This project was created as part of the SPACES Artist in Residency program at The Village of Arts and Humanities in North Philadelphia, PA. Greatest thanks to our project partners and supporters: the Philadelphia Sixers, Philadelphia LISC, The City of Philadelphia, Philadelphia Parks and Recreation, and Artplace America.
RENOVATION & RENAISSANCE
The “Home Court” project began when the Sixers Youth Foundation and Philadelphia 76ers approached LISC to help them identify a neighborhood basketball court in need of renovation. LISC connected with long-time partner, The Village of Arts and Humanities, to identify Hartranft Basketball Courts at 9th and Cumberland streets, as a key location for this investment.
The courts are a beloved cultural hub that have served many generations. However, after the closing of the adjoining Hartranft Community Center in the late 2000s, disappearance of funding, and the loss of a teenager to violence at the courts, coaches found it difficult to build cohesion among volunteers and maintain safe, healthy recreation for young people at the space.
GOING BEYOND THE SURFACE
The Village saw an opportunity to re-spark youth and adult civic engagement at the courts, performing an internal “renovation” of relationships, knowledge, and leadership while the external court renovations took place. The Village teamed community leaders up with photographer Shawn Theodore, hip hop collective Ill Doots, and composer Mike McDermott, all nationally-renowned artists who have taught and practiced in the community for years.
The team interviewed over 100 community members over 6 months in story circles, meals, pickup games and stoop conversations. Working alongside coaches, players, youth and parents, they then created a 2500 sq. foot participatory art exhibit in photo and audio exploring the past, present and future of the Hartranft courts.
HOME COURT: NEIGHBORHOOD AND PUBLIC OPENINGS
The exhibit doubled as a community forum and launchpad for intentional dialogue about the court’s future. During May of 2018 the exhibit space was open to community members only, to add stories and memories and meet with one another and resource partners. Programming welcomed over 300 community members and included coaches’ dinners, youth songwriting workshops, tile-making and a “Guardians Dinner” with the Philadelphia Parks Alliance, a Park Advocacy Group.
In June 2018, the Village, the Sixers, The City and Parks and Rec held a grand “Ribbon Cutting Block Party” for the new courts. That day, “Home Court: The Hartranft Basketball Court Revival” also opened to the public, including new music, photos, and statements added by community members during the neighborhood opening. The exhibit was then open for a month to visits from schools, city stakeholders, artists, city planning professionals, neighbors and artgoers. Over 500 visitors enjoyed the exhibit from the neighborhood and around the city.
REVIVAL: THE FUTURE OF THE HARTRANFT COURTS AND PLAYGROUND
The ultimate goal of the “Home Court” project — that neighbors organize with one another and with external stakeholders to ensure that the renovation is only the beginning of a greater transformation at the Hartranft Playground — was successfully achieved. An intergenerational group of coaches, convened first through “Home Court” events, agreed to work together to re-start The Hartranft Summer Basketball League. With this renewed local leadership, The Village was able to secure a small grant from the Sixers Youth Foundation to fund the leagues — the first outside investment into activities at the playground since the Hartranft Rec Center closed in the early 2010s. Neighborhood leaders also decided to begin a Recreation Advisory Council for the Hartranft Playground, organized and supported by the Philadelphia Parks Alliance. This allows them to apply for funding as a 501(c)3 and advocate for further investments in safe and equitable recreation. The group elected their interim officers in August 2018.
The Village is currently exploring options for the “Home Court” exhibit to travel to other recreation centers and hubs of civic power around the city, to spark conversation about neighbor-centered, neighbor-led placekeeping strategies in a time of renewed interest and investment in Philly recreation centers.