What started with offensive graffiti in a Roberts Creek beach parking area two decades ago has turned into one of the most positive events ever for the neighbourhood – the annual community mandala. The artists of the giant circular painting will celebrate their twentieth year in a big way by welcoming painters from July 18 through 20 to fill in a new design that is as much a statement as an image.
“The design this year is about going back to roots,” said Erica Snowlake, who has been involved with the mandala every year, “and it’s informed by tribal roots. We acknowledge the First Nations traditions.”
The image is an original design by Rob Marion as it has been every year. “He’s a great artist,” Snowlake said. “He has an innate sense of symmetry in his head.”
It all started when some friends arrived at Snowlake’s home one night after seeing anti-hippie graffiti on the parking lot, she recalls. “We were face painters so they knew we had paint to cover it up.” Five Creekers painted over it with words and images that spoke of happiness and sunshine, turning the negative sentiment around. They continued to make new mandalas in later years because, as Snowlake says, “It was so much fun! It brought people together.”
This week Marion will be pressure washing the 2016 design of dragonflies, colouring over the previous layers of paint with a tint and marking the design template in white. Each element in the design shows many small sections – up to 550 spots, allowing about 600 people (some collaborate) to each have an assigned small section to paint.
“They only get one,” Snowlake reminds Coast Reporter, “and it’s first come, first served.”
Pamela Messner and her family are part of the ongoing organizing crew along with Snowlake and Marion each year. Materials are supplied, thanks to donations and a grant from the Sunshine Coast Regional District. Painters of all ages, many children, arrive from the Coast and far away to paint their piece, fitting as many as 100 people working at a time. Although the theme is set, each painter adds their own message – births (a baby’s footprint) and deaths (in memory of past friends) are recorded. The 2016 mandala is typically diverse. Over here is the crystal painted by the precious stones vendor, and over there is the minimalist depiction of the Coast painted by the guy from Texas. Each year professional artists have joined in: Dean Schutz and his kids, Hawkfeather and her kids, Greta Guzek and the late Mary Jean Brown. In July the paint dries quickly and when folks get tired they can swim or munch on watermelon. It’s a happy community event.
When the painting is finished, Marion applies a protective coating, then everyone dances on it. In past years it has been blessed by Buddhists and First Nations alike. Some are married on the mandala, others do yoga or meditate on it. The space is no longer for cars – it has been returned to parkland.
The 2016 mandala of dragonflies was joyful, yet Snowlake’s favourite was the orca theme painted the same year that grey whales appeared in the Strait of Georgia. The theme is informed by what’s going on at the time, and strangely, this seems to agree with the creatures that are portrayed.
“It’s like there is feedback from the natural world,” she said. The year they painted eagles, the live eagles watched them from a tree. “In 2012 when we painted owls, we returned home to unload paint and there were three barn owls in the yard. That’s never happened before!”
In the year 2000 another element was added to the mix. Taking a page from the Mayan calendar, the mandala event celebrated a Day Out of Time, and some part of that continues this year in the Mannafestival.
The team intends to honour the original founders of the mandala in the opening circle at this year’s Mannafestival on Sunday, July 23, at noon, with a commemorative poster of all the mandalas. See the website, robertscreekmandala.org or go to the Facebook page for Roberts Creek Mandala for updates on this year’s schedule.