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Project in the Paint: turning basketball courts into works of art

Meet Gareth Roberts. Gareth studied BA (Hons) Graphic Design at NUA, graduating in 2004. After graduating, he worked, and still works, in industry. He’s currently Design Lead/Design Director at Identica, a design agency in London. Gareth runs a side project called Project in the Paint. An initiative promoting engagement in UK grassroots basketball, by transforming courts into works of art. We caught up with Gareth to find out more about it.

Gareth Roberts

What inspired you to start turning regular basketball courts into works of art?

I was inspired by the discovery of an American initiative called Project Backboard. Around the same time, I had my second child, and I stumbled on a study from Liverpool John Moore’s University. It had discovered that children’s physical activity was significantly increased by the application of brightly coloured marking on playground surfaces.

Something clicked. People create their worlds with the tools they have directly at hand. If there’s only three things in the world that I know anything about its art, design and basketball. As a designer I had a good understanding of how art can affect communities positively.

So, how do you do it?

It’s a combination of me targeting a court that needs help with an idea or being asked to transform a specific court in advance. However, the brief is generally free rein once the design has approval of the council or local community. All designs are within a set of self-imposed guidelines – make it bold, vibrant and inviting.

Gareth Roberts

What do you love about working on Project in the Paint?

The creative freedom and artistic expression afforded by community projects is a refreshing break from the more commercial and tightly specified briefs of commercial design. However what I love most is the difference it makes to outdoor spaces and the positive impact it has on the people who use them.

Have you been anywhere exciting to transform a court?

I’m afraid nothing more exciting than my own neighbourhood in Chelmsford, Essex. The project was always intended to start by transforming my own community (and selfishly) made it easier to deliver the project and benefit directly from it myself. The council are very supportive of the project and the both the local creative community and basketball community are also very engaged.

The interest in the projects I’ve delivered nearer to home has led to other interesting opportunities in the UK basketball community and with brand partners farther afield.

Pigelle art court in Paris

If you had to choose your favourite court design, which would it be?

Of the ones that inspired me to start the project (and there were many) and is the most popular and familiar ‘artcourt’ in the world is the Pigalle Court in Paris, by Parisian creative agency ILL-studio and NIKE

It’s gone through a few reimagining’s since its inception in 2009, but its third iteration in 2017 is just stunning. Not only in its colour and pattern and gradient of smooth, iridescent hues, but the use of the oddly shaped derelict space sandwiched between two apartment buildings in Paris.  It affects not only the floor but up the walls and the baskets…it’s just superb!

Gareth Roberts

Why is creativity important?

For me, to take part in expressing things creatively, work with creative people and offer the results to the public is important. The medium of Public Art is a perfect platform – it reaches people casually, when they’re not expecting it.

Not everybody gets the opportunity to stare at a modern master in a gallery, but by democratising art, putting it in everyday places that are unavoidable, I felt that I could transform public basketball courts into bold, beautiful and unique works of art. This brings the art to the viewer whilst embracing the idea of basketball courts as places of not only sport but celebration, creativity, diversity and togetherness.

These are essential elements in building a sentiment of belonging to our community, making the locale safer, reducing antisocial behaviour and simply brightening it up.

The creative process invites everyone to be creative. Art is not just for “creative-types” and even if you don’t think you are artistically inclined, you’ll be surprised at your capacity to create great work.

Gareth Roberts

And what’s next for Project in the Paint?

I have lots of long-term ambitions for Project in the Paint. I aim to transform more courts in Essex next year, but I am taking it national this year to transform courts a few courts around the country. This time more as a curator rather than creator. I’ll be giving local, popular and up-and-coming artists the opportunity to see their art on a larger canvases, and commission them to create unique art pieces for basketball courts.

Although I have greatly enjoyed expressing my own design style on court, I take real joy in seeing how other might envision their work on the same canvas. One artist that I’ll be working with this year is also a NUA grad; Rosie (Coco) Lom!

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