2014-2015 saw the continued advancement of SPARC’s mission in the community, with SPARC serving more than 2,300 students in our broad range of training and outreach programs for young people. But rather than focusing on quantity, we are far more focused on the quality of our programs, and we continue to hear from students, alumni, and parents that SPARC’s faculty members are having a profound influence on our students’ lives, which benefits them on the stage and in the broader life beyond.
2014-2015 also saw the preparations for, and the beginning of, a massive transformation of the SPARC Center. The capital campaign that began in 2008 with the purchase of the campus on North Hamilton Street has entered its final phase with the renovation to the heart of the facility. As many of you know, SPARC has been bursting at the seams for several years, with students and audiences jammed into tiny lobbies that were never intended for the volume of people now regularly visiting SPARC.
So in late July, demolition of the center of the building began, and eight months later we will have a modern, spacious facility that supports the educational needs of our broadly diverse student population. Three times as much studio teaching space, an enhanced technical theatre instructional space, new restrooms, and an elevator to our second floor will finally come into existence after several years of wishing and planning!
SPARC’s service to young people is due to the passion and commitment of donors, faculty, parents and grandparents, volunteers, and community leaders.
STAGES provides valuable performing arts education to socially disadvantaged youth in under-served communities and economically impacted neighborhoods, providing universal access to a vital discipline that they may not otherwise have the opportunity to explore. STAGES provides in-school performing arts education for 2nd and 3rd grade students in 8 schools in the City of Richmond and Henrico County. Two new schools identified for STAGES, Westover Hills Elementary School and Chimborazo Elementary School, reflect an average of 35% population below poverty level and a range of special challenges. STAGES integrates the experience of students, schools and communities with arts education that positively impacts academic achievement and life skills. STAGES operates on a forward funded budget of $130,000 from community contributions.
SPARC is $618,000 away from wrapping up a $6M campaign to set the trajectory for its future impact in the community. This campaign will provide for the permanent ownership of the SPARC Center, the addition of several instructional spaces accessible to people with disabilities.
Operating Support – Almost 60% of SPARC’s budget comes from contributions for purposes including outreach programs and financial aid.
Ryan Ripperton, Executive Director:
SPARC continues to deepen its community impact through the passionate and committed support of its constituents, including its families, students, donors, corporate supporters, friends, and neighbors. SPARC recognizes that performing arts education for our youth is not just about preparing them for the stage, but rather about setting the stage for life. Skills learned and fostered at SPARC have limitless real-world application and include confidence, self-expression, articulation, teamwork, and the value of continual practice/rehearsal. Time and time again, we meet adults who have taken SPARC classes years ago and who now can credit SPARC with helping them succeed in all their endeavors, including those beyond the performing arts.
Our partnership with area schools helps to fill a vital need in our community, providing unparalleled performing arts education to supplement the classroom curriculum, and aids these schools in fulfilling the Virginia Oral Language SOLs.
SPARC’s past, present and future are built upon the support and involvement of our community. Thank you for your support, which helps “set the stage for life” for youth throughout our community.
Rejena Carreras, Immediate Past President, on the growth of SPARC:
SPARC has been recently successful in several areas. We identified and purchased our first permanent home: a "scrappy" building (as our architect described it) on North Hamilton Street that allows us to develop our own 100-seat "black box theatre" and will help us serve as an incubator for the creative talent in the region, both for our primary clientele - actors aged 5 to 18 and in time for the area’s actors, in general. This space allows us to experiment and develop new program offerings with little added expense, in contrast to our prior model of having to assure enough tuition paying students before we could offer a class, to be able to rent space. We will not abandon our distributed model of delivering services even with a "home," since we know that one of our strengths is being able to be in the community areas we serve. Our own "home" space also allows us to develop technical theatre courses in lighting design, sound design, scenery design and construction. And, we have realized substantial economic benefit as we now have storage and construction space in our control and no longer have to waste sets when a show closes or rent space to construct set pieces.
