Art

Interview: Jay Balmer

I can’t remember exactly where and when I originally met Jay but he has had a huge influence on my life and business. We worked together for many years as he was the executive producer of Slam City Jam and we were the guys that were designing and building the course. During the course of that event we had a short time running ‘The Project’ together which was an indoor skatepark in Burnaby and the headquarters of Slam City Jam for a brief time. Jay was also the key driver behind getting ‘Skateboard Week’ officially established in Vancouver and getting skateboarding legalized as a legitimate form of transportation in the City (which eventually led to the symbolic moment of the last 3 skateboards ever confiscated being handed back to a cheering crowd at Slam City Jam by the chief of police).

Jay has always been a high level thinker and encourages people to think and dream big. He has always had a huge heart for the global skateboarding community and is still pushing hard to see that we are represented well in the eyes of the world.
–Kyle Dion, New Line Skateparks

Where did you grow up and when did you start skating?

My kid years were spent in Kitchener, Ontario. Dad brought home 3 skateboards for himself, my brother and me.  It was 1976 and I was 5 years old. My first board was a yellow banana board and then I moved up to a California 500 with a nose and kicktail. Since then I have always had a skateboard ready to ride.

Our family moved to Calgary when I was 12. It was there that I was introduced to the wide boards of the 80s and it quickly went from fun hobby to my obsession.

Riding his first skatepark in 1977 in North Carolina

Was there a reason you started skating?

Skateboarding really was a gift from my Dad. He had a beautiful aluminum Quicksilver himself and we all rode together in our driveway and on trips. He would take a group of us to the mall on weekends to ride the loading ramps.

For me it was the simple joy of rolling and carving that was my reason to skate. I feel blessed to have started skating before I was exposed to the tricks and possibilities. It was just about the fun with no expectations beyond turns and crazy turns.

First session on the Snoboard Shop ramp in the backyard, pre-stain and railings

Can you tell us more about the ramp you had in your backyard? Was it before or after the ramp bylaw was put in in 1986?

We did have a ramp in our backyard. It was actually the Snoboard Shop ramp, but they had to move it out of their parking lot. My brother and I were both part of their team and our house was nearby on 11th Street in Kensington.

We had some inside knowledge that the bylaw was coming and we moved it the day before the bylaw was passed. It was grandfathered as a pre-existing ramp so we could keep it, as long as they didn’t get complaints.

Our parents made sure we talked to all the neighbours before we moved the ramp in. We agreed on hours, maximum amount of time per day and that we needed to ask around before having a long day or late night session. We also sound-proofed it as much as possible with layers of carpet hanging under the transitions. We avoided complaints and the ramp stayed until after my brother and I had moved away.

Jay carving at Seylynn bowl (North Vancouver) on Canada Day during the Bowl Series

Where did you skate back then? Were there any parks?

My inspirations were videos like the Bones Brigade Video Show, Future Primitive, Wheels of Fire and Hokus Pokus.  So, skating was about the adventure of being out on the streets finding places to skate. That also meant a lot of night skating when the good spots were empty. The ramp was really just a bonus to come home to.

We skated downtown and the Kensington area mostly. Parking lots, parkades, Stephen Avenue Mall, City Hall, James Short, SAIT, Riley Park wading pool, Bowview Pool and the abandoned construction sites that were all over Calgary back then. One building was just a concrete skeleton and there was a ramp a few floors underground and obstacles a flew floors up. I think it is now the Catholic School Centre.

Calgary did have a mobile vert ramp program back then, but they were really sketchy. After Animal Chin came out we also started building launch and wallride ramps that we rolled to nearby parking lots.

Frontside air on the Imra ramp at The Clubhouse, opened by Jay and his brother after the first Slam City Jam

You moved out west. Why?

The simple reason for moving to Vancouver was for the skateparks, like Seylynn in North Vancouver.

On one of our family vacations in the 70s we drove past skateparks in North Carolina. The next year we brought our skateboards with us, but most of them were already torn down. We did find one that was closed and climbed through a hole in the fence. That was my first experience with transition and the magic of skateparks. Finding out there were skateparks in Vancouver meant that was the place I had to be.

