A Family of Artists

By Heather Garcia

The Veracruz

Pictured: Photographs by Rachel Whyte, rachel-whyte.com

The best way to describe the Veracruz family is to say their lives are infused with art. Both Steve and Angie enjoy creating visual art, whether it’s sketching or painting. They encourage their three children — Sierra, 10; and twins Arimina and Auralena, 4 — to express themselves creatively. For a short time Angie volunteered with Sierra’s school to help teach art, and as she and her husband have become more involved in the art community in Waco, they’ve launched the Central Texas Artist Collective to provide networking opportunities for fellow artists. I met with the Veracruzes at Tea2Go to talk about instilling art in their children, raising twins and developing a family-like community among other artists.

WACOAN: How did the Central Texas Artist Collective, CTAC, begin?

Steve: My wife and I entered the art scene of Waco over a year ago, when we started to fully immerse ourselves in the arts culture. One [development] was coming to meet a lot of the owners of the galleries that are here in Waco and the artists that display their work there.

We were just amazed at how wonderfully talented the artists are that are in this city. We immediately felt privileged just to know these individuals, to know they are capable of something so beautiful.

We like to participate in [art] ourselves. We are all artists ourselves. So just coming to know the artists, we began to feel the mutual respect and the mutual creativity, and so we began to feel a lot more interested in knowing how much Waco can develop with the arts.

There were a lot of meetings. There were some artist network meetings that we took part in. There were the [Waco] Arts Alliance meetings that we attended.

Angie: Even the Imagine Waco meetings, which were very helpful as well.

Steve: So we began to see all the components that Waco has to grow even more culturally in the arts district [designation] that Waco is about to obtain. We began to feel that the artists that Waco has don’t get a lot of recognition. We felt like we had to come together in a way that would gain a lot of recognition for Waco and its artists.

Angie: That’s why we came up with the collective mentality to bounce ideas off of the artists, to help support each other, to feel more like a family, to generate a family feel, a family vibe, as opposed to, ‘This is my little artwork, my little favorite gallery I only want to go to. I don’t want to go to any others.’ It shouldn’t be that way.

It starts with the artists who connect to those galleries, getting those galleries to reach out to each other. To have this city reach out to other cities.
It starts at the heart, which is the artists in our community. The artist includes anything from what Jenuine Poetess does (written poetry or performance pieces), actors, whatever your forte is, whether it’s just painting or drawing. Just come together and have a safe space where we feel like we can thrive. The collective itself is comprised of artists who are living, creating and thriving in Waco because this is their home.

Steve: So one of the first ideas that we had to make this happen was to create a directory for artists. We felt like if we could help create a directory of our city and other cities, then that would make it a lot more beneficial to artists that needed to network with other artists, businesses that needed to network with artists, as well as newcomers to the city who had just moved into the city not knowing much about the city that they just moved into. So we felt there were so many beneficial reasons to create an organization such as this, and we were just completely motivated to see it through fully.

WACOAN: The first event for CTAC was ‘The Birds’ exhibition. What did that entail? How did you put that together?

Steve: It was an idea revolving around an Alfred Hitchcock portrait from Brian Broadway as part of a monochrome collection. An attendee of one of these artist network meetings was a gentleman by the name of James Moody. He is a wonderful human being. He’s very humble, very understanding and receptive to the arts. He, too, is an artist. So when he found the Alfred Hitchcock painting, [he thought,] ‘What if we each did a birds piece to surround that particular painting?’ It had trouble getting off the ground, but Angie and I saw something that could be very successful on a bigger scale —

Angie: Encompassing all of the artists, instead of just keeping it for ourselves. Opening up the doors to more participation and growing the art community.

Steve: Some of the participants in ‘The Birds’ exhibit were students of [Texas State Technical College]. It became highly recommended to participate in this opportunity because it either provided a grade for the course or extra credit.

Angie: That was also about the time we co-created CTAC. So that’s how it evolved into the inaugural exhibition.

WACOAN: Tell me more about how the exhibition and the CTAC evolved together.

