Artist Witt Siasoco discusses his artist residency as part of the RARE: Richfield Artist Resident Engagement project where he plans to experiment with skateboarding and visual art to reach youth.
I’m sitting here in my temporary studio, the basement of a dilapidated strip mall, thinking about the project that I will undertake this summer with Forecast Public Art and the Cornerstone Group. The storefront is like most rundown strip malls in first-ring suburbs in America — waiting for a revival or waiting for the wrecking ball.
In front of the strip mall is the free-flowing Lyndale Avenue, a street where cars zoom by at a 40-50 mph clip. Surrounding the studio are a slew of apartment complexes occupied by families seeking cheaper rent that can’t be found in Minneapolis. A parking lot away of Richfield Lake is the 1950s suburban dream — tract housing occupied by middle class families.
In between sits the Cornerstone development on Richfield Lake, a beautiful nature sanctuary that was once a part of the larger Wood Lake Nature area. A playground and basketball court is situated on the northeast edge of the lake. The Cornerstone site’s relationship to the surrounding area provides an interesting opportunity. The parking lot of the site is an informal pathway, or desire line, to the park and basketball court for many of the families that live in the apartment complexes.
The project that I am developing began by walking around the site and discovering that the land was much like the area where I grew up on the Southside of Des Moines, Iowa. My childhood home was located in a housing development filled with late-70s tract housing built from a catalog of homes. My street ended in a cul-de-sac, buffered by nature, and was bordered on the east end by a busy street sprinkled with strip malls and used car parking lots.
These unmoderated spaces, on the edge of property ownership, are a fertile ground for youth culture. This environment was the a perfect informal learning space to run wild and be a feral child. The trees and creek were dense enough to explore and not be seen by adults. The area around my house made it feel as if we could build anything and it would just be ours. From 7th grade to my senior year in high school, my crew of friends and I built monuments of dirt and plywood. What started off as small dirt jumps and elaborate embankments evolved into a massive 5-ft high, 20-ft wide halfpipe in the forest. Remembering this time has led me to draw up plans to build a DIY landscape for skateboarding.
By now, many people know that skaters are drawn to sites like the one that Cornerstone occupies. Many DIY spots like the 25-year-old Burnside Skatepark in Portland, Marginal Way in Seattle, Kings Highway in St. Louis, and FDR Skatepark in Philly continually expand and others have gone by the wayside (Bordertown in Oakland and Brooklyn Street in Portland). Locally, the DIY scene is strong and thriving. Many private bowls and indoor skateparks exist in the area. But these are only accessible to a handful of skaters. My biggest frustration is that there are no good public options for the larger skate community in the Twin Cities.
Most of my summer will be spent creating this DIY park. After the park is built, we will host several programs that highlight the talents of local skaters — things like skate video screenings by local filmmakers, family and all-girl skate sessions, a screen printing workshop focused on skate graphics, and a exhibition featuring the art of local skaters.
My past work as always involved community and hands-on artmaking, so the creation of a DIY landscape is the perfect combination of two of my passions – skateboarding and art. I’m looking forward to digging in the dirt again this summer.
This activity is made possible by the voters of Minnesota through a grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board, thanks to a legislative appropriation from the arts and cultural heritage fund.