Fall Kick Off 2014!

Today marked the first day of WAI’s
14th season! We could not be more excited to announce our partnership with Community HealthCorps. Along with our Here and There project, HealthCorps members will be leading arts and health projects this semester to promote healthy lifestyles for our students! Waco Arts Initiative welcomes Naomi Dews as our new Program Coordinator, as well as the AmeriCorps team.


This afternoon, students gathered in the recently renovated art space to create collage stories on top of their sketch books. During the fall semester, WAI students will fill their books as they learn healthy habits and ways to care for themselves and their neighborhood.

Patrick Kolts Interview: Photography

#Here2There- 2nd Interview

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Photography is a visual medium that many attempt but few master. While portrait photographer, Patrick Kolts, would never consider himself a master of his craft, he is certainly on his way. Kolts’ images display a wide range of human emotions, capturing the small moments that make up life’s nuances. Whether taking a road trip across America or traveling to an orphanage in India, Kolts connects the viewer to the basic  experiences of being human.

Perhaps you have seen one of his images featured by major social media innovators like VSCOCam, Instagram and even Buzzfeed. Working with world renowned photographers such as Troy House and traveling the world taking pictures for various non profit organizations, Kolts seeks to tell larger stories. Rather than personal narratives, his interest lies in the way people live their lives as influenced by something beyond the mere individual experience.

When asked how he is able to capture a specific moment such as one that tells a larger story, Kolts described entering a posture of servanthood. Eliminating ego from the craft helps him enter more authentically into the lives of his clients. Kolts expounds, “I don’t draw too much attention to myself and so it makes people feel more comfortable.” He even admitted to telling lame jokes as a way of keeping things light hearted.

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Kolts turned to a picture of two children lying on the grass laughing. The picture was taken on a recent trip to India where he was working with an organization that ran an all girls orphanage. The photo captures a mundane circumstance yet portrays a human encounter of laughter and child-likeness experienced across cultures, races and economic situations.  “kids are kids no matter where they are,” Kolts expresses as he considers the subjects in his composition. He proceeds to describe his experience as a photographer on the trip, “the challenge was going and not creating a bunch of photos that would make people feel guilty but making photos that made people feel more at home.”

Making people feel more at home has defined his career ever since he began pursuing his trade. Kolts started his career in Iowa as a high-school student, taking senior pictures for his classmates. What originally drew him to the field was an interest for the camera as a machine. As an eleven year old boy, Kolts was fascinated with the look of the camera, the loading of film, the sound of the click, the winding back. It fulfilled a tactile curiosity.

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Kolts’ first camera, a Canon Rebel from the 70’s

Seventeen years later, Kolts finds himself ever-more intrigued by the process of photography. He learned a lot about photography as a career through his apprenticeship with the photographer previously mentioned above– Troy House– describing his example of generosity, hard work  and patience. When asked what defines his ethos as a photographer, he described one thing, “I want to glorify God.”

Scripture passage, James 1 describes true religion as, visiting, orphans and widows in their affliction…”, and through his work, he does just that. By serving with non-profit organizations who take care of orphans, single parents and the oppressed and telling stories of cultures and people groups, he seeks to share the beauty of God through his art.

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Kolts response to Waco Arts alum, Ari’s question: What kind of story would you write if it was going to be published all over the world?

Kolts  would create a tv show about working in the photo industry. During his time in New York he spent a lot of time assisting other photographers and has come across many different attitudes and personalities working with creative-people egos, “It would be the story of one guy getting started and all the different things he learned along the way….it would be more of a comedy.”