With the skateparks, local hills for snowboarding and skimboarding at the beach, moving to Vancouver felt like moving to my home.

High speed double grab over the top hip at Seylynn (North Vancouver)

How did you start working in the video game industry?

After a few years in Vancouver, I started focusing on what I could do for skateboarding. That led me to become the Producer of Slam City Jam, to be a co-founder of New Line Skateparks and help cities like Calgary understand the reasons why they needed to build skateparks.

I felt like I had accomplished my goals for skateboarding when a friend at EA asked me if I was interested in a career in video games. As it turns out, they wanted to make a skateboarding game and were looking for someone to lead the charge. The result was the EA Skate franchise.

Slam City Jam 1998 course overview

What keeps you busy these days? What’s Session Games all about?

Four of us decided to launch Session Games in September of 2016. We all share a passion and background in what are often called ‘Action Sports’. At Session Games we created a place where we get to do what we like to do and work with the people we want to work with. Our primary partner is Red Bull. We have been creating a series of games with them and have more planned for the future.

It has now been 14 years in the video game industry and it has given me some great experiences. It also allows me to help out skateboarding when and where it makes sense without having any financial goals.

The announcement of skateboarding in the Olympics has definitely sparked a new round of excitement and interest in skateboarding. My hope is that it leads to fresh wave of new skaters and for cities to start supporting or building more indoor skateparks, like they provide indoor facilities for other ‘sports’. With all the new skateparks in Calgary there will be a lot of skaters looking to keep riding when the weather changes.

Do you still skate?

I do still skate and have no plans to stop. It is a less frequent now because I like to fully recover between sessions, instead of just charging everyday. There are still tricks I want to learn and places that I want to ride. Last year we went to Hawaii for a week of skateparks and ditches.  That little kid who got his first skateboard over 40 years ago is still in me looking for that next adventure and the next crazy turn.

Hawaii, carving the Stoker Hill ditch in flip flops

Any thank yous or shout outs?

I feel ridiculously thankful for all the places and experiences and friends that I have gained through skateboarding. My thank you list would be huge from my Dad who always supported our interests through to the guys who I still ride with and call me to get out for a session.

My shout outs are to everyone who has stepped up to make skateboarding better from C.A.S.E. to anyone who helps keep the parks clean or gets out there for some DIY, to the champions within the cities that help turn our dreams into reality and the crews that build the parks.

In the end, it will comes down to the survival of the fittest community and it is up to all of us to keep building our skate community. Keep killing it out there!

Recent Bertlemann tribute to Natas Kaupas at Bonsor skatepark in Burnaby, BC

Skateboard Teaching Opportunity

Skatepark artists, Eric and Mia are hiring two teenagers to teach their Skate School for Police Officers. Click the image below for more details:

eric mia clinic

Skate School for Women

Calgary artists Eric & Mia are looking for participants for their skate school for women! The skate school runs for the month of June and all equipment will be provided. Click below for more information:

static1.squarespace.com

“Skaters From Around Here” ‘Zine Available Now

Local artists Eric and Mia have completed one of the art components of the new skateparks. “Skaters From Around Here (and Elsewhere)” is a hand-illustrated ‘zine that will be circulated to thousands of homes in the areas of the new parks. They are also available at local skate shops now. Read more here.

Skate Zine Cover (641x850)

Skatepark Art Concepts by Eric and Mia

A while back we spoke with Eric & Mia, the artists who were selected to develop the public art component for the new skateparks. Click the photo below to learn more about their orignal concepts which will make great additions to the new skateparks.

Eric and Mia skateboard park artists

Eric and Mia: skateboard park artists


www.ericandmia.ca

Skatepark Artists: Eric & Mia

A key component of the Skateboard Amenities Strategy is art. All of the skateparks planned in the strategy will be public spaces and successful public spaces often incorporate art.
Eric & Mia are the artists who were selected by a panel as part of the city’s Public Art Program. They’ve been a team for over seven years and their work has appeared all over North America as well as Europe. Learn more about them here and by reading this short interview we conducted with them:

Is art needed at skateparks? Have you seen any skatepark art or skateboard-related art that inspires you?

