Art Without Barriers

by Jenuine Poetess

The first move from chaos isn’t order—it’s creativity. In murals, music, theaters, cafes, and poetry. It comes from within people, within families, within community. It rises from the hunger people have for knowledge, ideas, and stories.” ~ Luis J. Rodriguez

There is a need, within all of us, to be known. A longing to be seen, be heard, be understood.   Across all of time, arts and culture have served as a catalyst for this most fundamental aspect of our beings, of our becomings.


(artwork: Jenuine Poetess 2011)

Join me as I explore Waco’s rich community of visionary artists transforming, awakening, and inspiring individuals and their neighborhoods. My mission, as facilitator of Act Locally Waco’s newest blog series on Arts & Culture, is to show you—in such a myriad of vibrant hues—the thrilling work being done here and the extraordinary individuals giving their time and talents to our city!

Last week I sat down with Doreen Ravenscroft, founder and director of Cultural Arts of Waco . I have the utmost respect and admiration for her vision, her creativity, and her unwavering dedication to making arts, cultural, and opportunities for creative expression accessible to individuals of every age, ability, gender, culture, belief, class, and language.

Originally from the United Kingdom, Doreen moved to Waco in 1978 when her late husband Bill, was transferred to the M & M Mars US division. Here she became a part of the Open Door Arts Festival and when that project come to a close, she founded the Cultural Arts of Waco believing in the importance of continuing free, community arts opportunities. This vision gave birth to the Waco Cultural Arts Festival which is now celebrating it’s 11th year and has grown into five flourishing festivals in one.


(photo courtesy of Cultural Arts of Waco)

In her own practice, Doreen most enjoys painting in a large scale such as murals and faux finishing walls in addition to taking in theater, gallery shows, and live music. She is constantly nourishing her creative aspects and brainstorming ways to enrich Waco’s arts and culture offerings.

The Cultural Arts of Waco was granted the only Texas award from the Mid-America Arts Alliance in June 2013. This award funded the creation of the mural on the East Waco branch of the McLennan County Library. For several weeks leading up to the painting, artists gathered with community members to dialogue and draft the vision for this mural. Doreen organized the team of artists as well as the collaboration with neighborhood residents remembering, “It was so fabulous to learn so much more about everyone who lives in East Waco and all those little special anecdotes that only they could give to this project.”

I took a drive by that mural again after I met with Doreen; a visit I like to make pretty regularly. There are so many facets and stories within the mural I relish each time I spend with it.


(photo: Jenuine Poetess 2014)

As I was enjoying this gorgeous canvas, a man also paused to take it in. We chatted for a moment and agreed how lovely it is. I asked if he helped paint it, with a spark of pride and honor he said, “No, I didn’t. But I know people who painted this, they’re my neighbors and friends. I take this street to the bus stop, just so I can walk by here and look at it.”

This is the power of art. In community, for community, by the community. Accessible collaborations for all. I was moved, deeply, by this man’s pride and ownership of this public artwork. It means so much more than a brightly colored building in his neighborhood.

Doreen has an number of dynamic projects on her easel at the moment the grandest of which is the Waco Cultural Arts Festival happening September 26-28th at Indian Spring Park and Waco Convention Center. This free, three-day, community event for all ages offers art activities, concerts, performances, workshops, panel discussions, open mics, poetry slam, and film screenings from across the five festivals which include {254}DanceFest, ScienceFest, Celebration Africa FilmFest, WordFest, and the Main Stage MusicFest . Kicking off the festival weekend is the Annual White Linen pARTy featuring music by Guy Forsyth and the Hot Nut Riveters, a sneak peek at the {254}Dance-Fest, and ScienceFest Chair and visual artist, Erica Wickett. The White Linen pARTy is one of the key fundraising events for the Cultural Arts of Waco.

Toward the end of our conversation, I asked Doreen what her hopes are for Waco. I listened as she dreamed,

I hope for Waco to heal wounds of its past, between its different communities. Arts help express what can’t always be said, it reveals our hurts, and provides space for understanding. I long to see more safe spaces where children and elders and individuals across every generation and ethnicity can gather around creative projects fostering curiosity, without barriers. And through that curiosity, begin to share and to listen to each other’s stories.”

