Each year, thousands of people travel to Taylor, Texas, to eat some of the state’s finest barbecue. And now renowned photographer Brent Humphreys is attempting to create a new attraction in the area, one that could draw a different crowd to the small town northeast of Austin: a skatepark designed and built by a group of local teenagers.

The park might sound like an idea that’s out of step in a place that’s still largely a ranching community, but Humphreys, who grew up in Dallas and is now based in Taylor, thinks its important to provide a hub for the young creative teens in his adopted hometown. The idea to build the skatepark struck him in 2011 when he spotted some local kids in a creek culvert on his land. They were looking for a place to skate. Then a few days later, he ran into another teenager at a gas station who was also looking for somewhere to ride. Humphreys asked him where people in Taylor skateboarded, and the teen told him they had to go out of town, to Round Rock or Austin, for decent ramps, jumps, and rails.

The kids’ situation reminded him of his own youth in Dallas. “I was hyper-creative but didn’t have creative people around me,” he said, “so that creativity was treated like a novelty or hobby.” Humphreys feels fortunate that he met his own mentor when he was eighteen, a person who encouraged him to pursue a career as a photographer. But it was a chance encounter that led him to someone who helped change the trajectory of his life. Humphreys wants to make those kinds of connections more accessible to the kids in Taylor. “If we can affect one child in the way that I was affected by my mentor, we’ve done what we’ve set out to do,” he said.

Three years ago, he founded a nonprofit called Project Loop, an organization that provides a network for creatively-minded teens and pre-teens in the area. Since it was created, the group has done things like helping build skateramps used at Fun Fun Fun Fest and learning how to roast coffee beans. The skatepark, which will be ready to ride by summer, fits with Project Loop’s mission. He sees the park as a potential outlet for kids inclined toward individualistic sports, like skateboarding and BMX riding, as they “represent a real form of self-expression” that can’t be found in team-driven sports like football or baseball.

The funding for the skatepark project also serves as a lesson in self-expression. On display right now in a small building in Taylor are more than 100 skate decks that have been hand-painted, stenciled, and sketched by some high-profile celebrities and artists: Matt Groening, the cartoonist behind The Simpsons; Michael Stipe of REM; and pro-skateboarder Tony Hawk, to name a few. The boards are part of an ongoing auction called 50/50.2, and 100 percent of the funds raised by the board sales will go to help the kids in Humphreys’ Project Loop build their skatepark. The auction ends December 6, in a final exhibition downtown at the McCrory Timmerman Building.

(Skateboard design by Matt Groening, creator of The Simpsons)

The auction is the brainchild of Humphreys and Austin-based graphic artist Chris Billheimer and Austin-based restaurant owner Geoff Peveto. They all teamed up and sent out letters and blank skate decks to 50 local and national artists (hence the benefit’s name, 50/50.2), asking them to illustrate the boards and donate their work for charity. The response was overwhelming, especially coming from many artists who had never heard of Taylor, Texas. Once word about the project spread, other artists started reaching out to Project Loop, asking if they could contribute. When the number of decorated boards topped 120, Humphreys had to cut submissions off.

The boards are listed on the auction website in alphabetical order, with no particular piece featured. “We don’t have any poster boys,” Humphreys said, and, in the name of equality, each deck started bidding at $30. Now, with only a day left in the auction, one board has passed the $1,000 mark. It’s a stenciled piece by Jason “The Kid” Adams of Willie Nelson’s face, signed by both Willie and the artist.

(Jason Adam’s design, signed by Willie Nelson.)

While the goal listed on the 50/50.2 auction page is $50,000, Humpheys said they really need about $150,000 to build a proper skatepark for Taylor. 50/50.2 is the second iteration of the skateboard auction, and last year’s fundraiser raised $28,000 that will also go towards the new park. Project Loop is working with the Taylor Parks Department, which said it will match the funds raised in the auction.

A group called Evergreen Skateparks, based in Portland, will build the skatepark in Taylor, its second such project in Texas (they are currently building a park in Fredericksburg and will work with the Loop kids on the design and eventual construction of the Taylor skatepark).
Humphreys said the group will start moving dirt by summer 2015 in order to provide the skateboarders in Taylor with the park they’ve been missing all this time. In the meantime, he is looking for more projects to keep the creative juices flowing in a town otherwise defined by old, Texas traditions. “If you’re a creative kid out there,” Humphreys said, “you might as well be from Mars.”

(Design by Paul Fucik. See the rest of the skateboard designs here.)