We have entered into an extraordinary era of collaboration in the Richmond Region. SPARC has become both a leader in performing arts education and also has benefitted immensely from the spirit of collaboration in the community. We are actively developing more opportunities to collaborate with organizations and incorporating alternative education methods into our curricula as a result of this collaboration.
SPARC faces several significant challenges in the next several years. We have been renovating our "scrappy" space, but the work is not yet completed.
A key challenge is to continue to grow and to build revenue generating programs in particular. Historically, SPARC derived nearly 70% of its annual revenue from tuition bearing programs. That number has shrunk to around 50%, in large part due to the development of our in-school "Stages" program. This grant-funded program is SOL-focused and is offered within the normal school day, at the school, at no cost to the school.
Another challenge is to continue to attract the best performing arts educators to our faculty. We can achieve this by growing the tuition bearing programs in particular, and remaining true to our core values of providing "real" performing arts education to our young actors.
In the ten years I have been involved with SPARC, I have seen many letters from parents, grateful to SPARC for having brought their child out of his or her shell; for having contributed to their child's growth and welfare. Some letters even stated they had been severely concerned about the mental health of their child and that SPARC had "saved" that child. Performing arts provides an outlet for the spirit of the child and nourishment to let that spirit grow, develop exceptional listening and teamwork skills, and encourages youth to realize that their success can only be achieved by helping the others around them achieve equal or greater success.
Ryan T. Ripperton has served as SPARC’s executive director since March 2010. His selection for this position resulted from a nine-month nationwide search. Since his arrival, participation in SPARC's enrollment-based classes has risen by 70%.
Prior to moving to Richmond to work for SPARC, Ripperton was executive director of Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia Fraternity, the nationwide men’s music fraternity, headquartered in Evansville, Indiana. He also served as chief operating officer of the Fraternity’s related foundation, the Sinfonia Educational Foundation. Through 11 years of service to these organizations, he advanced the operational, financial and governance practices, increased the quality of print and electronic communications, and heavily influenced several successful programs, including the expansion and retreat programs. He was instrumental in the reformation of the Foundation’s name and mission, and participated heavily in reshaping the Fraternity’s vision and strategic plan as it regained its footing as America’s premier music fraternity.
Ripperton holds a Master of Business Administration (M.B.A.) from the University of Southern Indiana and a Bachelor of Music Education (B.M.Ed.) from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. Since relocating to Richmond, he has become involved in the area arts community, including the CenterStage Resident Company Association and the Alliance for the Performing Arts.
SPARC operates classes during school hours, after school, and on weekends. Many classes are held at the SPARC Center on N. Hamilton Street, as well as at satellite locations around the Richmond area. We generally follow the schedules of area school semesters.
Classes are for youth aged 3 to 18 and include the following:
SPARC offers full- and part-day camps and programs throughout the summer for ages 5 to 18:
SPARC’s in-school outreach enrichment classes serve almost 1,000 students each year in 8 schools and community centers. Classes allow area children throughout Richmond the opportunity to try their hand at performing arts. These readiness classes allow young people to develop socialization skills while learning basic performer skills. Thanks to generous foundation, corporate, government and individual support, STAGES programs are offered free to participants in underserved neighborhoods.
The acclaimed New Voices for the Theater program expands SPARC’s reach statewide. This program accepts submissions of one-act plays from high school students throughout Virginia, providing them professional adjudication and inviting the top eight student playwrights to Richmond for a two-week residency. During the residency, the students work with a professional playwright to hone their skills and then work with a professional team of directors and actors to have their plays read in front of a live audience.
Indirect Public Support HelpIndirect public support represents revenue received through solicitation campaigns. This includes funding United Way and other federated fundraising organizations, but does not include donor designated contributions.
Earned Revenue HelpEarned revenue represents income generated in direct exchange for a product or service.Earned income includes income from government contracts.
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