'Art in the Paint' gives decaying basketball courts new life with colorful designs

"Art in the Paint" has revitalized several basketball courts around Atlanta. (Courtesy of Arelious Cooper)

For many fans of the game, basketball is an art form. Proving their point, art and basketball have joined forces on the court with Art in the Paint, an Atlanta-based nonprofit created by former pro basketball player and coach Arelious Cooper, Jr. aka “Coop.” The organization aims to beautify and revitalize decaying basketball courts by engaging artists to paint the court’s surface with colorful designs. Arelious Cooper, Jr. joined “City Lights” host Lois Reitzes via Zoom to talk more about his group’s work on Atlanta’s underused courts.

Interview highlights:

How a former player and coach decided to merge basketball with public art projects:

“I started the organization to counteract some negative experiences I had at Stone Mountain,” said Cooper. “I am both Black and Latino. I’m African-American and Dominican, and just seeing Confederate soldiers honored there wasn’t as much of a problem for me as others, but [I started] thinking about the negativity that’s involved with the art and how I could counteract that with something positive in my community, rather than being one of those people, who’s like, ‘I wanna blow up the mountain.’ Like. I’m not blowing up the mountain. I can do something positive instead in my own community and uplift people using art.”

“I am a terrible painter but a wonderful project manager,” Cooper attested. “I’m a fan of all art, and in my years of playing basketball, I actually became a bit of a collector, and I started to notice that nothing in the world … brings people together like sports and art. You just think about how many people listen to music or go to a festival or concert or baseball game or soccer game. I just saw the unifying powers of art, and I knew that that would be a way to get people together, to work towards community-building.”

On finding the spaces that needed some AITP love:

“We get a ton of emails. Sometimes politicians, rappers, just community members all reach out to us. Also, I’m an Atlanta guy. I grew up here, and I grew up playing on a lot of courts around the city. It was a thing when I came home, I always wanted to host camps or give back to the communities, and I just kept noticing like, ‘Man, these parks are really torn down.’ I have younger godchildren, and I couldn’t see bringing a five-year-old to courts that have huge cracks, a bunch of glass on it, questionable drug paraphernalia, possible gang activity. You know, all these things were at the park, and I was like, ‘There’s everything here but basketball…’ so we got inspired to kind of change that around.”

“I think we’re on number 24 to date. We just started a partnership with Savannah College of Art and Design, aka SCAD. They have a project called ‘Paint Our Parks,’ and we’re doing a little bit of admin work and just some of the programming for that as well. So I think we’re on 24 starting today — like, we’re literally putting the goals in right now.”

Coop’s favorite recently beautified and upcoming courts:

“We’re actually going to be doing Adair Park too. Howell Park in the West End. Rose Circle Park in the West End at the Lee and White Street development is probably one of our favorites,” said Cooper. 

He continued, “We did a park in East Point that meant a lot to us. It was at Brookdale Park. There was a young man named Tyrell Sims who was shot in a drive-by. He was just an innocent bystander, and we were already planning on painting the court. But when he passed away, we were so touched that we didn’t know whether to put ‘Rest In Power’ or ‘Rest In Peace’ on the court and now the court says ‘Power and Peace,’ and it has his jersey number on there in East Point, which is a very tragic thing. And we’re really sad about it, but we were proud to be able to honor such a remarkable young man.”

More on the ongoing projects and accomplishments of Art in the Paint can be found at www.artinthepaint.org