Central Texas Artist Collective: If you build it…

by Steve Veracruz

Let’s go back to the year 1997 for a moment. I had just graduated University High School and, without even taking a summer off to gaze into a field of dreams, I immediately enrolled at TSTC in commercial art.  I felt like this would give me a snapshot of this particular artist community. I was intrigued to finally grow beyond my familiar borders and meet other like-minded creatives.

Unfortunately, the artist environment I expected of meetups or regular special exhibitions for our young demographic did not exist at the time.

Just as early settlers did what was necessary for their survival, the artists in the early days of my creative lifetime in this city did what was necessary to demonstrate and share their talent. There were different attempts to add pockets of opportunity, to share artwork in diverse locations across the city on an organic level. Outspoken and talented artists helped pave the way to the point of excellence we find ourselves in now.  I couldn’t be more grateful for those displays of bravery and showing what true creative freedom looked like.  This is what was needed to carry on the message of freedom, those early artists and appreciators testing their own strength to sustain imaginative work in a time when the city and its society were content with a stale status quo.

However, these patches of creative energy were still few and far between. We needed to pull them together. How do we make space for this idea or what do we want to do about this idea? More importantly, who do we talk to about this idea? These were questions that provided the incentive to move. This is why we founded the Central Texas Artist Collective (CTAC).

Back to the future…The city of Waco has grown in more ways than I could have imagined.  There are so many reasons to be happy about being a creative in this city, with so many places that have opened their doors to this expanding community.  There are now big shows in multiple annual events, big ideas in special exhibitions with a message, big dreams beginning in discussions during artist meetups, and big aspirations coming from each other from our own experiences. This is what a creative environment can produce! This is why it was necessary to build pillars for a strong artist community!

As a co-founder of CTAC, I had to identify the importance of what this role would mean, not just for myself, but for others as well. The three questions previously mentioned were at the base of a movement that was to develop. Another noteworthy point to make…one cannot go at it alone. I am a “co-founder.” The ideas to come required more effort than one person could provide and needed alternative perspectives. The other co-founders had to believe with the same amount of passion about what the goal was for artists in general. It is this positive reinforcement that created that right amount of energy to build something special.

One project often leads to another. Then that can also lead into something else. These multiplicities of creativity suddenly become a foundation with which to continue to build. Other artists’ groups began to appear. One group alone cannot bear the responsibility of being the sole provider. Sometimes the language from one group to another is different, or maybe a particular taste does not quite hit with one group, but catches on with another. Maybe it’s just about the journey until each group finds its niche. These are decisions to be respected and recognized with that appreciation of having yet more options that were built in light of a creative community’s skills.

The point is to build the creative community. If you build it, you can share the imagination and artistic energy that some perceive as fundamental and some simply admire. If you build it, you hold a place for assisting in someone’s growth. If you build it, you provide another stake for significant influence on a prosperous community. My question to you now is, if you build, will they come? And, how do we keep building and strengthening our creative environment? What next?

One of my next projects is to begin a small video series for Central Texas Artist Collective going into this subject further. I will begin by interviewing those movers and shakers around town that have stood and delivered. Definitely check out our Facebook page, as well as our YouTube channel for this material and more coming soon! We are creating.  Let’s keep creating. What do you want to create?

The Central Texas Artist Collective exists to foster creative expression throughout the Heart of Texas by:

  • Unifying and growing arts and cultural programming;
  • Enhancing arts education and access for all;
  • Cultivating an organic, sustainable identity; and
  • Celebrating the rich community of artists living, creating and investing in Waco and beyond.

 CTAC is comprised of: writers, musicians, visual artists, textile artists, theater artists, dancers sculptors, muralists, photographers, potters, singer/songwriters, poets/spoken-word, carpentry/woodworking, tattoo artists, graphic designers, jewelers, culinary artists, and more!

Centexartistcollective.org | facebook.com/CenTexArtist

Twitter: @ CenTexArtist | email:centexartistcollective@gmail.com

Steve Veracruz is CTAC Co-founder, executive co-director and communications created in 2015 with wife Angie Veracruz. He is a USMC vet and father of three. He sat on the Board of Directors in Waco Cultural Arts, serving now as an advisor. He is also curator to Ekphrasis Art and Words, a special exhibition which combines the visual artists with the writing community to express a message with meaning. He is passionate about collaboration in community.

