She wasn’t expecting much of a crowd, maybe 25 people tops, but when they kept coming through the door, Lissa Reynolds figured this just might work.
It was an early Saturday morning nine years ago when a new organization was just getting its legs. Calling itself the South Pasadena Arts Council (SPARC), that first meeting took place inside the Fremont Centre Theatre where actress Lissa Reynolds, who co-owns the venue with her husband, Emmy-Award winning actor James Reynolds, greeted the guests.
Her vision was to place a bigger spotlight on the arts in South Pasadena through SPARC’s creation, and little did she know that the city’s appetite for it was more than she anticipated that morning as 75 community members poured into the theater to hear Reynold’s creative vision for the future.
“They just kept coming in,” remembers Reynolds, laughing at the thought today. “Looking back, it was at a time when the economy was really bad. Teachers were getting pink slips at the schools, and art programs were the first to go – those in drama and music. The expendable classes always seem to be the arts, and I disagree with that way of thinking. I know what the arts meant to me growing up as a kid, giving me a lot of confidence. The arts are something that are so inclusive. It doesn’t matter what language you speak, what country you are from. You can always appreciate dance, music and art. It is our commonality as human beings.”
When faced with making cutbacks at schools, Reynolds argues the arts should be at the top of the list in terms of importance, not the bottom.
It was part of that motivation that pushed her to create SPARC, which has picked up nothing but steam through the years and the cornerstone behind an influx of activities that South Pasadenans seemingly have found to their liking. She, along with dozens of volunteers who have followed her down the same path, continue to develop programs, create projects and collaborate with other organizations in the community to produce cultural events, as outlined on SPARC’s website. The organization looks to engage the public, make the arts approachable and relevant, exemplify professionalism and ethics, and empower and support artists.
In addition, SPARC’s basic belief is that the arts should spark creativity and innovation, invigorate the economy and local business, and lead to higher social and health benefits. As the organization gears up for a major bash on Saturday, Sept. 22, from 3 to 6 p.m. at Bill and Mary Urquhart’s lavish home in the city, Reynolds is reminded that the initial SPARC meeting back in 2009 was designed to create a louder voice – “a voice of people saying this is important to us,” she recalls. “The arts matter and it’s something we all want.”
Today SPARC, with its tag line – “Igniting Creativity, Illuminating the Arts”- is a thriving official nonprofit organization with an executive director in Howard Spector and, a board of directors and mission statement that hopes “to enrich South Pasadena communities with creative and innovative experiences through the arts.”
One of those experiences will take place Saturday when award-winning singer-songwriter Billy Vera is scheduled to perform at the South Pasadena Arts Council’s first-ever “SPARCtacular Benefit gARTen pARTy” Benefit Bash. Over the years, Vera, a Grammy winner, has had his songs sung by Fats Domino, the Shirelles, Lou Rawls, Dolly Parton, Robert Plant, Freda Payne, Bonnie Raitt, Michael Bublé and others.
In addition to the party atmosphere, SPARCtacular Awards, honoring individuals who “Ignite Creativity and Illuminate the Arts,” will be presented to South Pasadena Poet Laureate, Ron Koertge; and Laurie Wheeler, CEO and President of the South Pasadena Chamber of Commerce, Andrew Bernstein, the 2018 winner of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame Curt Gowdy Media Award and James Reynolds, winner of the 2018 Daytime Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series.
While the road has been long to get where SPARC is today, Reynolds says she has enjoyed the self-described “hard journey” every step of the way.
“I remember people telling me, ‘this won’t happen. You can’t have an arts council in South Pasadena,’” she recalled of SPARC’s early beginning. “People would tell me, ‘Lisa, artists are like herding cats.’ But I’ve herded cats all my life. I’ve always been part of teaching the arts, putting on shows and having my own theater.”
Herding cats? The phrase comes from controlling a group that is inherently uncontrollable, or involving the coordination of many types of people. “That’s what I do,” said Reynolds, defending her actions against the naysayers. “Its fun, it’s being creative, you never know where it’s going to go or what the next idea is going to be. That’s what the arts are all about.”
And with that signature bright smile that so many in the community already know, she added: “And, I just love it!”
Proceeds from Saturday’s event will help support SPARC’s cultural programs and activities in the community. Tickets are $50 per person/$90 per couple. Purchase online at sopasartscouncil.org/events/sparc-benefit-garten-party.