Last month, during a week of the sort of mid-September sunshine that Humboldt County residents dream of, a bright and colorful attraction took form at the edge of Shay Park in Arcata. Specifically, in the basketball court next to the Twin Parks apartments, a dazzling mural crept over the halfcourt's cement and up onto the boundary curbs like a technicolor hoop dream. Unusually bright colors created a palette that could live perfectly at home in the sunny world of Venice Beach in the 1990s, creating a vivid contrast with the autumning leaves and brooding evergreens of the nearby forest. The mural is the inaugural work of REBOUND, created by local artist Benjamin Funke, who also serves as associate faculty at College of the Redwoods and tenured staff in Humboldt State University's art department.
"REBOUND was a project I had been wanting to execute for a long time. My personal artwork has drawn inspiration from professional sports. I have a penchant for extremely loud colors and bold design," Funke says. "I loved the idea of taking our local courts that either fell into the 'concrete gray' color palette or ones in need of a little TLC, and hit them with some good design and bright colors." Funke also notes he drew inspiration from the reality of the pandemic, where indoor social restrictions and free time created a situation where he was spending a lot of time "walking outside, shooting hoops, thinking about art and life."
The process from thought to execution started a year ago in the fall of 2020, when Funke applied for and was awarded a Funds for Artists' Resilience Grant. "The FAR Grant really made the start of this project possible," says Funke. "It encouraged me to take the next step and become a DreamMaker with the Ink People Center for the Arts. Becoming a DreamMaker project established us as a 501c3 and allowed us access to liability insurance for events."
Executive director of the Ink People Libby Maynard explains, "The FAR program was created in response to talks with Humboldt Area Foundation and Wild Rivers Community Foundation staff, which provided the funding to create opportunities for artists to do public art projects in response to the pandemic. After receiving the award, Ben Funke decided to become a DreamMaker project to facilitate additional fundraising and to leverage our community relationships with the city of Arcata and others," she says. "The DreamMaker Program supports over 100 self-directed projects created by people who want to make their community a better place through arts and culture. We offer administrative support, management and capacity building training."
After becoming a Dreammaker, Funke had to sell his idea to the city and get approval for the site and the mural's design. "During one of my Zoom meetings with the parks and recreation committee, they voiced concern of the court designs being too busy, confusing or distracting for the players. I applied that feedback into this design, limiting the amount of abstraction to the lane and keeping the color palette as electrifying as possible," he says. "Wanting to create visual movement on a 2D surface, I used repetition, asymmetry and variation mimicking two consecutive film stills side-by-side."
By mid-summer of 2021, the design had been approved by the city — a bright palette of aqua, yellow and purple following the lines of the court and coming together in a riot of color in the key. Although the timeline from design to approval was long, Funke was positive about the experience, saying that the overall it was "great" and noting that there was a lot of enthusiasm from the city planners, which helped keep him encouraged throughout the negotiations.
One aspect of REBOUND that sets it apart from other public art installments is the financial compensation paid to the artists involved. "The fact that everyone involved got paid for the day was really awesome," says Trent Franks, one of the artists who collaborated with Funke on the design and execution of the mural. "Artists are almost always undervalued — or not at all — for the hours they put into their work. So when we are offered a paycheck to work on something we're passionate about, it feels really rewarding."
Maynard agrees. "The commitment to pay artists and assistants is one of the hallmarks of the best way to run art projects. I get so frustrated when people want artists to do things for 'exposure.' You can't eat exposure and your landlord won't accept it for rent," she says. Artists, she notes, develop over years of practice and study, just like other professionals. Maynard doubts a doctor or lawyer would give their services in exchange for the same exposure artists are frequently offered. "This project and the manner in which it has been carried out are testament to the care, planning and professionalism of Ben Funke and his supporters. I feel we can be assured of the thoughtfulness and beauty of future projects."
What does the future hold for REBOUND? The curious need look no further than G Street in Arcata, on the low wall behind the company parking spots for Café Brio, where, between the deluge of welcome October showers, a bright vision is taking shape. The piece in question, a leafy strip of blues and greens, is designed by artist Blake Reagan, and Funke hopes the weather will allow it to be completed by Halloween.
Funke explains that, like the G Street location, REBOUND isn't bound to b-ball courts only. "What is great about Rebound is that it isn't necessarily all about basketball. While 'rebounding' is a very important aspect to the game of basketball, the rebounding team gains possession of the ball and goes on offense; it applies more broadly in life," he says. "So while we are looking into projects at other basketball courts around the county, we are also eyeballing slivers of walls, skateparks and baseball stadiums."
Here's hoping this incursion of color into the gray life of pandemic-era Arcata continues.
Editor's note: This story has been revised to reflect REBOUND's name change from Project Rebound.
Collin Yeo (he/him) is learning to enjoy this interregnum between "bad" and "worse." He lives in Arcata.