Women of Interest

By Kathleen Seaman

Three women leave their mark on Waco’s local culture

Pictured: Photos by Taylor Nicole, taylornicolephoto.com

With Waco on the cusp of defining its own unique culture, it’s an exciting time to live and work in our city. Countless organizations, businesses and individuals are responsible for the current renaissance, including these three women. Rebekah Hagman is a Waco transplant and the owner of an art gallery, community space and event venue that’s dedicated to cultivating local artists. An up-and-coming singer-songwriter, Lauren January views her art as a vehicle for connecting with others and providing hopeful messages of humanity. Waco native Kennedy Sam is a marketing professional who’s excited to do her part to foster a creative environment for Waco’s artists. The dreamer, the artist and the supporter, they each serve different — but equally important — roles in Waco’s art scene.

The Dreamer
Rebekah Hagman
Owner, Cultivate 7twelve

Q: How did you end up in Waco?
A: My husband, Jeremy, and I moved here July of 2017 from Southern California. We looked at a number of different cities in the U.S. and chose Waco because of its population, its growth trajectory and really more just because we felt like this was the right place for us. We liked the idea of the Texas cultural experience. Then, the more I was reading about Waco, I just felt like there’s such rich cultural soil here. Waco’s been the nexus of things multiple times across its history. I think we both had a sense that there was something happening here that we wanted to be a part of.

Q: Once you got here, what was your game plan for engaging in the local culture?
A: We moved here with the idea that we wanted to impact the culture in a positive way and see what needs were around us and kind of meet those needs. We spent a couple of months here with no real certainty about what we were going to do in that way.
I always had a dream of having a community space that would work as a community center, like a hub for community, and also just facilitate relationships.
So we saw all these cool old buildings, and we thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be really great to have an event center that also houses the artists?’ We were meeting local artists at the same time who didn’t have a place to show their work.
We started to have this dream, just the two of us, and I’m like, ‘Well, what would it look like to open an event center and feature local artists and create something kind of beautiful that people could experience? Create memories in [a space] where the art would symbiotically help the events be more rich because they would create some communication fodder for connection?’ At the same time, I dreamed of having events because I’d been hosting nonprofit events for like a decade.
So, we were dreaming of that, and then we walked into the Waco 52 pop-up, which was a program of Creative Waco, and they had utilized this building for just a one-month pop-up [art exhibition]. They had dinners and art downstairs and artists that work upstairs. It was kind of like we walked in and were like, ‘Oh, this is exactly what we’ve been talking about.’

Q: How do your expectations of Waco compare to the reality?
A: Texas summers are hilariously hot. I don’t even know what to do with myself. I really liked that in my first full summer I would casually say, ‘Well, I’m sure you get used to it.’ And everyone was like, ‘No, none of us get used to it. This is just the way it is.’ I guess I feel the same way as most Texans do. We all think it’s hella hot.
I’m thrilled to see how many Wacoans are buying Waco-based artists. It has way exceeded my expectations since the beginning. Not just the amount of art that’s purchased, but the amount of art that’s available and how prolific some of our artists are and how incredibly talented they are.

Q: What do you think the gallery is currently doing that’s successful?
A: We’ve set an expectation in the community that you can come here to have an experience that’s positive, where you get to encounter new creative work, like a good date night. I really like that our First Fridays have gone so well and that people come out regularly, ready to see a new show and hear live music and that there’s just a sense that this is a value add for the city.

Q: What are all the different business components of Cultivate 7twelve?
A: We have five businesses in this one building. We have our retail business, which is what I consider the front of house. Then we have our fine art gallery. Then we are landlords to our artists’ lofts upstairs and offices. Then our event business is actually the business that keeps us running. When people choose to have their wedding or their anniversary party or their corporate gathering here, that’s actually what helps sustain us.
The fifth part of our business is we did renovate our historic basement, and we have a private social club that we manage called Undercroft. It’s like a speakeasy space; it’s a BYOB social club. We offer the membership with the idea that it’s a space for you to feel comfortable and it be an extension of your own living room.

Q: Are all of the artists local? What do you consider local?
A: Generally, we want everyone to have a connection with Waco because our mission is to cultivate the arts and culture of Waco. I think that’s actually something we learned last year. We brought in this Banksy piece, and it was so exciting, but really, I naively had thought having an international piece in a show alongside local artists would elevate the local artists, but instead people came in and were blind to the exhibition. They only saw the [Banksy] piece. That’s OK. It’s nobody’s fault for being excited about seeing it. I’m glad that we have a city that’s able to culturally appreciate that it came, but it certainly wasn’t on mission for us in the end. I would definitely have done it again, like, love it. So glad it happened. But as we kind of drill down and work on [refining] ourselves this year, we really want to make sure that we’re staying true to our mission, which is to highlight Waco’s artists.


