SPARK helps public schools develop their playgrounds into community parks.

Parks and recreation space are great assets of a world-class city.  In 1983, the Green Ribbon Committee, a prestigious panel appointed by the Mayor and County Judge to assess Houston’s parks, reported that Houston would need at least 5,000 acres of additional park land in order to compare favorably with other U. S. cities. The SPARK program, based on one of the ideas in the final report, develops neighborhood parks on public school grounds.  Using available public land is a fast and cost effective way to increase park acreage.  Our goal is to create and finish selected park sites in twelve to eighteen months. In 1983 SPARK was founded by then Council Member Eleanor Tinsley. In January 1996, it was identified as a program of the mayor. SPARK has built 200+ community parks in twelve different school districts throughout the Houston area.  Each park is designed based on ideas and needs of the school and surrounding neighborhoods. While all of the parks are different, a typical park consists of modular playground equipment, a walking trail, benches, picnic tables, trees, an outdoor classroom, and a public art component.


Mark Lee, President

Susan Sample, Vice President
Shell Oil Company

Michele Fraga, Secretary
Tejas Office Supplies

Austin Werner, Treasurer
Magnus Oak Capital

Massoud Dioun
Landscape Architect

Chris Gonzalez
Trustee, Spring Branch ISD

Donald Perkins
Chief of Staff, Houston City Council, District K

Carla Wyatt
Harris County Budget Management Department

Applying for a SPARK Park

  •  The principal of the school should send a request on school letterhead to SPARK asking to be considered as a site selection.

  •  In January or February of each year, the SPARK staff makes a site visit to all schools that have applied in the past year to discuss the request with the principal and other interested parties. Site visits by SPARK staff confirm existing relationships between school and community—through churches, businesses, and civic clubs. The neighborhood must demonstrate a willingness to help plan and fund the park.

  •  In March, the SPARK Board will consider all applications and make site selections for the coming year.

  •  In May the SPARK staff meets with principals of selected schools to outline the park construction process. The goal is for parks to be completed within 12–18 months.

 Once a school is selected, the principal forms a SPARK committee made up of PTO/PTA, civic club members, parents, and teachers to determine what features will be included in their park.  Touring existing SPARK Parks shows what playground equipment is available and how art and landscaping are integrated into the design. As a result of these influences, talents, and efforts, every SPARK Park emerges unique, reflecting the needs, interests, and creative efforts of its particular neighborhood.

2016-2018 Site Selections

In the summer of 2016, SPARK was awarded a $5 million grant from Houston Endowment and the Kinder Foundation to build 30 SPARK parks over the next three years in park desert areas of Houston/ Harris County.  As a result, the majority of schools selected during this time must qualify based on location data provided by The Trust for Public Land.


SPARK began installing public art in 1991.  Since then, over 100 schools have chosen to incorporate public art such as murals, mosaics or sculptures into their parks.  Thirteen years ago, SPARK began publishing and distributing an annual art calendar highlighting public art projects at its various schools.  15,000 copies of the 2014 calendar were distributed.  SPARK has also printed six coloring books, which are distributed to students at park dedications.

Artist/Community Relationship

When an artist decides to work with SPARK, s/he understands first, that while they will bring their own style and experience to the project, their primary role will be as a vehicle of expression for the community, and second, that student and community involvement are among their highest priorities.

Community Involvement

SPARK was a non-profit partner of the Bayou City Art Festival from 2007-2012.  SPARK provided volunteers and shared in the profits of the spring and fall events. From 2011 through 2013, SPARK partnered with Charming Charlie stores, turning damaged materials into beautiful collages with a theme of “A Day in the Park.”  Collages are being sold as a fundraiser for SPARK.  Seventy schools from four school districts participated in the collage project.  Students from Northbrook Middle School also used the materials to create an Art Car for the 2013 Art Car Parade


Dedication at Wedgewood Elementary in Clear Creek ISD

Houston PBS Arts InSight Interview with Kathleen Ownby about SPARK and Wilson Montessori.

Retailer charming charlie produced a video about their collaborative project with SPARK. Students used recycled jewelry to create SPARKling art collages.