Kolts’ favorite things to take pictures of in NYC:

1. sub-way- People’s interaction with the big steel underground train as people ignore the chaos happening around them.
2. #Strideby- Where there is a still camera, capturing people passing through a particular frame.
3. Sun-spots- the way light is reflected off of buildings and onto the street

Kolts’ Question for Waco Arts Initiative Students:


Naomi Kazama Interview: Screen Printing

#HERE2THERE- 1st Interview
Naomi Kazama

Naomi Kazama, live screen printing artist from Tokyo travels the world spreading his message of responsible design and consumption through his “get small” ethos. What does he mean by get small? In congruence with companies such as Patagonia, Kazama believes that innovators should design and consumers should buy based on their relationship to rest of the world rather than personal progression. By using organic cotton or re-used clothing to print his designs, Kazama hopes to encourage people to think circular rather than linear.



According to Kazama, thinking circular is a way of understanding how individuals and choices are connected to the larger universal story. Linear thinking considers only the personal gain of the individual when making decisions. During our discussion, Kazama used the flushing toilet as an example of a linearly designed object. I eat, I process, I discard, I move on. A more circular invention is the compost toilet where I eat, I process, I return to the earth and live among nature not despite it. Kazama uses his medium of print-making to challenge the way engineers, artists, and designers think about invention.

Just as Kazama inspires others through his art, he was first inspired by spending time with street artist, Shepard Fairey early in his career. Fairey gave Kazama access to print making resources as he learned to develop his craft as a college student in San Diego. He honed his practice by trying and failing, “It’s like surfing. There is no way to learn how to surf. You just do it and you make mistake and from mistake you learn how to think about it. You create your own method to do live screen printing, to do surf, to do rock climbing or whatever.” Kazama’s process of learning through making mistakes undergirds the philosophy of his message and identity as an artist.


Kazama does his work under the name Big-O. When asked where the name comes from, he referred to the Shell Silverstein poem, The Missing Piece Meets the Big-O. The poem is the story of a missing piece trying to find an object to complete. The missing piece cannot seem to fit in anywhere despite how long or hard it tries. Finally the missing piece comes into contact with the big O and gains new and transformative perspective. Through a series of “lift, pull, flop(s),” the missing piece begins to see its value as a whole.

Silverstein’s poem not only shows the impact that written word can have on a person but also tells an analogous story to the one Kazama is trying to tell through his prints. Similar to the technique of artists such as Chuck Close, many of Kazama’s prints are full of small detailed shapes that come together, creating a larger design. Each detail is important to the overall contribution of the entire piece.

Kazama ends his interview by answering Waco Arts alum, Ari’s question,

What kind of story would you write if it was going to be published all over the world?”

Kazama explains that he would want to write the story of earth’s relationship to Venus, the planet of beauty. Through this narrative, he hopes to compel people to consider their relationship to the earth and each other, and begin thinking circularly rather than linear.

Here is Kazama’s question to our Waco Arts Initiative students:




From NYC to Waco

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Waco Arts Initiative is excited to launch #HERE2THERE, an artist exchange between New York City and our students in Waco. In order to amp up our supporters for WAI’s fall programs, we will conduct a series of interviews over the next 10 weeks, exhibiting talent from the Big Apple. Beginning September 2014, WAI students will learn about the creative work of these NYC artists as they create art projects alongside local Wacoans who specialize in the same medium.


Naomi Kazama “Big O”

This Thursday you will hear from #HERE2THERE’s first artist, Naomi Kazama who travels throughout America and Asia, using the art of print-making to spread the message of responsible consumption. Kazama’s interview is one of many which will serve as a prompt for our fall curriculum. At the end of each interview, WAI will record artists asking our students a question which the children will then answer through an art project, and in this case, print making! Are you stoked yet?!


Saayeh & Ari in 2012

To kick off #HERE2THERE, WAI asked Ari (name changed for privacy), one of our program alumni, to pose a question for artists.

“What kind of story would you write if it was going to be published all over the world?”

Ari was one of Waco Arts Initiatives first students. From 2nd to 4th grade she came to our programs consistently each day. Towards the end of 4th grade, Arica moved away from the neighborhood, but we have made sure to stay in touch.  Now in 7th grade, we asked Ari and her cousin to talk with us about the value of creative writing and art. READ our interview and LISTEN to an excerpt from our discussion on writing.




