D.C. is loaded with skate spots—Pulaski Park (a.k.a. Freedom Plaza) easily ranks on any list of best-loved spots in the U.S.—but it’s famously inhospitable to skaters: Expect to run from Johnny Law or face a ticket and possibly get your board taken (according to veteran skaters in the area) if you’re caught scraping up handrails in National Park-administered areas. Similarly, the Kennedy Center—with its tempting expanses of granite and marble, and perfect-height ledges and fountains—doesn’t allow skating on its plazas.
So imagine my skepticism when I heard the Kennedy Center—native home of opera gloves and $150 ticket prices—would be putting on a 10-day skateboarding, art, and music event called “Finding a Line” (Sept. 4–13). The term is a reference to the shared theme between improvisational jazz and bowl- and street-skating: improvise an elegant route from A to B.
But how legit is this event? Is the establishment co-opting a sport they’ve NIMBYed hard in the past? Do the opera gloves come off?
They do, for the most part. The Kennedy Center worked with local boarders, skate activists, and artists to construct a pool and quarter pipe—among other features like rails, ledges, and ramps—that are open to anyone with a skateboard (and a signed waiver). Local acts are playing throughout the week on a stage at the very edge of the bowl—you can skate between the bassist and guitarist on your way to high-five the singer, which happened a few times on opening night—and there’s an indoor exhibit of deck art by Element and Cuba Skate and skate photography by Neftalie Williams.
But those famous fountains are still roped off. Don’t even attempt to grind anything out on them.
Below, a ranking of “Finding a Line”’s opening-night features, from worst to best.
Illustrations by Lauren Heneghan