PROVIDENCE — One public basketball court at a time, a small nonprofit is revitalizing this city’s recreational spaces with bold murals.
Earlier this month, My HomeCourt unveiled its third project at a park on Cranston Street behind Classical High School on Providence’s West Side. Painter Andrea Bergart’s joyful, fluid design dances in pink, green, and black against a checkerboard of blue and yellow.
“As soon as the backboards went up, there were like 30 people, including older ladies in chairs along the sidelines,” said Kate McNamara, My HomeCourt’s executive and creative director and sole employee. The backboards thrum with the complementary designs.
Bergart always dreamed of painting a basketball court. A longtime Celtics fan, she grew up in Acton, went to grad school at Boston University, and now lives in New York. Five years ago, she started playing basketball there with a team of creatives called Downtown Girls Basketball, and the sport took hold in her art practice.
“I was carrying a ball on the train or on the sidewalk, and I stood out,” said Bergart, who is expecting her first child late next month, over the phone from New York. “People came up and said, ‘Do you play ball?’ It was a conversation starter and a PSA. It felt strong.”
So she designed a basketball handbag. WNBA players, NBA wives, and other prominent figures started using them. Women came to the opening event for the Providence mural carrying them.
Sabrina Chaudhary, cofounder of Stay Silent PVD, which brings hip-hop events to unexpected venues around Providence, follows Bergart on Instagram.
“Her work is beautiful. I’ve purchased some of her bags. I saw the court on Instagram and didn’t realize it was in Rhode Island,” Chaudhary said.
When she did, “I was super happy,” Chaudhary said. “It made me think we’d done something as a city that’s culturally and artistically relevant.”
McNamara invited Chaudhary’s partner, Jason Almeida, a.k.a. hip-hop DJ WHERE’S NASTY, to create a playlist for Bergart’s court. The soundtrack is rooted in Almeida’s experiences as a kid in the early 2000s, playing three-on-three and the video game “NBA Street Vol. 2.”
My HomeCourt started under the umbrella of Providence College Galleries with help from the Providence Parks Department. The first project, in 2018, was Jim Drain’s mural at Fargnoli Park in the Elmhurst neighborhood. His pulsing, geometric design in syncopated rhythms and flashing tones could almost make a basketball bounce on its own.
McNamara is Drain’s partner. A former director of the Boston University Art Galleries, she left her position as director of galleries and exhibitions at Otis College of Art and Design in Los Angeles to move to Providence in 2017.
My HomeCourt was founded last year when Providence College Galleries tapped artists Joiri Minaya and Jordan Seaberry for the second mural, at Harriet & Sayles Park in South Providence. The court is named for Omar Polanco, killed by gun violence at 19 in 2012.
“Every season, we look at what parks are urgently in need of repair,” McNamara said. “Last year, Omar’s mother asked to rename her home court after her son.”
With the pandemic as this year’s backdrop, there’s all the more reason to bring murals by artists of international repute to streets and parks.
“It’s important to have art in unexpected places, and for people who might not feel comfortable walking into the white walls of a museum,” McNamara said.
The Cranston Street mural, which replaces an abandoned volleyball court, is bigger than a basketball court by half. Bergart filled the half court with loose, graphic images of figures playing ball. Some have ponytails. “I wanted a few women ballers in there for sure,” the artist said.
Basketball and painting have plenty in common, Bergart pointed out. Both require flow, intuition, and freestyle chops.
“My HomeCourt merges athletics and aesthetics. So often they’re so separate. Basketball embraces art and fashion with its street culture,” she said. “But bringing it into the game — let’s go for it.”
McNamara, meanwhile, aspires to brighten up many more urban courts. “There are 32 courts in the city, and we’re committed to do all of them,” she said. “And moving forward, we can partner with other cities, and other university and college galleries, so it can happen in every city.”
Cranston Street court, www.myhomecourt.org
Cate McQuaid can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @cmcq.