Bleeding Hearts

Did you change all your passwords?

…We did and it was about time. If you haven’t noticed, Waco Arts Initiative was off the radar this past spring semester as we took time to re-assess and re-vamp our programming.

Well we are back and have some exciting things in the works for summer involving a series of New York City artist talks launching in May. Talent involving comedians, song writers, storytellers and more will undergo an exclusive interview and each pose a question to our students in Waco. WAI students will answer each question through special art projects during WAI’s neighborhood programs in the fall. Our Art 2 Neighbor curriculum will focus on literacy and storytelling to get children excited about learning, imagining and creating during the school year.

Fall Sneak Peak:
Programming this fall will consist of three main programs, providing after-school art classes and workshops in schools and neighborhoods and  at local community centers around Waco. To get everyone excited about summer and fall, I (Grace Ladd) will host a community dinner at WAI’s South Waco Site on May 5th to talk about summer and fall plans with the families of South Terrace. If you would like to attend this event and perhaps cook a dish, email me at grace@wacoartsinitiative.org or Program Coordinator, Maggie Emerson at Maggie@wacoartsinitiative.org.

-Grace Ladd
(Founder & Director)


Week 4: A Halloween Celebration

This week, we took a small break from our very serious story writing schedule to turn our attention to more silly stories, of the Halloween kind. It was a fun week for the kids and now we are ready to get back to the grind with 3 more workshops! Not straying to far from what we learned in week 3, we took a look at classic Halloween songs from Thriller to The Addams Family and interpreted them visually. Then, on Halloween, we made puppets, ate candy, and made something for you!


These are our picture representations of Halloween song lyrics…

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These monsters stopped by to create their pictures!

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The Addams Family…a perfect visual story!

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The very proud artist!

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From the author of week 1’s “Michael Jackson” & “Michael Jackson 2″, a visual depiction of “Thriller.”

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Another “Thriller” illustration.

… and  our MONSTER puppets!

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After making our puppets, we created this special show for your enjoyment! We hope you like it!


Week 3: Visual Storytelling & “Circumstantial” Storytelling

For Week 3, we took a small break from writing to explore storytelling through the visual world.

On Tuesday & Wednesday, we created characters/puppets to use for a circumstantial storytelling circle. After creating our wacky puppets, we all gathered in a circle. On cards, there were 5 occasions at which people tell stories. When a card was flipped, you had to act as if your puppet/character is in that setting and change up the way you tell your story. The 5 settings/circumstances were:

  • Around a Campfire
  • At a Slumber Party
  • With a Few Friends
  • At Night with Your Family
  • At School/In Class


Due to rain and a drop in temperatures, we had low numbers this week, but that allowed each kid time to make even more puppets and work one on one with volunteers. On Thursday, our program coordinator, Maggie, served as the workshop leader for “Visual Storytelling.” We did two activities to showcase how visual art can be interpreted as story and how a story can inspire a piece of visual art.

First, we looked at 10 famous paintings. Each child picked one and then created a story to go with the painting. Vincent Van Gogh’s “Sunflowers” and Hokusai’s “The Great Wave” were the chosen works of art. Look below for the stories–we were very, very creative! During this activity, we were able to learn that each person who approaches a work of art understands and sees it differently. Sometimes people enjoy art and other times they do not. We also learned that everybody has different experiences that they have in mind when they see or read art.

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Van Gogh’s “Sunflowers” inspired this story from Xavier:

” These are my mom’s flowers. My brother, Andre, gave them to my mom to put in her garden. My mom’s garden is so big that the sunflowers are taller than her–and she is tall. She loves sunflowers because she is happy and the bright yellow color reminds her to always be happy. Andrew knew that buying the flowers would make her very happy.”


Hokusai’s “The Great Wave” inspired this story from Joitroian:
(Spelling has been corrected; grammar is verbatim.)

