The Grackle

Observations, Reflections and Miscellany from the Wacoan

Mosaic of an Art Scene

Four major art galleries keep the Waco art community alive

1 year ago

By Avery Ballmann

One of the reasons why I love Waco is the art scene. Growing up in Waco, I have watched the art community flourish. I would be downtown and notice a new mural pop up or read about local art in the news or at community events. Waco’s art scene has grown immensely over the last few years and is home to several art galleries including Art Center Waco, Martin Museum of Art, Susan L. Sistrunk Fine Arts Gallery and Cultivate 7Twelve. Each gallery offers unique qualities but all fit into the Waco art scene like mosaic tiles. These art galleries allow local artists to showcase their works to the community but also feature artists outside of Waco.

Photos by Breanne Johnson Photography and courtesy of Susan L. Sistrunk Fine Arts Gallery

Susan L. Sistrunk Fine Arts Gallery

Susan Sistrunk, owner of Susan L. Sistrunk Fine Arts Gallery located on 2120 Washington Avenue, used to paint in her kitchen for years. Being an artist in Waco since 2015, Sistrunk said she struggled to find a place to display her art — she needed a home for her art and for herself. Sistrunk purchased a house built in 1910 with black and white tiled floors and dark wood panel walls and turned it into both her home and art gallery.

“I think it gives a sense of comfort to the community to know, they’re not just walking into your business,” Sistrunk said. “They’re walking into your home and you’re sharing it with them.”

The gallery has hours like any other business, Thursday and Friday from 1–6 p.m. and Saturday 11 a.m.–4 p.m. Sistrunk’s front room is for art classes, with each class holding 10 to 15 people and is accompanied by her homemade specialty drink, sangria.

Susan L. Sistrunk Fine Arts Gallery opened in 2019 and features local artists, with a maximum radius of 150 miles. Sistrunk said since the gallery opened, it has sold 550 paintings, not including prints or other merchandise. Sistrunk opened her home to other artists as her way of paying it forward to the art community.

“I’ve been in Waco for a long time and finding a place to showcase my art was a painstaking process,” Sistrunk said. “To be able to offer that experience to another artist, why would I not do that?”

Cultivate 7Twelve

Cultivate 7Twelve, located on 712 Austin Avenue, is a community-run gallery with a plethora of events to go along with it. What makes this gallery unique is that it is a 65/35 split; 65 percent of the proceeds go back into the artist’s pocket.

“We want to be there for our community, because they’ve been there for us,” Debbie Wright, director of Cultivate 7Twelve said.

The gallery operates on open submission; artists can go online, submit their work and wait to be approved and featured in the gallery at no cost. Cultivate’s main gallery is booked until February of 2024 with local artists and their exhibits.

“We do a little bit of everything, but mainly we are a gallery, of course,” Wright said. “We’re featuring our artists, and then we have all the fun stuff that’s going on as well.”

Cultivate 7Twelve offers a wide array of events such as life drawing classes, yoga, children’s story time and an underground speakeasy. Wright said Cultivate wants to continue to grow regarding classes and featuring local artists.

“This building has just really been a community center for the arts and our mission is to be the downtown hub for art,” Wright said. “We want people coming in from out of town, people coming in for Baylor, we want people coming in in our community to see the space and showcase local artists.”

Martin Museum of Art

The Martin Museum of Art is different in the aspect that it also serves as a museum and is located on Baylor’s campus at 60 Baylor Avenue. Though the museum is located at Baylor, it’s still free and open to the public and is for all ages, Elisa Crowder, education coordinator said.

“My goal is for people to come away with an appreciation for what they have seen and to have learned something new that day,” Crowder said. “Sometimes, people are fearful of art and walking into a museum.”

As the education coordinator, Crowder designs and writes tours for students and visitors. The museum has three galleries separated by white walls and differing lighting, but exhibit size determines how the rooms will be used. Crowder said the museum hosts six to eight exhibits a year ranging from student and faculty artists and collection items.

“Our collection actually began back in 1962 with just a few pieces, and a dream to someday have a museum,” Crowder said.

This dream was realized in 1981 and the collection has since grown to 1,500 works of art. The museum has also shared its art with other galleries such as Art Center Waco. The current exhibit “it “Jason Bly: Curriculum for a Better Tomorrow” and the Baylor Art Student Exhibition.

Martin Museum’s piece of the mosaic of the Waco art community is education and history in the art world. Each art exhibit is complemented with art history to engage the community and expand our horizons.

Art Center Waco

Art Center Waco, located on 701 South 8th Street, has finally settled into its new location. After structural issues forced Art Center Waco to leave its previous home on McLennan Community College’s campus in 2017, the art community stretched out a helping hand. Cultivate 7Twelve housed Art Center Waco on its second floor until the new building opened.

Interim Executive Director of Art Center Waco, Kathy Reid said she remembers seeing on the news Waco’s push for a creative arts district, and shrugging the idea off; “what art?” Now she sees art all around Waco, just like I did, and she sees the advantages of having the other galleries.

“We’re still small enough that we can’t help but work together,” Reid said. “The pool is big enough that we don’t have to be cutthroat and competitive and try to outdo each other. We can instead collaborate.”

With the new location, the gallery can host exhibits varying in size and diversity since the building is structured with four different viewing rooms. Reid said Art Center Waco aims to host four to five major exhibits per year and have smaller ones in the in-between. Not only can visitors view the exhibits for free, but there are also many art classes offered to the public.

“Our main mission is art education. This organization from 50 years ago was doing classes for adults and children, and that’s still a huge part of what we do,” Reid said.

Classes include various types of art mediums taught by local artists, such as Susan Sistrunk. Art Center Waco also offers kids camps during the summer and hopes to expand these into the winter.

Art Center Waco is coming up on its 50th anniversary and its current exhibit includes pieces from a collection of watercolor paintings by Illinois artist, Nancy Fortunato.

Visit and experience Waco’s art scene

When speaking with the different galleries, I found them talking about one another naturally; how they collaborate or how they enjoy what the other one offers. In all these establishments, they are driven by art education, whether that be with classes or by sharing knowledge with visitors. Waco has an art scene that is rapidly developing and it’s important to take notice of it. I once kept my head down and out of the art scene because I thought Waco didn’t have it, but I encourage you to look up and take a glance around.