Northeastern art student wins contest to design playground basketball court for Boston Celtics star Jaylen Brown

Kaiya Santos working on basketball court painting
Northeastern studio art undergraduate student Kaiya Santos works on painting at the Fenelon Street Playground in Dorchester. Santos won the city of Boston design competition sponsored by Red Bull and Celtics star Jaylen Brown to refurbish the community court. Photo by Alyssa Stone/Northeastern University

Kaiya Santos’s dream job is to work in graphics for the Boston Celtics.

The Northeastern student already has one very prominent Celtic in her corner — Jaylen Brown.

Santos recently won a contest to design a basketball court being renovated by the NBA star in Boston’s Dorchester neighborhood.

“He made sure we talked for a few minutes and got pictures together,” Santos says of the Celtics’ star guard. “He said he was proud, which made me happy.”

Santos, 20, is a studio art major in Northeastern’s College of Arts, Media and Design. She is also a big basketball fan. So, when a friend sent an advertisement on Tiktok for the “Get In The Paint” contest sponsored by the city of Boston, Brown and Red Bull, Santos saw an opportunity to combine two of her interests. 

The contest sought out designs for a basketball court at the Fenelon Street Playground in Dorchester that was to be renovated by Brown. 

“It was kind of torn up,” Santos says, taking a break from her painting of the court last week to point out a perimeter fence holding back recently trimmed shrubbery. 

But Santos had a vision.

“I wanted it to be very welcoming; to say, ‘I’m here, come play on me,’” Santos says. 

She also wanted the design to be relatively simple to execute — using repeated geometric shapes and a bright color palette to distinguish itself rather than intricate and complex details. 

The result is a bold dark- and sky-blue court adorned with red and yellow lightning bolts, triangles and a fun white polka-dotted center circle. 

“It’s going to look amazing, it’s going to look beautiful,” Brown said at a recent event.

Kaiya Santos painting a basketball court
Northeastern studio art undergraduate student Kaiya Santos works on painting at the Fenelon Street Playground in Dorchester. Photo by Alyssa Stone/Northeastern University

“We felt it was meant to be here in a way,” says Alex J. Brien, co-founder and art director at Elevated Thought, a Lawrence-based art and social-justice nonprofit that provides opportunities for BIPOC artists.

Brien also said Santos’ willingness to be involved in the painting was impressive. In fact, the organization offered Kaia a paid internship for the project.

“After meeting Kaiya, it was definitely meant to be,” Brien says. “It became a real partnership rather than us just translating her design to the court.”

Kate Delaney, a collaborating artist with Elevated Thought, agrees.

“It’s been fun to work with a younger artist and show our process and how we scale design to a large court like this,” Delaney says. “It’s so fun to make a piece of art that can be enjoyed by the public in such a tangible way.”

Indeed, Santos says the scaling up of the design was one of the greatest challenges of the project. The design was originally sketched out on a computer using a basketball court template and an array of design-element “stickers.” But a basketball court is a much larger canvas than a computer screen, and Santos — who veers towards portraiture in painting and drawing — had her biggest canvas yet. 

But it’s also a meaningful canvas.

“It’s going to be a space for a lot of our young people to play and participate, but this space also represents what needs to be done more here in Boston,” Brown told reporters.

Boston Mayor Michelle Wu, meanwhile, sees the court as a “work of art come to life.”

“An entire generation of young players will get to grow up and refine their skills on Kaiya Santos’ masterpiece,” Wu says in a statement. 

Santos says the idea of the project making a lasting impact is most meaningful.

“It’s awesome that the project is going to be making an impact beyond just one to two years,” Santos says. “Even though it’s a one-time thing, I’m super excited for it to be impacting more than just one generation of people.”

The project has also impacted her, Santos says, particularly the opportunity to do such a project at a young age. 

“It makes me more hopeful for the future,” Santos says. “It’s a good experience to have at a young age — fingers crossed that I will be able to continue to work on more of this type of project as I get older.”

Cyrus Moulton is a Northeastern Global News reporter. Email him at Follow him on Twitter@MoultonCyrus.