“It was a cold day in Georgia when the people on the boat was so cold that the bottom of the boat was frozen it was a boy named Nik Nik was very nice that when you come to his house he’ll give you treats. It was another boy named Zane he was very nice too until he died in 1998 he had a lot of family until they died in 1999. Zane died on the boat because he was hanging off and his other family died because they got shot by this boy named Dee.”

I am not confident that Van Gogh and Hokusai were thinking these stories when they were inspired to create their works, but they certainly might have been thinking the exact same thing.

Edited-12For our second “Visual Storytelling” Activity, the kids were read “Bread and Jam for Frances” without being able to see the pictures. When the story was over, they had to draw a picture that was inspired by the story. In the story, Frances goes to school everyday on the bus and this young artist’s work was inspired by that part of the story.


The Storytelling unit has been such fun so far! Reading can be so daunting for kids, and through this sequence of workshops and weekly programming, we hope to change how they think of the written word. Writing is yet another art form, and it can inspire visual art; and vice versa. We hope to not only be an afternoon of fun, but a resource for a love of learning, teaching that art is everywhere and we can create good and beautiful things in our worlds.

Week 2: Creative Writing

Week 2-8099After the success of our first week, we were excited to return with the theme of “creative writing” to see what these pint-size geniuses would come up with next. They certainly did not disappoint.

This week’s activity centered around the idea of picking 5 random drawings and creating a story line that seamlessly included all of them. To begin, our students listened to the example story from our Program Coordinater who crafted a story, using 1. Pencil & Paper 2. A Bike 3. Magic 4. Rain 5. People, titled Magical Millicent: The Creative Writer.

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After listening to the story, the students were asked questions about the plot, character, settings, and sequence of events. Each right answer would win them one of their 5 drawings. They had to close their eyes and draw from a bag so that it really was random! (The students, of course, complained about how hard it was not to choose the 5 easiest things; but 2 minutes later, they were enjoying themselves and writing fantastic books!) When the first student won his/her 5 pictures, the rest were able to receive theirs. On to the creative process!

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The students were cautioned to take time to think about the story line before gluing down each picture in order. Some heeded this advice while others had a trickier time later on weaving each thing into a story line with the next. As a special reward for doing a wonderful job, the tiny authors were allowed to paint their pictures in their books upon completion of a seamless tale.

On Thursday, we welcomed Luke Mitchell, a Baylor Grad student and lover of fine literature and writing, as our workshop leader. Luke had previously worked with WAI and returned with a great passion and several activities that allowed our students to venture into character creation, description, and dialogue.

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Side story: A Waco Arts MVP has surfaced. One of our newest students was mentioned within 10 minutes of each workshop leader’s arrival as a special gem. All of our students are truly gems, but this one shines incredibly bright. He is thoughtful, intelligent, and a good listener (the latter is my favorite quality of his–tough for kids to be that!) This kid is great! We really cannot wait to see what he does not only this year, but in the future!

Thursdays are such a highlight during our week. The students love meeting new people, and I know that (if not on Thursdays, someday…) they will appreciate what our workshop leaders offer them. We are so grateful for Luke! He presented creative writing in a kid-friendly way and was able to talk about a lot in a little time. Thank you so much for being our workshop leader!

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To see more pictures, visit the full Week 2 album here: https://www.facebook.com/waco.initiative/media_set?set=a.10202406584911635.1073741827.1403710930&type=3

Week 1: Storytelling 101

This past week, we launched for our 6th year of programming!

From our last blog post, you can tell that we struggled to decide what would be best for this year. But boy, oh boy did we figure it out.


On Monday, our program coordinator and her husband set out to tell everyone at South Terrace about our programming. In years past, we have focused on a group of students that were close to our apartment. This year, we wanted to expand to include more students from the housing complex. So, they took off on a ‘block walk,’ rolling up flyers to place by people’s door knobs and talking with those who were out. Seeing some familiar faces from last year certainly reignited the passion in our program coordinator. With the news out there, we returned the next day to see what would come of our efforts.

If you build it, they will come.

