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Sunday, 29 November -0001 19:03

Skate & Create

SARATOGA SPRINGS - As city skateboarders celebrate the recent excavation of the once-buried concrete bowl located at the East Side Recreation Park, their attention now turns to raising money for its repair. Local artists and community members are organizing a skateboard deck art show and silent auction called On Deck.  The show will be hosted by the Spring Street Gallery, and is scheduled to open March 3.

On Deck will feature skateboard decks featuring graphics designed by over 70 artists hoping to do their part to support the skateboard community within Saratoga Springs. The skateboard decks will be part of a silent auction, and proceeds will go toward the park. Notable artists include part-time Saratoga Springs resident Jeremy Fish, who will be donating screen prints for T-shirts to raise funds, and photographer Daesha Harris.

The show’s curator is Belinda Colon, who collaborated on the idea with her husband, Benj Gleekman, and the skate park’s unofficial spokesperson, Charlie Samuels. The group decided it was important to keep their positive momentum going following the celebration of the bowl’s November 2011 reopening. Colon began contacting artists almost immediately and found numerous volunteers for the cause. 

Gleekman feels the decision to hold an art show speaks loudly to the symmetry enjoyed by skateboard and art culture. 

 “Skateboarding is an individual and expressive activity, as opposed to a team sport where you’re boxed in by the rules,” said Gleekman.  “In skateboarding you can do what you want and because of that it attracts creative individuals. We’re all part of this big creative community.”
The recruitment efforts ranged from telephone calls, to an open invitation for submissions on the gallery show’s Facebook page.  Before long, the roster of contributing artists passed 70. Colon says whether it’s pop art, street-graffiti art, or screen prints, the gallery will have something for everyone. 

Initial plans for the gallery include the opening on March 3, which will coincide with the beginning of the silent auction.  The auction will stay open throughout the month, and may include an online listing of what is available at the show.  For now, the gallery is expected to host other fundraising ventures including yoga classes and a screening of a film made by Samuels.

The art show and fundraiser is just the latest chapter in the history of Saratoga Skate Park. The skate park originally opened in the East Side Recreation Park in 1988 and gave city skateboarders a place to call their own.  In 2004 the park received a major new addition when a 37-foot, kidney-shaped concrete bowl was built. The bowl replicates the kind of rounded concrete pools that professional skateboarders would popularize in the 1970s and 80s. It was the park’s most unique feature, as most skateboard parks cannot afford or facilitate concrete bowls.
Then one morning in March 2010, the bowl was filled with dirt. Saratoga Springs skateboarders received no warning of the city’s plans to do so, and were left scratching their heads over the decision. There were no outstanding lawsuits stemming from the skate park. There w

ere no complaints filed to the city regarding the skate park. No one had gotten injured.
“All I remember was showing up at the park one day to skate and the bowl was filled in,” remembers Gleekman. “It was depressing. I still went, but you’d show up and every day there’d be more and more weeds growing out of it,” he continued.

Rumors swirled about possible reasons behind the filling of the bowl ranging anywhere from a response to graffiti around the park, to lack of funding, to the age-old argument of safety liability.

The bowl likely would have remained filled if not for the organized efforts of Charlie Samuels, a resident of Saratoga Springs and lifelong skateboarder. The photographer and filmmaker would attend city council meetings throughout 2011, demanding to know why he was being ignored.  He even went so far as to begin asking council members to meet him for coffee to discuss the matter, an offer that was eventually accepted by Accounts Commissioner John Franck.  The meeting with Franck paved the way for Samuels to begin discussions with other city officials as he attempted to have his voice heard.

His lengthy, and at times heated, battle with the Saratoga Springs City Council attracted the attention of local media.  He was dubbed “the 50-year-old skateboarder,” who looked at concrete pools as “the holy grail” of skateboarding.  Samuels sees his role in this a bit differently.
“I’m just a skateboarder that wants to skate, and have this facility open to the public,” said Samuels.

Samuels wasn’t alone in his fight, and his plight was taken up by another local skater who opened a “Save the Skate Park” Facebook page. The page became a home base for people interested in preserving the integrity of the park and to date has over 3,000 people behind its cause. 
One morning in November 2011, Samuels received a call from Commissioner of Public Works Anthony Scirocco, asking him to meet with him down at the park.  When he arrived, Samuels wasn’t sure he believed what he saw.

“I saw dump trucks carting dirt out and next to the pool was a backhoe filling them. It was almost too good to be true,” recalls Samuels.

Following the excavation of the pool, Samuels was thrilled. The bowl was reopened in November 2011, and will stay open under a “skate-at-your-own-risk” policy for the coming warmer months. The bowl could use a significant amount of repair, as concrete coping around the lip of the bowl has begun to deteriorate. Samuels says he’s willing to contribute to costs associated with the concrete bowls’ upkeep, along with the money raised by On Deck.  For more information on the show, visit the On Deck Art Gallery page on Facebook. 

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