Common Ground

Minneapolis Parks Foundation > Common Ground > Donors & Volunteers > Redefining What a Rec Center Can Do

Redefining What a Rec Center Can Do

What does the future hold for Minneapolis parks? It’s a question parks superintendent Al Bangoura will be answering as part of his keynote kick-off for the Minneapolis Parks Foundation’s Next Generation of Parks series on December 14. 

But if you want a sneak peek at what’s possible in parks of the future, the Harrison neighborhood’s new Spark’d Studio is a great place to start.  

This new creative technology space is one of six renovated sites set to open  by 2025 that will redefine what a neighborhood rec center can do. Equipped with everything from audio mixers  and 3D printers, to video production equipment and art supplies, Spark’d Studios are engaging spaces where youth are invited to explore media, technology, art, science, entrepreneurship and more, under the mentorship of trained Spark’d Studios specialists. 

“Spark’d Studios are about meeting young people where they are today,” says Bangoura. “When we look at this next generation going forward, the way we look at recreation is also going to change. It’s not just about athletics or putting a ball in a gym, which is still important, but it’s about how we can capture these young people when they come into the center, and show them ways they can create everyday–making music, putting together a documentary, doing something artistic. The goal is to get young people coming into our facilities to have meaningful experiences, and that’s different from what we’ve been doing for years.”

Made possible, in part, by a generous grant from the Best Buy Foundation and $2.6 million in public funds aimed at reducing violence and creating opportunities for youth, Harrison’s Spark’d Studio opened earlier this year, following the successful pilot launch of the first Spark’d Studio in Powderhorn Park in 2021. A third Spark’d Studio in Whittier is getting set to launch programming this month on December 6, and will include instruments for after school music lessons and even a green screen for producing special effects on TV and video projects. 

While the gears and gadgets available to youth at Spark’d Studios are impressive, they’re not the main event, says Raechel Bosch, Youth Technology and Career Skills Manager of MPRB’s Spark’d Studios initiative. “Teens are already exposed to tech all day long, so we’re not a computer lab,” she says. “Instead, this is a community space for young people to connect and expand their creative voice .” Open five days a week, staffed with full-time specialists, and located in historically underserved neighborhoods, Spark’d Studios are also designed to help bridge the digital divide, building literacy in the media arts that matter most to Gen Z.  “By bringing technology into this space of traditional recreation, we’re bringing resources that kids need for their future,” Bosch says. 

In its first nine months of operation, the Harrison Spark’d Studio has already doubled participation at the rec center, as word spreads about what’s available in the space. For instance, students from Bethune Community Arts have been visiting frequently, turning classroom writing into visual video poem projects. After-school homework help has been popular, as are open gym nights, as kids move between activities like pick-up basketball, studio recording and chess tournaments . The introduction of upgraded air conditioning systems, new furniture, lighting and layouts have also transformed the feel of what a rec center can be. “Providing a beautiful space along with these upgrades is definitely attracting kids,” Bosch says. 

With new Spark’d Studios set to launch in the coming months at Luxton Recreation Center, Phillips Community Center, and Graco Park, Bosch says her team of Spark’d specialists are already at work in each community, making connections with kids and listening to their suggestions for making the space their own.  “We’ve already started photography s and a queer jam club at Whittier,” she says. While content creation, gaming, and 3D printing are all on the menu, helping youth connect to their own interests is the real mission. “Spark’d Studios are safe spaces for relationships to grow.”

Images courtesy of MPRB, taken at Spark’d Studios at Powderhorn Park and Harrison Park.

Your support for the Minneapolis Parks Foundation can help make even more possible through MPRB’s new Spark’d Studios initiative. To make a donation, visit our online giving page, https://mplsparksfoundation.org/support-parks/donate/, or contact Chief Development Officer Jennifer Downham at jdownham@mplsparksfoundation.org for more information.

YOUR DONATION helps ensure the parks in our city remain accessible, equitable and serving everyone.