Depends on the art! Let’s be honest, skateparks (and cities in general) can probably survive without another mural by a public artist and some kids from a community that depicts “skateboarding”. You know what we are talking about! It is a bit of a sassy answer, but it is true; skateparks don’t need another mural. And we are very skeptical of sanctioned graffiti even when it does look amazing. We know that there are a lot of skateparks with sculptures that can be skated and these sculptures can be pretty sweet. It is not only a visual art piece, but an odd piece of terrain. But for us the role of public art is to both celebrate and ask hard questions of a specific site and the people that use that site. This is especially true of temporary public art, which we make.

We aren’t skaters (though Eric was when he was younger), but when we travel to other cities we always try to visit some skateparks or watch people skating in the city. We love it. The concrete is really a blank canvas and the skaters are like living, moving sculptures. We haven’t been to Merida, Spain, but there is a park there called Merida Factory Youth Movement. We came across it a few years ago in a magazine or book or something and have been obsessed with it ever since. The design is crazy and it provides a social space for youth. That is the kind of art we like. Art that makes spaces for people to be in the city together.

Now all of that said, we are really drawn to the DIY ethic and aesthetic of early skate culture. We share this with skaters. We might not be as punk as some DIY folk, but we are no less invested in these processes– it is often where our work starts from.3

Why do you think art and skateboarding go along so well together?

There is the obvious answer, that skateboarding isn’t just skating, it is a culture. Out of its early counter culture roots skateboarding was and continues to be defined by strong visual elements, we know this. Visual art, photography, video, graffiti, etc. are inherent to skateboarding. Skaters are creative people and art is one way of expressing the identities of individuals within the scene and of skateboarding itself.

But we are performance artists, so we look at skateboarding from another angle. Yes, we love the visual elements, but we are also interested in the behaviours and movements of skaters. That means the tricks, the way skaters use and misuse the city, and how they engage with each other. Put another way, we think about skateboarding as being performance. The movements of skaters, the tricks that they do, and how they ride are, for instance, a form of “dance”–they are kin(a)esthetic. Most skaters will probably hate being called dancers, we’re sure! But it is a metaphor; we aren’t talking about tutus and ballet and things that happen in theatres. We’re talking about performance that is experimental and improvised, performance that happens outside of traditional spaces, performance that re-imagines how we relate to the city and authority, and performances that happen in the everyday. The movements and strategies that skaters create so that they can engage and navigate the city (and people in the city) are a form of choreography. And these movements—- both physical and cultural—- are beautiful to watch! Maybe skateboarding is more like guerrilla theatre? Anyhow, this is only the beginning of thinking about skating as performance, we could go on forever about it. Maybe thinking about how skateboarding is a performance in everyday life is some high level stuff to talk about, but for us it is fascinating and we think most skaters know what we are talking about.

To answer your question more directly: skateboarding is art!

What do you have in store for the new skateparks?

We can’t release exactly what we are doing for the skateparks yet, because there is a larger process that we are working through right now to have our projects approved. But we can give you some hints.

Often times when people think of public art, they think about murals or sculptures (or blue rings…has anybody from the community tried to skate that thing yet? Get on it!). But that isn’t what we do. Instead our work is all about social engagement. If some artists use paint as their medium, we work with people and places and relationships. So hint one: no murals, no sculptures!

We asked ourselves a question at the outset of the creative process: what does a citizen skater look and act like in Calgary? We spent a lot of time talking to different people from the skate community, the City, and the neighbourhoods where the parks are going to be located. We were really inspired by meeting so many different people over the past year. The projects we are proposing came out of these meetings and respond directly to the needs of each group. We have to tell you that we were really surprised by the things that came out of each camp—they were basically all the same concerns, but from different angles. Skaters, community associations, the City, and the park designers were all concerned about who was going to monitor the parks and how this is going to be done; each group wants there to be a broad base of users; and there is a desire to know and explain who the park users are going to be.

