FALL for the Arts in Waco

By Jenuine Poetess

I love a good play on words.  I love community arts and culture.  I also love a good celebration.  So without further ado…*drumroll please*


While I catch my breath you might be thinking, “Whooooo!  Yay!  But honestly, what does that even mean?”  Great question, I’m so glad you asked!  According to the Texas Commission on the Arts (TCA), our state arts agency, Texas has a cultural district program that, “can designate special zones [cultural districts] that harness the power of cultural resources to stimulate economic development and community revitalization. These districts can become focal points for generating businesses, attracting tourists, stimulating cultural development and fostering civic pride.”  TCA recognizes that, “A thriving creative sector is a powerful economic development asset. Cultural district development is one strategy that helps a community boost economies while realizing other cultural and civic benefits. The outcomes of cultural districts extend beyond the arts and benefit all members of a community.”

There are a number of ways this designation will help Waco as a community as well as provide support and needed platforms for artists who are living and creating in Waco to continue our work and cultivate sustainable livings as artists.  If I haven’t already made it clear, this is a HUGE win for Waco Arts and I am so proud to have joined so many others in the efforts to 1) create and sustain community-centered, inclusive, arts programming in our community and 2) be involved in the two-year Cultural District application process–directed by Fiona Bond of Creative Waco (You can read more about Fiona’s work with Creative Waco in an interview blog I wrote last year).  It takes a village my friends, and this is definitely a moment to savor and celebrate.  Oh, and did I mention that Waco ranked TOP in the state out of all the cities applying for Cultural District designation this year?  Yep.  We did.

In many ways, our work is just beginning…and certainly our work is continuing.

Last week many artists participated in #WorldArtDropDay in which we distributed art works all throughout the city leaving them—with FREE ART tags—for people to find and enjoy.  Participation in this global project was inspired by Central Texas Artist Collective and in preparation, CTAC hosted several open community #artjam sessions at local libraries where for several hours people of all ages and artists of all disciplines could gather and create in a collaborative space with others.  CTAC had a wonderful turnout of 15-20 artists join us over the two sessions and based on the requests and feedback from community, CTAC will likely host regular community art jam spaces so stay tuned for all the details there (on their website and at Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook @CenTexArtists).  CTAC continues to foster creativity with the ongoing #ArtAbandonment project and is gearing up for their community booth at the 2016 Waco Cultural Arts Fest.  The artists at the CTAC booth this year will be Christy Town; Carlos Arias; Rhiannon Rosenbaum; Angie Veracruz; Steve Veracruz; Jenuine Artworks; and When Brothers Draw.14212085_1779988302269408_4583089266217702899_n

Coming up this week, Waco celebrates the grand opening of the brand new Waco Hispanic Museum–a collection of arts and cultural artifacts honoring the rich Latinx history and community thriving in Waco today.  The kick-off begins this Friday September 16th from 2:30-5:30pm with programming for all ages.  On Saturday the festivities begin at 10am and go until 2:30pm.  Located at the South Waco Community Center at 2815 Speight, this event is FREE and donations are appreciated.  In addition to the museum exhibit, there will be performances, Gritos de Dolores, and a voter registration booth.  For more information contact: council273@hot.rr.com; 254-548-9730.

On Sunday September 25th from 4-8pm the Waco Hippodrome and Waco Poets Society presents Peace on the Patio a community open mic as part of the global project, 100Thousand Artists for Change.  This year marks the fifth year Waco Poets Society has organized this event for our community.  We are so grateful to our generous sponsoring venue, Waco Hippodrome for opening their patio to us for this event.  Beginning at 4pm Ninth Limb Yoga, LLC will be 100tac-event-flier-9-25providing Yoga Fore Change Project yoga session ($5 suggested donation) until 5pm at which point the open mic, featuring singer/song writer, Katie Stewart, will begin.  This year’s theme is Peace, Justice, Sustainability, and Love–so bring your songs, poems, stories, spoken-word pieces; bring your family, your friends, your neighbors, and co-workers.  Purchase some delicious food and specialty drinks as a way of saying thank you and supporting a local business who gives back so faithfully to our community!  Contact: wacopoetssociety@gmail.com.

The 2016 WCAF, taking place in Indian Spring Park and the Waco Convention Center September 30th-October 2nd, looks to be a delightful array of music, visual art, dance and performance, poetry and writing, African film, and science for all ages.  In addition to performances and interactive exhibits, art stations, and experiments, the festival draws a tasty selection of food vendors, vibrant artisan vendors, and authors from across Texas and beyond.  (For complete schedules and full details on each festival please visit the links above).