The Artist
Lauren January
Singer-songwriter & ER nurse

Q: When did you start singing and writing your own songs?
A: I think the first song I ever wrote I was in seventh grade, and I remember I was on the bus coming back from a volleyball game. I’ve been singing since I was like 8. It didn’t always sound good, but I’ve found that your voice is like any other muscle — the more you sing, the better you get, the more control you have.
Only in the last few years have I really begun to take my own songwriting seriously. I hope to get an EP out this year. I play usually like six shows a month. I’ve played a few gigs in surrounding cities, mostly Waco. I’m teaching beginner vocal and beginner guitar lessons at [Barnard Music] studio as well.

Q: You’re also a nurse though, right?
A: I’m an [emergency room] nurse, and for about seven years now, I’ve modified that to do more of the art. I went from strictly ER at a local hospital to doing travel nursing. Now, I’m only working part time in the ER here [at Providence Hospital].

Q: Why did you pursue a career as a nurse instead of singing?
A: I kind of shelved [singing] to do more responsible things.
I think fear and different things like that kept me at bay there, but now I’m going full in the direction of actually pursuing this. It’s nice to have a career though so that I can let the art take its own shape without relying on that for money.

Q: What genre of music do you perform?
A: I’d say Americana. It’s a mixture of country and blues. I really like the blues.

Q: Who are some of the musicians that have influenced you?
A: Whenever I was younger, all I was exposed to was radio, so it was big-time ’90s country: Shania Twain, Faith Hill. And then Miranda Lambert came along, and she was a powerhouse. Townes Van Zandt, he would definitely be one, as a writer.
I look to certain people for influence in how they perform or how they interpret songs and then others for how they write. I’ve recently been listening to James Taylor. I’m just learning that you can really tell a story, and rather than romanticize nightlife and booze and adultery, maybe you can influence somebody’s life to be better.

Q: Do you have a routine that you follow for practicing or writing?
A: That has been the challenge right now, but trying to get up and have coffee and do some writing. The goal is to write every day and to put my hands on my instrument every day and playing as often as possible.

Q: How do you market yourself and get your name out there and book gigs?
A: It’s been word of mouth or connections that I’ve made because I’m a Waco native. At this point [in Waco], they will call me because they know me. Until I have a video or some type of press kit or a website where they can go and hear my songs, then you can’t just go play Austin, Fort Worth, wherever.
The goal is to have a demo recorded. We’re getting a few songs and then building a website. Everything is right there, so as soon as this step is done, there is no reason that I shouldn’t be able to book anywhere that I wanted in Texas within the year.


The Supporter
Kennedy Sam
Director of marketing & communications, Creative Waco

Q: How long have you worked for Creative Waco?
A: I actually started with Creative Waco in January of this year, so I’m still freshly minted. I grew up in Waco. We moved here when I was 5, so I have such strong ties to this community. I graduated from Waco High in 2014 and went to [Louisiana State University] to study mass communications. I graduated in May [2018].
My mom, who is pretty active in the community, was at an event, and she ran into Rae Jefferson who was the [former] director of communications for Creative Waco. Before my mom had met with Rae, I knew nothing about Creative Waco or really what was going on in Waco since I had been gone for four years. But it was kind of just like a lightbulb. Something just went off, and I was like, ‘This is perfect for me.’

Q: What was it about Creative Waco that made you think it would be a good fit?
A: Not only do I have roots here in Waco, but I also have roots in south Louisiana. My dad is from New Orleans, so I’ve always been around creative culture. It’s something that I really appreciate, and to work with Creative Waco, which is basically trying to develop Waco as a cultural hub, really just resonated with me and all the things that I love.

Q: What is a typical day like for you?
A: My schedule is awesome. Most of the time, during the week, I’m running around the city attending different meetings, whether it’s for City Center Waco, 1000 Friends of Waco, and then just planning out what’s going on with our various programs.
Our main thing is just to highlight local artists and showcase whatever they have going on. So right now on social media we do weekly artist highlights. Day-to-day, I spend most of my time developing social media plans, creating marketing collateral, and just making sure that people can look to us and we have the correct information about all of the important cultural and artistic events coming up.

Q: Do you have a background in the arts?
A: I wouldn’t consider myself an artist. I can’t paint, I can’t draw, I can’t do any music, but I am a creative. That’s something my mom and my family instilled in me from a young age. My time at LSU really helped to foster my creativity. I do more graphic design and branding, so I would consider myself more to be creative and not an artist, per se.

Q: At your job so far, what are some of the cool things you’ve been exposed to or gotten to experience?
A: During the four years that I was away in college, I really didn’t know much about what was going on in town. It’s been nice to kind of relearn everything that’s going on in Waco. I’ve been able to connect with so many organizations, like City Center, that have just opened my eyes to the possibilities and the direction that Waco is going.
I’m still pretty new, but we’re doing so much right now. We have so many programs that are in the works. Our main focus is to just grow Waco as a culture hub and do the best that we can to support local artists, support local arts venues or programs, and to help foster the traits of a creative environment so they can thrive and make a living as an artist.