Creative Spark, a well-established mainstay of the arts in Mount Pleasant, will close its doors at the end of March, after 23 years of music and art lessons, theater workshops, school collaborations and other activities.
The decision came in the face of financial constraints and increased competition that have forced the nonprofit to limit its offerings in recent years, according to Executive Director Brandi Hunter Elkins.
But Elkins said she views the closing as evidence of accomplishment, not failure
We’ve had our time in the spotlight,” she said. Creative Spark helped or inspired several local groups, directly and indirectly, and the effect has been to enrich the community with a variety of arts-oriented organizations. “We couldn’t be more proud of that,” she said.
Once the go-to organization for extracurricular arts programs, Creative Spark now operates in an environment that includes several other groups involved in after-school education and enrichment as well as in-school partnerships. Many established organizations — such as the Charleston Symphony Orchestra, Chamber Music Charleston, the Gibbes Museum of Art, Redux Contemporary Arts Center and several local theater companies — offer programs for children and collaborate with area schools.
Engaging Creative Minds arguably offered the most direct competition with regard to school collaborations. ECM, which was modeled after the Dallas-based organization Big Thought, was started in 2012. Creative Spark initially served as its fiscal agent, Elkins said. Its goal is to develop and introduce to classrooms curriculum-driven enrichment programs that effectively kill two birds with one stone, reinforcing regular lessons and introducing students to the arts.
In recent years, other businesses and nonprofits with a focus on creativity and after-school learning have cropped up in the area.
“We just can’t serve the community the way it needs to be served right now, Elkins said.
Sprouts Children’s Theatre, run by Stan Gill, will present its last show — “The Princess and the Pea” — at the end of February. Gill said he’s open to relocating his operation.
“We’re losing our home,” he said. “But if some organization called me and said we’d love to have you, I’d talk to them. I would definitely not like Charleston to lose Sprouts.”
Gill arrived in the Charleston area in late 2009 and presented his first show early the next year. Since then, Sprouts has done six shows a year, Gill said.
Carol Antman, Creative Spark’s founder who retired from the organization in 2010, said she was happy with the decision to close and the organization’s legacy.
She started Creative Spark because she and her husband were committed to sending their children to public schools, “and I felt there was a deficit there.”
The arts were not a priority early on, and raising the possibility of introducing arts-infused programming in the schools got nowhere with educators and district officials, she said.
Now, things are very different. Educators better understand the importance of the arts and have pursued numerous collaborations with local nonprofits.
“We have accomplished our mission, and our mission is being served in a variety of ways that really supersedes what we do,” Antman said.
Elkins said Creative Spark’s few part-time teachers will seek other opportunities. The small independent preschool housed in the building already has found a new location. The building, owned by Antman, will be leased to someone else.
Image: Emily Giant played Princess Hannah and Brendan Kelly played Prince John in the 2011 production of Sprouts’ “The Princess and the Pea” at Creative Spark in Mount Pleasant.