Skateboarders’ new role: The subjects of art at The Clairidge
(John Paul Dougherty)
On April 29, the atrium at The Clairidge came to life with a first for the space: immersive art. The show, called “Courts,” is a gallery presentation that pulls its inspiration from the daily goings-on at the temporary skate park at Rand Park.
“Courts” features the work of several photographers alongside a video and audio component. Sam Balaban, a Jersey City-based artist, and Evan Eden, a local skateboarding enthusiast who grew up down the street from Rand Park, curated it. Eden is also the founder of Unofficial.Skate, a group of artists.
“I grew up skating in town and attended my first town council meeting at age 13,” Eden says. Although there was a court local skaters used when he was in high school, the 24-year-old says it faded out. The skate park at Rand Park will be expanded with township approval, but it has not yet received official designation as a permanent skate park.
“The pandemic hit and we were allowed to skate there,” Eden says. “We saw it get built up and got to connect with the next generation of kids.”
One such kid is Carla King’s son Ethan, who took to skateboarding at a young age. The two of them visited different skate parks in Essex County because there was nothing close to home. It was at those parks that Carla King, who is a trustee of Skate Essex, a nonprofit volunteer organization that encourages the sport and works with communities to foster skater-friendly initiatives, noticed a common thread.
“Skateboarders [were] supporting each other, cheering each other on, and learning from each other,” she says.
Since opening in 2020, the temporary courts at Rand have played host to skaters and enthusiasts of all ages, levels and walks of life. The diversity reinforces the mass appeal of the art and craft of skating.
When Balaban received information from a friend about an Instagram feed dedicated to the goings-on at Rand Park, the timing couldn’t have been more ideal. “I was interested in taking photos of some skating,” he says.
After visiting the court, and many photos later, Balaban learned about the movement to get a full-blown skate park in Montclair, “and it caught my interest immediately,” he says.
It was also an ideal time to showcase an art installment dedicated to what goes on at the courts. Several photographers had taken pictures there, giving the curators plenty to choose from. When the space at The Clairidge, owned by the Grabowsky family, became available, “it was a no-brainer to do our own show there,” Balaban says.
Originally, the curators planned to use portraits of the skaters at the courts, but the idea evolved into something more, with the resulting show presenting 42 images from local photographers alongside video and audio. The Grabowsky family also assisted in helping the curators utilize the space for the video component.
They initially planned to show it on a small screen in the atrium, but the Grabowskys offered to play it on a big screen instead. They ended up going outside and playing the video in the mezzanine.
The night of the opening, over 150 people came to take in “Courts,” which runs through Friday, May 20.
The show aims to spread word that positivity is blossoming in the local skate park community, and it is also helping to raise funds for a permanent, poured concrete skate park in Montclair, a move supported by a recent petition that gathered over 4,000 signatures.
“The opening night of the show was pretty magical,” says King, adding that it was beautiful to see the attendees reflect the diverse makeup of participants on the courts and to share the positive impact that skate parks can have on the community.
“People drive by the space and might see activity from a distance, but if they’re not actually there skating, they don’t see the positive interaction and community that has grown there.”
Besides the Grabowsky family, other local businesses and individuals have stepped up to show their support for the movement. For opening night Van Hook Cheese & Grocery donated a cheese platter, and Faubourg restaurant donated wine, courtesy of work done by the event’s co-organizer, Holly Shaw. Shaw was assisted that night by volunteers Vanessa Baumann and Jill Kloiber.
There is plenty on the horizon for the Montclair skating community to look forward to, and that includes ensuring there is something for everyone. The park frequently hosts newbies and conducts community outreach such as its All Abilities Skate Clinic, for skaters with special needs.
At times, outsiders “think skaters are standoffish and want to break property, but that’s not the case,” Eden says. “Skaters utilize the environment [to create art.]”
That art includes the thought and skill that goes into pulling off tricks. “There is a therapeutic benefit that comes from the activity,” he says. “It doesn’t get seen when all you see is a kid rolling through the street with ripped-up hands.”
“Courts” features photos by Kate Albright, Balaban, J.P. Dougherty, Jordan Galiano, Jacob Morello, Oliver Menken and Josh Webb; videos by Miles Franklyn, Jacob Morello and Antonio Vecchione, and audio by Eden.For more information: skateessex.org.