Artwork can come in many shapes and sizes, on just about any kind of canvas — including skateboards.
That's the idea behind All Hands on Deck, a skateboard art show on display at Poulsbo's Vibe Coworks put on by Urbanists Collective, a local nonprofit that promotes community wellness through art-driven programs, often focused on youth projects. The organization works in both California and Washington.
“We’re combining the arts with community service,” said the collective's executive director, Erik Gonzalez.
The show kicked off with an opening reception last Thursday. It will remain on display through April 28 for members of the co-working space, or people who arrange to visit.
All the pieces are for sale, with some artists donating 50 percent of the proceeds to the collective. Some pieces will also see 100 percent of their proceeds benefit Poulsbo’s skate park.
This is the second skateboard art show the collective has put on, Gonzalez said. The first was at a pop-up shop in downtown Bremerton last year.
For the Poulsbo show, the collective was able to invite new artists who have never shown their work before, Gonzalez said.
“That’s always exciting," he said. "At the Bremerton show, we had maybe six teenagers from the local high school who showed their artwork for the very first time. Extremely talented youth — had never considered selling their work. We created that platform for them. They actually sold their artwork. They were super pumped."
Gonzalez said he remembered the teens reluctantly showing him their artwork. When he saw what they had produced, he was impressed, he said.
“Almost all of them were illustrators, and I was like, ‘Whoa, you guys are so talented; you have to show here,” he said. “We gave them an entire wall just to themselves. I provided free prints to them, and they sold prints. So that was really cool.”
The Poulsbo show featured seven new pieces not included in the Bremerton show, and features artists from across Kitsap County — Bremerton, Poulsbo, Kingston, Bainbridge Island — as well as artists from California, and one from North Carolina.
It's not uncommon to see art shows featuring skateboards in major cities, Gonzalez said. It's a natural fit, because skateboards typically come with artwork on them. In fact, it's not uncommon for people who don't even skate to collect skateboards simply for their artwork, he said.
"The skateboarding industry has contributed a whole lot to fashion and that carries over to the ... art world," Gonzalez said.
Artist Luke Dorny said skateboards can be versatile works of art: "People can buy it, skate it, and destroy it, or they can buy it and hang it and appreciate it," he said. "It's a weird canvas, for sure."
Bremerton artist Fro's art typically takes the form of spray-painting walls, such as the art wall in Manette; it wasn't difficult to translate his technique to a skateboard deck, he said. "I just adjust how I paint, but it's not an issue per se," he said. "I didn't have to overthink it."
For many artists, a skate deck is, in a sense, "your first ever canvas," said Poulsbo artist C. Bennett. "As a kid, your first skateboard, you're going to slap stickers on it, you're going to write your name on it," he said.
"It's just cool to see Erik doing this, because he's got a good mission," he added.
In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, Urbanists Collective’s fundraisers are making up for lost time, since prohibitions on gatherings shut down much of its fundraising work.
“A lot of the campaigns … were designed with some kind of participatory element, really to build rapport: engage with people, build relationships, and share … information about available resources,” Gonzalez said. The collective also put on art festivals that were part of their fundraising efforts, and when public gatherings were curtailed, it adversely affected their fundraising even further.
“That’s the No. 1 hardship that we’ve been hit with: not being able to have public events,” he said. “Even some of our grants had to go on hold because they were designed around hands-on learning classes, workshops, murals, and we had to reinvent the wheel, basically.”
The collective put on some events virtually, but it wasn’t ideal for connecting with youth, Gonzalez said. “Going virtual, it can only take you so far,” he said.
Gonzalez added that because of the organization’s unique blend of community projects and the arts, it can be a challenge to explain what they do to potential funders.
“We often find that we have to justify our work and explain — almost educate — funders about how effective it really is,” Gonzalez said. The perception is that the collective is just putting on arts as a kind of extracurricular activity, he said, but “it’s so much more than that, because you’re building relationships with young people and you're able to find trust when you’re connecting them to resources.”
Gonzalez's mission to foster artistic talent in the younger generation is a reflection of his own trajectory as an artist.
“Growing up as a graffiti artist, society was telling me, ‘You can’t do that.’ Teachers, family and friends were like, ‘You can’t really go anywhere with that; you can’t do anything with it.’”
But in fact, he could do something with it.
“I’ve been fortunate enough to create a career around professional graffiti and working with major companies, large corporations, and that’s really what sparked and inspired me to do the work of Urbanists, as well as to offer opportunities for young people," he said. "Just as those opportunities were offered to me at one point, that allowed me to grow and allowed me to realize that I could do something with my craft.”
For information on the Urbanists Collective, or to donate to the nonprofit, visit the organization's website.
All photos copyright 2022 Kitsap Scene