Steve: So Angie and I continued to see it come into fruition. We put plans together with a few other brilliant individuals, Jesus Rivera, the owner of the Art Forum — he was a key player. We put a flier together, an all-call for artists, and we tried to distribute this all over the city as broad as we could to reach many different factions, from the colleges to those who were not in school to those —

Angie: Who had forgotten about art altogether. But then they came across the flier, and they’re like, ‘You know what? I think art is calling me back.’ So they got back in it.

Steve: Even to those local bakeries that are our favorites to attend, such as Simply Delicious [Bakery] and Vanilla Bean [Bake Shoppe].

We love their creativity, and so we felt like there are so many different forms that art can take. You shouldn’t just limit it to one style, and I wanted the city to recognize that as well.

Another reason that we feel so passionate about CTAC is because we’re also able to allow artists to connect with businesses in ways that they wouldn’t have even known about. One example is a wood-burning artist, Marsha Wilson, that we connected to a new prototype shop called The Maker’s Edge. They are awesome because they are the epitome of basically hands-on creativity, housing a [wood-working] shop, a metal shop, a technical shop, a welding shop. They have a little print shop.

WACOAN: And you have a booth at the Waco Downtown Farmers Market?

Angie: On May 9 we had a booth at the farmers market to represent CTAC, and our first pop up Painting in the Park was on that Saturday. May 19 was the second Painting in the Park. We were painting [6-by-6 foot] canvases to donate to the Cultural Activities Center in Temple for the first annual ‘6x6x2015’ exhibit and fundraiser. CTAC provided paints, brushes and canvases or paper for those who could not bring their own.

WACOAN: What do you two do artistically?

Steve: Well, we are primarily visual artists. We paint. I was always sketching. I try to test the borders with that a little bit. I guess they would refer to it as illusionary or surreal art, visual art. And Angie, she likes to paint.

Angie: I like to paint, yes. I do use mainly acrylics, but my artwork — I feel like this past year I have been able to cultivate my own style as far as wanting it to be out of the ordinary. Not so crazy abstract, but just unique in its own way. I mainly stick to the things that I love most, which is water and earth.

WACOAN: Since you two are so involved in the arts, how do you foster an appreciation of the arts in your kids?

Angie: Oh, every day. We give them [freedom] to express themselves naturally. We don’t tell them ‘No, no, no. Don’t do that,’ or ‘Don’t paint your arm.’ You want to paint your arm? Go ahead.

Steve: We kind of let them take charge of that. They will begin to want some sort of creative outlet, where they want to do something. They’ll come up to us and ask us, whether they feel like painting or doing origami, folding paper — that one also.

WACOAN: What started the process of being involved in the arts in Waco?

Angie: For me it was actually when my oldest [Sierra] was in second grade at Hillcrest [PDS Elementary Magnet School]. I’m a very active PTA parent, and I helped to do a lot of fundraising for her school to actually have an art teacher because Waco ISD gave you the option to either have a music teacher or an art teacher. So the parents were volunteering. I got to teach her second grade class art. I did that for a year, and then the next year I was actively involved in fundraising.

Then the [same] year The Art Center came up with an outreach program where they actually provided an art teacher, a wonderful lady, Deborah Reed-Propst, and I assisted her the second year, [Sierra’s] third grade year.

Then after that a good friend of ours got involved in The CAST [Creative Arts Studio & Theater]. She helped create it. So I started volunteering there. That’s pretty much when I drug Steve in. I’m like, ‘OK, now we’re getting serious. We’re getting involved on a city level, not just at the elementary school. So I need your help. I need you to be more involved.’

Because it’s something that he’s been passionate about since he was a child. For me, I was really a music major. I don’t play music anymore, but I had so much fun teaching Sierra’s class and then learning stuff myself. And like I said, Deborah was very intricate and helped me learn some stuff as far as dealing with kids and teaching. It just evolved from there, to be honest. Being a part of The CAST opened up those doors to more artists.

WACOAN: What is The CAST, for those who don’t know?

Steve: They were a new gallery that made it extremely interesting because they try to provide an outlet by having a creative studio for artists to attend and be welcome to foster their own creative ideas.

Angie: It also is an events center for things like wedding receptions in an artistic environment for those of us who like that kind of thing. It’s also the Brazos Theatre Group, which puts on their plays there and their comedy skits and stuff like that. It’s pretty much all-encompassing.

