“I’ve gotten into the habit of seeing what’s possible versus what’s here.”
Meet Dan Peterson, the man who’s turning public basketball courts into works of art across America.
The end goal? To help communities come together and flourish in a safe, healthy, and inspiring environment.
Enterprise recently worked with Peterson and Project Backboard to breathe new life into Kinloch Park in the St. Louis area – creating the biggest “art court” in America.
Getting In The Game
Outdoor basketball is close to Dan Peterson’s heart. Growing up in New York, he played on a variety of courts. But his junior year of high school, a new public outdoor court was built at the community middle school, and Dan and a few other players began holding informal basketball practices there during the summer.
“Consequently, we had the best year in ten years of our high school’s history,” says Peterson. “Just one new outdoor court had a really huge impact on my life and on the life of a lot of people I was close with. It really changed the dynamic of our local basketball culture.”
Basketball continued to influence Peterson’s life after High School. He went on to play Division 1 basketball at Iona, and later began working for the Memphis Grizzlies as their Senior Coordinator, Health and Fitness Initiatives.
It was in Memphis where Peterson first realized the potential for impacting communities by investing in their local outdoor basketball courts. Upon realizing how many of Memphis’ public courts didn’t even have lines painted on them, he saw an opportunity.
As he told Artsy in a recent interview, “At first, I was just painting black or white lines on asphalt: the three-point line, the foul line, out-of-bounds.”
That’s when he had an idea. “I thought, ‘I’m already out here working in these parks, so how can I add something interesting and unique to these courts that will excite the community about visiting and playing on them?’”
The answer was to turn each court into a canvas.
“For me, someone who’s loved basketball my whole life and has always enjoyed art, I see them both as passions expressed creatively. Whether it’s on the basketball court or on a canvas, it’s people doing what they love and a way to express themselves.”
The results were obvious – the courts Dan’s Grizzlies team helped renovate saw positive shifts in usage, safety and community pride.
ourts in New York. On top of that, like-minded community advocates have reached out to Peterson as a resource for their “art court” projects in Oregon, Syracuse and Baltimore.
Project Backboard Tips Off
In 2015, Peterson left the Grizzlies and focused all of his energy on developing Project Backboard. His vision was to take everything he learned in Memphis and apply it in other communities across the country.Project Backboard has now completed projects in Memphis, Los Angeles, St. Louis, and is planning c
“It’s really fun for me to come out and see basketball courts that are in need of some help, and be able to be a catalyst towards helping.”
Teaming Up With Local Artists
Once Project Backboard has identified a court in need of help (often via recommendations from community leaders), Peterson’s first move is to find an artist who resides in the same city as the court. His mission is to find someone who is not only artistically capable of making a powerful impact, but who also shares Project Backboard’s vision of bringing communities together.
According to Peterson, artist interest isn’t a problem, thanks to the inherent local cause – and the unique challenge that comes with a court-sized canvas.
“This is a scale that a lot of artists wouldn’t get an opportunity to work on – the context of a living, organic piece of art,” Peterson claims. “I think, from the artist’s perspective, that’s what gets them excited.”And it’s each court’s artistic nature that makes the biggest difference within the neighborhood.
“It creates a unique space for community building,” explains Peterson. “It invites different folks out to the court and really makes it a special place, more so than just a new basketball court would.”
Project Backboard’s Latest Work of Art
When Peterson was presented with the opportunity to restore the Kinloch Park courts in St. Louis, he instantly saw promise.
As Peterson put it, “This neighborhood is similar to a lot of other neighborhoods I’ve worked on before – it fits the profile of places where there’s a passion for basketball, a passion for the park, but maybe not the resources that one would like to see.”
Peterson’s first call was to St. Louis artist William LaChance, who was in immediately. “It’s definitely the biggest painting I’ve ever done, which I’m really excited about,” says LaChance. Indeed, this would be Project Backboard’s largest initiative yet: three side-by-side courts that measure 100 feet by 150 feet, making the Kinloch project the largest art court in the country to Peterson’s knowledge.
“I think it’s going to be a place where people maintain and care for the courts, even after we’re gone,” says Peterson of Kinloch. “I’m really excited to see what changes the courts can inspire.”
Now that the Kinloch project is complete, Dan Peterson reflects on how this court will impact the lives of people who live nearby – just like the outdoor court he played on as a kid in New York.
“My hope is that kids or whoever comes out to see it will have their mind altered in a way that’s like, ‘If you can do this on a basketball court, then what else is possible?’”