Take a student’s creative vision and a few hundred dollars and what do you get? World-class art in Otero’s common room, in the middle of White Plaza, and on the steps of Green Library–a vibrant, artistic community on the Stanford campus.

The SPARK! Grants in the Creative and Performing Arts program, endowed by Leslie Hume, M.A. ’71 Ph.D. ’79 and George Hume J.D. ’75 MBA ’75 and administered by the Stanford Arts Institute, financially supports artistic creation by Stanford students.

“SPARK! empowers students to make art anywhere–in their dorms and public spaces on campus,” said Programming Director Sarah Curran. “The Hume’s are long-time supporters of the University, and they wanted the Stanford campus to feel alive with art, especially student art.”

The rules for a grant are simple and few. Come up with an original idea and a solid plan to make it happen, and SPARK! will cover the cost of materials, rehearsal space, advertising, and anything else required to bring that idea to life. The only real limitation is that the project must be unrelated to a class assignment.

“SPARK! is extra curricular, not for a grade or academic credit,” Curran said, “These are works that students are excited to create on their own time, because they are interested in creating art.”

From sneakers to magic tricks

Stanford Arts Institute awards about fifteen SPARK! grants per quarter, and the number keeps growing. In the program’s three-year history, projects imagined up by Stanford students have drawn from every creative discipline including architecture, creative writing, music, sculpture, film, theater, and dance–sometimes many at once.

  • Lulu DeBoer, Film Studies ’13, presented a short film series that explored the destruction of the planet’s marine ecosystem from the perspective of one who would understand it best–a mermaid. Submerged in the fountains and pools on campus, DeBoer used an underwater camera and a green tail, to get her message across.
  • Andrew Evans, M.A. Product Design ’13, packed the house with “Vodvil,” his performance of age-old illusions and sleight of hand. In researching his tricks, Evans dug so far back into the archives that he resurrected tricks from the 1800s and the Vaudeville-style of the early 1900′s that had been nearly forgotten.
  • Daniel Enjay Wong, Art Practice ‘13, created an installation of painted canvas sneakers titled “Cephalo-Pod,” what he called an “investigation of nostalgia,” specifically, his early obsession with sea creatures including cephalopods. The word means “head-foot” in Greek. In his work, Wong said, the “canvas is the head, containing the subconscious existence, and the shoes, the outward representation” are the feet.
  • Karen Ladenheim, Product Design ’13, travels in South America inspired her multimedia art exhibit on craftwork traditions and the people who carry them on. Her photos and stories looked in particular at her time in Araucanía, Chile, where she studied crin, a method of weaving horsehair and poplar roots that developed several centuries ago.
  • Joshua Coronado, Biology ’13, M.A. Music, Science, and Technology expected ’15, is reimagining traditional Tahitian drumming rhythms through electronic music. His work in progress, “Drums,” has helped him get back in touch with making music, something Coronado said, he thought he might have to trade for biology books.
  •  Lauren YoungSmith, Studio Art and English ’13, used ink, charcoal, graphite and paint as well as her love of graphic novels to create a series of large-scale illustrations based on Chinese and Japanese ghost myths.
  • Chana Rose Rabinovitz, [Major] ’13, created “I am From…” a photo and writing exhibit co-created by the students she worked with in Cape Town, South Africa.

From idea to career

Envisioning a great concept might get you there, but you still need infrared lights, rear projection screens, and a hundred feet of extension cord to get everyone else to join you.

This is partly what inspired two dancers, Katherine Disenhof, Human Biology ‘12, Human Biology, and Ali Mckeon, English ’11, to apply for a SPARK! grant in their respective junior and senior years. Another reason was to find an excuse to ask students at Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics (CCRMA) to collaborate.

“We had a vision for a dance that we both really wanted to explore,” Disenhof said. “There wasn’t a class that focused on dance and technology and collaborating between those, so we did it ourselves.”

The result was “Re-,” a performance of choreographed dance by Disenhof and Mckeon, live motion tracking technology engineered by Hunter McCurry, and music composed by Chris Carlson.

“It was a great challenge,” Disenhof said. “You don’t normally have to do all of these things when you put on a student performance. It was a great experience as an artist because we had to consider spatial configurations of space, lighting, how to fill Roble’s huge space, and how to maneuver around these pieces of equipment.”

According to Disenhof, their performance was the first time dance and interactive computer technologies joined forces at Stanford’s Dance Division.

“Spark! was great for a lot of reasons. It made it possible to collaborate with other artists in other disciplines and departments including CCRMA, and it ultimately helped us build our portfolios, too,” Disenhof said. She currently works at Alonzo King LINES School of Ballet in San Francisco. Mckeon is pursuing a graduate degree at University of California Irvine, focusing on technology and dance.

Continue the conversation

 SPARK! is one of many grant opportunities administered by Stanford Arts Institute that reflects Stanford’s commitment to support the arts in student life, foster creativity across campus, and infuse the arts into the fabric of the university.

Students may apply to the Student Arts Grant program with no departmental or faculty sponsorship requirement each quarter. Awards are up to $1,500. Projects can involve any creative discipline, including architecture, design, arts, science, technology, creative writing, film and video, visual arts, music, dance, theater, and intermedia.