The stunning estate of Bill and Mary Urquhart was brimming with music, art, and lots of good vibes as SPARC held their annual fundraising gala for the arts in our community and gave out their first ever SPARCtacular Awards to four deserving individuals. The majority of the fete was held on the lush grounds of the estate surrounding the glistening pool on what was a picture perfect South Pasadena fall afternoon.
Guests were invited to take photos with a “mobile live statue”, engage in readings in the poetry corner while they enjoyed food prepared by Crossings restaurant along with libations by Griffins of Kinsale as they bid on delightful silent auction items with all proceeds going towards the community public art that SPARC supports; projects like the Utility Box Art, the selling of South Pasadena street signs in collaboration with SPEF, the giant easel project and other art happenings during the city’s Art Crawls, concerts, poetry and play readings, art exhibitions at the SPARC Gallery and so much more. There was also a lively live auction led by James Reynolds that saw some friendly competition for a week-long stay at a home in Laguna and the ever popular dinner for six with South Pasadena Firefighters! Congratulations to the lucky winners!
For the main event, SPARC founder Lissa Reynolds began by thanking everyone, especially Congresswoman Judy Chu, who was on hand to present certificates to the youth honorees, David Perez Espinosa and Madeleine Yoo, for coming out to support the artists and art advocates they honored. She welcomed gala chair, Sandy Kitto, to the stage as well as hostess Mary Urquhart who thanked Lissa and invited all to continue enjoying the day. Art advocate Hope Perello introduced the first honoree, Chamber President Laurie Wheeler, accompanied by her husband, Larry Natsume, saying of Wheeler, “she believes that one of the best ways to bring a community together and ensure vitality is through the arts.” Perello went on to explain Wheeler’s commitment and creativity in putting together the city’s arts crawls, including the ever growing Eclectic Music Festival in the spring, and her dedication to all things art related in the city and closed by saying, “we should never underestimate the passion she has for her role as a true champion of the arts in South Pasadena.” Each recipient was given a stunning, one of kind, metal sculpture created by Robert Kiser, along with Certificates of Recognition from the offices of Congresswoman Judy Chu, Representative Anthony Portantino, Assembly Member Chris Holden and Supervisor Kathryn Barger.
Wheeler thanked the crowd and said in part, “thank you for having the passion, courage and determination to create SPARC; Howard (Spector) thank you for shaping and leading the organization, thank you to the board and advisory committee of SPARC for all the work you do to bring art to the community.” She went on to say she was indeed humbled to be among the honorees who have an impact on our community and around the world and said that artists “make us think, make us laugh, make us reflect, make us aware, you give us new perspectives and insight, you help us heal and give us respite from the everyday; you do truly make us a healthier and better people.”
Library Director Steve Fjeldsted introduced honoree, South Pasadena Poet Laureate Ron Koertge, saying “in June 2018, South Pasadena joined the ranks of 100 other areas in Southern California when the Board of Supervisors appointed Ron Koertge as our very first poet laureate.” Fjeldsted went on to speak about Ron’s many accomplishments as a professor and writer including his poem “Negative Space” which was recently made into a short film that was nominated for an Academy Award.
In accepting his award, Koertge said, “our job (as poet laureates) is simple; to be representatives of poetry so when I go out into South Pasadena, I bring poems that they can understand, that are available, nothing scary because as one of my high school friends said, “high school is where poetry goes to die.” It just scares the pants off people, so my job is to make poetry more available to them.” Koertge said he wants to turn this poet laureateship over every year so that there’s new blood, new interest and new poems. Koertge is in the process of writing an “ode to the city” which he was commissioned to do and says he received wonderful contributions and ideas from community members and tells us it is almost completed. Koertge closed by thanking his wife, Bianca Richards, “who is so patient and deserves a lot of credit.”
