SPARK! Blog


Pursuit of Passion Projects

I read a book that validated so much of what we do at SPARK! It was so exciting I could hardly sit still to read. Thankfully, it was a quick but powerful read, because I literally jumped up every few pages to share a thought with my husband.

Lifelong Kindergarten: Cultivating Creativity through Projects, Passion, Peers and Play, by Mitchell Resnick was published in 2017. Not only do Mitchell Resnick’s words align with our approach to igniting creativity in children, but the foreword to the book is written by Sir Ken Robinson, the ultimate authority on teaching creativity; and creatively.

SPARK! had been open almost three years and the question I get asked the most is, “Does technology kill creativity?” My thoughts are, not only is technology a product of creativity, but it continually builds on our creative energies and in many ways, enhances them. And that’s why, in December 2018, we launched the Creator Studio to offer learning and innovation through technology.

In his foreword, Robinson shares, “Mitchell Resnick has spent his professional life exploring the synergies between creativity and technology…He dispels common myths about creativity (that it is confined to the arts, for example)…” I believe this book was the spark that brought our Creator Studio to life.

In the Creator Studio, we’ve adopted Resnick’s proclivity to alliteration and provide a space for children “in Pursuit of Passion Projects.” Here, SPARK! gives children the freedom to learn new skills, develop their own ideas and pursue their passion without deadlines, judgement or grades. Resnick talks about how children really are willing to take risks and try new things when these limiting factors are removed. He says, “They’re eager to define their own problems rather than simply solve the ones in the textbook. It’s students who come up with the most innovative ideas and creative new directions.”

SPARK! defines the creative process as Inspiration, with Iteration and Collaboration, leads to Innovation. When I share this verbally, I move my hands in intertwining and repeat circles to indicate that the creative process is not linear, but rather circuitous. Inspiration happens more than once in a project and collaboration might happen at any point. The creative process is not a 4-point line from A to Z. I once asked an artist to render our creative process as a tornado. Resnick illustrates his philosophy in a “Creative Learning Spiral,”

and goes on to say, “The Creative Learning Spiral is the engine of creative thinking. As kindergarten children go through the spiral, they develop and refine their abilities as creative thinkers. They learn to develop their own ideas, try them out, experiment with alternatives, get input from others, and generate new ideas based on their experiences.”
Thank you, Mitchell, for the validation of SPARK! programming, and for the spark to bring the Creator Studio to life.


Volunteering Returns More Than You Give

Across the globe, people volunteer. And we do this for a great variety of reasons: to help eliminate poverty, build shelters, improve education, protect others, or assist in times of natural disaster. In each of these efforts, people, just like you and me, make specific contributions to others and our communities through our actions.

We’re motivated by the cause and the impact our work has on those who benefit from our service. But, in a positive spin on an old saying, “what goes around, comes around.” Turns out, the benefits to us from volunteer work are quite great. The top five benefits of volunteering return in abundance:

1. Connecting with the community. When I was younger, I moved around a lot, building my growing career. I found myself in a new community every few years. Volunteering helped me connect with like-minded folks. It gave me a place in the community, often led to social engagements and provided new friendships to help me integrate. Volunteering often time leads to networking opportunities that can assist career growth, community engagement and companionship during these lonely transitions. People are the “spice of life” and volunteering brings out all sorts.

2. Feeding your soul. Volunteering promotes happiness. You’ll simply feel better by giving back. It’s good for the soul. When you feel good about what you’re doing and how you contribute, it lifts your spirits. Interestingly, this positive effect has been studied. Compared with people who never volunteered, the odds of being “very happy” rose 7% among those who volunteer monthly and 12% for people who volunteer every two to four weeks. There’s both fun and fulfillment in volunteering.

3. Advancing your career. In addition to the networking opportunities available through volunteering, it’s often possible to develop or sharpen professional skills. Volunteering paints you in a good light and in good company. It allows others to view you favorably because of this work you do. Volunteering helps you build confidence in a variety of areas, from interacting with the public, to delivering a compelling story, to leading project task forces.

