In Conversation with The Bodecker Foundation
The visionary Pablo Picasso once stated, “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up”. Sandy Bodecker, the trailblazer responsible for launching Nike SB, seemed to share the same perspective as the 20th-century Spanish painter. In 2017, Bodecker, along with co-founder Tanya Cerda, collaborated to brainstorm the feasibility of founding a nonprofit that would introduce young people to a possible future in the world of the arts.
The N M Bodecker Creative Foundation, based in Portland, Oregon, has since facilitated workshops specifically tailored for high school students to explore artistic themes beyond those found in the classroom. Led by experienced local instructors from an array of different disciplines, the workshops have thrived since before, and during, the COVID-19 pandemic. One of those instructors is professional skateboarder and artist, Sebo Walker. He implements his diverse background to connect with the youth he teaches, all of whom resonate with his mantra of enjoying the artistic process and having fun.
To coincide with the twentieth anniversary of Nike SB, as well as the imminent release of the eBay Charity Dunk, we were excited to speak with Cerda and Walker about how the N M Bodecker Creative Foundation came to be, as well as what it is like to be an instructor there. The common goal between them both is that the youth can discover the innate creativity within themselves and harness that energy to make the world a better place.
Intro + Interview: Elliott Wright
Photos: Bodecker Foundation
Sebo Walker Studio images: James Smith
Flatspot: Hello Tanya! So to start, can you give me a bit of background about how the foundation came to be?
Tanya: Sandy and I started the N M Bodecker Creative Foundation in 2017 as a tribute to his father, who was a children’s book writer, illustrator, and poet. We both felt like it was necessary for young people that are interested in the arts to have that encouragement in case they didn’t have any artistic inspiration elsewhere.
Flatspot: What was your experience with the arts as a young person?
Tanya: I had a bit of a different upbringing. I didn’t really have that creative spark growing up because I didn't have people to encourage me. I knew that I was creative, but there was no one leading the way, saying, “You can do this!”.
I started my creative career later in life and was always hoping that I would be able to tell the next generation of creatives, “If art and creativity is your passion, stick with it, don’t worry about the naysayers, and keep going along your path.”.
If I had started younger, I think I would be in a different spot in my creative career. So with Sandy having that creative spark in his life and me having a lack thereof, we thought that having a nonprofit that helped encourage students to find their creative voice was definitely a necessity.
Flatspot: Who are the workshops designed for and what are some of the disciplines?
Tanya: We primarily work with high school students between the ages of 14 and 18 years old. We are hoping to spark young people to realize their creative potential through hands-on learning experiences. That can be creative disciplines such as graphic design, music, illustration, fashion design, or photography.
[Other] disciplines include audio engineering, songwriting, creative writing, animation, industrial design, studio art, and portfolio development. Threaded throughout the workshops is career exploration and an applied arts approach that uniquely centers collaboration, inclusivity, and positive affirmation of student identities.
For example, we have done tattoo design, which is a pretty popular workshop with the teens that we work with–it’s unconventional in terms of the other workshops lead in the city. We are hopefully going to start a poetry workshop next semester.
Anything that the students are interested in, we try to create immersive workshops that will further their education in that area and give them a leg up from what they may not get at a public school.
Flatspot: How has your experience been teaming up with Sebo, who has taught numerous workshops at this point?
Tanya: Oh my gosh, Sebo is amazing! The kids love him. I think that he has a familiarity about himself that the kids can really relate to. His classes are so great because I feel like it’s [true collaboration]. It’s very casual–no pressure–but at the same time the students have the ability to create.
He is so creative, and he is such an inspiration. I think that the students really look up to him and they end up creating things that they probably wouldn’t in a normal class because he makes them feel comfortable with the learning process of failing and succeeding–which is inherently true with skateboarding as well.
Flatspot: Sebo, can you expand on how you became involved with the foundation as an instructor?
Sebo: My father-in-law connected me with a guy named Ryan Mecham, who knew that I liked to work with kids by teaching skate lessons or by painting with my niece. He told me to check out Bodecker, because I had never heard of the foundation before he recommended it.
I did some research and immediately thought that it was parallel to exactly what I wanted to do, so I reached out to them. They offered me the opportunity to do a couple Zoom workshops. It was definitely a cool challenge for me because I hadn't been a leader or teacher in that regard.
The first workshop focused on griptape, and then it turned into customizing skateboards. I was a little nervous when I got started with it; [however,] I saw the teens light up. I got to know them and I learned to navigate that and I became more comfortable teaching. I was really excited after doing the [initial] workshop and kept in touch with the foundation.
We did two or three more workshops during the pandemic, and then just a couple months ago we were able to do the first one in person, at the foundation. We painted some shoes and they ended up being able to showcase their final product for a thing called Sneaker Week PDX.
Flatspot: Tanya, do you think instructors that skate might have an innate quality that would help them thrive in this space? I say this because you mentioned that Sebo teaches to embrace the failures as well as the successes, which is integral to skateboarding as well.
Tanya: Exactly. [Skateboarding and art] are so unique because you can create something that is inherently yours. I think that skateboarding is so universal compared to other arts and other sports. It’s not that expensive to get into. All you need is the board, so it feels like it's obtainable for anyone to actually pick up and do, which I really love about it.
I was a skateboarder; that’s how I met Sandy back in 2003. I thought that it was amazing that Nike was getting into skateboarding because they had been such an innovator with shoes already, so why not make skate shoes?
