Organization ignites creativity and illuminates the arts

By Morgan Owen

South Pasadena Arts Council President Sandy Kitto sits in SPARC’s gallery space, shared with the South Pasadena Chamber of Commerce. The exhibition “Slides and Lines” features solo artist Loran Calvin’s colorful work. “It’s not a big space, but the artists love it,” Kitto says.

That is part of SPARC’s charm. The volunteer-led nonprofit makes no claim to grandeur and instead focuses on bringing art directly to the streets of the South Pasadena community.

Community art projects

In 2015, SPARC started its Art Box Project, for which it commissioned South Pasadena artists to paint the city’s 30 electrical utility boxes in three years. 

The utility boxes feature imagery that reflects South Pasadena’s history and culture, ranging from Historic Route 66 to portraits of the city’s iconic wild parrots. 

SPARC puts a spotlight on South Pasadena’s artistic heritage, collaborating with the city to create more public art projects and advocating for more comprehensive arts funding. Their own funding comes largely from donations. South Pasadena, according to Kitto, is a very supportive community.

At the beginning of the pandemic, the city of South Pasadena and the South Pasadena Arts Commission requested SPARC elevate more than 1,000 square feet of K-rails along Mission Street with digitized paintings, photographs and poetry by established and emerging South Pasadena and Los Angeles artists.

For SPARC, putting a spotlight on art in South Pasadena also means focusing on music, poetry and spoken word. On October 12, SPARC will launch “Coffee Table Books Live,” which features author-artist performances and book signings. The inaugural event will feature well-known bass player Leeland Sklar.

Commitment to education

SPARC was founded in 2009 by Lissa Reynolds and a group of South Pasadena residents who were eager to preserve funding for the arts. As it has grown throughout the years, SPARC has maintained its commitment to supporting arts education.

Frequently, artwork from South Pasadena high school students is displayed in SPARC’s gallery. After “Slides and Lines” concludes, SPARC will display artwork from students who have advanced to the state level of the National PTA Reflections program, a student arts competition. This gives students the opportunity to learn what is required to participate in a gallery exhibition.

One important part of SPARC’s growth has been the ability to offer scholarship opportunities to high schoolers interested in the arts for the last three years. The first year, SPARC provided three $500 scholarships, but for the last two years it gave out four $1,000 scholarships.

This will also be SPARC’s second year providing an arts grant fund for elementary and middle school teachers to implement special projects in their classrooms. Kitto says she hopes now that schools have readjusted to in-person teaching, more teachers will utilize the fund.

Strength through the pandemic

While many businesses slowed down during the pandemic, SPARC was busier than ever. In addition to the K-Rail Art Wrap Project, it also hosted South Pasadena’s Christmas tree lighting and coordinated the funding and painting of a mural.

SPARC also strived to quickly reopen its gallery space as soon as restrictions were lifted. Because it was able to easily control the number of people in the building, its gallery was quickly reinstated as an exhibition space for artists to display their work.

After the crush of the pandemic, SPARC was a refreshing figure in the community that brought back the comfort of community and creativity. “When people weren’t comfortable going to a movie theater or a play, this was something close by in their community that they were comfortable to come and experience,” Kitto says. 

The Gallery Space: ‘Slides and Lines’

For the last eight years, SPARC has partnered with the South Pasadena Chamber of Commerce to open a gallery space for artists to display their work. Exhibitions cycle through once about every eight weeks and allow the public an opportunity to view the exhibition through an opening event and by appointment.

SPARC’s current exhibition is “Slides and Lines.” The artist, Loran Calvin, uses outdated slides to communicate a “shared past in which we are all similar, but also strange.” Her bright, linear works are impactful from a distance and poignant up close, with family portraits and beachside landscapes shining through each individual slide.

“SPARC’s support of local artists is a showcase for the incredibly talented artistic community and a defining part of what makes South Pasadena a special place to live,” Calvin says. “They do incredible work fostering a connection between our community as a whole and the artists who live (there).” 

As a lifelong appreciator of art, Kitto attests to the value SPARC’s gallery space has for the community at large. “Working with SPARC has exposed me to new things as well. Every time I walk in here, there’s a different impact. I’ve learned to come in and just let it speak to me.”

South Pasadena Arts Council Gallery, South Pasadena Chamber of Commerce

1121 Mission Street, South Pasadena