4. Being a well-rounded citizen. Through volunteer efforts, you become aware of things you never knew went on in your community. You see needs you might not have known existed, and see others pitching in to help just when you thought the world was growing callus and cold. Volunteerism makes one more civically aware and has a tendency to increase civic engagement and even voter turnout.

5. Realizing better health. The sense of well-being and happiness that comes from volunteering can have incredible health benefits. Various studies point to such things as lower blood pressure, longer life span and reduced stress. Oftentimes volunteer activities keep you moving, which keeps you healthier. Even the sense of purpose that comes from aiding others makes one happier, helps reduce stress and allows you to sleep better.

A few things to consider as you look to engage in volunteering. It’s important that you are passionate about the organization and the cause. They’re not necessarily always the same.

You should enjoy the time you spend volunteering. This is your free time, make sure you enjoy the task, the people, the cause or at least 2 out of 3 of these! Sometimes we’re willing to do an unpleasant task because the need is there.

Volunteer for an organization that appreciates your efforts. Yes, they need to thank you repeatedly. They also need to have meaningful tasks for you to do and they must let you know if perhaps they don’t need you on your regular schedule.

Do your research. Volunteer once or twice before committing to a greater schedule. Make sure you like the people, the environment, etc.


Creativity Thrives in a World of Automation

By Beverly Davis

Automation frees us to be creative! As robots, computers, and artificial intelligence take over the many simple and repetitive motions we now do, we’ll have more time and space to be creative and innovative.  Our history books taught us that the industrial revolution freed a primarily agrarian society from many labor-intensive jobs; freeing our best thinkers to become more innovative. Our nation thrived during and after this revolution and can do the same in this day and age.

In 2015, Klaus Schwab, the executive chairman of the World Economic Forum, introduced the idea of The Fourth Industrial Revolution.  We live in this new world characterized by a fusion of technologies including the automation that seems to be striking fear in many.  In October, 2016, the White House authored a report, “Preparing for the Future of Artificial Intelligence.”  Among the many forecasts were: “83% of U.S. jobs paying less than $20 per hour will be subject to automation or replacement. While up to 47% of all U.S. jobs are in danger of being made irrelevant due to technological advancements, with most job losses due to occur among the undereducated.”

We can solve for this by teaching our children how to think.  Giving them opportunities to learn and practice the creative process.  Creativity currently ranks #1 among the top skills required to thrive in the global economy.  According to the World Economic Forum, “by 2020, creativity and creative thinking will slip to third place behind: #1 complex problem solving, and #2 critical thinking, on the list of the most important skills needed to survive and thrive.”  

Complex Problem Solving is generally understood to mean the ability to solve for new, novel or ill-defined problems in real-world context.  Critical Thinking is skillful analysis, assessment and implementation of ideas and can be brought to bear in complex problem-solving.

Realizing that learning the creative process builds problem-solving skills and self-esteem, SPARK! sets out to educate our children.  Through it all, automation cannot replace the ability to think, to imagine, to create, or to innovate. We humans created automation, let’s enjoy it.  We’ll use it to make life easier, more convenient and allow more time for pursuits of creativity and pleasure. Let’s use our curiosity to drive the 5th industrial revolution!


My SPARK! and Neiman Marcus Student Creativity Mentorship

By Hannah Selders

Written by “Best in Show” winner Hannah Selders from the 2018 Student Creativity Showcase

Being a part of SPARK! has been such an amazing experience. It has allowed me to spread my creative wings in so many directions. I have been able to network with designers and business owners, create new jewelry, and even participate as a panelist in the 4th annual SPARK! Creativity Confab. I have been shown and exposed to so much through my relationship with the SPARK! family.

After entering and winning first place in the SPARK! & Neiman Marcus Student Creativity Showcase, I was given the opportunity to go to Neiman Marcus and spend the day shadowing two amazing Intimate Apparel Designers; Jennifer Ogden and Michelle Gill, along with the Director of Charitable Giving & Corporate Public Relations, Kevin Hurst. Throughout the day I was able to meet private label designers, website managers, and Neiman Marcus clothing and accessory designers.

