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Sparc! the ArtMobile brings art to Mission Hill, Roxbury neighborhoods

Colette Greenstein
Colette Greenstein has been a contributing arts & entertainment writer for the Banner since 2009. VIEW BIO
Sparc! the ArtMobile brings art to Mission Hill, Roxbury neighborhoods
The “Paint! Jazz! event at the Dudley Branch Library drew Roxbury residents out to paint while listening to live jazz. (Photo: Photo courtesy of Ekua Holmes)

“Sharing is equal to the talents and gifts that we have, and every community has talents and gifts,” says painter and collage artist Ekua Holmes in discussing the sparc! ArtMobile with the Banner recently.

A student of Elma Lewis, Holmes has long championed the beauty and the residents of Roxbury through her paintings and artwork. As director and community coordinator of sparc! the ArtMobile at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design, Holmes is part of a diverse and dynamic group of like-minded individuals, community members, organizations and agencies that believe in making art accessible to its closest neighbors – the residents of Mission Hill and Roxbury.

Sparc! the ArtMobile is a retrofitted Ford vehicle owned by MassArt which travels throughout neighborhoods surrounding the college campus fully stocked with art supplies. It brings multiple generations together collaborating on art.

An initiative of MassArt’s Center for Art & Community Partnerships, the ArtMobile brings hands-on art projects, events and support to neighboring schools and community groups, all free of charge.

In the beginning, it was and remains important to have the community’s support and input, said Holmes.

“We really wanted to be good neighbors in the sense that we’re giving and taking from each other,” she commented. “We’re not just the big institution giving you something. We’re collaborating on what the community wants, what the community needs, when it’s related to art design.”

Focus groups were conducted with K-12 teachers and with several schools in the area, and conversations took place with local business owners, community organizations and elders in the neighborhood.

“We had a really nice mix of how the community was represented, and they gave us ideas on what they thought the art mobile could be,” Holmes said.

Author: Photo courtesy of Ekua HolmesThe “Paint! Jazz! event.

On a recent Saturday evening in November, the sparc! the ArtMobile program collaborated with the Dudley Branch Library, the Roxbury Action Program and The Makanda Project, for the event Paint! Jazz! The event drew residents from Roxbury and other neighborhoods to the library to paint and draw while listening to the music of The Makanda Project, a well-known Boston jazz ensemble. Sparc! provided the paint, pastels and the canvas that night.

Holmes, a lover of jazz music, who several years ago began attending The Makanda Project’s concerts, mentioned how she and John [Kordalewski of Makanda Project] were talking and he suggested that they do something with the visual arts and jazz, and that’s how the idea of Paint! Jazz! came about. The concept has grown and the audience has expanded in new ways.

“Now, instead of 40-plus jazz heads we’ve got little kids coming in here who are listening to live tubas and trombones and vocalists. It’s a beautiful scene,” she said.

Now in its fifth year, one of the goals for sparc!, which is grant-funded, is sustainability. Holmes and her program associate Richard Rozewski are teaching the students at MassArt how to coordinate the events. One of the ideas is to get the students in on the ground level of planning events, attending and sitting in on meetings, and learning how to listen and to throw their ideas out.

Holmes says she would love for the program to grow.

“I would love to have a bigger van or another one because we’re at the point that we have to say ‘no’ to some requests,” she said. “Students are in college to get a degree, so when midterms and finals come around they’re not there. I would love to see the staff grow and our capability and sustainability grow in the community.”

The ArtMobile already has started going beyond Mission Hill and Roxbury. They’re working with a school in Dorchester and have done some things in JP, according to Holmes.

The ArtMobile is open to children, teens, adults and seniors. A lot of their teen programs take place in schools, while younger children become aware of sparc! through their parents.

“We’re finding that parents will bring the kids in and they say, ‘Oh, my kids are going to love this,’ and then they get hooked because they haven’t had a chance to play since they got out of high school,” notes Holmes of the Paint! Jazz! event. “And then we have elders. Some of them are really good painters but they weren’t able to find a job as a painter or nobody really took them seriously. Now, in their later years they can come here and listen to music and be creative.”

Working with the students and the community definitely has informed Holmes’ current paintings and artwork. Roxbury always has been her “wellspring for inspiration” for the beauty she sees as she travels through it, but her work with sparc! has changed her.

“When I come out here and I see kids painting and I see grandmothers painting and how spontaneous they’re able to be, they’re not trying to make a piece of art. That inspires me to go back to my studio and refresh my practice.”

For more information, visit sparc!’s blog at and at

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