Courtesy Dustinn Craig (White Mountain Apache/Navajo)
4-Wheel Warpony skateboarders, 2008. From left to right, White Mountain Apache skaters Armonyo Hume, Jess Michael Smith, Aloysius Henry, Ronnie Altaha and Lee Nash. The skate team was founded by award-winning filmmaker Dustinn Craig (White Mountain Apache/Navajo), who got his start making skateboarding videos in Arizona.

Native Skateboarders! ‘Ramp it Up’ Exhibit Draws Big Crowds

Sam Laskaris
9/27/14

A travelling skateboard exhibit has landed at a Native American museum in a small Florida community.

The exhibit, Ramp It Up: Skateboard Culture in Native America, opened at the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum on September 15. The museum is located on the Big Cypress Seminole Indian Reservation in Florida.

The exhibit, which runs until November 23, celebrates the history of the American Indian skateboarding culture. It features 82 pieces, including skate decks, graffiti pieces and three videos.

Rebecca Fell, the curator of exhibits at the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum, said the exhibit has been well received. She added there has been a noticeable spike in attendance at the museum. "It's been really great," she told ICTMN of the exhibit's popularity. "For us in Florida this is our rainy season. And we are sort of in the middle of nowhere, but people have been coming. It's a bit of a drive to get here so you're not just going to come here if you're out doing your laundry or doing your banking."

Though the exhibit focuses on the Native American skateboarding culture, Fell said all people are welcome. "We want to inform the general public of what is going on here," she said. "But we want this to be a welcoming place for tribal members."

The exhibit includes videos featuring the stories of a popular Native American skateboarder Bryant Chapo (Navajo) as well as artist Bunky Echo-Hawk (Yakama/Pawnee), who has earned wide acclaim for his paintings of Native American topics and hip hop culture.

The exhibit is part of the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service. It previously ran at both the National Museum of the American Indian facilities, located  in New York City and in Washington, D.C.

Fell said the skateboarding exhibit has been especially appealing to younger generations. "We've seen different people coming through and what I mean by that is we've had a more youthful crowd which is great," she said. "That's what we were hoping for. Some older people though have also been coming. There are certainly skateboarders out there that are into their 40s."

The Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum is the only tribally owned facility that is part of the American Alliances of Museums.

Quenton Cypress, a 19-year-old skateboarder and a member of the Big Cypress reservation, remembers seeing parts of the exhibit on television a couple of years ago. But he never envisioned he'd see it in his community or play an integral role with it. "Having the exhibit here is awesome," said Cypress, who started working at the museum as an intern during the summer of 2013.

He continued to work as an intern at the museum during his senior year of high school. And now he is a museum employee having been hired through a two-year work experience program.

Cypress' responsibilities included getting out and promoting the exhibit to the surrounding skateboarding community.

He's also hoping the publicity generated from the skateboarding exhibit will enlighten local officials on the need for an upgraded or new skateboard park on the reservation. A skateboard park, including six ramps, was built on Big Cypress about a decade ago. "All of the ramps are wooden," Cypress said. "Some of the wood is warping a lot now. And some of the screws are coming out. We don't have anybody here to maintain it."

Yet the skateboard park continues to be rather busy. "It's so packed it's hard to do anything there," Cypress said. 

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