Whittier Recreation Center is now home to the third Spark’d Studio in the Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board system. The studios are designed for 10-19 year-olds and are structured around daily classes and open studio time.

The studio classes at the rec center include game engineering, making a music video, audio recording & mixing, intro to photography, beat making & electronic music, working with green screens, and 3D printing. Registration for Spark’d Studio classes is required through the Park & Rec Board, and some classes are already full.

To Park & Rec Board Superintendent Al Bangoura, the collection of Spark’d Studios represents a transformation in recreation.”We have athletics and sports in nature,” Bangoura said at the studio’s ribbon cutting Tuesday morning. “But if we're going to meet young people where they are, this is what we're doing.”

Spark’d Studio staff, Park & Rec Board President Meg Forney and Superintendent Al Bangoura, Whittier International Elementary School students, Mayor Jacob Frey, and Park & Rec Board Commissioner Elizabeth Shaffer celebrate the opening of the Whittier Recreation Center’s Spark’d Studio on Dec. 5.

Mayor Jacob Frey said it took “several explanations” for him to understand how something like Spark’d Studio could be recreation, as a service provided by the government. Frey said that Bangoura was “so unbelievably right” about meeting kids where they are today.  

Frey talked about how his love of running started with being a hyperactive kid. Frey said it was a way for him to find out who he was. “I found that through running. Most people don't find that through running. Some people find that through music or art or a paintbrush. Some people find it through technology and mixing and design,” Frey said.

Mayor Jacob Frey writes messages for Whittier International Elementary School students in their notebooks at the Whittier Recreation Center on Dec. 5.

The City’s partnership with the Park & Rec Board was essential in funding for the Spark’d Studio, specifically the $2.6 million from the City earmarked for youth programming.

Back in 2022, Bangoura said the funding would be used for “full-time employees who will provide consistent, dedicated engagement of youth in safe environments and expose them to experiences that can enhance and enrich their lives.”  

“That 2.6 million, as you see the staff sitting back there, they were hired on that 2.6 million,” Bangoura said on Tuesday.

Ezra Maddox, the full-time staff person for the Whittier Spark’d Studio, said this is their dream job. They grew up having a knack for film and technology and did a lot of theater and sound design work in high school. They said the DJing station was their favorite at the studio.

“Music is everything to me,” Maddox said.

Ezra Maddox shows Jahniyah Rogers how the DJing technology works at the Whittier Spark’d Studio on Dec. 5.

Aileen Dwyer helped set up the Spark’d Studio at Whittier and typically floats around to all the studios to work with youth. They also said this was their dream job. Dwyer said the job has brought together their two degrees in film making and community art.  

Before the ribbon cutting ceremony on Tuesday, Spark’d Studio staff worked with youth one-on-one to show them how particular technology worked. During a frenetic green screen moment, a bunch of kids yelled out “Barbie house” and Bryce Kalal quickly Googled an image of a Barbie house to project on the green screen. It was a music video in the making, had the computers not caught their attention moments later.

Bryce Kalal and Breyanah Smith find just the right Barbie house image to project on the green screen at the Whittier Recreation Center’s Spark’d Studio on Dec. 5.

Numerous funders helped make the studio a reality. The Spark'd Studio build out and technology equipment was funded through the Park & Rec Board’s budget. Program materials and additional equipment were funded through numerous grants: Minnesota Office of Justice Violence Prevention Grant, Hennepin County Equipment Grant, Hennepin County Art and Music Grant, and a Best Buy grant through the Minneapolis Parks Foundation.

Spark’d Studio is located inside the Whittier Recreation Center and is open Monday through Friday. Open studio times and class registration is available on the Park & Rec Board website.