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Rising Stars: Shelton Hawkins- Using Art to Strengthen Communities

By Amelia Blades Steward

By day, Shelton Hawkins of Easton is an art teacher in Charles County, Maryland. By night and on weekends Hawkins parlays his artistic talents to bring communities together around social issues. From creating artistically-designed basketball courts around the country to providing essential workers with inspiring tee-shirts during COVID-19, he is giving back and making the world a better place.

This year, the pandemic has increased Hawkins’s creativity, giving him the time to develop more creative projects and implement them. “I try and use my creative time to push myself. If I have an idea and I execute it, it feels successful,” he comments.

Hawkins, who began playing basketball on a community court in Easton as a child, never dreamed his talents would eventually take him on a journey around the world to coach basketball for Nike. This is where he learned about “Destination Art” basketball courts — using public basketball courts as a canvas for art to strengthen communities.

After spending a year in Barcelona, Spain, working with Nike youth program, he came back to Maryland and started the project “Play in Color.” He made Easton the first community in Maryland to have two “Destination Art” basketball courts in one town. Today, Hawkins’ “Play in Color” project is aligned with Project Backboard, through a national campaign with Go Daddy. The most recent project of the collaboration was creating a basketball court in Knoxville, Tennessee with WNBA basketball player Candace Parker. The project was funded through the NBA’s video game 2K.

He comments, “I have always loved basketball and art. Seeing these artistically-designed courts in the middle of cities around the world inspired me and tied back to my desire to come home and make a difference in my community.”

Over the past year, Hawkins has taken his love of the community to a new level. He was one of 20 creatives to participate in Converse’s Stay Home campaign, redesigning the Converse logo around the stay-at-home order during COVID. Hawkins also created tee-shirts for local essential workers, George Floyd protesters, and teachers. He even helped design flavor combinations of ice cream to match the colors of the Easton basketball court and Easton High School’s logo with Storm & Daughters Ice Cream in Easton to honor teachers returning to school in August. The Maryland State Arts Council has even given him accolades this year by having him speak on how he is turning his art into community action.

Hawkins’ artistic talents can also be seen in the images outside the letters in the Black Lives Matter street mural that was painted in Cambridge this summer. He also participated in painting a “Destination Art” community basketball court on Martin Luther King Boulevard in Washington, D.C., near the Black Lives Matter mural there this fall.

“It’s good to do something for people who may get overlooked,” he comments.

“Although through some of my art projects, I realized the real division that is in our country now, I am inspired to keep trying to make a difference through my art.”

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