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MacArthur High School skateboarding club

Ramp It Up Texas Style

High School students’ art complements Smithsonian traveling exhibit on skate culture

“We’re the opening act,” Brett Zettner said, as he walked through an Institute of Texan Cultures gallery with classmate Rye Beres and MacArthur High School skateboarding club sponsor, Reagan Beres, Rye’s mom.

The museum challenged the San Antonio high school’s skate club to contribute to an exhibit offering a Texas perspective on skateboarding, a piece statement that could stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the Smithsonian’s traveling exhibit, “Ramp it Up: Skate Culture in Native America.” “Ramp it Up” and the student response, “Ramp it Up: Texas Style,” opened Nov. 2, 2013.

The Institute of Texan Cultures has been a Smithsonian Affiliate since 2010, meaning the museum has access to the resources of the nation’s premier museum system. Whether calling on experts, sending staff members to training opportunities, borrowing artifacts from American history or hosting traveling exhibits, the ITC is a partner in chronicling and exhibiting the nation’s cultural treasures. As an affiliate, the Institute of Texan Cultures is a conduit between the local community and the national stage. The relationship localizes important national topics and in turn contributes a Texas voice to the national conversation.

The Smithsonian skateboarding exhibit included 20 skate decks, featuring examples from Native American artists and companies. To get into the Smithsonian exhibit, the public passed through a gallery where 15 boards designed and painted by the MacArthur club hung, only steps away from one of Tony Hawk’s early boards and another one from skate culture godfather Tony Alva.

Zettner pointed out two skateboards he had painted, tributes to the “Shut Up and Skate” motto of Texas-based Zorlac skate company, and one of Dallas pro skater Craig Johnson, known for his dreadlocks sticking out from under his helmet. Zettner took artistic liberties, adding Johnson’s locks to a painting of Hank Hill, a character from the Texas-based “King of the Hill” animated series.

“Ramp it Up: Texas Style” captured defining elements of Texas skate culture through skate deck art depicting the people, places and events that helped shape the Texas skate scene: Zorloc; Austin’s “Banana Farm” backyard ramp; the Goodtimes Skate Shop; “Texas Legends” Todd Prince, Jeff Phillips, Ken Fillion and John Gibson; and Michael Sieben, the recently named managing editor of Thrasher magazine, which has documented skate culture since 1981.

White Mountain Apache skate team, founded by award-winning filmmaker Dustinn Craig. Photo: Smithsonian Institution

MacArthur High School skateboarding club

An opening statement from the club hanging at the gallery entrance, reads: “Being a skateboarder in Texas has never been easy, but Texas skaters have created a community that is like no other skate scene. We have had to be louder, faster and more aggressive… You will find us in underground full pipes, backyard minis or on the streets downtown. This ain’t California. This is Texas. Shut Up and Skate.”

Next to the club’s manifesto, action shots by Rye Beres and his classmates showed the MacArthur skaters in action, each shot paired with reflections from skate club members on how the sport has influenced them. A common theme woven through every statement is a sense of determination and self-improvement common to every skater.

“Skateboarding is a never-ending hobby,” club member Dylan Vergara said. “There are always new things to learn and never a limit of progression.”

Club sponsor Reagan Beres expressed similar sentiments, but her perspective takes skateboarding beyond the ramp and into the real world. She explained how the club has visited with skate company professionals, artists, journalists and other business people who make a living in the industry.

Rye embraced this lesson and applied it like an old pro. He produced a “Ramp it Up: Texas Style” video showing in the exhibit. He shot and edited a video documenting a skate club road trip across Texas. He captured members riding the streets, rails and ramps of San Antonio, Houston, Dallas, Austin, San Marcos and Waco, showing their skills with the board.

Few teenagers can say their work has been shown in a museum. Fewer still can say their work has stood alongside something produced by the Smithsonian. Working with the MacArthur skate club is an example of the museum’s continued efforts to reach out to students and schools and engage in challenging, in-depth learning opportunities. This approach is an extension of UTSA’s community outreach initiatives.

“We took the idea to them and they ran with it,” said ITC educator Ashlie McKenzie, who facilitated contact with the club. “They created a testament to their talent as artists and the passion they have for their sport.”

The ITC education staff engages students and schools across Texas to contribute to museum exhibits and programming. Students ranging from sixth grade to graduate school have been called upon to share stories and perspectives with their fellow Texans. Museum educators have taught them how to document the culture of their communities through oral history, photography and art.

In turn, students have used skills learned at the museum to contribute to exhibits and programs featuring the small Texas town of Beeville, the Houston suburb of Pasadena, San Antonio’s Fiesta medal tradition, El Dia de los Muertos, the Civil Rights movement and other topics which illustrate aspects of Texan culture.

“It’s our job to teach visitors about the cultures that define Texas,” said McKenzie. “Student work provides an insight into lives that are shaping our future. Showcasing student work at the ITC gives a voice to young Texans. It makes them a part of the conversation about who we are. We challenge them to examine what defines Texas culture today and express that in a way that will inform and inspire anyone who comes through our doors – Texan and visitor alike.”