RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
The Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., is offering a new kind of artistic collaboration. You can now enjoy art as skateboarding. The center is staging the festival Finding A Line. It features skateboarders and musicians improvising together. NPR's Andrew Limbong caught up with the curators just as the show opened.
ANDREW LIMBONG, BYLINE: You're usually not allowed to skate in front of those big, monolithic Washington, D.C., institutions, the Kennedy Center included.
BEN ASHWORTH: Yeah, it's true. A lot of skateboarders have been escorted off these grounds. I'm one of them, -a long time ago.
(SOUNDBITE OF SKATEBOARDING)
LIMBONG: That's Ben Ashworth, and instead of kicking him out again, they turned him into one of the festival's curators. He's the guy that you can hear skating. He's showing me around the temporary skate park he helped build in front of the center. There's a kidney-shaped pool that's about 20 feet by 40 feet, a couple of orange rails, some wall ramps built out of spare parts. This is where the skateboarders will do their thing, both pros and amateurs, by the way. Public skaters are invited. Facing all of that is a small stage where musicians of all genres will play off of what the skateboarders are doing and vice versa.
JASON MORAN: My version of this festival is that this is really a week-long jam session.
LIMBONG: Jason Moran is the other co-curator. He's the artistic director for jazz at the Kennedy Center. He grew up skating until he started getting serious about playing piano.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
LIMBONG: And kind of like a guy who would put together a week-long jam session about skateboarding, he and Ben Ashworth got super heady about the nature of improvisation and tempo early on in the brainstorming process.
ASHWORTH: So Jason's standing there and I drop in and carve around him. I hit the coping and it makes this grinding sound and he starts tapping his ring.
MORAN: On the fence, yeah - on the fence of this bowl, yeah.
ASHWORTH: And he says do you hear these guys playing ball over here, playing basketball? And there's birds you can hear. And he's talking about this overall composition.
MORAN: One thing about tempo, especially, is once a tempo gets going, all of a sudden it starts to lock. It becomes the grid in which, you know, kind of life acts within.
ASHWORTH: And how we quite naturally are all syncing, and I feel the same way skating through the city.
LIMBONG: Moran says that a good musical piece to skate to has got to have room to breathe.
MORAN: Maybe my favorite piece of music that works with that is Thelonious Monk's "Evidence."
(SOUNDBITE OF THELONIOUS MONK SONG, "EVIDENCE")
LIMBONG: Along with jazz, there'll be DJs and your good old-fashioned garage rock bands, too. That's along with the exhibits about skate decks. That's the board part of the skateboard, and photography, but mostly, Moran says, he's trying to push the big K Kennedy Center outside its comfort zone.
MORAN: This is an experiment. We'll see how it goes (laughter).
LIMBONG: The jam session ends September 13. Andrew Limbong, NPR News.
ASHWORTH: I'm tired. That's good. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.