Basketball is My Favorite Sport, I Love it When They’re Painting Up and Down the Court
Providence, Rhode Island – October 2018: A moment memorialized for years. Yes! This specific New England moment is sports related, but it is not the Red Sox fighting their way to the World Series for the fourth time in the past fifteen years, or even Celtics Opening Night. The first two weeks in October 2018 saw the production of a basketball court mural at Fargnoli Park on Smith Street in Providence. Providence College Galleries (PC–G) commissioned Jim Drain, a Providence native, RISD Professor and pretty-darned famous artist, to create a new design for the court. PC–G, in partnership with Friends of Friars Basketball, Friends of Fargnoli Park, City of Providence Parks, and Project Backboard, completed this innovative, collaborative contemporary art project primarily to renovate the rundown courts for its players.
Jamilee Lacy, Director and Curator of PC–G, approached me to work as the Project Manager for this initiative that came to be called “My HomeCourt”, and shared with me Jim’s design and a rough production plan. I knew Jamilee from my time as a PC student, where I was a dual major in Studio Art and Sociology, and I had spent time working in the galleries after graduating in 2016.
In her five years as the director, Jamilee has spearheaded some ambitious and thought provoking projects, and her plans for this My HomeCourt project were no exception. We began by visiting the park. The Elmhurst neighborhood of Providence has historically been a predominantly Italian and Irish area, but in recent years has become more demographically diverse with a growing community of Hispanic and African American families. Flanked by bakeries and pizza shops, and frequented by students at LaSalle Academy, Fargnoli Park is full of activity.
For the project, PC–G called in the assistance of Project Backboard, an organization that travels the country revitalizing and painting basketball courts. Sam Peterson and his childhood friend Ralph Sunga, both of New Rochelle, New York, had the experience and endurance to complete the painting in Fargnoli Park. At the beginning of the project, they were joined by their friend Nick, who had played basketball with Sam when they were studying together at Pratt Institute. It was incredibly exciting for me to meet young practicing artists from New York and have the chance to discuss shared interests, goals, and life experiences.
Sam and Ralph rapidly became my best buds. Our friendship arose not only from our time spent together, but also from the shared emotions and physicality of painting the mural on the courts. In order to make the most of the daylight, we spent about 11 hours on the courts painting each day. Some evenings after the sun had gone down, we painted under the glow of the little leaguer’s game lights.
In a true case of art imitating life, the weather during that period was as wacky as Jim Drain’s design. Over the course of our two weeks of painting, the temperature on the court hit 80 degrees and dropped to 40 degrees, and the drying paint held up to wind, debris, and immense amounts of rain. Along with their verbal support, members of the community and members of participating organizations joined the three of us on the court as volunteers. On the days when we welcomed numerous volunteers, we could make overwhelming progress – the work would not have been accomplished without this devoted team.
Although we had limited spare time outside the painting hours, it was really important to me that Sam and Ralph experienced the rest of the city. I showed them my Providence, which included a thrift trip to Savers, a musical journey to the Parlour, and a short culinary tour of downtown and the West Side. Their excitement and enjoyment of these explorations instilled in me a new appreciation for my home town.
We would have not survived the two weeks without Friends of Fargnoli Park member Christine Arviginian of Federal Hill Pizza on Chalkstone Avenue. Christine’s pizza is not the typical Rhode Island cheese-less, red pizza squares you often find around town, but I can say that it is spectacularly delicious; doughy center, crunchy crust, and toppings to top them all. I think it is safe to say that volunteers were more than okay with eating pizza every day.
The founding organization of My HomeCourt, Friends of Friars Basketball, and their families also volunteered significant amounts of time to painting the court. In addition to providing funding for the project, the always-smiling Pete and Theresa Peterson, acted as motivational support throughout the project. Their positivity and enthusiasm was imparted to workers and volunteers alike. Harold Starks of Providence College was also an upbeat presence for volunteers and brought a certain energy to the project. “Boom!” Harold frequently exclaimed, followed up by encouraging others to match his speedy productivity. Many of the Friends of Friars Basketball members were former PC men’s basketball players, so often I found these men rising over two feet above me. Our juxtaposed heights proved to be something of a spectacle as I was often asked to pose for pictures with them. We even posed for a celebrity photograph with Providence College alumni and NBA correspondent, Doris Burke, which I sent to my sports fanatic father right away. He loved the photo.
The Providence Parks Department was always on hand during the production of My HomeCourt. Wendy Nilsson and her macho Parks crew, led by Marciello, swept and dried the courts after rain, provided fences, bathrooms, and storage, and even lifted new vinyl-covered backboards onto the posts. These backboards required seven people and a metal lift, and when one needed to be transferred to a separate post, the team kindly agreed to do so.
I feel an enduring sense of accomplishment in seeing this project through to completion, and I hope this sentiment is shared by every volunteer, donor, worker, and community member who was involved. Although it was an enjoyable and rewarding experience to be involved in the production of My HomeCourt, the experiences that really matter are those of the future basketball players who will shoot hoops on the courts at Fargnoli Park. For Jaylin Robertson and Sterling Freeman, who dream to play Friars Basketball, and for Yohan Rodriguez and Andrew Casio, the courts at Fargnoli Park are where they will play their favorite sport together. The courts at Fargnoli Park are their HomeCourt.