In a converted Sears distribution center in the Southside on Lamar building, families can now visit the creative learning wonderland called SPARK on Saturdays.
For the past year, SPARK’s 11,000 square-foot facility — with its indoor playground, arts and crafts studios, giant Lite-Brite, music studios, stage, and Lego creation area — has been open only for scheduled field trips, events, workshops, and summer camps, co-founder and CEO of SPARK Beverly Davis said.
The aim: to foster future generations of arts and culture “appreciators and patrons” by teaching the creative process in a fun and interactive way.
“There’s a lot of perceived risk in here,” Davis said. “After this play … after pushing themselves and overcoming fears, we bring them together for their classes and we push them in developing their creativity. … It’s really cool to watch.”
Each visit to SPARK centers around “play time.” Reminders of the building’s industrial past have been transformed into creative installations visitors can climb over, crawl through, and jump on to get their creative juices flowing before art classes.
A giant hole in the wall near the ceiling of one room was turned into a porthole entrance for the helm of a grounded ship called the “Seas the Moment.”
“The kids get in there and we hear: ‘Full steam ahead!’ and ‘Abandon ship!’ And the other day we heard a young man say, ‘We’re off to Antarctica to visit our brethren the penguins,’” Davis said.
From the start, visitors are surrounded by art. From the ship’s deck, kids can peer into the depths of the ocean — painted on the concrete floor by local artist Rolando Diaz — or up into the far reaches of outer space (an installation that starts on the perpendicular wall and slowly inches its way onto the ceiling).
“We’re always kind of working on something around here,” Davis said. “We like to have a lot of local artists, but we also like to have children in the community [add to the space], so if you look at the columns, these butterflies are made out of recycled cans and painted with Sharpie markers.”
A climb through the ship’s porthole will take you to a room filled mostly by a steel “climb and crawl” slide sculpture, that looks like the Tim Burton version of a Chuck E. Cheese plastic play-land. Visitors can take a topsy-turvy trip down a two-story spiral slide with a garden adhered to its underside or crawl through a giant spider web lofted high in the air.
“My vision is that [one day] this is really going to be in use from probably 7 a.m. to about 2 or 3 a.m.,” said Davis.