Towny Waco: Need something with a small engine fixed? Get to know Central Texas Mowers!

(Welcome to the Act Locally Waco/Towny blog series. Towny is an app that exists to connect consumers with local businesses. It’s fairly new to Waco and is loaded with answers to the question, “Why local?” Through this blog series, the folks at Towny will be sharing the stories behind some of our high-quality, local products and helping you get to know some of our energetic local entrepreneurs. We hope you enjoy it! Supporting local business is a terrific way to support the Waco economy! Plus, it’s just fun to get to know your neighbors. For more posts in this blog series, click here: Towny Waco.– ALW)

By Beth Whittington

Surrounded by neat rows of weed eaters for sale, sticky notes, the hard rock music turned down lower than usual so we could hear each other talk, we sat down with John Fleming and Carla Winder to get knee-deep in the business of fixing mowers.

Central Texas Mowers is not a lawn mowing service. They specialize in small engine repair and hand-held equipment like blowers and weed eaters, generators, water pumps, commercial equipment like shaker plates and rollers… a variety of things. If a human put it together, they can probably fix it.

Folks drive in from up to three hours away to have this team look at their lawnmowers. It’s common for a customer to think it’s going to cost a whole lot more than it does and to be pleasantly surprised when they see the repair ticket. Every repair comes with a complimentary wash, to which many respond, “I didn’t know my machine could look like that again!”

The Central Texas Mowers team can do a world of good for your mowers and lawn equipment: engine swaps, tune-ups, repairs, you name it. Let’s get to know them better…

Beth: How did Central Texas Mowers start? 

John: I was working at Landscape Supply as their head technician. I grew up doing this stuff anyway, with my dad.

I was getting my own shop ready to open and I got hurt. Got on workers’ compensation. They cut my benefits off, but I wasn’t released from the doctor to go to work so, I went for about a year without income. I was fixing to start losing stuff, selling things, and I thought, “Well, I gotta do something!” I borrowed some money from my wife, got the first few jobs, and went from there.

Beth: What was it like working with your dad?

John: I’m not going to say it was all roses! Growing up, he worked for Montgomery Ward. He was the head technician over there and he had a shop sitting over here (he points) on this little slab, forever, for 40 something years. So, he did appliances and we did lawn equipment. We were his kids, so we did what he said to do! And I hate working on appliances to this day! (Gives a hearty laugh.) I grew up on this property, graduated from La Vega.

Beth: It’s a family business. Why do you work here, Carla?

Carla: I love it. I like that I just deal with people, one-on-one.

John: We’ve known each other (he pauses to count the years and concludes) …forever, pretty much. I dated her sister, Shannon, back in high school. And when we split up, my brother, Nathan, became friends with Shannon’s brothers, Arty and Lonnie. So, we were always around each other…it was always meant to be. I feel that.

Beth: Where’d you work out of in the beginning?  

John: We used this office we’re sitting in, but it was a paint booth. I worked on cars before, on the side, because – I love cars. I’m a car guy. I’d paint, do bodywork. Anything I could do to a car. I love cars.

(He laughs.)

It was hot and sweaty, trying to do paperwork. I’m not even gonna lie; it was miserable. We just built this out into an office and got A/C this year. I still don’t take a paycheck here. Everything goes right back into this place.

Beth: What do you love about cars?

John: I love being able to put my hands on ’em, tweak ’em, listen to them. I love the way they sound, especially if it’s running right. It’s like lawnmowers – it’s got a certain sound you just have to listen for it. I don’t know; I’m weird. Engines are like people; they’ve all got their own attitude. They really do. They start by being cold to being hot. You’ve just gotta know your equipment. To me, they’ve just all got their own personality in the way they run – you can hear it.

(He’s an engine whisperer.)

Beth: Any memorable jobs that you’ve done?

Carla: (She jokes) …You mean, like when a mower’s so old it doesn’t have a serial number so we’ve got to hunt down the parts to fix it? But, we do. We go the distance for them. We have some very thankful customers.

John: That one man carried his mower to four different shops! They kept messing it up. Finally, he brought it to us and we haven’t seen him since!

Beth: What’d you do to it?

John: I can’t even remember. I remember him, but I don’t remember his mower. People come in and ask, “Is my mower ready?” They both laugh, “Which one’s yours?”

Beth: What’s something special about this place that most folks don’t know?

(Long pause.)