WACOAN: What do you hope to see the arts community in Waco become?

Steve: Well, there’s a lot of different means for improvement that Waco needs to harness for its arts. A big hurdle is getting the word out.

Angie: So the goal would be to help [groups] find better marketing outlets. Also to get artists’ involvement for those who feel comfortable enough that they can show up to Art on Elm or the Cultural Arts Festival and be welcomed. So the overall goal is just to get those fears out of the way, those nervous jitters for those first-time artists.

And just to grow the arts scene. For the longest time the arts scene has kind of been underground in Waco.

Steve: Every day we come across an example as to why we’re doing what we’re doing. Waco needs to grow the arts programs so that everyone will understand their benefits. The benefits mean a lot to the lifestyle of people in the city and just to the growth of a person and how they perceive life. Because it gets them to see things in different lights. It provides a means of education. It provides character development. It provides different ways of communication.

Angie: It also takes tolerance for the individual’s work — tolerance, acceptance, understanding. I feel like art is an expression of who you are deep down. And to feel that you’re accepted there, then how much more can you accomplish? You get that chance to grow and to flourish.

Steve: And kind of where I was going with the whole getting out the word thing was to create clear channels for all the artist components of Waco, associating with each other a lot more closely so that you encompass a bigger circle, letting others know what’s going on.

I think the recent Top Young Artists was a wonderful thing. And the Martin Museum of Art at Baylor, they had their student exhibition. [Editor’s Note: Top Young Artists was a competition among art students from 11 McLennan County high schools. The works were originally exhibited at Studio Gallery and then at The Art Center. Winners received scholarships.]

WACOAN: How long have you lived in Waco?

Angie: I am originally from Hawaii. My dad was in the Marine Corps, so we moved around a bit until about 1990, and then we moved to Waco officially, and he retired some years after that. So I’ve been here ever since.

Steve: I’ve pretty much been here my whole life. I attended TSTC under commercial art. Financial burden prevented my completion of the course, and I focused on the workforce early.

As a consequence of that devastating day on [9/11], I entered the recruiting office of the United States Marine Corps. During my time in the service, Angie and I were married. I endured Operation Iraq Freedom through the office of an M1A1 Abrams tank. After my service, I came home, and we had our first child, Sierra.

WACOAN: How did you two meet?

Steve: We’ve been together since high school. I think it was in a theater class that developed our relationship, where we would spend a lot more time there together.

Angie: I’m actually very shy. A friend of ours was like, ‘Oh, we’re trying out for a play that we’re going to put on. You should really try out for the part.’ That was when I happened to go in there, and he was in the class.

Steve: So it was a theater arts class where we met.

Angie: So the arts brought us together!

WACOAN: Was that in Waco?

Steve: Yeah. Here at University High.

WACOAN: What are some things you like to do together as a family?

Steve: As a family, we like to do whatever the girls feel like doing. Of course, they like being outside, going to parks. They love a lot of the parks that we’ve gone to. They refer to them in a color-coded process. If we go to Pecan Bottoms, that one is the green park. And if we went to —

Angie: The blue park is across from Miss Nellie’s Pretty Place. The yellow park is at Mountainview [Elementary School]. Whatever the major color is.

Steve: And also we’ll go to the movies whenever there’s a new family film out. We like to go do that because they especially love popcorn. We make that a tradition, basically, whether it’s going to the movies or just having a movie night at home, which we try to focus on also. But we always like doing a lot of interactive activities.

Lena [Auralena] is always creating something. We’ll try to fill up a coloring book, or we’ll just throw out some blank pieces of paper in front of us and we’ll either just draw or paint.

Angie: And if it’s raining outside and we’re still wanting to go out somewhere because we’re getting cabin fever, we’ll go to the Mayborn [Museum Complex]. We do have a membership there. We haven’t been in a while because we’ve been busy with the CTAC stuff. We love the bubble room.

Steve: The [Cameron Park Zoo] is also a great favorite of theirs. It never gets old. They absolutely love the zoo.

WACOAN: What are some other things besides art that you try to create for your family?

Angie: For me, to further create or help them further develop an awareness of their self-worth. To help them create character. Sometimes the rough and tumble way of sports isn’t for everybody. Some people do learn better if they have that creative outlet. If you don’t have that option, then you may not be able to develop that side of yourself. Just to help them create their whole being.

