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Skateboarder at Kennedy Center

Ben Ashworth powers around a skate bowl built at Mason's Fairfax Campus. Photo by John Falls.

Performing Power Loops at the Kennedy Center

Living life as a rebel on wheels is what started Ben Ashworth down a path of artistry that would later influence many.

“I grew up being told ‘no’, ‘don’t do that,’ ‘get out of here.’ It’s motivating because you don’t fit the mold at the time, so it makes you work harder,” said avid skateboarder Ashworth, who is the Sculpture Studio supervisor at George Mason University’s School of Art.

Growing up, he used wheelchair access ramps, handrails and empty pools to practice. This led to tickets for trespassing and vandalism charges.

“You get older, you don’t feel like running from the police and security guards. So what do you do?”

You build.

Ashworth found like-minded individuals and started building skate structures out of necessity and curiosity.

During the next 20 years, Ashworth, who graduated with a BA in art in 1999 and is currently working on an MFA, worked on several public commissions, many of them skate structures that benefited nonprofits and brought Washington, D.C., communities into collective conversations.

The skate bowl that Ashworth and his team built—a structure uniting the skateboarders with the B-boys and the business crowd with the block—was placed in front of the prestigious Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts for Finding A Line: Skateboarding, Music, and Media, a festival held in September.

Mason students were an integral part of the building process; they cut the “ribs,” that is, the planks of wood supporting the ramp, each taking a turn at learning to operate the chop saw, he said. They claimed ownership to their work by writing “John’s Rib” or “Sam’s Rib” on each plank, he said.

Ashworth said he believes students learn more when they get hands-on experience with a project.