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Together, We See Sparks

In 2015, the City of Sparks began one of the largest redevelopment project in its history in downtown Victorian Square.  Planned for completion by 2022, a six-square-block area of downtown Sparks called Victorian square will be transformed into housing (apartments and condos) for 4,000 new residents, new restaurants and retail spaces, an event venue, a central plaza and gathering space. The city allocated funding for a new streetscape plan includes new public sidewalks, planters, curbs, and landscaping. A portion of the streetscape plan allocated a portion or budget for art.

To leverage the arts, culture, and creativity to help drive this change, growth and transformation, the city was awarded a National Endowment for the Arts Our Town Grant in 2016 to create an art master plan for the area.  This planning process and the implementation of the plan relies heavily on community input using the creative placemaking model.

The project is called: “Together, We See Sparks.”

In August 2018, city staff recruited 17 members for the “Together, We See Sparks” (TWSS) committee. The committee was made up of representatives from veterans and disability groups, business owners, artists organizations, marketing professionals and retirees. Each were given a role.

During these initial months, city staff sought out and secured consultants with specialties in the areas of plan development, community engagement and creative placemaking. Shelly Willis was contracted to help write the plan, conduct one-on-one stakeholder meetings for input, and to train staff and committee. Springboard for the Arts was contracted to advise local artists on public art, professional development and community engagement.

The committee developed a marketing plan and engagement calendar with a schedule of events and a survey would that would feed the plan for the downtown area.

In early 2019, Ms. Willis conducted a series of two workshops for city personnel and the committee on the integration of arts into projects (i.e. placemaking). Springboard for the Arts directed two workshops for local artists attended by 40 artists. The training which was included with consultants for staff and elected officials allowed them to understand the significance of art and the need for established policy and secure funding.

The committee wrote and distributed an RFP for 2 community engagement projects using mobile art techniques similar to the “Ready, Go” program by Springboard. There were 15 submissions for the project. Once the 2 artists’ projects were selected, Springboard had one-on-one training with them, which included a technical portion on set up, tear down and creating a piece that was as mobile as it was engaging.

The artists selected were Paul Fenkell (The Big Easel) and Jenn Charbonneau (Be Seen Zine.) The Big Easel was a large set of chalkboards with questions to provoke ideas of the city and people’s connection to it. The Seen Zine was a mobile newsstand; when it was set up, the artist would conduct gesture drawings of people and families while talking to them about their connection to the city and downtown. The artwork and stories were put into a zine.

Each artist committed to conduct public input on the downtown arts plan during large events. They were at the 3rd Thursdays in June and July, the Water Lantern Festival, Rib Cook Off and Honey and Lavender Festival. Working with the artists allowed all involved, including citizens, to re-imagine the downtown area.

During this time, the committee conducted an online engagement campaign using a website with a 15-question survey and a mini surveys on social media. It was complete in October 2019. The community engagement portion of the project allowed the public to not only give input, but to build excitement for the inclusion of art in a downtown that had been under construction since 2016

The accomplishment of the project is the “Together, We See Sparks” Creative Placemaking Plan for Victorian Square. This plan gives the city a road map to begin to incorporate art into the downtown district. The plan approved by the City of Sparks Arts and Culture Committee on December 19, 2019. The plan was adopted by Sparks City Council on May 27, 2020.

Read the plan here: Together, We See Sparks Creative Placemaking Plan

Special thanks to the TWSS committee. Using their time and talents these volunteers guided and fostered the Creative Placemaking Plan for downtown Victorian Square. Thank you.

Francine Burge, City of Sparks, Project Lead
Lisa Bonie, Northern Nevada Center for Independent Living
Charlene Bybee, City of Sparks City Council
Kim Ciesynski, Spaces Design & Planning/39 North
Tina Drakulich, DJD Foundation
Paul Fenkell, Artist
Angela Handler, LoKa Tile Group/39 North
Cheryl Hare, Community Leader
Randy Kennedy, Nugget Casino Resort
Grace Larkins, Graphic Designer
Ashley Robison, Photographer
Andrea Tavener, Washoe County Library System
Shoshana Zeldner, UNR


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