 The first meeting I attended was for Robin Wright’s pajama line “Pour Les Femmes”. During the meeting I learned that this clothing line was created for the women in Congo who have unimaginable struggles, and by creating pajamas as a symbol of comfort the money from buyers goes to help the women in Congo.  After that meeting, I sat in on a smaller session with Michelle and her co-worker Lisa. In this session they walked me through the 2020 Cashmere Collection and gave me the chance to learn how to apply colors and materials with math and weather to get the perfect clothing for each season. I also learned how to make a vision board using social media and other materials that are always around me. My last meeting was with Ella, one of the managers of the Neiman Marcus website. She walked me through the process of controlling and maintaining what every customer sees. From marking down prices to removing items that don’t catch the buyers’ eye, to choosing the perfect picture to send out in a catalog email.

After spending the day with all these wonderful people I was able to join Kevin, Michelle, and Jennifer in conversation over lunch. During this time we talked about school, got to know more about one another, and also discussed how we could apply all of our creative ideas to our personal lives. Neiman Marcus made me feel very welcome and because of my visit I can truly say that my interest in studying Fashion Marketing is confirmed, and I will bring everything that I have learned from my time with SPARK! and Neiman Marcus with me on my journey.

Thank you all so much, and I will never forget this experience.

-Hannah Niara

Hannah, pictured at Neiman Marcus with Apparel Designers
Jennifer Ogden and Michelle Gill

Looking Back and Looking Forward to the Future of SPARK!

By Beverly Davis

It starts with one spark.

That ignites one idea.

SPARK! began as a simple idea: to create a place where kids could explore their creativity without any inhibitions.  Last year we provided programming for more than 16,000 students in grades 2 through 12. In our first 3.5 years of operation, almost 39,000  children have engaged in creative programming at SPARK!

SPARK! is no longer Dallas’ “Best Kept Secret.” Word is out that we are a world-class organization that inspires minds, builds confidence and shapes the future for ALL children. Here are some facts to back that up:

  • While most of our visitors came from field trips, we expanded our programming to include special interest groups like Talented and Gifted students, homeschoolers and scouts.
  • The opening of our Creator Studio has given kids the opportunity to explore their own passion projects through STEM-related technologies.
  • Additional staff, targeted funding and strategic relationships with professionals have allowed us to expand our curriculum to include music, architecture, robotics, computer programming and advanced technologies.  
  • Over 120 unique, interactive birthday parties entertained, delighted and even educated kids on the weekends.  

All this growth has been phenomenal. And we continue to gain momentum. Not only does our vision demand we reach a much greater percentage of our city’s youth, parents and teachers are also demanding we provide more programming and programming that trains those who work with children.

So now, we look ahead to the next phase of growth for SPARK! We have reached capacity in our current location and are now in search of a permanent home where we can continue to flourish. I encourage those entrepreneurial spirits reading this to step forward and join us as we embark on this exciting journey to ignite creativity and make a greater impact on the future of our children.  


4 Creativity’s Sake

4 Creativity’s Sake

By Beverly Davis

Become a shareholder in your community. The best investment anyone can make is in the future.

This time of year brings requests from a myriad of nonprofit organizations who are working to balance their budgets, meet operating expenses and continue to provide much-needed services. 4 Creativity’s Sake, the SPARK! annual fund, is a crucial source of unrestricted income and one of the most important ways in which you can support SPARK!  

Each year, over 15,000 children engage in creative programming at SPARK! which builds their problem-solving skills, raises their self-esteem and better prepares them for their future as adult members of our community. By giving 4 Creativity’s Sake, you invest in the future of our community. In addition, you become a SPARK! shareholder and part of our team as a SPARK! Collaborator, a critical component to our success by giving of your time, talent and treasure.

