CINCINNATI - Ali Calis picked up a skateboard when he was 9, and he hasn't stopped skating since.
Calis built his first half-pipe at 12. Growing up, his teachers and guidance counselors told him that he'd never amount to anything. Thirty-three years later, skateboarding has transformed his life in ways he never thought possible.
"It's something that if I have to reflect upon it gets pretty emotional because everywhere I've been, places I've traveled, people I know, where I work...art that I've made, best friends that last a life time, it's all through skateboarding," Calis said.
Watch the SkateAble vs Non Part || installation in the media player above.
The Northside-based artist began infusing his two lives as artist and skateboarder into his art when he was in college. For his final thesis, Calis built a 16-foot tall full-pipe as part of a performance piece for his Bachelor of Fine Arts. After graduation, Calis continued this theme by collaborating with other like-minded artists.
"I wanted to start incorporating skate-based structures into paintings and that crossed over into, 'Well what about taking skate ramp structures into performance-based art?'" Calis said.
In 2008, he collaborated with artist Ryan Little for an installation at the now defunct art gallery Feralmade. They used art and music and built skate ramps as part of their installation, turning the space into a mini skate park. The show was titled "SkateAble vs Non" with a focus on skating and non-skating areas for the public to experience as part of the art show.
The installation made a lasting impression on the skating community in Cincinnati. And now, 10 years later, Calis and a group of peers have revived a similar thematic skate installation at the People's Liberty Globe front in Camp Washington.
Calis, Jill Cleary, Zach Kincaid and Scott Licardi teamed up to apply for a People's Liberty grant in 2017 which eventually awarded them $15,000 for their new "SkateAble vs Non: Part II" vision. They all met through the local skate scene over the years and have been part of the skate collective SkateAble, named after Calis' 2008 show.
Members of SkateAble have spent years building skate ramps all over the city and working on various projects together with an emphasis on the marriage between art and skating. It's even opened up new outlets for those who are a part of it.
Jill Cleary began skating in high school and worked at a local skate park, Sessions, in Dayton, Ohio. Like Calis, the graphic designer credits skateboarding for opening doors to new friendships and artistic endeavors.
"SkateAble is also really creative and there's an artistic side to it outside of the building," Cleary said.
Zach Kincaid has been skating for 17 years. His background is in biology, but Kincaid's experience with SkateAble has helped him tap into an artistic side.
"I'm not artistic, but something like this makes you feel like an artist and Ali has opened that up to me," Kincaid said.
The SkateAble crew, which includes Calis, Cleary, Kincaid and Licardi, spent two months building ramps before they were moved into the space in Camp Washington. They had one week to move the structures in, paint and clean before their grand opening on Aug. 18.
There are two rooms with designated skate areas, walls where a skateboard deck art show hangs, a stage for bands to play and an outdoor area with games for kids. The idea is to give visitors a glimpse into the skating world and invite skaters of all ages and skill levels.
"I think it would be cool if the younger crowd came in and someone decided they wanted to skate or they were really inspired by artwork that they saw or someone that they talked to," Cleary said. "Some kind of spark that skateboarding brings because that's what brought all of us together to work on this project."
SkateAble plans to host a variety of art shows, music and events throughout their residency in Camp Washington, which runs through the end of October. A complete list of events can be seen here.
Calis hopes an alternative art show like this will help open some minds like those he encountered in his youth.
"When we got that first taste of skateboarding, it's this experience that you can't describe and it grows with you throughout life," he said. "If that happened to anyone or multiple people that would be a great thing because skateboarding has done so much for us in our lives."