Renewed interest in skate park emerges
ArtStart, city alders pledge assistance after community members speak
By Eileen Persike
More than a dozen skateboard enthusiasts made impassioned pleas for help at the Rhinelander City Council meeting Dec. 13. Many are members of a group currently called OverIt that is interested in having a skate park built in the city. The park was not on the meeting agenda; this isn’t a new cause, but it has renewed urgency following the death of one of its members. However, the mission according to one speaker, is much bigger than a skate park.
“I feel I speak for every one of us when I say we are people of a very strongly connected community believing that by no means is it just us who need to be heard,” said Anthony Gaudioso, one of the founding members of the group. “This world can be terrifyingly daunting. We feel there are many ways our city can improve, particularly by having more inclusive spaces for people, especially at-risk youth to come together and share and connect.”
Group member Caleb Lanke said the passion of the group is generated by the possibilities that exist.
“These kids understand how beneficial youth development is to this town,” Lanke told the Star Journal. “They can, in a sense, relate to many of the people who don’t fit the mold here in Rhinelander.”
Following along and watching the conversation develop has been Ashley McLaughlin, program and operations director of ArtStart. Becoming involved in a project of this nature is something she said ArtStart is willing to explore. Art organizations and skate parks, she noted, are not an unusual combination.
“It aligns with what we’re trying to do, too,” McLaughlin said. “Skate parks are skate-able sculptures. Park designers tend to be artists, whether they are muralists or doing other community development projects.
“We have inspiration from the Twin Cities – connections there with artists who are heavily involved in the development of skate parks,” McLaughlin continued. “Taking vacant city properties and activating them – developing them as youth-designed spaces. It’s interesting.”
One of the stumbling blocks in the way of moving forward is the group’s lack of 501c3 status for fundraising purposes. ArtStart is willing to explore that as well.
“Whether we take it on potentially under our organization as a community development project and tie in art elements,” McLaughlin said. “We could talk about mental illness – there is an importance for this in the community.”
Gaudioso told the council that reaching out to them was scary because his words come from “deep within his heart,” but even scarier, he said, is what could happen if no one speaks out or takes action.
“We need this skate park, but what we need more importantly is to show the lovely people of Rhinelander and our community that this is the least we can do – and potentially the beginning of our community leading by example – to show that every citizen of the city and even the world is welcome,” Gaudioso said. “That we are not alone and that these challenges of our life don’t have to be as scary.”
The process to get from Monday’s meeting to a working skate park will involve a process, McLaughlin said, that will include the community, the city, youth and skateboard enthusiasts of all ages – a community effort. In his conclusion, Gaudioso reiterated his belief that the project would be more than building a park.
“We see this as not simply an opportunity to build a skate park, but an opportunity to build opportunity itself – for the community to love one another, build connection and strength.
The entire city council meeting can be found at hodagtv.com.