A "mandala" is a spiritual symbol in Hinduism and Buddhism representing a microcosm of the universe. In various spiritual traditions, mandalas help establish a sacred space.
Now, on the corner of N River Boulevard and W Louisiana Avenue in the heart of Seminole Heights, there is a bright 28-foot wide, orange, blue, red and yellow mandala painted on the road.
See it as you speed around the corner in your car?
Yeah, there it is.
Nice and easy.
The idea for this mandala — believed to be the first of its kind in Tampa — was born a few years ago from several hearts, souls, ideas, needs and wants.
Perhaps more than anything, the neighborhood wanted cars to slow down, because kids are running around the area since there is a community park next door.
Yelling. "Kids at Play" signs. Slow-down signs. Nothing seemed to deter the speeders.
Local folks started Googling what other cities had done to solve such troubles: Seattle, Portland, Boulder.
It turns out that street murals in those cities, sometimes featuring mandalas, appeared to make drivers ease off the accelerator.
Less accidents. More safety. Less stress.
The other upside was that the works of art were cool, and were often a point of pride because the neighborhood kids and parents often participated in the art's creation.
Enter Tampa City Councilman Mike Suarez and South Seminole Heights Civic Association president Stephen Lytle. Together they pushed a proposal through the bureaucracy, spearheaded fundraising and grant opportunities, got approval for the area's smooth road smoothing and resurfacing, held meetings to vote on entries from local artists, and …
Suddenly they had a design and an artist: St. Petersburg's Catherine Thomas, who was thrilled to see the project through completion.
"I wanted to create a design that showed the vibrancy and energy of the neighborhood and at that same time was relatively easy to make because I knew children and parents would take a huge part in the painting of it," said Thomas, an artist in residence for Moffitt Cancer Center, helping patients heal through creating art, often, in her case, mandalas.
"Driving over here this (Saturday) morning I was so excited because I had met many of the neighbors (at a "meet and greet the artist" celebration) and I just knew it was going to be well organized and it was going to have a good energy."
After an hour of chalking the outline with Lytle, the painting commenced at 10 a.m. with dozens of kids and parents dipping brushes and rollers into "weather borne traffic paint" precisely mixed and prepared by Thomas.
Less than six hours later, thanks in part to clouds holding back their rain, the mural was complete.
Moving forward, the plan, as specified in the neighborhood association's by-laws, is to re-paint the mandala every two years and maintain its integrity as needed.
"Hopefully this is the start of more street murals around the city," Suarez said. "This has been a been a great project for everyone involved."
Contact Scott Purks at [email protected]