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SPARC dedicates new building to John Robert Powell

Jason Mraz performed a new original song written in honor of his grandfather, John Robert Powell.

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SPARC (School of the Performing Arts in the Richmond Community) for 35 years has provided a stage for young people to be introduced to and perfect skills in the performing arts. Professionals work with SPARC throughout the year to produce an array of classes, workshops, camps, productions and other programs that serve the diverse youth population of Richmond. You haven’t really lived until you’ve seen your child on stage with a group of pre-schoolers all singing their tiny adorable hearts out.

Live Art - Photo Credit: Tom Topinka

Live Art – Photo Credit: Tom Topinka

Previously these performances and classes were brought to life in rented or borrowed facilities. That has all changed with today’s dedication of the John Robert Powell Center  and completion of their first capital fundraising campaign.

SPARC Executive Director, Ryan Ripperton said, “For almost 35 years, SPARC relied primarily on borrowed and rented spaces. Now we can serve 120 students simultaneously onsite at SPARC, in addition to the hundreds of students that we serve offsite at partner organizations.” Ripperton adds, “In addition to allowing this building expansion, the campaign increased our community outreach by expanding STAGES, our in-school arts education program, serving over 500 public school students in underserved neighborhoods. The campaign also aided in preparing the launch our innovative, award-winning inclusion program, LIVE ART.”

The John Robert Powell Center is the centerpiece of a capital campaign that has raised over $6 million since its start in April 2008. The funds raised have been designated to expand and improve the facilities on the SPARC campus including the purchase of the two-acre, two-building property; creation of three instructional studios; the creation of a 100-seat state-of-the-art black-box theater and two theater tech areas (lights/sound and carpentry). In addition to expanded instructional space, the campaign has allowed SPARC to ensure full accessibility to all spaces for students and guests with disabilities; protect the safety of students with upgraded exterior drop-off and pick-up locations; increase office capacity and efficiency by bringing over 60 adjunct faculty and staff together for creative workspace; and established a general endowment fund to support new performing arts education initiatives and ensure that no child is denied the opportunity for a SPARC experience because of an inability to afford tuition.

The building was dedicated to John Robert Powell (1931-1990), Richmond businessman and grandfather of SPARC alumnus Jason Mraz. Jason Mraz was in attendance at the ceremony and performed a new original song written in honor of his grandfather.

Mraz said “At the time of his passing in 1990 at the premature age of 59, my grandfather was reading You Can’t Afford the Luxury of a Negative Thought by John-Roger and Peter McWilliams. A quote he had marked in that book reads, ‘I want death to find me planting my cabbages.’ My grandfather’s legacy to those who follow him is the optimism, generosity, and selflessness with which he lived. Were he here today he would not desire to be in the spotlight, but he would be ’planting cabbages‘ here at SPARC. His exemplary life serves as a champion for the students, their families, the staff, the teachers, the volunteers, and for the Greater Richmond community that is SPARC.”

SPARC is located at 2106 N Hamilton Street and information about classes or how to donate and insure that their wonderful work continues can be found on their website.

Full Press Release:

SPARC (School of the Performing Arts in the Richmond Community) announced the success of their first capital fundraising campaign (“SPARC’s Vision for the Future”) and dedicated their newly renovated building on its performing arts campus in memory of John Robert Powell during a ceremony on Friday, October 21, 2016. John Robert Powell (1931-1990), Richmond businessman and grandfather of SPARC alumnus and Grammy Award winning singer-songwriter Jason Mraz, was noted at the ceremony as a dedicated family man and committed community volunteer with an inspiring optimistic outlook that lifted up those around him.

SPARC Executive Director, Ryan Ripperton said, “For almost 35 years, SPARC relied primarily on borrowed and rented spaces. Now we can serve 120 students simultaneously onsite at SPARC, in addition to the hundreds of students that we serve offsite at partner organizations.” Ripperton adds, “In addition to allowing this building expansion, the campaign increased our community outreach by expanding STAGES, our in-school arts education program, serving over 500 public school students in underserved neighborhoods. The campaign also aided in preparing the launch our innovative, award-winning inclusion program, LIVE ART.”

The John Robert Powell Center is the centerpiece of a capital campaign that has raised over $6 million since its start in April 2008. The funds raised have been designated to expand and improve the facilities on the SPARC campus including the purchase of the two-acre, two-building property; creation of three instructional studios; the creation of a 100-seat state-of-the-art black-box theater and two theater tech areas (lights/sound and carpentry). In addition to expanded instructional space, the campaign has allowed SPARC to ensure full accessibility to all spaces for students and guests with disabilities; protect the safety of students with upgraded exterior drop-off and pick-up locations; increase office capacity and efficiency by bringing over 60 adjunct faculty and staff together for creative workspace; and established a general endowment fund to support new performing arts education initiatives and ensure that no child is denied the opportunity for a SPARC experience because of an inability to afford tuition.

The community-wide campaign was supported by over 150 individual donors, corporations and foundations, including noted gifts from Kathie and Steve Markel, Jason Mraz, Neil and Sara Belle November, Robert G. Cabell, III and Maude Morgan Cabell Foundation, E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Foundation, Rejena Carreras, True Farr Luck, Mary Morton Parsons Foundation, and Pauley Family Foundation.

Ripperton notes, “Through the course of this campaign, many families and organizations have helped SPARC transform to meet the needs of our students and community. Through the purchase, expansion, and dedication of our facilities; to the staggering growth of our outreach initiatives; to the establishment of an endowment to ensure SPARC’s service for the next generation — this community has sent a clear message. SPARC profoundly influences students’ lives and is a vital part of what is making Richmond a great place to live, work, and play.”

A highlight of the ceremony included remarks and a performance by Jason Mraz of a new original song written in honor of his grandfather, John Robert Powell. Mraz said “At the time of his passing in 1990 at the premature age of 59, my grandfather was reading You Can’t Afford the Luxury of a Negative Thought by John-Roger and Peter McWilliams. A quote he had marked in that book reads, ‘I want death to find me planting my cabbages.’ My grandfather’s legacy to those who follow him is the optimism, generosity, and selflessness with which he lived. Were he here today he would not desire to be in the spotlight, but he would be ’planting cabbages‘ here at SPARC. His exemplary life serves as a champion for the students, their families, the staff, the teachers, the volunteers, and for the Greater Richmond community that is SPARC.”

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Richard Hayes is the co-founder of RVAHub. When he isn't rounding up neighborhood news, he's likely watching soccer or chasing down the latest and greatest board game.