Carla: That’s a hard question because people already know he’s good at what he does. Many of them say that. People just come here to ask John’s opinion… (she laughs) Because they know he’s going to tell them the truth.

John: I’m forthcoming. Some like that and some. do. not.

(I asked for an example; he obliged…)

If I think your equipment is a piece of junk or you’re asking me about a mower across town, I’ll let you know. I try to be subtle about it but – you know, that’s why a lot of customers like coming here, because I tell it like it is.

Beth: Imagine what Waco would be like if everyone bought locally?

John: (His eyes lit up.) Oh, it would THRIVE! It would be amazing. For everyone, for Waco.

If your lawn equipment has been having ish-ues, let Central Texas Mowers bring that thing back to life for you. In the meantime, download the Towny app to continue to support businesses like John’s.  Don’t miss everrrrything Waco has to offer you, locally!

Beth Whittington remembers sitting on the Waco suspension bridge as a girl, visiting family friends. Legs dangling off, watching the Fourth of July fireworks spark the sky. Been a Waco local for the better part of 19 years.  Gaps explainable by the awkwardly untrue term of “ex-missionary”  Beth thrives on: generating ideas + copywriting. Can’t wait to: visit South Africa. Favorite part of Waco: Bangkok Royale + the HOTHTC. Wants: everyone in Waco to get Towny because it’ll make life better for us all if we let it. 

Take your local support up a notch – pop in Towny + have a look around.

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 ashleyt@actlocallywaco.org for more information.


Save a Life

By Cynthia Cunningham

It has been a sad week.  Two local suicides and two celebrities suicides.  Those are just the ones that we heard about. I had not planned to write on this topic this month.  After all September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month.  However, lives are too precious to put on a schedule!  The need to talk about this issue is growing.  I want to ask you to talk openly about this subject with those around you.  It is time we are honest and talk about suicide. By doing so, we eliminate the stigma that prevents people from seeking help.

I was told that in Waco we have at least three to four suicides each week.  Those are just the ones that can be confirmed.  What about the questionable deaths when no note is left behind?  What about deaths from overdoses? Were they accidental? On purpose?  The numbers of lives lost to suicide could be much higher.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention states that suicide rates in the United States has grown by 25% from 1999 to 2016. The United States lost 45,000 people in 2016 to suicide. More than the number of lives lost to car accidents that year.  More than the number of lives lost to homicide that year. Need a clearer picture? That is the number of people who populate one-third of Waco. That would be equal to losing the population of Hewitt, Robinson, Beverly Hills, West, China Spring and Woodway COMBINED!! Think about all those families who were effected. Not to mention their friends, co-workers, etc.

We are past the point of being saddened by this epidemic.  It will not stop unless each of us does our part!  Yes, YOU can prevent a suicide!  Please take the steps to learn how!!

Myths of Suicide:

Suicides happen without warning:  Those who attempt or die by suicide have often communicated their distress to at least one person.  This communication is not often direct, so it is important to learn the warning signs.

Talking about suicide puts the thought into their head: Talking about it allows the person the opportunity to talk about issues they are struggling with in their lives.  It lets them know that their pain is seen and heard.  They begin to learn that they are not alone.  Again, it is so important to learn the warning signs.

Those who threaten to take their lives are just seeking attention: No, this is a cry for help.  Yes, they need attention in the most desperate way.  Let us give it to them! Learn the warning signs so you do not miss this cry.

Telling someone to “Cheer up” or “Snap out of it” stops suicide: WRONG!  This actually makes them feel misunderstood and ashamed of their feelings.  (i.e. it makes it worse!!)  Would you tell someone with a broken leg to snap out of it? Do you think that works?  Educate yourself of the warning signs!

Warning Signs:

  • Talking about wanting to die
  • Talking about being a burden to others
  • Sleeping too much or too little
  • Withdrawing and isolating themselves
  • Being agitated, anxious or reckless
  • Being in unbearable pain
  • Talking about feeling hopeless or having no purpose
  • Increased use of drugs and/or alcohol
  • Having rage or seeking revenge
  • Showing extreme mood swings
  • Looking for ways to kill themselves

Learning the Warning Signs is just a start. Educate yourself as much as possible on suicide prevention and mental illness.  You never know when you might be in the position to help save someone.