This week a new exhibit opens at the Art Center of Waco and will be available for viewing now through October 22ndWhile I Breathe, I Hope is a collection of abstract paintings by Caroline Lewis.  Also at the Art Center are a number of classes open to community participants and weekly Cookies and Coloring sessions on Friday afternoons.  Plan ahead and mark your calendars for the annual Fall Festival and Pumpkin Art Auction on October 29th—the theme for this year is Superheroes!

This post marks the two-year anniversary of me writing this monthly Arts and Culture blog, in honor of milestone, I’m starting a new hashtag…but more than a hashtag, I want to propel movement that has already been stirring in our community.  Are you ready?  Are you curious?  Remember when I told you I love a good play on words?  Well, here we go: #ArtLocallyWaco.  🙂  It seemed a completely natural conclusion especially when so many of us art (as a very active verb) locally, here in Waco.

If I’ve learned anything over the past 4+ years I have been creating and organizing arts programming in Central Texas, it is that showing up to the page, the canvas, the camera lens, the stage, the microphone, the textiles, the music, the wall, the materials—whatever they may be, the community is the single most important practice to have as an artist.  Sure raw talent and honed skills are valuable.  But what is vital for a thriving, creatively sustainable community, is at the very core so simple: it is we, showing up.

Sometimes that means to exhibit or perform, sometimes that means to set up and break down, sometimes that means lending a window or a wall as exhibit space, sometimes that means opening up your business as a performance or event venue, sometimes that means liking and sharing events on social media, sometimes that means our bodies physically showing up to be present, sometimes that means donating dollars to help financially sustain these powerfully effective community grassroots efforts doing remarkable good throughout our community, sometimes it is investing in local artists and writers buying their creations and books, sometimes it is advocating at city council or at the capitol or at the school board to ensure that funding and policy continues to make room for and protect the arts.  What I love about community-centered arts and cultural programming is that there is room for every person of every age, every skill-level, every talent, every strength, every expression, every style, every medium.

So I put this challenge out to you—how will you #ArtLocallyWaco this month and beyond?  Post in a comment, send us an email: jenuineartworks@gmail.com, or tag us in your own social media post about how you will get or stay involved in the arts in Waco.  I’m proud of what we are creating here in Waco, it is an ever-evolving, community collaboration and such a magnificent work of art!

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, CA; Waco, TX; and Lebanon.  Jenuine is the founder of Waco Poets Society and co-founder of the Central Texas Artist Collective.    She writes, organizes, and creates rooted in the fierce conviction that holding intentional space, access, and opportunity for all people to foster their creative health is a matter of justice and is a vital asset to the sustainable thriving of communities.  She currently lives and poems in Central Texas where she enjoys finding new ways to disrupt the homeostasis of her city.  You can contact her at: jenuineartworks@gmail.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.

Downtown Waco: The Elements of Downtown

By Rolando Rodriguez Soto

(This post is part of an on-going series about Downtown Waco.  In a sense, Downtown is “everybody’s neighborhood.”   In this series of blog posts we hope to contribute to the on-going conversation in Waco about what it takes to have a great downtown, and what we want for our own “Wacotown.”  To see all the posts in this series, click here: Downtown Waco. – ABT) 

When you hear the word “downtown,” what image pops into your head?  Is it a successful commercial district complete with subways and skyscrapers?  Is it a quaint collection of historic buildings and antique stores?  Is it a thriving strip of restaurants, trendy shops and live music venues?  Maybe the word “downtown” makes you think of concert halls, culture, and nice department stores? Or maybe the image in your mind is negative, one of boarded up buildings, graffiti, and crime.

More to the point for the purposes of this blog series, what image pops to mind when you think of Waco’s downtown? What do you like?  What would you like to see?  What would you like to see go away?  How do we even get our minds around what we want in a downtown when there are so many possibilities?

Maybe one way to think about it is to try to come up with a list of the typical elements that make up a downtown and to think about where Waco is and where we want to be in respect to those elements.   You may have your own list of elements in mind…here are a few of mine:


Imagine waking up on a Monday morning and looking out your window to see storefronts, busy sidewalks and the ALICO building. After getting ready for the day, you go down a few flights of stairs, go next door to your favorite coffee shop to get your fix and then you walk a few more blocks to the office to start your work day.

Waco offers Some unique possibilities when it comes to downtown living. Luxurious lofts, historic buildings and apartments overlooking the Brazos river are just a few of the options.