In terms of skateboarding, I think what makes it so special is not limited to how much you have. Anybody can actually just do it if they are committed. It’s a great way to connect with nature and your surroundings. It’s a great way to meet people. There are a lot of things around skateboarding that are so perfect.
Flatspot: Sebo, what are your thoughts on being an instructor with your background as a skateboarder?
Sebo: I feel like skateboarders have street smarts about them; additionally, they have a different perspective because it's not your average profession. It takes almost a creative or abstract mind to get into skateboarding and stick with it. There are so many different elements that you can learn through skateboarding that can help you through life, such as perseverance, confidence, and creativity. All of those things can intertwine into your life.
I do feel like it is something that attracts the most creative and different-thinking minds. As you progress and get older and meet similar personalities, it can give you a base perspective and knowledge that is different and unique. I have found that as I have gotten older, I didn't realize that all these things could turn out to make me a good teacher or able to help tap into the creative place of a young person. But I’m incredibly excited that it did.
Flatspot: How does it feel to be in this position?
Sebo: I feel really lucky and stoked that I have been able to be a workshop teacher. Every student is just so uniquely different and special. Some are quiet and some are super effusive. But for each and every one of them, I feel like they can relate to me because I was just trying to encourage them to find it in themselves as opposed to being told, “This is what you should do”.
In workshops, we don’t speak negatively about ourselves, which I have gotten dinged on a few times. Sometimes I get really low on myself and I simultaneously see that these kids are definitely going through some of that–humans are innately hard on ourselves. I would be dissecting things, thinking of myself when I was their age, and use that knowledge to tap into helping them.
I make accidents all the time; I’ll look at a mistake as an opportunity. Little things like that are just some dorky, funny ways that I adapt to things that are happening in life, but then I realize that this is really relatable to the kids. It's all about confidence and a lot of the kids would be really quiet for a lot of the time and then at the end of the workshop they would present an amazing thing.
I would feel emotional at the end of the workshops knowing that I was able to work with these kids, get to know them, and see them come up with something that they made and are proud of. It was this pretty beautiful moment to see the kids complimenting each other. We created this team dynamic that has been creative–where everyone is unique–but everyone is part of the same creative process.
Flatspot: I think it’s great that you are a mediator that can help kids discover their inner creativity for themselves. I feel like that is the exact goal of Bodecker.
Sebo: Just like teaching skating, I have found it’s all about creative assistance without being too strict or aggressive. Kids are vulnerable. When they are learning, it's good to encourage them without making them feel too much like there is right or wrong. Skateboarding, art, and all things creative, it comes from you but it takes a little bit of encouragement to get you to a place where you can tap into that.
Especially so during the pandemic, a lot of these younger kids were in a tough spot. They are in secondary school; so you are in a really difficult place, whether you admit it or not. So it felt even more impactful to be creative and excited about making something.
I think that the school system, at least when I was a student, [lacked] creative encouragement. You are just at such a pivotal point where you might not find that you are interested in something in a creative field.
Flatspot: How do you feel that the workshops have benefited the youth you have mentored, especially during the period of teaching during the pandemic?
Sebo: We would work together and then they could work on it on their own and just be creative, because they were just sitting in their rooms a lot, you know? It was hopefully going to be something for them to be a little bit excited about as a creative project, which is kind of what Sandy's vision was–to give the youth access to creative workshops at that age. Introducing anything creative at that time can be monumental and really spark something.
Flatspot: If you started in 2017, this year you will be celebrating five years as a nonprofit, correct? In 2022, what do you foresee the next five years bringing?
Tanya: That’s a good question. In my head I feel like we are at the four-year mark because we were not fully active in our first year. I feel like we really started when Sandy passed away in 2018 to kick off our workshops in 2019.
Coming down the pipeline, there are so many different things that we can branch out and do. We are a newer organization, so there is plenty of room for growth. Eventually, I would like to see Bodecker expand nationwide, but we must first start in our own backyard.
One of the things that we hope to launch later this year is a scholarship program for high school students pursuing an art-related major. We know that college is expensive, so we are just hoping to find a way to alleviate some of that pressure for students who can see themselves taking their art to post-secondary.
We would love to increase our programming with more internships, apprenticeships, and mentoring for young people interested in a career in the arts. I would hope that what we do could spark other nonprofits to do something similar in other cities.
[Alternatively,] it would be great if we can expand ourselves and take what we do at Bodecker to the next level. We are currently mainly an Oregon-based nonprofit, but I can see what we are doing spreading outwards.
Flatspot: What can fans of your mission do to support?
Tanya: Of course, if you are a creative or an artist and enjoy working with young people and have a passion to share, you can always volunteer or sign up to be a workshop leader. There is also a 'Donate' button on our N M Bodecker Creative Foundation page, so people who support our mission can easily give.
Flatspot: Thanks for taking the time Tanya and Sebo. Do you have any parting words as we wind down?
Sebo: I think it’s incredible to be involved with the foundation. Sandy’s whole goal was to open the minds of creative youth and give them access to things that can spark ideas at that age because it's hugely important. It’s a huge honor to work for Bodecker and hopefully there is more to come in the future!
Tanya: In the spirit of Sandy and his ethos, “Respect the Past and Embrace the Future”, my advice would be to never give up, always be a constant learner, and be able to pass on your passion to somebody else from the younger generation.
Stay informed about happenings at the N M Bodecker Creative Foundation here.
Follow Sebo Walker’s skateboarding and art on Instagram here.