Metro Weekly

Boards and Chords: Skateboarding at the Kennedy Center

Finding a Line explores an unusual and urban form of art

Finding a Line: Tom-Remillard - Photo: Jon Coulthard

Finding a Line: Tom-Remillard – Photo: Jon Coulthard

Sculptors have a kiln. Painters have a studio. Actors have a rehearsal room. Every artist has a place to create their art. Whether the walls are covered with mirrors, or the floors are splotched with paint, these places are sacred to them, a place where they can experiment without fear of failure. But for some artists, these places aren’t confined by four walls. For Ben Ashworth, a studio is a street, his medium a skateboard. “When you’re skateboarding, the whole city is your canvas.” Ashworth says. “You’re operating in your own sort of space and time, establishing your own rhythms and flows based on that city.”

Now, Ashworth, with musician Jason Moran, is bringing that unique flow to the Kennedy Center, pairing it with live music from musicians across the country. Finding a Line explores skateboarding, music and media through performance and exhibits. “Over the years, I’ve figured out that the best way to produce my public work, is by creating symbiotic relationships with other artists,” says Ashworth. “Finding a Line is really my life’s work as a public artist.”

“Finding a line” is a phrase that describes when a skateboarder first drops into a pool, and needs to determine his course through it. “You’re figuring out ideal lines of movement through a structure. You are in a constant state of falling through the center of the earth,” Ashworth says. “But for me, finding a line is also a metaphor for life. No matter what your medium is, you have a plan of action, but then you’re up against other people’s desires. You have to find the lines that overlap with others.”

Moran sees these intersections as opportunities for brilliance.

One part of the week-long exhibit will feature skateboarders, both professional and amateur, free-skating in front of the Kennedy Center with a soundtrack improvised by Moran’s own jazz band: Jason Moran and The Bandwagon. “There’s so much subtlety in how a skater prepares for a trick, or how a musician prepares for a chord progressions,” Moran says. “I’ve always thought of improvisation as navigation. It’s not about number of scales or licks. It’s about how you navigate a song, or how you wind your way through a pool.”

Ashworth and Moran elevate skateboarding to an honest art that has the potential to influence other mediums and audiences. “We’re bringing together a lot of different folks that push their mediums,” says Ashworth. “We’re really hoping there will be some cross-pollination to fuel their respective artistic fires.” 

At the Kennedy Center, Sept. 4-13. For tickets and a full schedule of events, visit kennedy-center.org.

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