In the annual ebb and flow of arts and entertainment in Waco, a cycle affected by the academic calendar as much as anything, the new year provides a space to catch one’s breath and look ahead.
For several arts organizations, 2017 looks like a year of planning and transition to build upon past successes to prepare for a future Waco. Last year saw the state’s blessing of a Waco Downtown Cultural District, a district that will begin to take shape and purpose in the coming year. A year’s continued strong attendance for the Waco Civic Theatre is causing its leaders to think about the theater’s next step. Other arts groups hope a momentum of public support and response in 2016 carries over into the beginning months of 2017.
Those beginning months, specifically February and most specifically Feb. 16-19, will witness the debut of a major event for Waco film fans: the first Deep in the Heart Film Festival, held at the Waco Hippodrome.
Organizers Louis Hunter and Samuel Thomas announced their plans for Waco’s first film festival last July, and the response since then has led to something bigger than the Texas film/video producers had anticipated, in terms of submissions and support.
“I am amazed at the support I’m seeing come out of Waco,” Thomas said. “It’s an engaged support, in deeds and actions and sponsors. For a first-year festival, it’s looking more like a second- or third-year festival.”
The two men and a group of 16 screeners, including Baylor University film lecturer Maverick Moore, the festival’s programming director, pared down some 200 submissions to six feature films and some 70 shorts, assembled in viewing groups with titles like “Stuck In the Middle With You,” “Strangest Things,” “A Taste of Texas,” “Family Friendly Films” and “Different Strokes.”
Waco-made films include “Blur Circle” and the KWTX-produced documentary “We Can’t Forget Vietnam,” plus short films “The Tenor,” “Shotgun” and “What About Waco.” Other films hailed from Texas, Florida, California, Missouri, even France. “It’s a lineup that can hold up with any festival in the state,” Hunter said.
In fact, response was so strong that organizers added an extra day to the festival to accommodate more movies and allow panels and workshops on virtual reality and filmmaking; educating future filmmakers; and filmmaking in the gig economy. A major plus, Thomas noted, was the Hippodrome’s food service, which will allow festival goers to have a sit-down meal between screening sessions, plus other restaurants within walking distance. The festival’s award ceremony takes place at Hotel Indigo, and there will be a festival-closing session in Waco Escape Rooms. “We want to show off Waco,” Hunter said.
Another new festival on Waco’s spring calendar is an Illectric River Music Festival on March 18 at McLane Stadium’s Touchdown Alley. As its name suggests, the event will bring national and local electronic dance music bands to town for a day-long fest at Touchdown Alley.
For arts nonprofit Creative Waco and the newly established Waco Downtown Cultural District, the new year will involve building a framework for the district to help stimulate art and economic activity. An early part of that will be the creation of an Arts Match Pot that will provide private and public funds to back arts initiatives aimed at reaching the community or persuading creatives to stay in Waco, said Creative Waco executive director Fiona Bond.
Creative Waco also will continue its Creative Summer Camp Calendar, which provides information on local summer programs and camps that aim to stretch participants’ creativity and problem-solving skills. The organization also will seek to create a directory of Waco-area artists, creative individuals and entrepreneurs; explore ways of communicating arts-related events and offerings in the Waco area; and “putting arms and legs” on the goals expressed in the city’s Cultural Plan.
At the Waco Civic Theatre, the upcoming year will involve a continuation of long-range planning that may lead either to a major renovation of the present theater building or acquisition of another building. Either option would require a feasibility study and a fundraising capital campaign to finance, executive director Eric Shephard said.
“We want to increase our capacity,” he said. The last year saw multiple sellouts of the musical “Beauty and the Beast,” a summer joint production between the WCT and the Waco Independent School District; full houses for the fall musical “Sweeney Todd”; and sold-out children’s productions.
Extra chairs were added to accommodate audiences for the theater’s last two productions, “Million Dollar Quartet” and “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever.” “We’re doing about as well as one could do at the box office,” he said.
The WCT has four more plays ahead on its 2016-17 season — “Almost Maine,” Jan. 27-29 and Feb. 2-5; the youth-oriented “Jackie & Me,” March 2-5; “Pride & Prejudice,” March 31 to April 2 and April 6-9; and the season closer of “Rent,”May 5-7, 11-14 and 18-21 — and planning the next season is underway, with a continuation of the WCT-WISD summer collaboration and the possibility of a third musical added to the season, the director said.
The Waco Symphony Orchestra has roughly half of its 2016-2017 season ahead of it for the spring, with a Jan. 12 “Broadway Rocks!” concert; “By George!,” an all-Gershwin program March 18; and a season finale April 20 featuring guest pianist Peter Frankl.
That’s a spring dotted with audience pleasers, music director Stephen Heyde said. “Broadway Rocks!,” which features stage singers Christiane Noll, Rob Evan and LaKisha Jones, offers a program of stage and pop tunes sung with orchestral backing and is from the same company that produced the popular “Bravo Broadway” concert several seasons ago.
Gershwin is always popular with Waco symphony audiences — the March 18 concert includes “An American In Paris” and selections from “Porgy and Bess” — and the season closer offers Frankl performing Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 4, a “beautiful, beautiful piece,” Heyde said.
The next few months for Art Center Waco will feature paintings and drawings by current artist-in-residence Joel Edwards from Jan. 19 to March 11, followed by works from talented area high school students in the annual Top Young Artists competition and show March 23 to April 15.
The center also will offer classes for children and adults, with spring classes beginning this month. The former includes “Squish Scribble Splat!” for toddlers and preschoolers, on Tuesdays; “Exploring Great Artists,” for kindergarteners to sixth-graders, on Saturday mornings: and “Cookies and Coloring,” a free art appreciation class for kindergarteners to sixth-graders, on Friday afternoons. Adult classes include beginning drawing and watercolor and figure drawing, both taught by Edwards; and an introduction to ceramics class.
The new year also will see a change of location for Art Forum of Waco, which will leave its Morrow Avenue location, possibly for one within the boundaries of the Waco Downtown Cultural District.
Art Forum of Waco owners artist Jesus Rivera and Arturo Huron say they are presently in talks with the owners of First Lutheran Church, Waco, 1008 Jefferson Ave., to buy the historic Waco church and repurpose it and its surrounding grounds as a downtown space for community events, performance arts and artists’ studios.
The pending sale of Art Forum of Waco’s present building will close the art studios/gallery, which opened in 2012. In its four years, the facility has shown works by nearly 200 local artists and students plus artists from Mexico, El Salvador and Honduras.