I’m trying not to sound cheesy, but I do think that having art as an outlet does help you foster both the left and right sides of the brain to be a more balanced individual. When we have more balanced individuals, I think our community as a whole benefits from that. Art has always been our first form of communication to get those ideas out. Yes, it’s great for being creative, but just being able to express ourselves through art.

I know Lena, she will create this little story on a piece of paper. As soon as she gets home from school she wants to draw. The other day she drew a robot bunny.

WACOAN: Where do your kids go to school?

Angie: We actually used the [education issue of the] Wacoan to decide where we were going to put the girls. Like I said, Sierra was at Hillcrest for her second and third grade years, then going into fourth grade I wanted to know exactly where she would be for her middle school years. We chose Rapoport [Academy]. We were pretty thrilled she got in, so we said, ‘OK, we’re putting the [twins] there to start them off young.’ [Editor’s Note: Rapoport Academy, a public charter school, admits students on a lottery system.]

Being able to see how caring the teachers and administration are at Rapoport, it just blows me away. It’s stern, but it’s still caring. [Sierra’s] teacher this year, Mr. Rowell, saw how she was already further along. She was answering everything like it’s nothing, so he gave her and another group of children extra work so they wouldn’t be bored in class. Having that hands-on knowledge of seeing a child excel already and not giving them busy work but giving them work that’s going to help them become smarter, help them grow.

I also love it because she has art twice a week. And the [twins] have art once a week, which is good. The downside is that they don’t have a music program until you get to middle school.

Steve: Another reason for CTAC was to create other artistic outlets that some schools can’t provide as it becomes a little more difficult to sustain [arts] program like that. CTAC is in efforts to try to work with some galleries and work in various ways with the community to instill more art programs and workshops or whatever is needed for the youth.

WACOAN: Angie, what has been your involvement at your kids’ school after teaching art as a volunteer?

Angie: I’m a very involved parent, stay-at-home mom with kids in school. So where do I go? I go to the school with my kids. I help out the librarian, and I help her with the books and stuff like that. I help organize parent-teacher appreciation days. Over the past six years I have organized or volunteered to help with almost every event PTA hosts, including teacher appreciation luncheons, class parties, picture days, field days, book fairs, fundraising, light office duties, and I chaperone on field trips.

WACOAN: Why do you think it’s important to be involved in PTA?

Angie: Parents who are involved with the PTA stay in the know about what’s going on at school. I get to know not only the current teacher but who might be their teacher next year. It is also important for me to know who will be a role model for my children and who are their peers. I hope to continue my PTA involvement as much as possible.

WACOAN: Do you have any family traditions?

Angie: I don’t know. We’re pretty simple people, to be honest. We just really enjoy each other’s company. It’s always been about family for us. [Steve and I have] known each other since high school, so we’ve grown up together. We are each other’s best friends. We don’t have it all put together. We’re not perfect in any way. It’s just what we feel, as crazy as it gets, we try to get people to understand you don’t have to have a chaotic family life. There are other ways to handle things and evolve into what we’re supposed to be as humans.

Steve: We like providing that good example and those good experiences for them to be a part of because, again, it helps to develop those levels of understanding and communication.

Not only that, but we develop different levels of family. Yes, we have our immediate family with our girls. We try to balance what is healthy enough for their growth and their understanding of what we’re doing, but we also have this family of art. So when we all get together with the other artists as well, there’s also another family.

Prior to ‘The Birds’ opening reception, we hosted a meet and greet night for the participating artists. It was a huge potluck where a large number of them turned up, and we all sat at a table and shared a meal together. It provided the most amazing familial experience. Knowing that outside our immediate family, there’s an external family that we can share with in a unique, creative way that we never thought of before. And for everyone that attended, I let them know that they, too, suddenly became leaders in their community.

So in our immediate family with my girls, we try to get them to harness this leadership capability because of those others that they’re going to come in contact with and get them to understand the different shades of light that we bounce off of each other.

WACOAN: You mentioned not having a chaotic family life. How do you keep the chaos at bay?