Collaborator time means many things. Sometimes, it’s volunteering on the weekends to oversee family visits to SPARK!  This includes monitoring the Climb, Crawl, Slide Sculpture, overseeing the weekly creative activities, or even leading a special program.  It could mean volunteering in the office, stuffing envelopes, working a fundraiser or serving on one of the many committees that help us meet the demand for creative programming.  Our elite volunteers are our “SPARK! Plugs” who serve as “docents” of the facility.

Collaborator talent often is a combination of time and talent.  Our collaborators include lawyers, accountants, marketers, artists, sculptors and more, who help us build SPARK! and the incredible experience it is for kids.  Talent could even consist of light welding or maintenance. If you happen to have these skills, please call now – we need you!

Collaborator treasure focuses not only on the financial donations you bring, but also the in-kind materials provided for classes, field trips, and installations, even office furniture.  Now, at year end, we launch our annual fund campaign, 4 Creativity’s Sake, with the goal to increase donations that support operations throughout the coming year. By giving 4 Creativity’s Sake, you are contributing to the general operations and supporting a wide range of innovative and educational programs, as well as research and activities, including special installations and educational experiences that serve the entire North Texas community. 

Not only are you able to claim your gift as a deduction on your tax return, you can also become a SPARK! Collaborator.  Please, join the team. Invest in the future of our children.

I want to be a SPARK! Collaborator

Welcome aboard!  I look forward to seeing you at SPARK! soon.


Importance of Teaching Creativity

Importance of Teaching Creativity

By Beverly Davis

How many times have you been told, to “Think outside the box?”  What exactly does it mean, and more importantly, how do we learn new or creative thinking?  It’s not a typical school subject. It’s not on most MBA syllabuses. It is, however, required to compete in the global market, yet we aren’t properly preparing our kids.

Too often creativity is misinterpreted to mean artistic.  IBM has conducted numerous polls among global CEOs that expound on the importance of creative thinking.  Are we to believe these global organizations seek painters, potters and sculptors as executives?  Clearly not.  Creativity needs to be understood as a way of thinking. That thinking is a discipline called “the creative process.” 

There are many definitions of the creative process. Boiling it down to its most simplistic form, the creative process is like a whirlwind of inspiration, iteration, and collaboration that leads to innovation. 

Children need to learn the creative process to prepare for life, academic and career successes. 

The U. S. was once the world innovation leader from late in the 19th century through most of the 20th century.  Not anymore.  When our schools began cutting back on art, music and liberal studies in an effort to replicate the success Asian students were having in math and science, we reduced the innovative thinking power of future generations.  With the release of the 2016 Innovation Index, Bloomberg now ranks the U.S. as eighth.  We’re slipping because our children are taught to memorize and repeat, to perform well on standardized tests.  We are not teaching children how to learn, how to create or how to innovate.  Over the last few decades, the emphasis on performance through standardized testing has become a singular focus in most schools. This is instilling a fear of failure.

But when did failure become such a bad thing? Ask any successful person if they’ve ever failed and the answers range from “many times” to “early and often.”  Sir James Dyson recalls that he had 5,126 failures, or iterations, until he eventually invented the world’s best-selling vacuum cleaner.  Even legendary sports icon Michael Jordan says, “I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” 

Our children have such a fear of failure that they are no longer exploring new ideas and this cripples their chances of success.

The National Endowment for the Arts (in 2008) and the SMU Meadows Prize Report (in 2010) looked at the impact of art education on children. These studies show positive that an art education can lead to better problem- solving skills, as well as a higher likelihood of attending college, earning a degree, doing volunteer work, and holding a full-time job. 

It’s not just about art and music education in schools. Those things have been measured because they’re easy and are typically the only creative disciplines taught in schools. When we dive deeper into understanding creativity, we learn that it’s a way of thinking and it drives innovation.  Dr. Paul Torrance studied nearly 400 children from childhood into their careers and proved that creative thinking skills can be learned.  His creativity index can predict who will have high performing careers such as entrepreneurs, inventors, college presidents, authors, doctors, diplomats, and software developers. 

