Art Center of Waco officials cannot wait for the year ahead.
It is a year that should see ground broken on a $2.6 million campus downtown, the hiring of a new executive director, progress on the final stages of fundraising and more details resolved from a generous bequest of money and art by San Antonio philanthropist Flora Cameron Crichton.
Almost two years after the Art Center of Waco announced a move to downtown Waco from its home for decades on the edge of McLennan Community College, center board members are closing in on a physical start to the work.
What started with the planned renovation of a single-story brick building at 701 S. Eighth St., once used as a child care center, has expanded to include two adjacent houses and property allowing for a sculpture garden and parking.
Board President Jill Michaels said the groundbreaking is in sight and could come as soon as March.
“We’re very ready to go,” Michaels said. “The campus is free and clear, and we have money in the bank. The thing is we keep moving forward. That makes me very happy.”
The main building, when renovated, will feature a main gallery and two smaller gallery spaces, classrooms, office space and a public meeting area. Center grounds will have space for pieces from the sculpture garden at the Art Center’s previous location near MCC. An adjacent house at 626 S. Ninth Street may provide working space for artists or offices.
The year ahead also will find the board conducting a national search for an executive director. Board members dismissed Claire Sexton in late November over issues of job performance and defined expectations. Education coordinator Karen Alleman is presently serving as interim, and Michaels said the center is looking for an interim operations manager until a new director is hired.
Board members found themselves changing their plans for the new center, in a good way, with the announcement of Crichton’s bequest after her death March 2 at the age of 94.
Crichton, the granddaughter of lumber magnate William Cameron, was born in Waco in 1925 and lived here until 1940 when her widowed mother, Helen Miller Cameron, married Bishop Everett Jones and the family moved to San Antonio. The William Cameron family donated the land that became Cameron Park to Waco in 1910.
Waco attorney Rick Bostwick, the executor of her will, said Crichton, a longtime arts supporter in San Antonio, wanted to contribute to her hometown and specifically the Art Center.
“She wanted to do something significantly for Waco and asked for suggestions,” Bostwick said. “We’re really working off her expressed desires.”
Until October 2017, the Art Center of Waco was located in the William Waldo Cameron summer home, now on the MCC campus. Structural problems with an exterior wall and its floor joists, however, forced evacuation of the house, and Art Center staff and board members later opted to relocate in downtown Waco.
The house, owned by MCC, remains vacant, awaiting a decision over its demolition or repairs and renovation that could cost up to $4 million.
Bostwick, also a trustee of the Flora Cameron Foundation, said Cameron descendants and foundation members have not decided whether to argue for the house’s preservation.
“They’re aware of its situation and its need of extensive repair and renovation,” Bostwick said. “It’s an ongoing conversation, but a pretty high ticket item.”
In addition to a $100,000 gift to the Cameron Park Zoo, the Crichton bequest includes what the estate’s executor described as a “six-figure donation” to the center. The donation, however, is pegged to certain specific needs of the center, he said.
“She made a considerable pledge to the construction of the facility,” Bostwick said.
Another major part of Crichton’s bequest is an art collection of more than 80 pieces, mostly paintings and other hanging art, valued at more than $3 million. The exact fate of the items in the collection has not been determined, although both foundation trustees and Art Center officials agree they would like to see part of that collection shown in Waco at the center.
That collection features European, Russian and Southwestern art, with artists represented including Marc Chagall, Gustave Baumann and Nicolai Fechin. Determining what pieces would fit the mission and exhibits at the Art Center will take some time as thematic elements can be grouped or arranged in a variety of ways.
“The collection would need some curation. It’s fairly eclectic,” Bostwick said. “It’d be an interesting process for someone to sit down and play with the possibilities.”
One possibility is selling off some of the works that do not quite fit.
“If some outliers just don’t make sense, we might sell those,” he said.
Foundation trustees, in discussion with Art Center officials, will make those decisions, but no time soon.
“It will take some time. (The Art Center) needs to finish the exhibit area. They need to have a plan for it,” Bostwick said. “That’s not going to be tomorrow or the next year.”