By Haley Sawyer
When South Pasadena Arts Council founder Lissa Reynolds was a senior in high school, she received a scholarship that helped shape the rest of her life.
“It was really one of the reasons I went on to a performing arts school and got my degree and was interested in helping my communities,” Reynolds said.
Now Reynolds has had the opportunity to pay it forward as SPARC has presented its two inaugural scholarships. The organization has recognized South Pasadena High School graduates Yurika Espinosa and Sydney Davis Denny with scholarships of $500 each.
“There are a lot of organizations in town that give scholarships, so we wanted to be one of them,” said SPARC President Sandy Kitto. “But also, it seems the students in the arts aren’t always recognized in those other categories, so we’re hoping to shine a spotlight on those areas, too.”
SPARC has been supporting the arts in South Pasadena for more than a decade. One of the organization’s most recognizable ventures is the Box Art Project, which is responsible for the painted electrical boxes around town. SPARC also hosts local gallery exhibitions and embarks on projects to support the arts in schools, such as with this year’s scholarships.
To receive the scholarships, Espinosa and Davis Denny had to be recommended by a teacher and submit a body of work to be reviewed by a panel of SPARC board members. A desire to pursue the arts in college was preferred, but not required.
Espinosa, who intends to study at Pasadena City College before transferring to a four-year institution, is involved in the fine arts and was an Advanced Placement art student who excels in observational drawing. She also is involved in SPARC’s youth advisory group and has helped projects such as South Pasadena Middle School’s collaborative mural project and the SPARC arts and crafts booth at the city’s Halloween Spooktacular.
“It’s definitely helped me develop some leadership skills, and it exposed me to a lot of art-related opportunities in South Pasadena and broadened my views on what I wanted to do in the future,” Espinosa said of her involvement with SPARC. “With the scholarship, it’ll definitely help me with my future as well.”
Davis Denny, meanwhile, specializes in the dramatic arts and is an advanced drama student. For three years she had a lead role in the school musical, and has even produced some of her own plays. She has been a drama club officer for two years and is a National Honor Thespian.
“The arts have been a part of my life for as long as I can remember, and specifically in South Pasadena I’ve been involved in several of the shows here. I’ve always been involved in fine arts and music in the community,” said Denny, who will attend Willamette University in Oregon. “So being able to win such a scholarship and be the recipient of it is just absolutely amazing, and it really did show how important the arts are in this community.”
Espinosa and Davis Denny were honored in a video presentation recently by Reynolds and her husband, James, who have been South Pasadena residents for nearly 25 years and have a son who attended school in the area.
The Reynoldses also own and are co-artistic directors of the Fremont Centre Theater in South Pasadena.
“We love this place and we love the community and I love the arts,” Lissa Reynolds said. “I think they’re an important part of our life for sure.”
SPARC also distributed 60 art kits recently through the South Pasadena Unified School District free lunch program. Students who receive the kits are encouraged to submit the artwork they create with them to be featured on SPARC’s Instagram page, @southpasadenaartscouncil.
The kits come in two types: drawing and painting. Included are colored pencils or watercolor pencils and a paintbrush, as well as a heavy-duty paper tablet.
“Part of the idea here is to give them something to do while stuck inside, but it’s also to showcase and highlight for young people that the arts is something that, if not a vocation, is an avocation that they can have,” said Dean Serwin, vice president of SPARC.
The hope is to spur more involvement in SPARC from young artists and parents. The organization welcomes volunteers and donations for events, projects and galleries, details of which can be seen at sopasartscouncil.org.
More than that, SPARC aims to spark creativity in all people, whether it’s a recipient of a scholarship or an art kit.
“The arts is how we learn to think about the future and what things can be done; just creativity in itself,” Reynolds said. “We need to exercise that part of ourselves, whether it’s in going up to another planet or making something that’s never been made, artists’ dreams start it and then the technology and mathematics go into it. But you have to have the dreamers at any time in life.”