Easton recently witnessed a prolific collaboration between two acclaimed street artists: George F. Baker III (aka GFB3) and Easton’s Shelton Hawkins. Commissioned by Building African American Minds (BAAM), the duo teamed up to create a vibrant street art mural on the on-site shipping containers at the BAAM campus on Jewitt St.
BAAM, the non-profit organization that provides educational and enrichment programs for African American youth in Easton, is about to tear down its existing facility to build a new three-story, 25,000-square-foot academic center. Said board president Bill Ryan, “When we realized that storage would be a problem, we were able to get two containers onto the property, but since they are going to be there for more than a year, we figured we had to make them more attractive.”
That’s where street art came in.
Street art is an artistic expression that challenges traditional spaces, such as galleries and museums. Instead, it uses public areas (buildings, sidewalks, walls, etc.) as a canvas to convey messages, express creativity, or engage with the community. Little by little, what once was an act of rebellion, has gained recognition and has been embraced as a way to enhance the aesthetic of urban areas. The idea of utilizing street art to beautify the unsightly containers made a lot of sense.
And this is where the two artists come in.
Hawkins, an Easton native, is known for having found inspiration at the unused Easton Idlewild basketball courts. He teamed up with local officials to create a public art project, Play in Color, using the court surface as canvas. The project earned him local awards and national recognition. Hawkins also became part of Project Backboard, renovating other public basketball courts. The group, which describes its mission as: ‘strengthening communities, improving park safety, encouraging multi-generational play, and inspiring people to think more critically and creatively about their environment,’ uses street artists and underutilized courts worldwide.
Ryan, who had followed Hawkins’ career for several years, figured that the metal storage boxes would be a perfect background for the street artist. “When BAAM asked me to paint the shipping container, I reached out to [GFB3],” said Hawkins, “I knew his style would translate really well to the playfulness and the color. He was the first person I thought of.”
For a good reason–GFB3, who describes himself as a ‘Nebraska-born, Detroit grown, and Atlanta-raised creator,’ is internationally known with an impressive list of clients, including everyone from Adidas to the NFL to Verizon. Besides murals, he is also a graphic designer and illustrator. But like most street artists, he puts community engagement at the top of his list of why he does what he does. Both artists had previously worked together on one of the Project Backboard courts and knew each other’s style. “I’m a traveling muralist and was invited to come up by the legend Shelton Hawkins,” said GFB2. “He wanted to do a nice little mural for BAAM, and we came up with designs that would celebrate soccer and basketball.”
Despite both artists being involved with other work, they found time to dedicate a few days to this project. And so, at the end of June, on a dreary and rainy weekend, without much fanfare and without the crowds they usually attract, the duo created magic.
But watching them work was in itself magical. “It needs stars,” said GFB3 at one point, stepping back, inspecting the canvas, then adding them throughout the piece. And suddenly, an already colorful and bold mural took on a new dimension. It was the perfect addition to the primarily spray-painted mural, which features whimsical cartoon-like characters of children playing futebol (soccer) and basketball.
The impact of the artists’ work on Easton’s community will be interesting to see. For the moment, the mural not only enhances the area but also serves as a testament to the importance of sports in the lives of the residents, beyond just the young girls and boys of BAAM. But in the future, will it encourage aspiring artists to explore their own artistic abilities? Can it play a part in storytelling and expression, enabling both athletes and art enthusiasts to engage with it on a personal level? Then there is also this: by going beyond aesthetics, can street art serve as a platform for encouraging community dialogue?
Whatever the outcome, one of the positive things is you don’t have to plan to visit a gallery or a museum to admire a remarkable piece of art. Stop by BAAM and experience the celebration of art, sports, and community that began as a beautification project created by two street art giants.