Creativity. Knowledge. Imagination. Spark Central is helping achieve these lofty and artistic goals in Spokane through a variety of classes and programs offered free to children.
The nonprofit is the result of a marriage between the education-focused Spark Center and INK Art Space co-founded by noted local author and reporter Jess Walter.
Spark Center was founded in part by Jim and Joe Frank of Greenstone Homes, which developed Kendall Yards.
“It was Jim’s vision to bring West Central and Kendall Yards together,” Walter said. “It turned out to be a great fit.”
The groups have been working together under the name Spark Central since 2016.
Spark Central Station, as the donated space, at 1214 W. Summit Pkwy., is known, is open to all from noon to 7 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. There’s a small library, art supplies galore, tables for creating and inventing and more.
“We flex, depending on needs,” said Spark executive director Brooke Matson. “Basically, our goal is to be a space where kids can access 24th century technology.”
One of the programs run by Spark Central at Audubon and Holmes elementary schools is called Level Up. It was created during the pandemic as students were struggling with online learning, Matson said. It brought small groups together to work on art and other projects.
“The program was initially to help kids end their school day together,” she said.
The groups of about 15 students at each school now meet twice a week. The groups decide what clubs they want to have, whether it’s newspaper writing, Minecraft, science, robotics or painting. “We want to grow the program, but we need more volunteers to do so,” Matson said. “There’s a lot of kids who get a lot of enrichment opportunities. Our goal is to catch the kids who don’t have or can’t afford those opportunities.”
There are also a variety of programs offered that change every month. Currently, there’s a Minecraft Club for grades 3-8 every Friday and drop-in workshops for computer coding, writing and drawing. April includes tabletop roleplaying game sessions, a drop-in for parents and kids and a family night. There are also programs for younger children, including creative play for preschoolers on the second and fourth Tuesdays in April from 1 to 2 p.m.
There’s no cost for anything Spark Central offers. Even memberships are free. Everyone should be able to create the future they want, Walter said.
“Your family not affording it shouldn’t be an impediment,” he said. “It felt like schools couldn’t even afford to offer some of these programs.”
Since the programs and summer camps are free, Spark Central depends on sponsorships and donations to survive.
Spark Central’s 6th Annual Salon, its biggest fundraiser of the year, is coming up April 15 at the Knitting Factory. The annual event is a gathering of artists of all types, including musicians and writers. One of the headliners is Pika Pika Dreamwolves, a band that formed during the August 2020 Girls Rock Lab camp.
The schedule also includes T.S. The Solution, DJ Spicy Ketchup, Atari Ferrari, Madeline McNeil, Olivia Brownlee and Starlight Motel. There will be video appearances by Myles Kennedy, a solo musician who has also performed with Alter Bridge and Slash, and musician Allen Stone. Jeanne Bourgeois, assistant concertmaster with the Spokane Symphony Orchestra, and Stephen Swanson, a double bassist for the Spokane Symphony, will appear in person.
Spark Central’s annual Creative Power Award will be given to musician Liz Rognes, who founded Girls Rock Lab. She’ll be interviewed on stage by Walter. There will also be signed books available from more than a dozen local authors, including Walter, Shawn Vestal, Sharma Shields and Chelsea Martin.
The event will also offer a culinary tour of the United States with skewered cheese stuffed meatballs from Chicago, Nashville hot chicken sliders, barbecue brisket cornbread canapes from Austin, Texas, New York cheesecake, smoked salmon cheese puffs from Seattle, carnitas tostadas from Los Angeles and more.
The fundraiser also includes an auction, with items up for bid including tickets to the musical “Hamilton” and dinners at local restaurants. In what has become an annual tradition, Walter will sign a box of Ding Dong treats and put it up for auction. It raised as much as $1,500 one year. Walter said that in addition to the sugary treats, this year’s winner will get an early look at his newest book.
The evening will be hosted by Kiantha Duncan, president of the Spokane chapter of the NAACP, and musician Pat Simmons. Tickets are $125 and people can register at spark-central.org/spark-salon.
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