Angie: Being able to read the signs and understanding how [the girls] work individually, and art definitely allows that. All our kids are definitely different. They’re twins, and they are night and day opposites, as you can see. One can keep herself occupied, and one doesn’t. It’s hard. We just hold on to what we feel is right.

Some of the best advice I had ever received was when I found out I was having twins, my mother told me, ‘As a mother we have to always do what’s right for our children.’ So when situations start to arise, we have to make that decision for our family. What is the best thing to do? We guide our family along those paths. If a situation is not right for us, we just say no. How do we keep the chaos in or out? Basically that — getting a feel for the situation or the individual actions.

We try to get the girls to understand that if they do something mean, it doesn’t just hurt each other, but it hurts the whole family. Their actions have a ripple effect that will resonate out, and if it resonates outside of our family, it resonates further on. We try to make them aware of their conscious decisions, even at a smaller age. It’s just teaching them to be mindful, mindful of their actions and understanding the repercussions.

WACOAN: Are there any family quirks that make your family unique?

Steve: They like making up songs.

Angie: They’ll change ‘Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star’ to ‘Twinkle, Twinkle Little Bear.’ Or Lena will just start singing and making up her own songs while she’s on her own, having her quiet time. She’ll just start singing.

Steve: It definitely mixes up the energy whenever they start to make up songs and then they start to dance.

Angie: I’m sure other families do that, too.

Steve: They just create that new level of creativity in the environment that we didn’t expect and is totally random. [We] have to take a moment and really love it and embrace them in their willingness to do that. It’s never a dull moment. We just want to make sure that they remain creative in some way, that they keep trying to exercise their free-spirited nature and test the limits of their imagination.

Sierra’s not quite as verbal and outspoken as [the twins] are, but she does it visually, I guess. She’s always eager to learn. She’ll approach me with a lot of questions because she wants to know what’s going on. She has very good questions.

WACOAN: Do you have any advice on raising twins?

Angie: Like I said earlier, just getting them to understand early on that their actions have repercussions. One of my favorite mantras goes, ‘Happy mommy, happy baby. Happy baby, happy mommy.’

Definitely be present in the moment and enjoy it all. Get as much sleep as you can before [they are born]. I think that was the hardest part. Steve works from 3 p.m. to 11 p.m., so the hard part was putting them to sleep at night by myself. Of course, I had Sierra, but she was only 7. She could only do so much because she was tired and had to go to school. She was used to her routine, and that kind of disrupted that also. It was a little chaotic for a few months until we got them to settle down.

WACOAN: Do you have other family in Waco?

Angie: Oh yes. My parents, his mom.

Steve: Yeah, I have three sisters, and two of them live here in the city, and my mom lives with one of them.

Angie: My dad is actually from Waco. And they’re more into sports. My side is more into art.

WACOAN: Angie, you said you were from Hawaii. Is that where you were born?

Angie: I was born in Hawaii. My mom is actually Filipino. She was raised in Hawaii, so I was born there. My dad was from Waco. When he was in the Marine Corps, he went to Hawaii, married my mom, and eventually they had me.

Then we moved to Virginia. It was on a military base, so it was all safe. It was three years that I ran around in the woods. That was one thing I remember as a child was being free and being able to explore around. I guess I was [Sierra’s] age, about 10, when we moved here.

It’s just that earthy freedom that I had at a younger, impressionable age that I try to help [my children] connect to nature in the middle of Waco. You can ground yourself; you can go outside and walk and do that grounding. We’ve taken them on a hike in Cameron Park. We’ve only done it once so far because they’re finally to the age where they don’t need to be carried a lot. We’d only gone halfway into it, and they just kept going. It was so natural for them to [say,] ‘Oh, let’s go this way! Let’s go that way!’ and I was like, ‘OK, it’s time to go! It’s getting dark.’ It was fun to see myself in them going through the woods.

Steve: As far as raising twins, you have to be aware of their energy. Know who they are, as they are an extension of yourself. You have to be aware of their energies as well as your own. There are times when if I know Angie’s at a low point, I have to be at a high point and vice versa. It goes the same for them, knowing their energy and their personality and how you can address it for their particular needs.

They may be identical twins, but they are complete opposites as people.