We are proposing three different projects that address these points. Our work always encourages people to participate in some form or fashion and that is true with these projects as well. There will be one project that asks the skate community to work with us on introducing as many skaters as possible to the residents of neighbourhoods where the parks are located. A second project looks at how we can get more women skateboarding in Calgary. And the third considers what a relationship between the police, skaters, and the skateparks can look like. They are all super playful projects that bring together different people to consider the skateparks. We are planting seeds that will take time to grow.unnamed2

Have you done anything like this in the past?

Yes and no. We have been making temporary public art together for some time now, but no one creative process or project is ever the same. Most of the projects we have created respond to a specific issue or location, but are shorter term. They are quick interventions in to the city that last a few hours to a couple of weeks. The projects we are proposing for the skateparks follows in this tradition, but has required a much larger process of initial engagement. What is also different this time around, is the scope of the project. We are dealing with eight neighbourhoods and the skate community. It is a lot of “ground” to cover, a lot of people to work with, and so many different agendas to consider. With the help of the different communities involved we have identified some concerns and are proposing projects to address these concerns in a playful, but consequential manner. This process and these projects are challenging us as artists. A lot of growth is happening for us right now and we are excited.

What artists influence you?

This is a tricky question, because although we know about a lot of different artists, we don’t spend a lot of time thinking about them. If we had to pick our top three artistic influences though, they would be Miranda July, Augusto Boal, and Sonia Delaunay. But most of the people that influence us are not artists. They are Mia’s grandma, Eric’s grandma, and Eric’s great aunt. We’ve written about the role of these women in our lives in other places. These women have really shaped our thinking. They have strong politics or ways of living in the world that are inspiring to us. Our pals matter a lot too. None of our artist friends make work that looks like anybody else’s, but it is the camaraderie we have with these rad dudes that influence how we work and interact with people when doing social engagement projects. We also read a lot of books about cities, cultural geography, ethnography, and performance.

What other projects are you working on?

We are taking a project called Hunter, Gatherer, Purveyor to Toronto in June as part of the Luminato Festival. Basically we walk around three different neighbourhoods for a couple of weeks and collect weeds, flowers, roots, and bark from the plants that we find. We use the vegetation to flavour popsicles. The argument we are making is that you can taste the difference between communities: what does a rich community taste like v.s. a working class neighbourhood. We love this project because we get to talk to so many different people, to explore communities, to feel uncomfortable, trespass in peoples yards, and generally ask hard questions about a city and its geography.
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When can Calgary skateboarders expect to see your work at the skateparks?
TBD!

Bowlapalooza Art Show August 15th

Bowlapalooza Art Show August 15th

Bowlapalooza poster

James Barry STORYHIVE Video

CASE pal, James Barry has pitched a short film in the STORYHIVE competition.
He’s hoping to win a grant of $10,000 to document his friends Adrian and Martinus Pool, two skateboarding brothers who make really cool stuff out of old skateboards.

You can vote here and watch the promo video below:

City Seeking Artists for New Skateparks

City of Calgary Public Art Program

“The City of Calgary is seeking to commission an artist and/or artist team to participate in the first phase of implementation for the Skateboard Amenities Strategy. The selected artist(s) will consult and work with the design team (external consultants and City staff) to explore creative visioning for the overall park designs, determine the scope of possibilities for public art within the selected sites, and develop and implement a project plan based on those possibilities. Community-based and temporary public art initiatives are desired.”

Click this link to find out more. The deadline for submissions is February 24th.

Carl White “Skate & Create” Skateboard Art Camps

Local artist and skater Carl White is presenting “Skate & Create”, a design workshop where students can design and paint their own skateboards. Scroll down for more info:


Skate & Create

Design and Paint your own skateboard graphic on a blank skateboard. Develop your design through to finished painted board.(blank boards included) Learn to work an Idea from sketch through final artwork and finished painting. Students will develop a design of their own and transfer the design, paint the deck, and seal and varnish the finished skateboard.

July 10-12 or August 7-9

1-4 pm* supplies included

Donation to CASE

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