Jenuine Poetess August 2014Jenuine Poetess is an artist, visionary, and community organizer. In 2010, she founded In the Words of Womyn (ITWOW), an international, grass-roots, written and spoken-word arts project with chapters throughout Los Angeles; Waco, TX; and Lebanon. ITWOW empowers womyn of all ages to give sound to our story and volume to our voice. Jenuine also co-hosts Nuestra Voz & Word Gallery, monthly open mic venues for poetry, music, spoken-word, story-telling, and more! You can contact her at: [email protected].

Waco Music and Fun: 26th Street!

When my 13-year-old son came home from school one day last year and told me he and some friends had formed a rock band, I was skeptical. We had tried violin lessons in third grade and guitar lessons a few years later — and bought all the equipment that goes with it. But it wasn’t until he found his own path to music with friends that he started having fun and wanting to spend his spare time practicing his instrument.

fullbandThe band is made up of Jackson Anderson (lead guitar), Spencer Davis (keyboard), Analisa Villarreal (lead vocals), George Eichenberg (bass) and John Paul Bustamante (drums). They have taken the name “26th Street” because they practice in John Paul’s grandparents’ garage on 26th Street in Waco. They play everything from classic rock to modern to country.

With the birth of 26th Street, I started to see less TV time and more creativity flowing — and with that I saw a sense of accomplishment, pride and a love of something all his own. He was excited to show me the more complicated bass line of “Hotel California,” which he had spent hours perfecting. And I was hearing the same from the other parents.

They began playing at some friends’ birthday parties and at a local yogurt shop, where they had a friend willing to let them play on the patio for tips.

audienceAs they worked and got better, crowds of cheering friends and family showed up to watch them play. Eventually even folks who weren’t there just to be nice started showing up. Then, they started getting paid gigs at places like El Chico, who promoted them with posters and emails. People started asking them for photos, business cards and Facebook page, which they now have. They are making money, coordinating their own schedules, working with business owners and learning to be responsible and deliver a quality product: their music. Their summer is sprinkled with gigs that include everything from a quinceanera to a museum fundraiser — and they love contributing to the local music scene.

One of the best parts is that the Waco community has been very welcoming. The band has played at El Chico, Slippery Minnow, Valley Mills Vineyard, The Gin in Belton and other parties and events. In May, they were named the Music Association of Central Texas’ “Horizon” award winner for up and coming artists.

The band practices once a week in the garage on 26th street, and I think the kids look forward to this time together, creating, collaborating, and making music. As a parent, I can’t think of anything I’d rather my kid be doing. And the funny thing is, it was all their idea, not ours. The parents provide support – sometimes lots of support – but the kids and their music are in the driver’s seat.

The other 26th Street parents and I are proud of our kids. As Erin Davis, mom of Spencer Davis, the keyboard player, says. “It’s deeply rewarding to see our kids work so hard and be recognized in the local music scene.”   They are building up a sense of responsibility and self-worth. They are taking risks. They are making a personal investment in something they care about. They are learning habits and skills that will serve them well throughout the rest of their lives. One of the most important skills they are learning is how to make their own fun!

Waco and other towns our size can sometimes suffer from a general misperception, especially regarding young people, that “there’s nothing to do.” One thing that 26th Street can teach all of us is that there is always something to do if you know how to make your own fun. In fact, the fun you make yourself can be better, and better for you, than the fun that is delivered ready-made. Imagine how much more fun our kids are having being in a band than they would ever have just by paying to go see bands. Imagine how much more benefit they are getting from this experience.

Whether it’s music or something else, there are lots of things kids can do in Waco to have fun, get involved in the community, make friends, learn crucial life skills and even in some cases earn some money: start a band, start a business, find some regular volunteer “employment.” Parents, this will take some subtlety on your part, but try not to buy in if you hear your kids saying, “there’s nothing to do.” Find a subtle way to suggest, inspire and encourage something – and let them run with it. Then – when they are running – cheer like crazy and invite your friends and the whole community to do the same.

GretchenGretchen Eichenberg is a life-long Wacoan and local high school newspaper and yearbook adviser. There’s nothing she’d rather be doing more than cheering on her favorite softball player or jamming to the tunes of her son’s band. Her family includes husband, Alex, and kids George, 14, and Brigitte, 11, and an energetic Lab named Luke, who thinks he rules the HOT Dog Park.




