AbsorbALL: This Fort Wayne project is turning basketball courts into art for stronger communities

AbsorbALL's Andre PorteeWhen Andre Portee was a child, he spent a lot of time outside at Fort Wayne's public parks. They were a destination for kids in the neighborhood.

Today, the city's parks and outdoor spaces, in general, are competing for people's attention with devices like smartphones and streaming services like Netflix—and that’s to the detriment of local youth, if you ask Portee.

“I drive past parks either going to work or just going anywhere around town, and they're always empty," he says. "They're not what they used to be. When I was a kid, they’d be packed full of people, and you’d have to wait to get into a basketball game. Now, it's maybe two or three people.”

So by day, Fort Wayne's parks can be vacant, and by night, places like basketball courts become hotbeds for illicit activity.

Either way, it’s not a good situation, Portee says, and this sad state of affairs has inspired him to think outside the box. What if there was a way to revitalize deteriorating basketball courts and, in the process, uplift the surrounding neighborhoods and their residents?

That’s the idea behind Portee's community-funded art project AbsorbALL. It involves renovating basketball courts at local parks into giant, playable murals to create safe and inspiring environments for everyone.

Portee, a Fort Wayne native and creative himself, recently raised more than $6,000 in seed funding for the project through Kickstarter. Considering Fort Wayne's growing emphasis on public art, he says the timing couldn’t be better for AbsorbALL.  

“I figured it'd be a good thing, especially with all the other new art popping up around town,” he explains. “I thought it’d be a good time to try to introduce something different than wall murals.” 

The future site of Andre Portee's AbsorbALL project at the corner of Garfield Street and Edgewater Avenue.

Portee's instinct was validated by a former college basketball player and employee of the Memphis Grizzlies named Dan Peterson, known for his initiative Project Backboard. After reading about Peterson's success in other cities, Portee reached out to him, and he was receptive.

Similar to Portee’s observations, Peterson saw that basketball courts were blighted in a park in his hometown of Memphis, Tenn., and he wanted to do something about it. So he started raising money to fix the court, but he didn’t stop there. He painted designs on the court, too, harnessing the power of creative expression and inspiring multi-generational play to strengthen communities. 

Today, Project Backboard continues to grow and has helped artists renovate more than two dozen basketball courts from Memphis to Puerto Rico.

Now that Portee's local project is fully funded, he’s eager to get started. The plan is to begin work in the spring of 2020, just in time for warmer weather. 

He’s already identified his first court to paint in northeast Fort Wayne at the corner of Garfield Street and Edgewater Avenue. Portee says he chose this court for the pilot project because it’s in his neighborhood, and it’s rife with opportunity. It is currently torn up and becoming an eyesore. 

As for the name AbsorbALL, Portee says it's rooted in his grand vision for the project and its ongoing impact.
“Our main goal is to be able to do more courts like these, and instead of us designing the courts, we want to pick other local artists to design courts and have the community get more involved," he says. "So figuratively speaking, everybody would absorb everything. And then people look at art, and they absorb it and take their own perspectives away."

Read more articles by Lauren Caggiano.

Lauren Caggiano is a Fort Wayne-based writer. A 2007 graduate of the University of Dayton, she returned to Northeast Indiana to pursue a career. In the past 12 years she has worked in journalism, public relations, marketing, and digital media. She currently writes for several local, regional, and national publications.
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