a month’s worth of arts-related classes, dinners and activities.
Those related activities, in turn, are meant to stimulate viewers into imagining what might be in terms of Waco’s arts scene.
“Waco 52” featured 52 Waco artists who crafted images and pieces in various media, showing scenes, people and buildings with Waco connections. Subjects, captured on the backs of playing cards in a special “Waco 52” deck created for the exhibit, encompassed the ALICO Building, World War II Navy hero Doris Miller, the Waco Suspension Bridge, the Magnolia Market silos, St. Francis Catholic Church, Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III and more.
“We wanted the opportunity to bring to Waco what we had been so proud of showing off in Austin,” said Fiona Bond, director of Creative Waco and a leader in securing state approval for the Downtown Waco Cultural District. “Then we realized we had an opportunity for people to experiment.”
Experiment, in this case, meant testing what a downtown venue could provide and support. Would people drop in to shop if art and art objects were sold? Would people enjoy watching real artists as they create in a studio? Would people come for food, drink or live music?
T.J. Ermoian, CEO and founder of Texas Energy Aggregation and a longtime Waco music and arts advocate, and his wife Leann offered the use of their building at 712 Austin Ave., the former Croft Art Gallery, to host the “Waco 52” pop-up show.
Ermoian noted he started his career as an artist before turning to the entrepreneurial side of things “because I wanted to eat,” and has tried to nudge the growth of Waco’s arts and cultural scene over the years.
“I want to do anything we can to help support this growing movement. We’ve got to get to critical mass,” he said. Ermoian said he initially bought the downtown space as a possible brick-and-mortar home for the Texas Music Cafe, the long-running Texas-music-centric program that Ermoian and his brother Chris founded. That plan didn’t materialize and when Texas Energy Aggregation began shifting personnel to Houston last year, Ermoian put the property on the market.
Talks with Bond about the arts in Waco led to the idea of the space as a pop-up gallery for “Waco 52” and Ermoian said the varied activities planned for the month may show the potential of a downtown location as an arts incubator.
“Artists need a place to be creative,” he said.
In fact, the venue’s past life as the Croft Art Gallery saw it provide a temporary home to Waco coffeehouse Dichotomy Coffee & Spirits before the company moved into its present location at 508 Austin Ave.
“We’ll just see what comes from this. I’d love to figure out how to do this as an ongoing thing,” Ermoian said.
Bond said the “Waco 52: The Pop-Up Exhibition” and its accompanying activities will also test ways of addressing a finding in a recent Americans for the Arts survey that showed Waco-area residents tending to support individual arts activities, but not multiple ones on a single visit. For example, someone would attend a concert or play in Waco and then go home afterwards, rather than combine the performance with a restaurant meal and visit to a shop, gallery or museum.
“We don’t cluster our arts experiences,” Bond said.
The “Waco 52” show comes with an August calendar dotted with activities and more expected to be added in the days ahead, with information provided on Creative Waco’s website. The space will host three Farm-to-Table dinners, Saturday brunches, artwork for sale, a juice bar operated by Luna Juice Bar with a daily 5-6 p.m. happy hour, calligraphy classes, yoga sessions and, upstairs, working artists.
“We thought the ambitious bit was the Austin end of the exhibit,” Bond said. “We had great feedback from people who said what they’d like to see in Waco. I guess (“Waco 52”) inspired people.”