Schwarzman director and Yale students shred at skateboarding conference.

Last month, Garth Ross, the Executive Director of the Schwarzman Center, attended a skateboarding, music, and media conference in Los Angeles, CA produced by L.A. County’s Ford Amphitheater and UCLA’s Center for the Art of Performance. Two Yale students, J. Joseph’ 19 and Bobby Pourier ’20, accompanied Ross.

This unique, high-octane event, ‘Finding a Line: Skateboarding, Music, and Media,’ was part of a nationwide public art project that aims to celebrate the creativity of the entire skateboarding community, including musicians, photographers, filmmakers, painters, graphic and fashion designers, as well as the skateboarders themselves.

“To think of skateboarding culture as skateboarding alone is to take it way out of context. Media production and music have always been integral components of it,” said Ross.

The highlight of the conference–a combined jazz performance and skate demo on the stage of the Ford Amphitheater–typified the intersectional nature of skateboarding that Ross describes. A crew of professional skaters including Greg Lutzka and Brad McClain took to a giant ramp to show off their tricks, while Jason Moran, a MacArthur award-winning pianist, and his group The Bandwagon played jazz music in the background. Almost immediately, the two forms of art began to blend. The skaters’ movements followed the rhythm of the music. The music responded to the contours of the 360 flips, backside flips, kick flip indy grabs, and 360 grabs taking place on the ramp. The stage mics captured the sound of the wheels hitting the ground, converting the visual fusion into a unique audible product.

“It was a jazz session and a skateboarding session simultaneously–two creative communities that both progress through experimentation doing it together.  Everyone on the stage was sharing the risks of improvisation, and everyone in the theater was sharing in the excitement,” said Ross.

Approximately 1000 students affiliated with Design for Sharing, UCLA’s free K-12 arts-education program, attended the skate-jazz performance. During a Q&A session after the show, the skateboarders described the myriad lessons to be learnt from pursuing this “counter culture art form.”

“What you think is going to happen never happens, so you’re forced to improvise,” said Ben Ashworth of George Mason University. Ashworth co-created Finding a Line with Moran and Ross.

“Skateboarders are the only people who can fail constantly, all day, nothing, and then make it once and be the happiest people in the world,” said Jason WEE MAN Acuna, professional skateboarder and star of MTV’s ‘Jackass.’

“Skateboarders get to travel a lot, so they get to be with people from different countries, different backgrounds, religions etc. There’s a wealth of knowledge to be had,” said Kristin Svitak, a professional skateboarder. 

Svitak’s insight was reflected in another component of ‘Finding a Line.’ A weeklong exhibition of photos and artwork entitled “The Nation Skate,” curated by Neftalie Williams of the College Skateboarding Educational Fund, illustrated the ways in which skateboarding connects youth around the world by providing them with a common language.

‘Finding a Line’ also included two panel discussions. Williams, a lecturer at the USC Annenberg School of Communication and an expert on skateboarding culture, moderated a discussion titled ‘Exploring Issues of Race & Diversity in Skateboarding Culture.’

“The art show and the panel discussion on diversity, gender equity, and academia, gives us all the opportunity to reflect on the experiences of skateboarders and provides a creative platform to discuss the past, present, and future milestones of the global skateboarding community,” said Williams.

The second panel, titled ‘Transforming Space: Evolving from the Ground Up,’ explored the ‘place based culture’ of skateboarding. Bobby Pourier, a current Yale junior, participated in the discussion.

“As a skateboarder, I have skate-vision. That means I see every space as a resource to help me with my own mental health and well-being if I can skate it. Public spaces are designed for people to utilize and enjoy. Skateboarding also allows me to transfer over barriers of exclusivity in spaces where I, as an indigenous person, wasn’t imagined to be. Skating through Yale’s campus makes me feel invincible and more connected to my home,” said Pourier.

“No matter the limits on space, skateboarders are always making something. They are literally generating culture out of what is present,” said Ross.

Finally, the week-long conference included a film screening. A L.A. based duo–filmmaker Laban Phideias and theatre maker Diana Wyenn–co-curated ‘Trick Flicks: A Night of Shorts,’ giving the audience an insider’s view of skateboarding culture. The film featured a series of new shorts recorded at skate spots across L.A., depicting Ashworth and other professionals skating alongside locals. It captured the spirit that keeps skateboarding alive and vibrant at the grassroots, as well as the ways in which skating, more so than other sports, collapses distinctions between individuals.