I’m Miranda Ballin, the Artistic Director of Sparc. I arrived in 1990 when I was working for Theatr Powys as an actor and felt completely at home at Valleys Kids. I decided it was time to put down roots after years of touring theatre in schools and communities as a professional actor and theatre director. In 1998 the amazing staff at Valleys Kids worked with me to put in a lottery application to set up a youth arts project and ArtWorks, Valleys Kids was created.
My work has taken me from dancing in the Kalahari desert, to a small converted flat where I co-created a version of Romeo and Juliet with a group of young people who had lost a friend through suicide. At its heart, the work the team do is about making relationship with people, and using theatre and drama as a tool for exploration, discovery and growth.
Fast forward 20 years and we have developed the most amazing strategic partnerships with a whole range of partners. Recently we undertook a large-scale regeneration project with Ideas, People and Places, working in partnership Artes Mundi and Trivallis with communities in Trebanog and Penygraig.
We were the first Welsh associate of the Tate Exchange Project and last April our young people performed at Tate Modern. Together we created a Fairground of Arts, Politics and Ideas – the young people had to learn how to engage with a public audience through performance, some of them had never even been to London previously, so it was an experience that developed their confidence and self-esteem. It was thrilling and nerve-wracking as a practitioner, enabling some of our most vulnerable participants to place themselves in the centre of London and share their work.
We have developed a strategic partnership with the Wales Millennium Centre and through our work with the Cultural Olympiad Project, young people performed on the main stage and also visited South Africa, where they performed Larry Allan’s epic play Torchbearers. More recently, they performed at the City of the Unexpected event and we are working with the Wales Millennium Centre to develop a large-scale project in the Valleys.
So why Sparc? Why rebrand a successful project with a big history? Well, it started out as a necessity – there are a number of organisations with similar names so our identity was becoming confused – and became a passion.
Then we decided, what better way to celebrate our 20th birthday than with a brand and identity that did justice to our vision? I am the Artistic Director, but the team is run mostly by a group of amazing experienced staff. Most of them began their careers as young people in ArtWorks, and they are the future of this work, so we wanted something fresh and original that embraced our Welsh identity but was accessible and honest. True to form we worked collaboratively with an incredible company (Webber Design) and they taught the young people all about successful branding. Through this, they worked with the company to select the name and feel of the brand, they ran digital workshops to create the content, and created original artwork with Marion Cheung which is featured on the site. One of our young people summed up the choice of name:
“It reminds me of the bright light through grey times and that is what ArtWorks is for all young people whoever you are or what ever you have done/do! It gives you hope.”
In my view that pretty much sums us up.
The Sparc launch event took place on Friday 6th April at Theatr Soar, Penygraig.