Of all the sights you can see at the Kennedy Center—Broadway stars, orchestra musicians, heck, even Lady Gaga—this has to be the most surprising.
Washington’s most prestigious performing arts center is installing a full-fledged skate park on its front plaza. Yes, a skate park. At the Kennedy Center.
The skate bowl, small ramps, and “skateable fixtures” are all part of “Finding a Line: Skateboarding, Music, and Media,” a ten-day festival, September 4 through 13, celebrating the improvisational ties between skateboarding, jazz, and art. And this is certainly the first time the Kennedy Center has ever done anything like this.
The concept began to take root three decades ago, when Jason Moran—the Kennedy Center’s artistic director for jazz and the festival’s curator—started contemplating the links between skateboarding and music. “When I saw skate videos in the ’80s that had John Coltrane’s music, or Dexter Gordon’s… that just blew me away,” he says, adding, “There’s a lot to learn from listening to this music and watching skating.”
In 2013, the pianist planned a weekend event in San Francisco combining the two ideas. It was a huge success. So he approached the Kennedy Center about doing something similar with one caveat: He wanted to do something bigger and bolder. The plan moved forward; fellow festival curator Ben Ashworth, a local artist and skateboarder, was entrusted to lead construction of a skate bowl on the front plaza.
The festival’s programming includes skate deck exhibitions, a panel discussion on iconic skate videos, a “skateboarding diplomacy” photography show, and a special performance by Moran and his band, the Bandwagon, who will improvise live music while skateboarders complement his tunes on the ramp.
For Moran, it’s all about getting people to experience jazz and skateboarding in a new way. There’s a shared “do it yourself” attitude in both—a shared sense of subtleness and tenacity, he says. The park will also host public skate sessions, and he thinks local skaters will be astounded to hear they’re welcome to skate at the Kennedy Center: “People are just going to start showing up, which is also a beautiful thing.”