The former Waco High School campus on Washington Ave. and the former Waco Independent School District alternative school campus were recently transformed into loft apartments that still retain the historic look. You can still find lockers and white boards in the Waco High Lofts building to remind residents of the building’s life in the 20th century.

The redefined downtown residential life is perfect for college students, young professionals, and empty-nesters who are eager  to take advantage of a new form of living, which will breathe life into downtown.


Business is another crucial element of a thriving downtown. In previous years, many major department stores and restaurants began moving away from downtown to be near highways or in malls. This unfortunately left downtown with deteriorating and empty storefronts, which did not exactly make living in downtown desirable.

Recently, new businesses have begun to reassess the value of a downtown. Waco currently offers restaurants, coffee shops, office space, boutiques and antique shops in its downtown space.

As we continue to expand and add more commercial opportunities, Waco will be able to generate more employment and tax revenue prospects, which will attract new residents and creative thinkers.


So far, you have enjoyed your relaxing apartment, your walk to work and some fun shops and restaurants in between, but now after a long day in the office, you want to go out and do something fun. A strong downtown environment should be able to offer nightlife, culture, recreational activities and community events, so that there is a reason stay in the center city.

Events or activities such as a farmer’s market, art festival, concert, block party, weekly or monthly events or a special movie screening all contribute to a fun environment where residents can expect to find one central location that features work and play.

These types of events and activities are almost expected in downtown environment. Fortunately, Waco also offers unique amenities you most likely won’t find anywhere else such as the Magnolia Market at the Silos, the Waco Hippodrome Theatre, Balcones Distillery or the Art on Elm Festival.

In a commercial district where buildings and streets take charge, it is important to recognize and appreciate nature. Fortunately, any street in downtown can lead you to the beautiful Brazos River, Indian Spring Park featuring the Suspension Bridge, or Cameron Park with its hiking trails and Cameron Park Zoo.


We have defined the three major elements that reflect daily life—relaxation, work and play. Now how do we connect the dots?

A major benefit of a centralized downtown location is walkability. Not only do residents have the benefit of walking from home to work or other stores, restaurants or events, but also they benefit the environment by reducing their carbon footprint.

Exploring everything downtown has to offer is more enjoyable on foot because you are able to appreciate each store front and historical piece at a slower pace.

In its current state, downtown does not have the most traversable streets and sidewalks, but the city of Waco has improved over the years through the addition of bike lanes, larger sidewalks and shuttle services.

Streets in Waco may seem simple to someone who has lived here all of their life, but to anyone else, the streets can be confusing with their oddly timed traffic lights and one way streets.

Technology is beginning to help make navigating downtown easier.  We can access bus routes and directions with our navigation apps on our phones, and we can even call a car service with another app. But, creating a pedestrian friendly environment is crucial to establishing a welcoming downtown where a Wacoan can walk from their loft to work, their favorite coffee shop, the movie theatre or the park.

Have we fully realized the potential for downtown Waco? I hope not. I hope to see downtown continue to grow and thrive.  Who knows?  Maybe one day we will even have more than one skyscraper!

rolando-rodriguez-sotoRolando Rodriguez Soto was raised in Waco, TX, and he is currently attending Baylor University with plans to graduate in December 2016 with a Bachelor of Arts in Professional Writing & Rhetoric. After graduation, he hopes to work in Waco in the nonprofit sector to help realize the full potential of Waco. His long term goals include hopefully creating and publishing creative work whether that is a novel, short story or even a television show.

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.


Entrepreneurs of Waco: Penni Wise Custom Framing

(Act Locally Waco loves Waco area entrepreneurs!  For more posts about local entrepreneurs, please click here: Entrepreneurs of Waco. If you would like to nominate a Waco entrepreneur to be profiled, please email ashleyt@actlocallywaco.org.  – ABT)

By Penni Litzau

“In my work as a business advisor for the Small Business Development Center I enjoy working with all types of small business owners every day. From time to time I run across a true craftsman/craftswoman and the business is only necessary to provide the framework for them to share their craft with the world. Penni is one of those craftswomen.” – Tim Holtkamp, Business Advisor, McLennan Small Business Development Center  

Hello, I’d like to introduce myself! My name is Penni Litzau, and, many years ago, I fell into a love affair with the art of custom framing. I first became acquainted with custom framing in the mid-80’s, and it opened up a whole new world for me. I had never even heard of custom framing, didn’t know what it was. As far as I knew, people just bought pictures and they were already framed in some magical way.

