15-LOVE Creates 10 BLOCKS Art Project
Social distancing guidelines amid the COVID-19 pandemic gave kids in the 15-LOVE National Junior Tennis & Learning (NJTL) program the opportunity to get creative—literally.
The non-profit—which serves up tennis and educational programming to about 5000 children in the Albany area—recently transformed a tennis court with its 10 BLOCKS initiative. The project allowed a select group of 15-LOVE participants and their families to create a piece of chalk art within one of the ten boxes that form a full tennis court: the two service boxes and doubles alleys, as well as the space between the baseline and service line—called no-man’s land—on both sides of the net. Each individual piece needed to address themes of equality and multiculturalism, and the project ultimately resulted in one large colorful patchwork creation that drone footage captured from above.
“Much of the idea came out of social distancing requirements unique to this summer,” says Ryan Artis, a 15-LOVE alum who developed and spearheaded the initiative. “The project inherently separated everybody into their ‘block’. At the same time, it got the kids working collectively on-court. We also wanted to give them a creative outlet tied to tennis which could touch on today’s important social [issues].”
The kids (and their families) found different ways to explore the designated 10 BLOCKS themes in their artwork. Pieces addressed everything from religious equality to equal pay. One drawing celebrated Hispanic Heritage Month. One utilized a quote from Black activist Marcus Garvey and another illustrated US Open Champions Steffi Graf, Naomi Osaka and Serena Williams to emphasize unity among women.
“What stuck out the most to me is that the kids were really given complete freedom on this project,” says Amber Marino, 15-LOVE’s executive director. “We just asked them to think about racial justice, equality and diversity. I helped a few kids measure out and plan their space, [but] I spent much of my time cleaning out the water buckets for the ‘erasers.’ This was really all their work. Sometimes the topics specific kids chose made my heart smile—for instance, it was a boy who decided to draw about equal pay for equal work, with his mom coloring alongside him…it was [all] just so powerful.”
Artis agrees with that sentiment and admits to being blown away by the finished product. “The originality of the pieces to convey particular messages, in many cases incorporating tennis, was excellent,” he says. “Also, we are not an art program and never did an art project like this. What shocked me is how multi-talented kids are, since I only know many of them based on their interest in tennis. Maybe it’s because I can’t draw a straight line, but the quality of what these kids created was far beyond what I expected.”
Next up, each of the participants will be writing personal statements on diversity as it relates to their work of art. And both Artis and Marino hope to grow the 10 BLOCKS project in the future.
“I learned that there’s always more we can do to further our mission of reaching out to inner-city kids,” Artis says. “Trying new ideas never involves failure, you either succeed, or you learn. I’d like to expand 10 BLOCKS to more kids, either through expanding to multiple cities in the Capital Region or beyond, or including two or more courts at a time. We’ll definitely do this again next year, if not sooner.”
Below, a few of 15-LOVE’s budding artists explain their completed pieces, and the experience overall, in their own words:
What theme did you choose to portray with your portion of the 10 BLOCKS art project? Can you briefly describe how you portrayed that theme?
Rondacia McPherson: (bottom service box on right side of the net) Equality and togetherness is depicted through the words, “We are one.”
Millee Modasra: (right “no man’s land”) Our theme was equality vs equity. We based it on post we saw regarding different height people looking over a fence to watch a baseball game. For tennis we used different tennis balls to show the same message. The goal was to lean more towards equity to demonstrate how adapting to certain needs will translate to more opportunity to play tennis.
Hasan Serville: (top service box on right side of the net) I choose to focus of gender equality. I did this by drawing a balanced scale with each side having the gender symbol to show equality.
Tirzah Spivey: (top doubles alley on left side of the net) Our theme was racial and gender equality. It was a message we wanted to share. We described that theme by saying “NO” to all forms or Inequality.
JJ, Vanessa and Isabelle Dalzell: (top service box on left side of the net) We chose to focus on women unity to make a difference in the world. We did this by drawing three [female] tennis champions (Serena Williams, Steffi Graf and Naomi Osaka), each from different backgrounds.
Why was portraying that theme important to you personally?
McPherson: This theme reflects my morals in looking past a person’s exterior and treating him or her according to the substance of his or her character.
Modasra: We feel many people know what equality means but not many know equity. And many times people should lean towards equity versus equality.
Serville: I chose this theme because it’s my point-of-view on how an equal world should be.
Spivey: It was personal to me because I have experienced racial injustice and have seen gender inequality.
The Dalzells: We did this to show that girls can make a difference.
How would you describe your experience working on the 10 Blocks art project? What did you like about it?
McPherson: Doing this tapped into my inner child and caused a resurgence of pure, unadulterated joy that I thought was long gone.
Modasra: It was something new and fun that we have not experienced before. We worked with an artist, Andrea Carrillo, whom helped us with the layout and [gave us] many great tips.
Serville: The experience was fun. I really like art and have enjoyed it my whole life.
Spivey: I liked that it involved teamwork and coming together with our ideas [to make] them into one.
The Dalzells: It was fun. We got to see everyone picture an idea, and we got to draw one of our own.
How did it feel to see the final project with all the completed "blocks"?
McPherson: The finished product was unlike anything I have ever seen. The uniqueness of each block further reiterated that we can all be different, but yet, still the same.
Modasra: It was awesome. It looked like a puzzle piece. I loved seeing all the colors and ideas come together.
Serville: It was great to see all the hard work on the court, and how it resembles what an equal world would be.
Spivey: I felt a sense of accomplishment and pride from seeing all the work together.
The Dalzells: It felt wonderful. It [looked] very creative with all the pictures together.