Local artist creates stunning art piece for 2018 USBC Open Championships

By Matt Cannizzaro and Christine Nichols
USBC Communications

More than a century of United States Bowling Congress Open Championships history is built on tradition and dedication.

The excitement of the one-of-a-kind atmosphere at the world's largest participatory sporting event has been passed from one generation of bowlers to the next, since the inaugural edition of the event in 1901.

Families have turned the annual experience into memorable vacations. Children have watched their parents bowl in the USBC Open Championships and eagerly awaited their own turns on the championship lanes. Sons have bowled with their fathers. Wives and daughters and granddaughters participate in the tournament, too.

Some might say bowling and the Open Championships are in their DNA.

ZbikowskiMark2018OCForWebDNA140x200Syracuse artist and avid bowler, Mark Zbikowski Jr., brought that expression to life inside the Oncenter Convention Center, home of the 2018 Open Championships, the 115th edition of the storied tournament.

The Syracuse University Masters of Fine Arts candidate used his artistic ability to create the focal point of the custom tournament venue inside the Oncenter Convention Center with his sculpture, cleverly named, "It's In Our Blood 2.0."

The creation is a 14-foot-high DNA strand featuring 66 bowling balls supplied by USBC's Gold Partners - Brunswick, Columbia, Ebonite, Hammer, Roto Grip and Storm.

This sculpture is the first thing seen by bowlers as they make their way into the 48-lane setup.

The Open Championships is visiting Zbikowski's hometown for the first time in nearly 20 years, and he has enjoyed the opportunity to combine his passion for art and bowling and provide something interesting and memorable for nearly 40,000 competitors from all 50 states and several foreign countries.

"The coolest thing for me is for people to make the connection of the true meaning of the sculpture," Zbikowski said.

The concept of the idea quickly came together for the 27-year-old artist, though the sculpture itself took numerous months of planning. Zbikowski was tested not only on his artistic ability, but on his architectural and engineering skills, too.

With some encouragement from supporters who knew the 2018 Open Championships was on the horizon, Zbikowski reached out to USBC's Senior Director of Tournament Programming Greg Moore. Zbikowski pitched his idea and concept through email, and Moore quickly got onboard with the idea.

With the 2017 U.S. Open also being held in the Syracuse area, that gave Zbikowski a chance to meet with Moore in person a few months before the start of the 50-day convention center transformation for the Open Championships, which kicked off its 107-day run March 24 and will conclude July 8.

"Working with Moore was an enjoyable experience," Zbikowski said. "He was always a few steps ahead of me and would take care of me. We were both on the same page. In fact, he was a few pages ahead of me. It was incredible how quickly we were able to build a relationship."

This sizable display inside the Oncenter Convention Center is not the first DNA strand Zbikowski has built.

His first sculpture was put on display at downtown Syracuse's MOST (Milton J. Rubenstein Museum of Science and Technology) in August 2017, just down the road from the Oncenter.

In creating the initial version of his vision, "It's In Our Blood," Zbikowski reached out to the bowling community asking for any unwanted bowling balls.

"People trusted my artistic ability and knew their donations would be put to good use," Zbikowski said.

"It's In Our Blood" was created using 14- and 15-pound bowling balls, but since those bowling balls all had weight blocks, he was unable to go nearly as high as the second edition of the sculpture.

Being familiar with the process and what worked and what didn't the first time around helped speed things along as the tournament venue took shape around its towering centerpiece.

Within weeks, the sculpture was flanked by a three-window trophy case, vendor booths and bleachers, while the background of all subsequent photos would include 48 competition lanes and the world's largest mobile scoreboard.

Zbikowski comes from a bowling family, and he is extremely proud to have taken the two things he loves doing and created something special for the bowling world to see.ZbikowskiMark2018OCForWebDNAToo140x200

"My idea evolved into how the culture of bowling has been passed down from generation to generation," Zbikowski said. "Once I built it, it took on a life of its own. Obviously, it's a DNA strand, but it's an extension of me. Everything I am as an artist was put into this sculpture, so it's a phenomenal experience and so surreal. The concept of this piece illustrates how something as simple as bowling is implanted into our DNA."

One of the greatest accomplishments for an artist is the completion of any project, and one of the greatest achievements for a bowler is shooting an award score. For Zbikowski, those two things collided the day he completed his sculpture.

After the completion of "It's In Our Blood 2.0," Zbikowski took to the lanes just like he did every Friday night. Little did he know he was about to accomplish a memorable feat.

As he approached the third game of his league session, he realized he finally could accomplish something he has been working so hard for. A 269 effort helped Zbikowski finish the night with his first 800 series, an 803 performance.

The bowling whirlwind continued for Zbikowski in early May, when having the Open Championships in his backyard allowed him the opportunity to make his debut on the championships lanes.

Although his performance at the Open Championships didn't turn out as well as he'd hoped, Zbikowski is looking forward to a possible return to the big stage in the future.

With the tournament drawing to a close, Zbikowski hopes his piece had an impact on the thousands of bowlers and spectators who saw it. He will dismantle the sculpture during the upcoming teardown of the tournament venue, but the piece is for sale.

"It's pretty cool to know that my sculpture has reached, and hopefully touched, those of the bowling community who understand and respect what bowling is," Zbikowski said.

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