Sparks Gallery has been a fixture in the downtown art scene since 2013. The building that houses the gallery has been around quite a bit longer- since 1867, when the lot was originally sold for $150 in the then seedy Gaslamp Quarter. Due for some major renovations to the Sterling Hardware Building, Sparks closed for construction. On March 1st, the gallery is reopening in its shiny new digs with an exhibit featuring 60 San Diego artists and the unveiling of the two-story high mural “fractals series,” by Monty Montgomery.

We chatted with owner Sonya Sparks about her gallery’s story, the newly designed space and the San Diego art scene.

How’d Sparks Gallery come about? 

I always wanted to be involved in the arts and remember drawing, painting, and taking photographs at a young age. I studied art at the University of San Diego but decided to major in Business Administration instead of art, because the art scene in San Diego wasn’t very open to new hires at the time (early 2000s). After working for 8 years at an international business, I felt it was time to start something new. My family encouraged me to start my own business and I just jumped right into it without looking back. I decided to combine my interest in art with my business background to start an art gallery that focused on the local art scene. My family also helped with the restoration and design of the space, and it has been a great family project to work on together. 


What makes the gallery’s location unique? 

The Sparks Gallery is located in the historic Sterling Hardware Building on Sixth Avenue between Island and Market in the Gaslamp Quarter. Our building was registered as historic when the Gaslamp Quarter was officially founded in the early 1980s.

Buildings that old typically need renovations. What differences should visitors expect? 

Back in 1924, different standards for buildings were used, and they were not as stringent about seismic effects from earthquakes. Giant steel columns and seismic bracing were added to our building, and our capacity limit was raised from 50 people to 348 people. We’ve also added a whole new upper level mezzanine and interior structure with a kitchen, restrooms, office, and elevator lift to the second floor. The original floors and brick walls have also been restored by hand. 

Who designed the space? 

Architects Hanna Gabriel Wells were chosen to design the new space and Wilson Construction spearheaded the 2-year restoration of the building. We designed the space so the fixtures, knobs, paint colors, and other details are all vintage (from 1924 or earlier) to fit with the era of the historic space. We also have many interesting stories about what the space used to be before 1924, such as a vaudeville theater with a trapeze lady, carriage repair shop and hardware store. Our historic focus aims to pair old San Diego with new contemporary visions from our community. 

Being in the Gaslamp, do you get more tourists or locals? 

The Sparks Gallery is located in a great area for both tourists and locals. We are so glad to be part of the Gaslamp Quarter, which is a welcoming and energetic community that takes pride in their neighborhood. 

Can you comment on the local art scene? 

The San Diego art scene has been in a state of flux for many years, and right now we see a lot more independent opportunities for artists and arts professionals.  On the other hand, many art organizations and galleries are pivoting with their business models (Ray at Night is an example), or closing shop altogether. It will be interesting to see what endures over the next few years. Many local artists have also been leaving San Diego to put down roots in other cities where the art scene is stronger for their style of work. I feel that we are underserving our local art community and our talented artists should not need to leave to make a living. In terms of looking to the future of the art scene in San Diego, I think we must also look back to the original San Diego art community to understand who we are and where we come from. 

NCVI exhibit