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Well, we built up anticipation through our flyers and we were not disappointed! Students we had never met before came first, with interested parents. Shortly after, our veteran WAI kids came to join! The same thing happened on Wednesday! On these days, we introduced this year’s curriculum through reading a story together, talking about its components, and then writing stories of our own. The work of the children was impressive! From Kindergarten up, they completely grasp what a story is. In the next weeks, we hope to continue to build on this foundation and explain the many different ways to share stories.

On Thursdays, we will be hosting ‘artist workshops.’ We bring in storytellers from the community to share about why they love stories, how they tell theirs, and tips on how the WAI students can do the same.


During our first week, we welcomed Jacob Robinson, local storyteller through film and written word, to share ‘Storytelling 101′ with the students. Jacob told our students about his favorite story, how to use anything as inspiration for a story, and tips on how to be a better writer—number one being: write everyday.

At the end of this workshop, the students were introduced to the idea that they are in the process of writing their own story. Biographies and autobiographies are the written stories of lives–as people lived, their actions wrote these stories. Our actions are part of our stories–they are our stories.

Not only are we able to share skills that will improve critical thinking skills (and hopefully school scores), but we are teaching life lessons. We cannot see what the rest of the year will hold for us!

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If you want to help or be a part of this amazing organization, contact maggie@wacoartsinitiative.org!

Be (more than) Content.

Today, we share our story, of all the dreaming we have undergone, the plans we’ve been hoping for, and our plan to forge ahead and make this year the best.

At the end of Spring, our founder and program coordinator spent their days dreaming up everything. From expanding to new neighborhoods and locations, to a new form of programming, to lots of minor and major details regarding WAI. We both wanted to have a bigger impact, and so we undertook to do this in a big way.

The plan was to take on Estella Maxey and Kate Ross and a few schools with an artist workshop program. It didn’t feel like a lot to organize or pull together. All we had to do was find artists with the time and flexibility to teach three classes for three afternoons in a row, and to schedule that with already existing programs  in the new neighborhoods. Piece of cake!

The plan didn’t take to action as easily as we hoped. And along the way, we learned some lessons.

Often when we are in “dream mode,” a case of tunnel vision sets in. We focus on our efforts, our plans, our goals, forgetting that the places where we want to go may already have great things going on, or that the people we hope to recruit may not have a schedule that fits with our plan. This was the case for us. Restoration Haven is a non profit focused on providing information and resources to those in the “at-risk” population; their office is housed at Estella Maxey. Likewise, several churches and organizations are doing great work at Kate Ross. We have been one of very few groups to reach out to South Terrace. Rather than just being content at one place, we need to be more than content, maximizing our effort and our ability and reaching out as much as we can to one place before moving on to others. Thus, we are staying and focusing on South Terrace this year, offering more resources and tailoring our program to different age groups.

As far as the artists for our workshops, we learned that asking a little is sometimes better than asking a lot. When we cast out our net the first time, we pulled in little response. We asked people to take off three afternoons a week for 2 hours (during a normal working schedule) to come, with supplies, to three different locations, with an activity prepared. If you got that email, would you respond? Our lofty dreams had us asking for more than what was reasonable. Especially for a ‘trial basis.’ With some reevaluation, we realized that asking less, asking what would be normally reasonable, is best.

When we factored in reality to our dreams, we were able to come up with something really great. Staying at South Terrace allows us to focus solely on a community, to invest deep, not wide, to work with families, not just students. This is much more exciting than hopping to three places each week. So are plan is to continue offering the visual arts that has characterized our program and gained much love from volunteers, and add one day of artist workshops for local artisans to come teach about writing in all its many forms. We also are hoping to work with parents on a bi-weekly basis offering classes and resources to them.

These are good and reasonable and wonderfully attainable dreams. We are more than content with what this semester is looking like. We still don’t have every detail worked into a finite schedule, but what we have are plans for small changes with big impact. Stay tuned!

To get involved this semester, contact Program Coordinator Maggie Griffin at maggie@wacoartsinitiative.org