sPARK Awards Nominees 2023

Showcasing the Inspiring Projects and Programs of Balboa Park

The inaugural sPARK Awards on March 29, 2023, inspired a sense of belonging, attracting a wide range of nominees. Individuals and organizations spanning the nonprofit, public, and private sectors, both within or beyond the boundaries of Balboa Park, submitted compelling programs and projects to our selection committee. While three winners were recognized in the three award categories—Igniting Innovation, Crossing Boundaries, and Enhancing Ecosystems—we are also grateful to our other nominees, listed here, for sharing what inspires them and how they are inspiring others to innovate, connect, and create. Take a moment to learn more about the many individuals and organizations making an impact in Balboa Park this past year.

Igniting Innovation Nominees

San Diego Architectural Foundation, Built Environment Education Program

The SDAF BEEP program provides free virtual sketching lessons along with educational programming for youth and adults, with an emphasis on reaching underserved communities. Led by experienced urban sketcher and architect Laura Ducharme-Conboy, the 2023 program focuses on Balboa Park to showcase its historical significance and encourage participants to embrace a different perspective on the built environment.

Desha Crownover, San Diego Junior Theatre, Disney Pilot Productions

Desha Crownover’s contributions to San Diego Junior Theatre during her tenure as Artistic Director have had a major impact on the innovation, growth, and financial health of the organization. Desha spearheaded the successful collaboration with Disney Theatricals to produce pilot productions of popular Disney titles like Newsies Jr. and Moana Jr. The program allowed the Junior Theatre community to be an integral part of the artistic development of a regional premiere of a new Disney adaptation, and Desha ensured that the production teams were being responsible stewards of culture and established SDJT’s core values of empathy, identity, resilience, community, and responsibility.

Roger Showley, San Diego Automotive Museum Façade Restoration

Roger was nominated for his efforts to help restore the San Diego Automotive Museum in Balboa Park, by replicating the façade of the original building. This project benefited Balboa Park as an historical site and could serve as a model for restoring other buildings in the future.

Mingei International Museum Renovation

The Mingei International Museum completed a $55 million renovation project in fall 2021, transforming its facility in Balboa Park into a welcoming and inclusive space. The project included the addition of a free Commons Level with a gallery, store, restaurants, and a center for learning, as well as multiple public entries and accessible restrooms. The museum held input sessions with Balboa Park stakeholders and visitors to create a transformational project that embraces community and has since seen an uptick in visitors with much more diverse backgrounds and demographics.

Andrew Utt, Executive Director, Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA) San Diego

Andrew Utt was nominated for his leadership in merging two contemporary art institutions with limited resources and impact to create a new experimental binational contemporary art center connecting artists, educators, activists, and community members. The ICA’s effort was key in uniting the divide of visual arts between San Diego, North County, and the US/Mexico border region, as well as making Balboa Park an even more important and widely recognized center for culture and the arts around the state, country, and beyond our borders.

Enhancing Ecosystems

David Wageman, Greens Manager, San Diego Lawn Bowling Club

For the past eleven years, David Wageman, Greens Manager at Balboa Park Lawn Bowling Club, has diligently maintained the two lawn bowling greens on the west mesa area of the park. David has spearheaded several improvement projects on the lawns and the surrounding facilities used by the Lawn Bowling Club; led volunteer teams to repair the facilities; and devoted endless hours to preserve the area’s beauty and integrity.

René Smith, Parks and Recreation Board

René Smith has dedicated much of his retired life to improving Balboa Park. As a member of the Parks and Recreation Board, he has provided exceptional knowledge on the financial path needed to improve the park’s physical surroundings. His efforts have resulted in a thorough analysis of the park’s operations.

Steven Pfong and Jose Sifuentes, Clean I Love San Diego

Steven Pfong and Jose Sifuentes have dedicated hours to removing and safely disposing over 400 pounds of waste in various areas of Balboa Park and the surrounding regions. Their practices are rooted in gratitude and have helped inspire community members to get involved in stewarding the natural environment and beautifying Balboa Park.

Michael Field, San Diego Natural History Museum

Spearheaded by Director of Experience Design Michael Field, Expedition Baja is a permanent exhibition at the San Diego Natural History Museum that focuses on biodiversity research and conservation efforts throughout the Baja Peninsula. The exhibition was created with sustainability in mind, incorporating upcycling, the use of recycled materials, and LED lighting. The exhibition’s sustainable practices improve the environmental health and sustainability of Balboa Park while inspiring the public to implement similar practices.

Crossing Boundaries

Michael Stepner, Balboa Park Design Review Exploratory Committee

Michael Stepner, Board Member for the Committee of 100, was nominated for his efforts on the Balboa Park Design Review Board, where he analyzed projects for design quality and appropriateness. Along with René Smith, he convened an exploratory group of park stakeholders in 2020 to define a new process for project initiation and approval that ensures the unique nature of the park is considered in all future proposals.

Japanese Friendship Garden, Master Series Program

The Master Series Program invited Japanese Friendship Garden members and the San Diego community to learn about various techniques of bamboo making, lacquer, stone lantern, tea whisk, and more. The program provided valuable cultural enrichment, emphasizing Japanese cultural heritage, bringing awareness to the Asian arts, and highlighting artisans in San Diego and Japan.

Jack Carpenter, René Smith, Roger Showley

Jack Carpenter, René Smith, and Roger Showley spearheaded a working group that included city staff and other park stakeholders to conduct the 2019–2021 Balboa Park Parking and Circulation study. The study examined park accessibility and explored ways to balance the rising need for parking with preserving the park’s recreation spaces. Although the study was not officially adopted, it was circulated among various park interest and advocacy groups to serve as a framework for all mobility projects in the park.

Young Lions Jazz Conservatory, The San Diego Museum of Art, & Panama 66, Jazz Jam

Jazz Jam at Panama 66 at The San Diego Museum of Art is a free weekly public event that provides jazz students with the opportunity to perform in front of a live audience and exposes young musicians/artists to an audience of park visitors from all over the world. The program amplifies musicians of all ages and helps to create a vibrant community where jazz, art, culture, and education all culminate in the park.

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