Angie: Mina [Arimina] wants long hair, like me and Sierra. Lena wants her hair short. In the morning she’ll roll up her pants. Mina knows exactly what she wants to wear. This one [Lena] is like, ‘OK, whatever.’ [It’s a] little harder to dress Mina. She’s a little more particular. Lena’s like, ‘OK, that’s fine. That’ll work.’ So, laid-back, and not so laid-back.

When I found out I was pregnant with twins, I had no idea. The lady who did the ultrasound said, ‘I thought I saw three, but don’t worry, there’s two.’ And I was like, ‘Two what? Tumors? Ulcers? What?’ and she was like, ‘No, just babies.’ And I was like, ‘Oh, my gosh! Babies? At one time? Oh, no!’

They ended up developing TTTS, Twin to Twin Transfusion Syndrome. It’s pretty rare. There’s nothing I could have done or [the doctors] could have done differently. It’s just the way [the babies] started to develop inside the uterus and inside the actual placenta. Lena was getting the very vibrant side of it. The way her umbilical cord was attached was very strong. Mina, even though they were developing at the same pace, about 20 weeks, that’s when they found out they had developed TTTS because at that point you could definitely see a significant size difference. Lena was getting all of the blood and all of the nutrients, and Mina was shutting down. I would go through more detail, but it was traumatic.

Steve: It was a very life-threatening experience. It was very, very close.

Angie: I wasn’t supposed to have surgery until Tuesday. I got to Houston on Monday, and they were like, ‘Don’t eat anything. Come back at noon. We’re going to do surgery today.’ Because Mina was already at a stage 4 out of 5, and Lena was at a stage 3, and what that means is that one would end up taking the other out.

Steve: It’s a wonder they’re here today.

WACOAN: How early were they born?

Angie: They were born at 28 weeks. That’s two and a half months early. Mina came out first. She was 2.2, two pounds, two ounces. And Lena was 2 pounds, 10 ounces.

It’s hard to get mad at them. It really is, knowing that.

Steve: They are so strong.

Angie: They are very strong. Arimina Taliah means ‘warrior lamb.’ Auralena Talim means ‘golden peace.’ She just happens to be the more laid-back one, and that one [Mina’s] my warrior, fighting everything. I’m trying to remind her that a warrior stands for what is right and the truth and the values of leading by example. Sierra actually named her Arimina, and it’s already the description, that vibe that resounds in her, in who she is. To me that’s just amazing.

Now that they’re getting older we can see this. Without even reminding them, they already reflect [their names]. In addition, our words are very powerful, and our thoughts are very powerful.

WACOAN: Tell me more about Sierra, your oldest.

Steve: I think at some point [Sierra] will be as talkative as we can be.

Angie: She definitely reflects me. Sierra was obviously an only child for six whole years. By the time she was 7, we had the twins. I have to say, we didn’t plan to have twins. We just wanted to have another one, but [we were] not ever expecting twins. It was natural. We didn’t have in vitro [fertilization] or anything like that. I say words are very powerful because you have to watch what you wish for. Sometimes the universe actually grants them for you.

For Sierra, she’s such an amazing kid. Every month I can literally see the light bulb turning on brighter and brighter. I just wanted her to have that experience of being an older sister. She’s a stellar, stellar big sister. She’s very patient with the girls, always been hands-on, not one who’s felt like she’s been neglected. She’s just amazing all around.

WACOAN: Are there any other activities or organizations that you guys are a part of or that the girls are in?

Angie: Not at this time. Sierra used to go to gymnastics at Texas Dynasty [Cheer & Gymnastics], which she loved but decided to get out of, and [the twins are] not in anything yet.

Steve: It gets very difficult at times because we can get spread thin and we’ll have these moments of weakness, but then suddenly someone will come out of nowhere, or suddenly someone will come into contact with us, or we’ll get a call and they begin to reassure us that what we’re doing and trying to create in this community for Waco that has an interesting, familiar family feel. It becomes reassuring to us and helps us re-energize and come back from that low point that we were experiencing. From whatever it was that generated that negative feeling, we have someone who comes about and helps us back up.

Angie: It’s just fun getting involved in the community as a whole. I wasn’t trained. I don’t consider myself a professional at all, but when you create something — whether it’s children or a piece of work on what or whatever — it’s another part of your mind that you’re tapping into.