Smack in the middle of an economic landscape that has torn retailers apart and sunk galleries into oblivion”, up pops Swiv Tackle Circus in Oceanside, CA, a gritty little beach community on the northern edge of San Diego and an outpost for skaters, surfers, and artists. As original as its name, Swiv Tackle Circus has redefined what it means to be a retail store, gallery, and community gathering space. Known as a “gallertique” as in part boutique and part gallery, the 3,500 square-foot space owned by Shaney Jo Darden and Jeff Black, and managed with partners Desiree Dawn Kuhn and Kirsten Kuhn, gives new meaning and hope to the concept of having a business and artistic gathering space that pushes forward creativity and new ideas, rather than constricts life based on outside forces of bad economics. The concept is the epitome of DIY in that it’s so CYOO (create your own oasis).
At their opening show March 28th, where literally hundreds of people showed up including a who’s-who list of skateboarders, surfers, and artists, such as Jamie Thomas, Jen O’Brien, Todd Swank, Kassia Meador, Adrian Lopez, and John Rattray, among others, Swiv Tackle Circus came to life in an upscale carni-type atmosphere via an incredible body of work from local artist Ben Horton. Ben, who also happens to own $lave Skateboards and is the Creative Director of Black Box Distribution, is also widely known for his striking artwork of expressive people, animals, and scenes.
As dramatic as it sounds, the concept of Swiv Tackle Circus embodies a multi-dimensional approach to living life to the fullest. “Swiv,” explains Jeff Blackass Black, a.k.a. DJ Blackass, “is the new way to live as in live/swiv. Tackle comes from spectacular and it also means fishing tackle and circus is the collaboration of artists, or better yet misfits with skills. I figure that we’ll always have a good time here if we bring them all together so in a sense, we’re a modern-day Moulin Rouge for skaters, surfers, artists and people attracted to a creative form of life.”
Jeff wasn’t joking. Also known as the “ringmaster” of the event, later on came fire dancers and a man handing out very tall peacock feathers. If you didn’t go outside beyond the excellent displays of deserts and lemon drops and black and white striped curtains with gold tassels, you would have sworn you’d walked into a pretty cool circus gallery (complete with equally dramatic bartender and barmaid).
“I think people have to remember their human skills,” explained the ringmaster, when I questioned him further about what he planned to bring to Swiv in the future. “Art, dance, sound -I call it sound because music has too many rules now. We’ll have harp players, mimes, puppet shows and make sure that people remember what it’s like to be creative or else we will lose our human instincts.”
Jeff’s sentiments match what Shaney Jo Darden has created also with her extremely instinctive and artistic non-profit foundation, Keep-a-Breast. “I started Keep-a-Breast [KAB] in 2000 based on the growing need for young women to have information about breast cancer because they were being diagnosed with this disease and there was little out there for them. So, we put art together with this cause and we create art sculptures from women’s breasts and paint them by various artists, and exhibit them. We believe that education and awareness can save women’s lives through early detection.”
Shaney Jo, who is also known in fashion as a top-end denim designer, seamstress, and artist in her own right, first came about the location when hunting for office space for KAB. “Then, only 3 blocks away from my home, this space was here and it gave its own life to itself. I realized this could be our office in the back, gallery in the front, and there’s also room for 4 artist residencies. It turned into a dream come true -a space for our community that supports the growing culture of arts in this area.”
Unlike the surf and skate shops that sprinkle most of Pacific Coast Highway on the route to San Diego, Swiv Tackle Circus keeps its options open from a different angle rather than just carrying action sports brands. “We look for brands from clothing designers that are handmade. I like to touch, feel, see things, so we look for brands like that–even little things, girly things, things that are creative and come from the arts.” Top brands so far in the gallertique include Obey, Lewsader (owned also by Shaney Jo Darden and Desiree Dawn Kuhn), Upper Playground, (b)ecky skateboard deck purses ,Pony Attack, and of course the artistically inspired KAB merchandise. There’s also a round-about window display for art supplies including spray paint cans and other items for creative expression.
What Swiv Tackle Circus ends up becoming will of course be up to the community that already seems to fully support the concept. As Desiree Dawn Kuhn puts it, “There’s so much more going on here than just a boutique or a gallery. It’s a community that we’re growing and supporting. It’s about love and basically, saving the world.”
This incredibly tall order may seem far-fetched for those who haven’t been to Swiv Tackle Circus yet, but if any space could generate the necessary ripple-effect, it might just be this Oceanside gallertique.
Swiv Tackle Circus is located at: 530 South Coast Highway, Oceanside, CA 92054; (760) 439-3760; www.swivtacklecircus.com. The location is also only a block and half from the train station going south from downtown LA or up from San Diego.