Creative Waco: Waco offers something you can’t do in London, Paris or Rome
by Fiona Bond
When Baylor first approached my husband about considering an academic position, my response was less than enthusiastic (“it’s where?!”). Our family and professional life pivoted around the artistic and cultural vibrancy of European cities, so Waco was not an obvious fit! I admit it. Waco was not (at that time) on our list of top ten “places we’d like to live.”
So what puts a city on your top ten list? That’s an important question to ask when people can increasingly choose where to live, work, play, and raise a family. Cities that people aspire to call home become the places that attract and retain talent, grow businesses, and become successful and prosperous. There are multiple metrics that evaluate quality of life in terms of education, transportation, sustainability, cost of living, levels of poverty, and access to amenities. However, what truly gives a city its unique personality, vibrancy, and energy is harder to measure. But we recognize it when it’s done well.
We call it “culture”- that cumulative effect of people, place, history, and creativity that connects, delights and inspires us. It’s what humans have been doing since they painted the walls of their caves, or honored their dead with symbols of faith and beauty. It’s the reason that the “after” home is more valuable once Chip and Joanna have performed their creative Fixer-Upper magic. It’s the reason you love to spend time in…(insert your favorite city destination here!). It’s the reason people who can choose where they live choose places that are culturally interesting, authentic, vibrant and distinctive.
“Successful entrepreneurs recognize the importance of creativity. The companies and people we need to attract to Waco are looking for a lively artistic and cultural scene.” Terry Stevens, Former Board Chair of Greater Waco Chamber of Commerce
I was raised in a time and place where art, creativity, and “cultural investment” were thought to be luxuries to be added when resources are available. Interestingly, analysis of the evidence suggests the exact opposite: Investment in a city’s creative sector is often the tipping point – the catalyst – for economic growth, and a cascade of positive impact. Cities that take a strategic approach to growing their cultural life have consistently seen knock-on benefits such as growth in tourism, success in growing, attracting and retaining talent and jobs, success in community resilience and revitalization, better educational outcomes in schools, reduced unemployment, greater sense of community pride and social cohesion, and even a reduction in crime. 
When my husband and I set aside our prejudices and visited Waco, we discovered a city much richer in history and culture than we anticipated – a city that owes its existence to the strategic crossing of a major river (like London, Paris or Rome!), creating a dynamic collision of peoples and styles and a culture of hospitality. We discovered music, theatre, museums, festivals, and art of all kinds – often of a quality and standard that would be impressive in a larger city (and without a big city price tag!). We also found a city on the brink of exciting development, with visionary leadership prepared to make bold investments. Long story short…we were persuaded. We moved. We love it! Waco has so much that makes us proud to call it home. However, if we are unflinchingly honest, these things don’t yet define Waco as much as they could or should.
As Waco undergoes all kinds of visible blossoming, we have a unique opportunity to leverage that in order to tell the world about the cultural renaissance that is unfolding. Creative Waco is a new organization tasked with bringing together people and organizations in this city to get Cultural District recognition for Waco. This statewide designation would give us new resources to grow and promote the artistic and cultural life of our city ($5m new funding for Cultural Districts was just announced from the State Legislature). It also gives us the opportunity as a community to celebrate what we do well and to make plans for a vibrant cultural future.
If you are reading this, then YOU are vital to this process. A successful bid depends on community participation. The good news is that your involvement will be fun, will quite possibly connect you with new information, people, and events, and will be good for our city. What’s not to like?!
- Have your say! What do you love about Waco? What do you love about other cities? How do you describe Waco to out-of-towners? Click here to participate in a simple 3-question survey that will help us tell our city’s story at state level. While you are there, don’t forget to sign up to receive information and updates from Creative Waco (and tell us if you are willing to get involved).
- Act Locally! Check out the amazing art, performances and attractions here in Waco. Actlocallywaco has plenty of information about events. You can also look here to learn about all the online ways you can access Waco’s cultural activities. If you want to learn to paint, sample some wine (or whisky), see a musical, hear YoYo Ma perform, commission a sculpture, buy art from a hot new artist, hear anything from Jazz to opera, attend a festival or visit an archaeological site or museum of national importance, check out Waco first. All of that – and much more – is already here.
- Tell the World! If you love something about Waco’s cultural life, write online reviews, tell your friends, be the change, define your city! We get to be the generation that shapes Waco’s cultural personality…people in London, Paris or Rome can’t do that!
This Act Locally Waco blog post was written by Fiona Bond. Fiona is Executive Director of Creative Waco. She has a background running arts festivals, organizations and cultural projects in her native England and Scotland and is author of “The Arts in Your Church.” In her spare time, she can be found doing an MBA at Baylor, hanging out with husband, Bruce Longenecker, (who teaches religion at Baylor) and their two sons, or playing the bagpipes.
The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email [email protected] for more information.
 There are lots of great examples of communities throughout the USA and beyond that have transformed themselves through strategic cultural investment (think Portland, Fort Worth, or Wynwood). If you’d like to take a deeper look at research and evidence, check out: “Rise of the Creative Class Revisited”, Richard Florida (2014); “Measuring the outcomes of creative placemaking”, Mark J. Stern, Kenneth L.M. Pray, University of Pennsylvania, May 2014; “Arts & The Economy”, Chris Hayter and Stephanie Casey Pierce, National Governors Association (2009). There’s also great research from Waco’s own Ray Perryman and, more recently, the Texas Cultural Trust, that explores the impact of the arts on economic and other metrics such as educational attainment.