Artist and SPARC Board Member, Blue Trimarchi, then introduced the next honoree, premiere NBA photographer, Andrew D. Bernstein. In addition to his 36 years as an NBA photographer and all of his accomplishments, Trimarchi wanted to highlight what a genuine person Bernstein is saying, “Andy is easy to approach, he’s humble, he’s easy to work with and those qualities allowed his artistic qualities to come forward. In photographing basketball players and celebrities you don’t have that entrée just by being a photographer; you don’t just have these people allowing you to photograph their lives and get intimate shots of them unless you have the ability to have them feel comfortable around you. And I think that’s one of Andy’s great talents.” Bernstein was joined by his daughter as he thanked Trimarchi for his friendship and for rescuing him many times on many last minute projects and went on to say that he and his wife, as San Marino residents, have always wanted to be involved in South Pasadena and he’s thrilled to finally now have his office in town on Mission Street and to be on the board of SPARC. “When I was introduced to SPARC by Blue, I knew that was where I had to be,” Bernstein explained, “because I’m a huge proponent of the arts; I feel it’s one of our obligations as artists, some of us who’ve been successful, to figure out how to give back, especially in the community, especially with young people.”
And finally, Grammy award winning singer/songwriter Billy Vera introduced his dear friend, Emmy Award winning actor and SPARC honoree, James Reynolds. Vera told the crowd of the first time the two met when his group The Beaters appeared on Days of Our Lives where Reynolds was one of the lead actors. “The one actor that went out of his way to come over to us and make us feel welcome was Jim Reynolds,” remembered Vera, “and I knew this man would be a friend for life. For the three of you who don’t know who he is, he’s a Daytime Emmy winner, best known for his role as Abe Carver on Days of Our Lives, four time nominee, and this year he won the Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actor in a drama series 2018, becoming the third African American to win this award and the first in over 35 years. He’s proud to have been a principal actor in one series longer than any African American actor in the history of television.” Vera went on to tell the crowd of Reynolds hailing from Oskaloosa, Kansas and being named one of the state’s 105 greatest citizens, his service in the Marine Corps in the Vietnam War giving an “Oorah!” before welcoming Reynolds on stage.
Reynolds called his custom award “wonderful and unique. Just astounding,” and joked, “I have one award in my home that might go right beside this one.” He went on to thank everyone saying, “I’m extraordinarily honored and I want to thank all the members of the board; Howard has been wonderful in guiding us the last several years. This was born in Lissa’s mind quite some time ago when we thought we’d be happy if 30 people showed up and lo and behold here you all are today and we hope that we are quickly becoming part of the fabric of this city. Art is the only thing that man does that involves all the senses and it is the one thing that is always remembered from great cultures. And it is so good to be in a community that understands that.” He closed by saying “I was so lucky last April to be able to make an Emmy speech, which I had rehearsed for fifty years(!) and I forgot to thank some people, so I want to thank everyone here; thank you for your support for me and Lissa…and please, please continue to support the arts! Continue to make this city a unique hub for the creative arts. We need hope at this moment and we find hope in the arts.”
SPARC board member, Delilah Rabina, said while selling her raffle tickets, “the venue is so incredible, the weather so perfect; we are so grateful that they invited us to do this event here. The turnout is so great, we love the support!” Fellow board member, Dean Serwin, echoed her sentiments saying, “the support is almost overwhelming” just as photographer Cyndi Bemel came by offering some delectable lemon bars that Betty Emerhanian found irresistible!
The Dinosaur Farm owner, David Plenn, made sure he was in attendance even though he had a music gig to play at immediately following and said, “I like supporting SPARC and what they do. I just try to do what I can.” Former SPEF President, Scott Moe, currently serving on multiple South Pasadena boards, had this to say, “the benefit to the community that SPARC is able to present is fantastic for our city and adds to its vibrancy. Today’s event is just a beautiful celebration and an opportunity to honor a lot of people who work really hard to make SPARC what it is today.”
The delightful entertainment was provided by Ray “Mr. Sinatra” Porschien and a very special treat indeed was to see Grammy winner Billy Vera sing his greatest hits at the grand piano in the Urquhart’s living room. The highlight came when he uttered those first familiar words, “what did you think….I would do at this moment..” from Billy Vera & The Beaters’ big hit, “At This Moment”, eliciting audible sighs from the crowd.
Another SPARCtacular party for the South Pasadena Arts Council is in the books!