On Wednesday 12 August, the Mayor of Chelmsford, Councillor Jude Deakin, opened a new installation by local artist Gareth Roberts. This is no static painting or sculpture sitting in a gallery - it's an outdoor work of art that you can stand on, walk on, and even play basketball on.
Crowdfunded last year and supported by a micro-grant from the Essex County Council Community Initiative Fund, 'Project in the Paint' has completely transformed what was once an under-used outdoor public basketball court at Frank Whitmore Green, off Viaduct Road, Chelmsford. The once grey and cracked court has now been repaired and given a colourful boost, with concentric rings of bright paint covering the surface.
The opening was also attended by local resident Tarryn Algar, who is an International Basketball Freestyler, the over-40s Captain for Team GB Basketball and a member of the UK's number-one 3 x 3 team.
Gareth, a design director, has lived in Chelmsford for ten years and officially started the planning phase of Project in the Paint in 2018. He said, "It is a blend of my professional skills in the art world and my passion as a keen basketball player. It enables me to improve facilities and drive interest, and hopefully investment, in the sport while introducing more art into public spaces. Both important issues for improving physical and mental health, wellbeing and community belonging."
After football, basketball is the second most popular team sport in the UK for 11-15-year-olds, with 32% of children participating. Gareth added, "336,000 people aged 14 and above play basketball in Britain at least once a month - as many as cricket and golf combined. However, it receives nowhere near the same level of funding. It's a great sport for teaching teamwork, discipline and hard work ethics - skills that have carried me successfully through my professional career."
Lockdown presented particular challenges for the project. The weather window for painting outdoors in the UK is small, so Gareth spent some time collaborating with a Bristol-based artist called Molly Hawkins on the design. The project took five days to paint and, instead of the team of four originally planned, Gareth painted with the help of his father-in-law Stephen Radford, who is in his social bubble: "We painted for three hours on one day, only to find that unforecast rain had cleaned all the paint off in the night! Ironically, painting in the park is no walk in the park."
Councillor Deakin was impressed by the final result: "This is an incredible transformation of a space where many people, particularly young people, come to relax and enjoy their sport. Now I've seen it, I think - why should a basketball court be dull and grey? Why shouldn't it be as lively and full of energy as the people who play on it? It's a great way to challenge expectations and make art more fun, and I think people will be surprised and delighted when they stumble across art in this unexpected location."
Gareth is currently in talks with the City Council to discuss further possible sites that could be given a new lease of artistic life. Find out more about Project in the Paint and other creative projects around Chelmsford at www.ignitechelmsford.org.uk.
You can see more of Gareth's work on Instagram @project_in_the_paint and Twitter @prointhepaint.
17 August 2020