Imagination Station

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Almost two years ago, 916 Ink Founding Executive Director Katie McCleary was interviewed by Girls on the Grid, the sassy blog covering professional women in Sacramento, as part of its Women Making History project. When asked what she wanted to see in Sacramento in five years, McCleary answered, “a whimsical literacy center, a place where readers and writers can congregate and build community, where kids and teens are transported into an imaginative and creative space to fuel their own stories and poetry.”

Well, it’s here. At the shuttered Maple Elementary School campus in the South City Farms neighborhood of Sacramento—on 37th Street off Franklin Boulevard—McCleary’s 916 Ink has taken over the former library and transformed it into a space of color and inspiration designed to get young minds revved up and pens scratching across paper. 

It’s worth noting 916 Ink’s mission: to turn Sacramento youth into published authors and confident writers. At its heart, 916 Ink is a literacy organization. Creative writing and reading go hand-in-hand, and the program’s gentle yet energetic approach has served some 1,700 area youth ages 8 and older, and published 50 books—professional books, with ISBNs and super-cool covers created by local graphic designer Angela Tannehill, released at parties complete with author readings. And until now, the program was spread all over the region, with writing workshops held in South Sac, Carmichael, downtown, the youth detention center off Bradshaw Road and other far-flung spots, while McCleary and her cohorts worked in a cozy little garret above the Sacramento Poetry Center with spotty Wi-Fi and no central heat. 

But this year, kickstarted by a $10,000 grant from the Inspire Giving fund through the Sacramento Metro Chamber, 916 Ink has created the Imaginarium. “It’s a Willy Wonka-esque, Alice in Wonderland meets friendly steampunk travel theme,” says McCleary of the new space, which teems with whimsical artwork created primarily by local artist Kerri Warner, who has donated countless hours. Warner’s masterpieces include the space’s piece de resistance—a mixed-media sculpture called Masta Complaina, described by McCleary as “a snarky editor who inspires writers to produce their best creative work possible.” He’s made of books, camera lenses, typewriter parts and other found objects. Warner also is responsible for the paintings of famous authors (think Beverly Cleary, J.R.R. Tolkien, Jacqueline Woodson), a corner of birdcages with paper feathers, shelf after shelf of writing prompts (containers full of such literary jumpstarters as “poison” apples, gourds, butterflies, keys and moss) interspersed with typewriters and vintage suitcases and other visual delights, including a crimson record player turntabling three blackbirds. The room also showcases 916 Ink’s book covers and author photos.

The Imaginarium opens officially this month, and already is the site of a weekly teen writing workshop. It will soon host more writing workshops, book-making events and field trips for underserved youth. It’s the first of several phases of Maple Elementary’s transition into the Maple Neighborhood Center—Fairytale Town will open a pop-up adventure playground and La Familia will have a counseling center there as well. 916 Ink has more to add, including a yellow brick road leading to the in-progress writers’ garden, which will grow dwarf citrus, vegetables and flowers. 

“Everywhere you look is inspiration,” says McCleary.

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