If nothing else remember this:  ASK

A = Ask if they are having thoughts of killing themselves
(be point blank – they are hoping someone sees their pain)

S = Stay with them and keep safe
 (keep yourself safe, move away from weapons and never leave them alone until help arrives)

K = Know who to call
(you’re not expected to be the expert…call the experts: 911 or 800-273-8255: put this # in your phone!)

Take advantage of Mental Health First Aid Classes!  You know how to perform CPR in a crisis but do you know what to do in a mental health crisis?  Contact NAMI Waco for Adult Mental Health First Aid and HOTRMHR for Youth Mental Health First Aid.  Be Prepared!

And if you are struggling…Please know that you are not alone!  Reach out for help…YOU are important!!

  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255
  • Crisis Text Line: 741741
  • Veterans Crisis Line: 1-800-273-8255 press 1
  • Veterans Crisis Text Line: 838255
  • LGBTQ Crisis Line: 1-866-488-7386
  • LGBTQ Crisis Text Line: Text TREVOR to 1-202-304-1200

Cynthia Cunningham, a Wacoan since age 2, is the Executive Director for NAMI Waco.  She lives with her husband of 28 years, Bobby, and two spoiled dogs and one royal cat!  Her passion is educating others about mental health.  She can be contacted at: www.NAMIWaco.com

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 ashleyt@actlocallywaco.org for more information.


2018 Greatest Hits #2: Downtown Dwellers – Waco Cha Launch

(During these last few weeks of December we will be reprising the Top 10 Most Opened Blog Posts for 2018 from the Act Locally Waco blog. I couldn’t possibly pick my favorites – so I used the simple (cop out?)  approach of pulling up the 10 blog posts that got the most “opens” according to our Google Analytics.  It is an intriguing collection that gives at least a little insight into the interests and concerns of Act Locally Waco readers. I hope this “Top 10” idea inspires you to go back and re-read your personal favorites.  There have been so many terrific ones… If you would like to see the Top 10 according to Google Analytics, here’s the link: Top 10 Most Opened Blog Posts of 2018.  Merry Christmas! — ABT)

By Jaja Chen

I often hear people ask (and personally wonder) why downtown Waco does not have its own organic grocery store.

In 2016, I attended a Baylor Continuing Ed course called “Waco 101.”  In that course I learned that these stores invest in locations with higher density of downtown populations than we have right now. Ashley Bean Thornton, one of our instructors who hosted the course, challenged us near the end of class to fully invest in downtown, including through our finances. To care for and support downtown means to choose to spend time, energy, and money downtown.

We left that course with a challenge to see how we could move from just wishing Waco would develop into the place we would like to live in into making the changes we hoped to see.

Since the course, my husband and I have officially moved downtown. Five years ago, we would have never considered living downtown. But here we are – all in – as we move to the next step in caring for our downtown by seeking to launch our business – Waco Cha. Waco Cha has been on our hearts and is an overflow of our desire to build community and hospitality in our city. We are excited to start our tea stand later this month at the Waco Downtown Farmer’s Market! Be on the lookout for the newest kids on the block!

 “Cha” is the Chinese word for “tea.” At Waco Cha that you will find authentic Taiwanese-inspired tea drinks such as classic bubble milk tea made from local milk, passion fruit green tea, amongst other fruit tea flavors. Dairy free options will also be available. Eventually we hope to start selling dumplings, Chinese-inspired rice bowls, and other side dishes.

What started out as a few ideas to better our community has grown into an upcoming business launch.

I leave you with the same challenge Ashley left us at the end of Waco 101 – What are ways YOU can spend more time, energy, or money towards advancing the causes of downtown Waco?

Is it through having date nights downtown on a First Friday? Or supporting our local farmers and vendors at the farmer’s market? Or perhaps even moving downtown like we did? And to my fellow entrepreneurs – perhaps taking that step in seeing what comes next in order to launch your creative ideas?

How do we – collectively – make Waco into the city we desire it to be? Join us in being downtown dwellers.

Jaja Chen is a social worker/private practice therapist by day at Enrichment Training & Counseling Solutions. Her hobbies include making kombucha, practicing yoga, and helping to market Waco Cha. Chef Devin Li is an engineering teacher by day and a self-taught chef, entrepreneur, and the creative mind behind Waco Cha. More about Waco Cha can be found on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/WacoCha1/ and Waco Cha’s Instagram page here https://www.instagram.com/waco_cha/