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Ruston Skatepark

By Meagan Russell
In Bayou Profile
May 29th, 2022
0 Comments
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ARTICLE BY VANELIS RIVERA

PHOTO BY TONY MOLINA

ONCE CONSIDERED ONLY A RECREATIONAL FOR aimless teenagers, skateboarding has since evolved into one of the fastest-growing and newly respected sports in the world. Its debut at the 2020 Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo (held in 2021 due to the pandemic) cemented the physical artform into the professional arena, duly demonstrating the versatility of its athletes. Take, for instance, Nishiya Momiji, the 13-year-old female skater that won the first-ever gold medal in the women’s street competition. Most skaters will tell you that the caliber of their athleticism is often dependent on the availability of skateparks, especially those providing a smooth surface and a variety of obstacles like half-pipes, ramps, and ledges. Though the sport originated in the United States, not many American cities are prioritizing these specific recreational areas, which have often carried the reputation of being seedy hangouts. Wanting to break the mold for their region, as no concrete parks exist within a 150-mile radius, Friends of Ruston Skatepark are on a mission to provide a purpose-built environment and public art experience in order to enhance their community’s quality of life, while also encouraging fitness and self-expression through skateboarding.

The original plan was that the city was going to build a skatepark in the pool,” informs Jessica Slaughter, Program Manager of the nonprofit organization. These initial stages began around 2017. At that time, the city’s old swimming pool had closed with no plans of reopening, so a group of skaters and professors at Louisiana Tech, one of which was Jessica’s husband Joey, worked together to develop their “dream” skatepark plans. The city then sent that to Hunger Skateparks based in Indiana, where the company prepared construction documents. “Everything was a go to start working on it. And then, the tornado came. And then, COVID came. And then, the hurricane came,” says Slaughter. The project got put on the back burner for a while, but in the meantime, calls kept coming in inquiring about the pending timeline for the project’s construction. Pleasantly surprised by the amount of outreach, Joey decided to start a petition in order to gauge the community’s interest. The Slaughters were expecting at least a couple hundred signatures. In about six weeks, they had a couple thousand. “So, that’s when the city said yes,” says Slaughter. Currently, Friends of Ruston Skatepark are collaborating with the City of Ruston, which has agreed to break ground on Phase 1 of the project when $250,000 is raised.

In order to spread awareness and build enthusiasm in the community, the group began holding “skate jams,” immersive events where people of all ages could take skateboarding lessons while enjoying music and browsing art and food vendors. These events have drawn skaters from Shreveport and Monroe, giving the organization a better idea of how many skaters occupied the area. “It’s been a really beautiful thing… Every time we have greater attendance” informs Slaughter. Finalizing their nonprofit paperwork brought in the opportunity to take on sponsorships. Currently, their list of sponsors is published on their website, alongside information about the six levels of sponsorship available. 

Their largest fundraising event took place last month. Titled 50/50 Ruston, this online auction featured a number of custom-painted skateboard decks. The idea emerged when Joey was invited to design and paint a skate deck for a fundraising auction organized by Project LOOP, which aimed to raise funds to build a skatepark in Taylor, Texas. “Joey participated and loved the experience,” says Slaughter. When one of the Project LOOP members reconnected with Joey, they offered assistance for the Ruston project, encouraging him to organize an auction, as their event had proved successful. The first step was to line up artists and send them blank decks. They ended up having pockets of artists from all over–Seattle, Austin, New York, Georgia, Canada, and even Wales. Interested parties had their work cut out for them. Each completed deck maintains the aesthetic of the artist by way of color palette, images, and even shape of the deck, which some artists took liberties with; for instance, one deck was shaped into a school paddle, with the message “End school paddling!” painted in black and written in all caps. Another artist turned their slab of wood into a guitar while another constructed “something that looks like a fire extinguisher box,” says Slaughter. Another eye-catching board created by Jason Byron Nelson features a Zues-looking man with antlers growing from his head, styled with a red and black flannel shirt and gripping an ax. “It has been so amazing,” she says, in awe at how each artist imprinted their vision for their tremendous cause. “I mean, they’re all over the place.” 

Other pieces for auction were just as exclusive. Ruston native Jeff Mangum, American singer/songwriter, best known for his band Neutral Milk Hotel, donated three signed records with his art on them. “They’re completely one-of-a-kind items. People are going crazy over them on the auction already,” says Slaughter. Other artists donated shirts, stickers, prints, cards, and “all kinds of other things.” “People… believe in it and want to help,” says Slaughter, who has been inspired by the number of contributors who have assisted in the success of 50/50 Ruston, many of whom have never set foot in the area. “It’s been a really beautiful thing.”

One of the most coveted items in the bunch were decks signed by skateboarding pioneer, Tony Hawk. This monumental hookup occurred thanks to a connection the team had in Florida. This individual is not only well connected with the professional skating community in that area but hosts a podcast that, at the time, was having Hawk on as a guest. The result was Hawk signing a deck that Joey had designed, as well as a personally written note that he sent to Ruston. Another Hawk-centered deck was added, this one specially made for and featured in the documentary Tony Hawk: Until the Wheels Fall Off (2022). “They made 100 Skateboard decks for the documentary, only 100,” says Slaughter. The filmmaker was doing a giveaway for one of those decks signed by Hawk, and thanks to the donation-seeking endeavors of one of their board members, they were able to receive one in time for the auction. The auction officially ended on Friday the 13th with a closing auction party held at the Ruston’s Farmers Market where many people came together to celebrate the $58, 138.46 raised (193.8% of their goal).  

“We have plans to make this a public art space as well,” enthuses Slaughter. The concept renderings by Kevin Singh’s CDAC class at Louisiana Tech University School of Design reveal sectioned areas marked by grassy patches and cement borders where murals and sculptures will be displayed. “We’re excited about working with artists,” says Slaughter, who hopes the end result will be a “larger community experience.” From the initial stages of the project, art was always going to have a role. “There’s just a lot of crossover with skating and art and music,” she adds, explaining that skate culture has played an influential role for people who have transitioned into creative industries. For that reason, Friends of Ruston Skatepark have collaborated with other regional organizations like the Arts Council and the Ruston Farmers Market. Ruston is proud of the art scene the city has curated and wants to join in that tradition, as well as further its momentum. 

Guided by the understanding that skateboarding is a creative practice, Friends of Ruston Skatepark want the space they have diligently been working on for the past five years to be a space where their community can be inspired. Whether you’re a skater, an artist, or a curious bystander, the future home of skater boys and girls will be for everyone to come and enjoy.

Visit the Friends of Ruston Skatepark Instagram page and website (https://www.skateparkofruston.com/) to learn more about how you can help make this project a reality.