Up until that time, my sum total of work experience had been in daycare and fast food. Even though I enjoyed working with customers and the direct contact with the public, I had become less than excited about things like inordinate amounts of grease, and I remember coming home feeling covered in it.  

So, I began the hunt for a new job. I knew I was intrigued by the world of retail, and that became my new emphasis. I remember applying for a wide variety of jobs—everything from selling candles to high-end clothing sales. Then, I saw an ad at the employment commission for seasonal work at Old America in Clute, Texas.  

When I submitted my application for the job, I was asked if I knew how to read a tape measure. I said I could, and after a few successful tries at measuring an assortment of objects, the job was mine. Though I didn’t know it at the time, this “seasonal” work would grow into full time. 

From that point on, I was hooked. I was amazed at how many different directions you could follow to create a piece of art. I was mesmerized by the entire process—from working with each individual object and using my own imagination to presenting every new customer with a final product that was displayed for them in the best way possible. I was giving something precious—a memory, a photo, handmade artwork, sometimes even a shadow box—that could be enjoyed for years to come. 

In my very first encounter with the art of custom framing, I questioned the customer as to what thoughts they had and what direction they wanted to go with their print. I was not prepared for the response. “Well, you’re the expert; why don’t you tell me?” My initial thought was that they were my first customer and I wasn’t sure I would be able to give them what they expected. 

Right then and there, I made a decision. I figured if I acted like I’d been doing this for years, it would create a level of trust in me. And, boy, did I want this to work, both for them and for myself. I took the work in hand and prayed that I would be successful in making them happy and in creating something special. 

Happily, my first run at it turned out to be exactly what they were looking for. It was a wonderful experience for them and for me. From then on, I knew that, somehow, I had an innate understanding of what it took to create something like this. Most importantly, it was something I could be proud of. 

In the end, I had to give up that job because I had to move away. There followed a succession of years in which I had to leave my new-found love for a time and work once again in fast food. I had to pay my bills, and at that time, framing only paid minimum wage, regardless of one’s level of expertise. 

In all affairs of the heart, there are many twists and turns before the happy ending, and mine was no different. I explored numerous other paths, seeking education and better pay.  I made a move to Waco, Texas, to be closer to my family. Eventually, I married, and my husband, Stephen, and I began a blended family. 

After working several years pursuing a potential career in electronics, I found I was still unhappy due to the lack of artistic expression. My husband and I decided that I would leave work for a period of time and spend more time with our growing family. Later, after the kids went back to school, I returned to the work field. 

Throughout the years, I had longed to return to framing, so I applied to the two chain stores with frame shops in Waco, Michaels and Hobby Lobby. Miraculously, when I walked into Hobby Lobby and told them I had a background in framing, they told me there was a position needing to be filled in their frame shop. I got hired on the spot! 

For the next sixteen years, I worked in framing, and, finally, realized it had become my passion. After all these years, I found myself not only loving what I was doing but slowly progressing to a better living wage. Beyond all doubt, framing was the perfect career I wanted to pursue.  

So now, the time has come to end one story and begin the next. It is an exhilarating, almost breathtaking experience to start my own business doing what I love the most. But, you know what they say, “If you do what you love, and you will never work a day in your life.”  

I’m looking forward to this new, next journey—that of helping people preserve their special artwork, personal memories and experiences in the best way possible. Through the use of specialized framing techniques and artistic expression, I know I can make your next memory one that will last you a lifetime. 

Penni Wise Custom Framing is located at 7033 Sanger Avenue in Waco, Texas, right on the access road of Highway 6. My hours of operation will be Tuesday through Friday 9:30 AM to 5:30 PM and Saturday 10:00 AM to 2 PM. I will be open the first week in September with an official Grand Opening October 1st, 2016. Please come and visit. I would love to meet you and together create a thing of beauty.

penni-litzauPenni Coleman Litzau was born in San Antonio, Texas and has spent the majority of her life in Texas. She attributes, in part, her eye for detail to being raised by a mother who lost her eyesight due to Multiple Sclerosis. Penni became her “mother’s eyes” and described everything she saw in great detail and vivid color. In 1996, she moved to Waco, Texas to be closer to her mother, sister, and family. A year later, Penni met her husband Stephen Litzau, the Millwork Supervisor and longtime master craftsman for CM Trautschold. They blended their family in 1998. You can contact Penni through email at pennilitzau@gmail.com , www.penniwisecustomframes.com , or facebook.