The best $5 I spent last year…

By Ashley Bean Thornton

Art on Elm was on April 13 last year. The night before, at the preview party, the organizers had arranged for a photographer. He had a big picture frame suspended from some wires and an assortment of goofy hats and other accessories to entice people to pose within the frame for a picture. My friend Ramona and I took full advantage — she wore the pink feather boa and I wore the huge crown. We had a blast.

The next day was one of those fine Texas spring days that make you remember why you love living here – perfect temperature, blue sky. I had breakfast at the Farmer’s Market, then headed over to Elm Avenue to enjoy the art festival. I strolled through the booths, yakked with some friends, listened to some fantastic music and enjoyed a scone at Lula Jane’s. On my way home from Art on Elm I decided to swing by the Habitat Restore on Franklin. They were having their annual half-price sale. The first thing I noticed when I walked through the door was a huge stack of big three-foot-square picture frames. Originally priced at $10 each, they were $5 each for half-price day. Who can resist that? I bought two.

One of my extra-curricular activities is managing a website called Act Locally Waco. The idea of the website is that everyone has a part to play in making our community a terrific place to live.  It is  kind of like an on-line Greensheet for getting involved in Waco.  It’s full of local events, volunteer opportunities, announcements, resources… all kinds of things that contribute to the general greatness of Waco. Of course you can’t have a website these days without also having a “social media presence,” so I run the Act Locally Waco Facebook page as well. I am no social media expert by any means, but in my limited understanding, what makes Facebook fun is pictures.

It seemed providential that these $5 frames at the Re-store appeared in my life so immediately after having such a great time with a picture frame at the Art on Elm preview party. It sparked an idea: what if I take one of these picture frames with me on my adventures around town and catch people in the act of getting involved in Waco and then post them on the Facebook page? Why not? I bought a can of orange paint and painted one of the frames to match the orange in the website. Thus was born The Big Orange Frame.

In the course of a year I’ve lugged that frame to dozens of events and activities: The L.I.F.T. Workshop at First Baptist, Farm Day, Juneteenth, the Education Alliance Summit, the Farmer’s Market, First Friday Downtown, the East Waco Library mural party, The Texas Hunger Initiative Summit, The Cultural Arts Festival, Winter Wonderland, so many more… I cannot possibly list them all in the space available here.

kids in frameIt turns out that more people than you might think find it hard to resist a middle-aged lady in red tennis shoes with a giant orange picture frame and a camera. I bet I’ve taken almost a thousand pictures this year. I have pictures of every size, shape, race and age of person you can imagine. I also have pictures of a fair number of dogs, one goat, and a chicken of some kind – all captured in the Big Orange Frame. That $5 investment has paid for itself over and over in laughter and fun.

It’s been right at a year since the Big Orange Frame was born, and it struck me that it would be fun for the one year anniversary to try to put all the pictures on display somehow. My friend Susan Mullally in the Baylor Photography Department and John Orr at Frames, etc. on Bosque came to my aid, and thanks to them we figured out a way to get about 350 of them printed and framed in five giant posters in time to show them off at Art on Elm this year. That’s not nearly all of them, but it is an impressive chunk.

While working on that project I spent one entire afternoon looking at the years’ worth of pictures. It turns out I am not that great of a photographer. Many of the pictures are too shady or too bright…oh, but the people, the faces…each one is incredibly beautiful. Looking at the faces of our community, one after another – kids and middle aged folks and older people, every color and shape, smiling and shy, in groups and alone – struck a chord deep inside me, a chord that I don’t always attend to in the midst of my busy life. I cannot adequately describe how precious we all seemed to me in that moment. I got teary-eyed looking at those faces, and I’m getting teary-eyed again writing about it.

It reminded me of a quote from the Trappist monk Thomas Merton that I heard a long time ago. He had his epiphany watching the busy crowds walk by at the corner of Fourth and Walnut in Louisville, Kentucky. I had mine at a computer looking at beautiful faces from Waco, Texas, but the sentiment is the same: “I’m a member of the human race just like everyone else. I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all those people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers. …. A member of the human race! To think that such a commonplace realization should suddenly seem like news that one holds the winning ticket in a cosmic sweepstake. …I have the immense joy of being a member of the human race: if only everybody could realize this! There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun.”

ABT in FrameThis Act Locally Waco blog post is by Ashley Bean Thornton, the Manager of the website and the editor of the Friday Update newsletter.  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.