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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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A&E >  Art

Spark Central grew from creative ambitions to a Kendall Yards fixture

UPDATED: Wed., March 30, 2022

Jess Walter is the author of "The Cold Millions."  (Dan Pelle/The Spokesman-Review)
Jess Walter is the author of "The Cold Millions." (Dan Pelle/The Spokesman-Review)
By Jess Walter For The Spokesman-Review

The spark was lit one night in 2013 when a roomful of artists, writers and teachers gathered to talk about a bold new idea: a free arts tutoring center here in Spokane, a sort of creativity gymnasium, a tree fort of possibility.

Growing up in Spokane in the 1970s and ’80s, I had assumed I’d need to go to New York or Los Angeles (or at least Seattle) to chase my literary dreams. But in the room that night were successful poets, painters and performers, dozens of creative people eager to volunteer their time to show that art is where you make it.

This idea seemed especially vital in isolated Spokane, with its pockets of poverty, and with schools charged with improving basic skills forced to back away from teaching the arts. There was no shortage of places for kids to play basketball; why wasn’t there a place they could learn to build robots, or draw comic books?

Anyone who has ever written an organizational mission statement will understand the hubris of our first motto: “If it’s cool, let’s do it.”

Of course, there is never just a single flash of inspiration and the names of the talented people who have contributed to Spark Central’s growth and refinement over the years – volunteers, board members and staff – could fill this page. I wish I could list them all.

But Spark Central wouldn’t exist at all without the vision and generosity of Greenstone developer Jim Frank and his family, who wanted to build a “library of the twenty-first century” in West Central, a place that would knit together an economically diverse neighborhood.

Eventually, the two nonprofits merged, and under the leadership of Brooke Matson (one of the people in that room back in 2013) Spark’s innovative programs – broadened to include technology and other skills – have reached thousands of Spokane kids and adults, reducing the economic barriers to creativity and success.

In the last two years, the mission has broadened again, with Spark collaborating with Spokane Schools to help students “Level Up” by providing after-school tutoring and mentoring for kids isolated and left behind by the pandemic.

And a new motto has emerged for this unlikely organization built on old railroad land, at the crossroads of aspiration and opportunity. Spark Central Station: “You can go anywhere from here.”

Jess Walter is a Spokane author. His 10th book, “The Angel of Rome,” will be published June 28.

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