When folks at McKinney need divine intervention of the creative sort — or at least a down-and-dirty solution that screams genius — inevitably, they turn to the studio. And often that search leads them to Senior Studio Artist Bliss Alexander-Smith. Whether it’s building a giant doughnut box, a request that begins with, “I’m not sure if this is possible, but…” or even, you know, a mechanical or two, she’s got you covered.

And Bliss, like a lot of McKinneyites, is always looking for inspiration to feed her own creative fires. Recently, her focus turned to SPARKcon — the yearly conglomeration of creativity that descends upon Raleigh every September, this year in its 11th incarnation.

We sat down and talked with Bliss about her interest and involvement with the SPARKcon festival.

Q: When did SPARKcon first hit your radar? And what made you think it would be something you wanted to get involved with?

Bliss: I heard about it back in 2006, it was the first one. I really liked that it was talking about igniting the “creativity hub of the South” — that resonated with me. I just really like being at the epicenter of creativity anything, really — the idea of being in a place where things were happening and being at the beginning of something.

So I went the first couple of years, attending events and listening to speakers. And I participated in bazaarSPARK — doing my crafty thing back in the day. 
I’ve made a point of attending every year since then.

Q: But now, fast forward to 2016, and you got involved again?

Bliss: Yeah, you know, I’ve always associated Raleigh with being my home and a place where I want my kids to grow up. And I was really aching to be more involved in Raleigh somehow. And it turns out that a friend of mine, who just recently left her position as director of the VAE (the Visual Art Exchange in Raleigh, North Carolina, produces SPARKcon), posted on Facebook about a general meeting for SPARKcon, encouraging people to come share their ideas.
And I thought that would be kind of cool, so I went. And it was funny, because things seemed a little more advanced than a general introductory meeting. But I had a couple of ideas floating around in my head, so I threw them out there. One was a Snapchat filter, I thought that would be a cool little thing. And then, since we had been involved with HB2 at McKinney, HB2 signage for the porta potties seemed like a natural and easy thing to do. And, obviously, porta potties are for everyone who needs to go. I thought it would be kind of tongue in cheek, but I wasn’t sure they would want to be politically involved. It turns out, of course they did. And all of them were really positive and jumped on the ideas I put out there. 


Q: Where did it go from there?

Bliss: They pushed me in the direction of artSPARK. And that team was great. They were like, “Go for it.” That’s just how they operate. The Snapchat thing had already been discussed in previous artSPARK meetings, but I did some layouts for the HB2 porta potty signage and sent over some options. They’re moving forward with the ones they liked. So that’s great.

Q: So, what are you looking forward to about this year’s SPARKcon?

Bliss: As far as enjoying it once it starts happening, we’re looking at it as something we can do as a family outing. There’s a kidsSPARK, they always have big installations and parades. 

And for me, I really like the chalk drawing in the streets. I love seeing teenagers getting filthy-dirty with chalk dust, sitting down and mapping out a piece of art that’s going to be totally washed away in a matter of hours. The whole process — I mean, who doesn’t find that mesmerizing?

SPARKcon is an interdisciplinary creativity, art and design festival produced by the nonprofit creativity incubator, Visual Art Exchange. It will take place September 15–18 in downtown Raleigh.