Lights out for Huntington arts program SPARKBOOM

Lights out for Huntington arts program SPARKBOOM

SPARKBOOM’s Off the Walls event in Huntington last year. File photo by Dan Woulfin

The sun has set on SPARKBOOM, a grant-funded program run by the Huntington Arts Council that helped foster young and emerging Long Island artists.

The program was discontinued after its grant ran out, according to Maureen Starr, who does public relations for the council. In an email, Starr said the council wasn’t awarded a Regional Economic Development Council grant from New York State this year.

SPARKBOOM was in existence for two years. The program’s last event was held on April 18 in Huntington.
The program’s goals were to showcase local artists from ages 18 to 34 and try to connect them with opportunities and networking on Long Island through a variety of different events and exhibitions. The program was all-inclusive when it came to the type of art forms it would promote — musicians, photographers, painters, visual performers and more participated in events.

The New York State Council on the Arts, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) and the New York State Legislature supported the grant-funded program, along with many other partners.

“We were thinking, what can we do to help emerging artists [who] tend to be underrepresented and are usually recently out of college?” Michelle Carollo said in a phone interview. Carollo was the artistic supervisor for SPARKBOOM.

Pandafan performs at a SPARKBOOM event. File photo by Dan Woulfin
Pandafan performs at a SPARKBOOM event. File photo by Dan Woulfin

Carollo helped oversee and organize more than 10 events, which included a holiday party that featured musicians and spoken-word poets, as well as window art and several film screenings with after-parties featuring musicians.

One of her favorite events, Off the Walls, was a block party and street fair in Huntington Station that showcased more than 30 art vendors, a BMX stunt bike show, live Latin dancing and an interactive mural painting.

“This event was unique because we were able to publicize it in two languages, so we were able to attract a much larger audience, and a couple hundred people ended up contributing to the community mural,” she said.

Steven Licardi is a poet who worked with SPARKBOOM and described the experience as “overwhelmingly positive.” He believes that what it did so well was combine art forms and artists on a large scale and show the public how talented Long Island artists are. He also thought that SPARKBOOM was doing successfully what other organizations were either not taking advantage of or not doing as well.

“Long Island has a booming artistic community … I would argue that it’s more than or equally as vibrant and diverse as Manhattan or Brooklyn,” he said in an email. “Long Island is teeming with talented people — particularly young people — who are tempting to redefine and re-imagine what art is.”

Long Island is getting older, and its youth population is smaller than neighboring regions, statistics show.

According to the Long Island Index, the Island’s 55 and older population is growing by about 2 percent per year. The trend started to accelerate in 2007 and is expected to last for another decade. In Nassau and Suffolk counties, 29 percent of residents were over 55 in 2013, up from 25 percent in 2007.

Meanwhile, the number of 25 to 34 year olds was declining through 2007 and has held relatively steady at 11 percent of the population since then. That’s less than other suburban parts of the region and much less than New York City, which stands at 18 percent.

Employment is one of the main reasons young people leave Long Island, according to a Destination LI survey published last year. Nearly 57 percent of millennials were unable to find jobs aligned with their skills on Long Island.

For one young artist, SPARKBOOM helped her advance professionally, she said.

“SPARKBOOM offered me an entryway into performing more meaningful shows on Long Island, a goal I was having difficulty reaching on my own,” Alexa Dexa, a musician who participated in several of the program’s events, said in an email. “As a young artist, it was extremely encouraging to participate in events that fostered a real sense of community, and to be selected on the merit of my work … It was a blessing to have the exposure and funding for my performances that the infrastructure of SPARKBOOM was able to provide,” she said.

Marc Courtade, the executive director of the Huntington Arts Council, said the curtain has closed on the program for the foreseeable future.

“I am sorry to say there are no plans [to keep a program like this going] at the moment,” he said in a phone interview. “It’s unfortunate because it was a very good program, there was really nothing comparable to this program.”

Licardi echoed Couratade’s sentiment.

“The loss of SPARKBOOM is a huge blow to the Long Island arts scene.”

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