So much energy is focused on the product while little or no time is spent on the process.  It’s the process of creating that gives children space to fail, that teaches them to seek alternative viewpoints, answers or solutions.  If we continue to score every effort and punish the kids who attempt new things, we’ll continue to discourage innovation. Let’s seek out opportunities that allow children to explore, to iterate and to create. For children today, there are very few safe places to fail.  SPARK! offers these opportunities.

I’m not here to bash schools, and I’m not of the opinion that everything kids need to learn should happen in schools.  So, let’s make sure we give kids the opportunity to experience problem solving and creative endeavors outside of schools. When children work through the process, they develop higher self-esteem and take pride in their abilities to overcome obstacles.  There is a light in their eyes that is unmistakable. 

When our eyes shine with pride, we take on greater challenges and achieve greater things. When that light is on, failure doesn’t feel so heavy.  Let’s awaken our children to the joy of creativity.


The Importance of Corporate Volunteerism

The Importance of Corporate Volunteerism

Helping others is in our DNA. Perhaps that’s why more than one billion people volunteer globally.  It’s at the core of our relationship with others.

Working together for the larger community fosters positive psychological relationships.  It can reinforce collegial associations even after everyone returns to work, because they’ve contributed to a goal that’s meaningful and has lasting impact.  By working together in the community, the entire organization is demonstrating that it wants to live its values in a way that has a positive return for everyone, both inside and outside the office walls.

When you establish group volunteer days as an ongoing part of your company culture, these shared experiences become part of what it means to work at your company.  Seventy five percent of U.S. adults feel physically healthier when they volunteer, as well as have a stronger connection to their employers. The mental and emotional benefits of volunteering are even greater, with 93% reporting an improved mood, 79% reporting lower stress levels and 88% reporting increased self-esteem when they give back.

Across all age groups, more than 70% of employees want their company to make a positive impact both socially and environmentally.  Almost three-fourths of employees who volunteer through work report feeling better about their management, and 91% believe it is important for an employer to allow their staff to volunteer on paid time.

When trying to identify a volunteer opportunity, it’s vital that you align with a mission that you are passionate about. Look into the organization and their cause.  Make sure they are aligned internally.

You and your team should have fun with your volunteer experience. This is your time, make sure you enjoy the task, the people and the cause…or at least two out of these three!  Sometimes we’re willing to do an unpleasant task because the need is there.

Volunteer for an organization that appreciates your efforts. Yes, they should thank you repeatedly. They should also have meaningful tasks for you to do and let you know how often they will need your services.  Every organization has lulls in their schedule. If they respect your time and talent, you will get a lot more out of the experience.


SPARK! to Launch After School Programming

SPARK! To Launch After School Programming

by Beverly Davis

For centuries, the positive impact of creating has been widely recognized.  Some of our earliest childhood memories are of bringing art projects home from school and having our parents hang them on the refrigerator, or display them on a table.  The pride and boost to our self-esteem at these times was significant.

At SPARK! we focus on the creative process and teaching children problem-solving skills through that process.  These experiences grow confidence and give us the strength to tackle the next project or problem that comes our way.

Research helps inform everything we do at SPARK!  In 2016 we launched the Metamorphosis Research Project.  Among other variables, this research tested dosage. We measured impact on children who received three doses across a school year, versus those who attended a 5-day a week camp.  This research project ended about the same time the 2017 City of Learning project drew to a close. Between the two, it became evident that children need large dosages to truly learn and adapt new behaviors.  Minimal exposure for understanding of new concepts proved to be 20+ short doses or 30+ hours of concentrated application. This level of engagement provided the connectivity children need to gain mastery in a new skill.

These findings naturally led us to develop programming that would be offered for longer durations.  Launching October 1, 2018, SPARK! after school programs will include Music Study and the SPARK! Creator Studio.  These programs were BETA tested the week of August 13, through week long camps. In the Creator Studio camp, thirteen children ages 10 – 17 worked together to test their programming skills, assemble robots and build a castle.  Before the week was out, the castle soared eight feet high and had bright pink windows, two thrones and a table. The collaborative nature of such projects helps children improve socialization, collaboration and communication skills.  Completion of creative projects gives children the confidence and self-esteem they need to thrive in life.

