SPARC was born in a time of change – the 1970s. It has, since its inception, been a catalyst for social change through the arts and a home for artistic innovation. Being a catalyst has often meant handling the many currents that flow through historical events at the moment they are occurring and working outside of typical art venues in the places where people live and work.
SPARC is a facilitator – finding ways to tell richly textured stories that help community participants and artists achieve a measure of change and transformation. SPARC endeavors to communicate to the larger public – the means of communication may take many forms, from built architectural monuments, to murals or to new technological spaces such as the Internet. As with many organizations that articulate new visions and push the edges of content and aesthetics, SPARC is determined to be sustainable and relevant to the time we are living.
Since it was founded in 1976 by Chicana muralist and Distinguished UCLA Professor Judith F. Baca, Filmmaker/Director Donna Deitch, and Artist/Teacher Christina Schlesinger, SPARC’s artistic direction was formulated with the concept that the arts could be engaged with the most important issues of our time and that ordinary people/community members could be participants in the arts. SPARC chose to amplify the voices of those marginalized in our Los Angeles communities and to provide a new vision of what art could do: women, people of color, poor and working people, day laborers, youth, prisoners, etc became the focus in our programming. We believed, then as we do now, that art can exist in places where people live and work, therefore we are focused on a new “public art.” Our works are monuments that rise out of communities; memorializing what the people choose to remember.
Since 1976, we have taken the work to blighted streets in the inner city of Los Angeles and to concrete flood control channels; scars where our rivers once ran. We painted a 1/2-mile of the river with murals with 400 youth, built parks in vacant lots, hung photographic tapestries in senior citizens centers, and built sculptures for children to play on in vacant lots and produced hundreds of murals. Los Tres Grandes of Mexico, the popular culture of low riders, tattoos and political street writing, transformed by the aesthetics of each changing cultural group with whom we work, informed our sense of beauty and order. We continue to capture the rhythm of the streets in giant works that place an ethnic face on a city where a 129 languages are spoken in our schools but whose life and aesthetics are often not represented in the cities physical and aesthetic environments.
This concept, now more accepted, was radical in an era of “arts for arts sake” thought, during which we pioneered these aesthetic values. However, the need for our work has steadily grown with the massive demographic shifts affecting our city and country. Still today, no issue raised by a community is too difficult for us to approach with an artistic solution. In 1977, we opened the center with the ‘Jail House Break’ celebration and examined our own home, the former Venice Police Station and its historic use.