STOKED: The Skate Deck Art Show

Artists and skaters go together like kick-flips and barrel rolls. Fundraisers that bring those two communities together are a natural fit. Our most recent skate deck art show, STOKED 3 held in March, featured the works of 95 artists from the community and raised just over $9,000 toward the construction of the Chatham Skate Park. In the three years we’ve held the event, the organization has netted at total of $23,000. Together with fundraisers and private donations efforts have generated more than $80,000.

Background of the project

Chatham, NY, is a small rural community with a limited budget for offering free recreational opportunities to youth. Like most communities, we have wrestled with the issues of youth skateboarding in areas that are dangerous to skaters or that clash with the public. As the Recreation Director for the Town of Chatham, I am fortunate to have the of support of our Town Supervisor and Town Board to build a concrete skate park within the town park, Crellin Community Park, located just outside of our main street and business district.

Building a skate park became a high priority for us when we created the recreational master plan. To this end, we set up a 501c3 charitable foundation, The Crellin Park Foundation, Inc., in order to solicit private funds and public donations on behalf of the Town.

Organizing the Show

Once the idea for the skate park was approved, funding became the most important priority. I consulted a friend and administrator of a local arts foundation, who in turn offered to help. A week later he sent us a check for $50,000. I was stunned by the amount, especially given the fact that the consultation actually had taken place in line at a local coffee shop! But I was not surprised by the gesture. This arts foundation has funded youth programs in the past because of its belief in positive youth development. This amazing donation gave us the ability to help get the fundraising process started. It proved that our organization was serious about building a legitimate skate park.

The idea for the fundraiser was the result of another casual encounter. This time the friend had taken a postcard from a local artist and pasted it on to a blank skateboard deck and then asked “What do you think about hosting an art show and auction with local artist’s work on skate decks?” I thought the idea was brilliant given the fact that our community has a vast amount of artists, and creative people in general, living here. Being the networker that I am, we began to brainstorm the where, what, who and how of it all. I also checked out skate deck art shows on the internet to see what existed around the country, and was able to get some good insight to hosting an event. So in 2009, we began to organize our first STOKED event.

Getting the Decks

We found a distributor that sold Moose skate boards, and ordered 30 blank 7.5-inch decks initially, which were paid for by the Foundation. Once artists and friends found out what we were doing, they too wanted to be involved. It didn’t take long to find 50 individuals to agree to contribute, and we ordered 20 more decks. We weren’t able to get such a  great deal on them at that time for the small amount we ordered, however with growing interest and participation we’ve been able to increase the number of decks purchased during the following two years, which lowered the cost of supplies.

Getting the Venue

Finding a venue was a little more challenging. We wanted to remain local, but there were few facilities large enough to accommodate an art show of the size and scope we envisioned. A sculpture park located in Ghent, NY known as Art Omi International Arts Center, had recently constructed the Charles B Benenson Visitors Center and Art Gallery, to complement its international sculpture park. Since it was located approximately six miles away from the Village of Chatham, it seemed a viable as well as elegant solution. Having worked at Art Omi for various events, I contacted the person in charge and found her willing to let us use the space at a discounted rate. (It turned out that she has grandchildren who skateboard, and recognized the value of our project.)

The Center is a perfect venue for a fundraiser and the staff there was very happy to have us, although we needed to make sure the space was put back just as we had found it. This meant guaranteeing we would patch every hole and paint the space so that it was ready for their next exhibit. To this end, I enlisted the help of a local artist and gallery owner, who knows the “ins and outs” of the gallery scene. He acted as a volunteer curator.

Finding Artists

Through email blasts and verbal contact to artist friends and other organizations we started distributing blank decks to anyone who was interested. It is important to have all contact info for the artist when you give them a deck. We asked local contractors, business people, and families to be involved as well offer anyone in the community a chance to contribute work for auction. The reaction was positive as no one we approached for the inaugural show had ever designed a skate deck. We had no criteria for submission of the artwork other that it needed to be handed in by a certain deadline; the decks could be used in whatever way the artist decided. We went from having nearly 50 artists our first year to 100 our third year and had we not put a cap on the number of decks this year, we probably could have distributed 30 or 40 more! We found the third year, having too many decks reduced the number of bids for each piece. And in hindsight we learned that it may be better to have fewer decks so that bidding is more competitive. It’s fun to see people bidding on one favorite deck and watching the price go up and up.

Promotion of the Event

Inherently, participant artists will have a stake in getting as many people to attend the auction as possible, and can use their own contacts to spread the word.

Officially, and through local artist friends, I was able to find a graphic artist, who was really familiar with the area skate scene, to design a postcard for us to advertise the event for a discounted fee. We mailed some out to residents in our existing database and also printed fliers from this design and posted them anywhere we could, local businesses, community boards, schools, etc. I also printed press releases for the local newspapers that were more than willing to help promote our unique event. Each year our postcard is a different design, but the STOKED lettering remains the same. Email blasts were also used and very effective in getting the word out about the show. Although I did not utilize Facebook for the very first event, it’s been an amazing tool for the Stoked 2 and 3 shows and we have had great success with connecting with artists from all over the state and beyond.

The Event

Each year the event has changed based on what we’ve learned in past shows. Because the artwork is only up for one day, we have wrestled with how long to hold the event each year. Food and music are a definite factor each year and we’ve been lucky to have most of that donated. For the first two years the event was held for three hours, which did not give enough people a chance to attend the show and view the art.

This year we decided to open the doors at 2 p.m., with the idea that those who could not attend later would come earlier and then host a dance party from 5 to 9 p.m. Entertainment was a definite plus. We have had local youth bands perform and this year, a well known and popular DJ offered to donate his services for the entire day. It is also great if you can get someone to emcee the event in order to generate excitement about the art work. In the end, I would recommend keeping the event a maximum of four or five hours, but no more. The bidding of the decks is an important part of the event and you want to have attendees that will stay and make sure their bid carries through.

Other ways to raise money at the event

We have a suggested donation at the door of $5, with some people contributing more than what was suggested. In this way we have been able to raise an additional $1,000 to $1,500 at each event. This year we gave a free raffle ticket to all who attended. The tickets offered a chance to win hats, t-shirts and stickers, which were picked and announced throughout the day.

We also raffle off gift bags/baskets, which have been put together by committee members. Our skate park committee seeks out donations from local businesses for the two months leading up to the event. This year we were able to secure a lot of donations geared toward skaters. Members of our committee had connections with a local skate shop as well as some professional skateboarding artists that live in our area.

We also had contacted a popular clothing and sneaker company a few years ago (again through a local connection) that sent us boxes of sample clothing and sneakers. The kids were especially excited about these. The gift/bag baskets are assembled decoratively and then displayed on a long countertop or table with a description of the item(s), the value and who the items are donated by. A paper bag is hung directly below the basket for individuals to put their purchased raffle tickets into. Raffle tickets are available for purchase throughout the day and announced just prior to the silent auction winners. We have generated just over $1000 more each year with the raffle. We spent approximately $2000 to $2500 each year in expenses to host the event. Our biggest expense was in the purchase of blank skate decks. You can do your own event and cut down on expenses by soliciting the help of local banks or businesses who might want to help underwrite the event for you.

In conclusion, the event has been a fantastic way for us to raise awareness and funds for our project. Plus the importance of a skateboard park in our community. Through displays and literature at your own event, you can showcase your project, have a great time and connect artists and skaters in your area for a good cause.

For more information, contact Shari Franks, Recreation Director, Town of Chatham, NY, at

The photos and words by Shari Franks.