It’s important to align interests with programming opportunities.  Natalie Rusk said, “Interests are a natural resource that fuel learning.” Children need a variety of activities from which to select that most interests them.  This helps maintain their interest, engagement and most importantly, excitement. Variety in task keeps children engaged and allows them to make new friends along common interests.

As SPARK! after school programs grow, they’ll be expanded to offer even more disciplines.  We envision workshops hosted by professionals from throughout the community. Plans include offering programs to help students build portfolios to get into magnet high schools and develop interviewing skills to assist throughout their careers.  Thoughts are already leaning toward entrepreneurship classes and rudimentary understanding of business models. With creativity, there’s no telling how far these kids will go.

We’ve stepped out in faith with after school programming, believing that if we build it, they will come.  Not only are we seeking children who will participate in the program, but funders who believe in the power of creative education who will support the programs.


The Arts, Humanities and Health

The Arts, Humanities and Health

By guest blogger, Dennis Kratz

I started to write something about the importance of ongoing efforts to integrate engagement with the arts into the education of future and practicing physicians. Then last week I had the opportunity over several days to observe physicians, nurses and other healing performers at work in a hospital. I saw injections given, medications administered, smiles, expressions of concern, and more readings of blood pressure and other physical functions than I could count. I heard questions to patients about how they felt emotionally as well as physically; kind Wordsworth patients from nurses, physicians, technicians, and fellow patients; a few diagnoses; dreams of future medical advanced; and conversations about valuing family, changing behaviors, and celebrating the return to health. My original subject, in retrospect, struck me as incomplete, as is the attitude that the arts -like the humanities – at best only complement the science of medicine.

I have come to believe that we should educate future physicians to approach the practice of medicine as the harmonizing of three powerful forces, each vital but ultimately incomplete without the others. Science is self-evidently not only essential but also irreplaceable as the guide to attain, recover and maintain good health. The arts and humanities, however, are equally essential to the health of individuals and communities. They are more than an accompaniment or an assistant to the healing process. They should play a role, hand in hand with scientific knowledge, in how we not only go about healing but also what we mean by “health.” Science refers specifically to the disciplined search to understand and explain the physical processes at work in the world. Art emerges from the innately human desire to make our experience “special.” Engagement with the arts – as creator and responder – hones our ability to imagine the “what could be” lurking behind “what is.” Among the best artistic expressions of artful thinking that I know is Rene Magritte’s painting “Clairvoyance,” often also known as “Perspicacity.” [My ideas about the nature of art are strongly influenced by the writings of the anthropologist Ellen Dissenayaki.] The Humanities study the processes by which we fill our need to find and express meaning in life. They enlarge the ethical and cultural contexts within which we assess the value of our actions.

Health, like every scientific theory or artistic creation (the list could go on an all) is partial and provisional – always susceptible to change thanks to new evidence or new perspectives. Health is more than a temporary biological condition like the absence of disease or the lack of obvious symptoms of sickness. What are the positive characteristics of a truly healthy person, community, nation or world? It is a question that physicians, philosophers and artists have long pondered. The philosopher Georges Canguilhem suggested that the essential characteristics of a healthy organism include the ability to respond to environmental change and adapt to new situations. He also suggested that energy, and a confident sense of adventure, are components of real health. I really like that image of health. I saw reflections of this more embracing concept at that hospital. Science and medicines alone can take us to the first stage of health – a biological system working as it should. Advertisements from pharmaceutical companies to the contrary, it can’t produce deep happiness or a meaningful existence. That requires the thinking, imagining and empathy enhanced by the arts and humanities. We should integrate these profound complementary forces of understanding – science, art, Humanities – into the education of physicians because we should integrate them into the education of everyone if we want to foster a truly healthy society. I would like to see the power of science enlarged by imagination and humanized by genuine respect for the welfare of others that I witnessed last week on display everywhere and every day throughout our society.