BY REBECCA BENNETT — Anyone who wandered into the Mount Rainier Skate Park at Otis Street and Wells Avenue on July 18 knew something special was going on.  Local residents from Mount Rainier, Hyattsville and surrounding areas looked on as a dozens of skaters practiced tricks during the Southside Music & Skateboarding Series.

In its third year, the event had approximately 170 attendees. Event organizer and Red Dirt Studio co-director J.J. McCracken said the event itself grew larger by partnering with more people, but the series scaled back from three events to one.

Nearly 50 skaters competed, who mostly ranged from 7- to 24-years-old, according to organizers.  The kids could compete for free and can win a total of $1,000 cash and other prizes.

“The idea is that they are rewarded through their creative expression through movement and their work ethic of practicing their craft,” McCracken said.

Advanced Winners

  • First Place: John McGuigan
  • Second Place: Subwayy Andreas Alvarez
  • Third Place: Mason Padilla

Intermediate Winners

  • First Place: Kevin Kamerling
  • Second Place: Jesus Gutierrez
  • Third Place: Nate White

Beginner Winners

  • First Place: Logan Kirshak
  • Second Place: Jonathan Osorio
  • Third Place: Dylan Gee

Best Trick Winner

  • Teryn Dickson

Guest judged by DC Wheels.

“This is an example of what the Arts District can do to make the community better,” Red Dirt Studio director Margaret Boozer said about the event put together by artists.  “Everybody comes to this: people who live in the neighborhood, the skaters, artists; all the strata of people come out.”

The Southside Music & Skateboarding Series is an event that not only brings people together, but it honors how the skate park was created.

“Red Dirt Studio was right [across the street] for 19 years. I got to be friends with a bunch of the kids in the neighborhood,” Boozer said.  She would work with the kids, fix their skateboards and they would skate on her dock, she said.

McCracken said the space where the skate park stands today used to be a run-down basketball court.  When the Maryland-National Capital Park & Planning Commission (M-NCPPC) and the City of Mount Rainier asked for people in the community to put forth ideas, according to Boozer, the kids said, “Skate park!”

“They stood up and said, look we need something in our neighborhood, we need something to keep us out of gangs and off drugs, on their own,” said Boozer.

“So, I took some pictures of them, we did a presentation,” Boozer said. “It gave the kids a chance to be invested in it on the ground floor, do a presentation, go to a city council meeting, hear people have opposition … and negotiate.”

The Mount Rainier Skate Park was built in 2007, Boozer said, and the kids even worked with M-NCPPC on the design.

“The kids feel like this is their park.  They take care of it, they pick up trash. … They have this real sense of ownership, that their town and their county invested in them.”

Boozer said Red Dirt Studios co-director J.J. McCracken and her partner and musician Marc Blackwood had the idea for the Southside Music & Skateboarding Series to activate and honor the park and the kids.

Blackwood, whose band Lee, Blackwood & Graham played at the event, said they tried to broaden the event’s impact as much as possible by making it free.

“I’m a visual artist and Marc is a musician,” McCracken said.  “I applied for a bunch of grants and other funding as an artist, and then I’m trickling that money down into the community at its roots to the children.”

One of those kids, 16-year-old Juan “Baby” Campos, who last year won first place in the advanced category, said he has been skating for 8 years.  Blackwood said Campos was one of the original skateboarders who hung out on the dock of Red Dirt Studios and worked to get the Mount Rainier Skate Park built.

Red Dirt Studio has since relocated to the old Mount Rainier Volunteer Fire Station where Boozer said there are currently 25 artists in her seminar.  The building is being renovated, she said, but they expect the grand opening to be by the end of this year.  The Otis Street Arts Project has moved into Red Dirt Studio’s old location.

When asked, Boozer said her son Kyle already has a little skateboard.

Organizers said the event was funded or otherwise supported by M-NCPPC, the Maryland State Arts Council, the Brentwood Arts Exchange, the City of Mount Rainier, and Joe’s Movement Emporium.  A documentary about the skate part is is the works, funded by the Gateway Community Development Corporation, and Art Lives Here.