Commerce is about making a living; art reminds us what we are living for…

By Ashley Bean Thornton

This past October, as I pulled into the convention center parking lot for the Centex Hispanic Chamber of Commerce banquet, I will confess I had a bad attitude.  I did not feel like pretending to be friendly and “perky.” I wasn’t looking forward to an evening of chit chat, chicken breast, and cheesecake.  I didn’t want to spend my evening in an uncomfortable chair listening to a banquet speaker. I wanted to be home, flopped on the couch in front of the TV in my sweat pants, with my dog in my lap, eating macaroni and cheese. 

The huge Brazos Banquet Hall filled with people, many of them familiar, almost all of them congenial.  As I visited with friends and friendly folks, my mood improved a little, but I was still far from enthusiastic when…inevitably… it came time to introduce the speaker. I shifted in my chair, set my facial expression to “politely attentive,” and prepared to be bored.  Then the magic happened…

Alfred Solano, President of the Hispanic Chamber, stepped to the podium.  But, instead of introducing an economist or a politician or a motivational speaker, he introduced … a tenor.   

Specifically, he introduced Edgar Sierra: Waco native, Waco High grad, Baylor grad, and adjunct instructor of voice at MCC… one of our own.  

Mr. Sierra and his accompanist, Alex Kostadinov, performed three pieces of Spanish Opera: Bella enamorada by Soutullo y Vert, Pajarin tu que vuelas by P. Luna, and Granada by Augstin Lara. They filled the banquet hall with soaring beauty.  I am not familiar with any of those pieces.  I know very little about opera.  I don’t speak Spanish… but, I was absolutely transported, lifted up.  My eyes surprised me by brimming with tears. I had not realized how badly I needed a moment of wonder.  I fell a little bit in love with everyone in the banquet hall that night, just because we had experienced that beautiful moment together. 

That is the power of the arts. 

The performance at the banquet reminded me that – even though I am not an artist myself – many, many of the moments when I have felt the warmest sense of community have had something to do with the arts. 

I remember an extraordinary open mic poetry night at the Art Forum on 18th Street. Saddiq Granger – tall, lanky, and dreadlocked – shared poems and stories about growing up as a young black man in Philadelphia.  He was followed at the mic by Gary Penney – a much shorter (sorry Gary!), older, white man in a cowboy hat – sharing poems about horses and cowboys and riding the range.   Afterwards, I took a picture of the two of them hugging.  They are funny and beautiful in their tallness/shortness, blackness/whiteness, cityness/countryness – both with huge smiles on their faces.  That picture reminds me of how the world should be.

I remember the party for the mural on the side of the East Waco Library.  We ate hot dogs and danced to Motown, celebrating this beautiful piece of art we had created together.  I remember celebrating the completion of the huge “1,000 Hopes for Waco” mural on University Parks Drive.  One of the high school students who worked on it stood up in front of the gathered crowd and told us it was the best thing he had ever done in his life.

I remember watching the girls from “Miriam’s Army,” a dance troop based in the Estella Maxey housing complex, perform at an NAACP banquet.  Later that evening, I got a kick out of watching four or five of the girls – still dressed in their sequined, peacock-feathered dance uniforms – visiting confidently with WISD school board president, Pat Atkins.

The symbolism of an opera performance at a Chamber of Commerce event is significant.  Commerce is about making a living, and art reminds us what we are living for…who we want to be.  Art woven into our lives, created by us, shared with all of us — It helps us understand each other deeply and delight in each other.  It binds us together.  It helps us to be better humans together, a better community. 

I am excited to see that on Thursday, January 24, the Community Race Relations Coalition is presenting a program called “Being Purposeful in Including Everyone in the Arts.”  I’m going to try to go because I am deeply thankful for the extraordinary art-filled moments I have already enjoyed as a part of this community and I want our future together to be filled with many more of them. 

Meeting Details: 5:30 to 7:30pm at First Presbyterian Church parish hall, 1100 Austin Avenue in Waco.  Dinner is provided by the CRRC board, with donations accepted. Reservations are required by calling 254-717-7903 or emailing [email protected].”

This Act Locally Waco blog post is by Ashley Bean Thornton, she has lived in Waco almost 20 years now. Far longer than she ever lived anywhere else. She likes to walk. If you see her out walking, honk and wave and say, “Hi!”

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.

Posted in

Leave a Comment