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April 14, 2024

Mandala art series in San Juan marked by community collaboration

When painting the most recent street mandala art project in San Juan Bautista, organizers didn’t want participants breaking off to do any sections by themselves.

That’s because it would go against the communal nature of the art project, said River Sauvageau, an Ojai artist who is helping to oversee a series of four mandala street art projects in the Mission City. 

The piece painted by a group of artists June 29 – on Tahualami between 2nd and 3rd streets – was the second of four mandala projects scheduled for 2019 as part of a City of San Juan Bautista-sponsored series. The works are meant to help commemorate the 150th anniversary of San Juan Bautista. 

Ramona Ilene Hill, owner of Credo Studio in San Juan, has been working with Sauvageau on the artwork and process to create them. The third mandala painting is scheduled for September, with the final one on a canvass – it will be the one permanent piece of the four – set for December. 

On the day of the most recent painting while putting finishing touches on the piece, Hill excitedly pointed to one section of the work with a mountain lion. She mentioned how it represents how different people brought different perspectives to the painting, because it wasn’t even in the original design. 

“We designed it in advance,” Hill said of the mandala, “but the actual creation of it and the execution of it depends on who’s here and how they interpret our idea.” 

On that particular Saturday, about a half-dozen artists did the brunt of the work, but as many as 50 people took part throughout the day. Work started in the morning and finished that evening. Hill said local children taking part in a summer art camp started the creative process by designing the piece. 

She walked around the circle describing features that include the bell tower of the San Juan Mission, native plants, the Pajaro River, a brown bear, salmon in the river and a hawk in the sky.

Watch Hill describe sections of the mandala project in this video:

“The important part is, it gets filled in by the community,” she said. 

Although the first mandala didn’t last quite as long as hoped due to late-season rains, this one should weather summer conditions for several weeks. Eventually, though, it will disappear. That makes this “community art” rather than traditional public art that is permanent and normally comes with restrictions.  

“Community art is different than public art,” said local resident and participating artist Jennifer Colby. “Community art is not permanent.” 

For Sauvageau, it’s her 27th year of creating such community art. She’s working through a four-year legacy period to pass down the tradition, which started to honor indigenous people. 

To point on the street mandala, she pointed out how everyone must literally “get down to earth together” to work on a “smaller piece of the greater whole.” 

“So it gives all of that information without words,” she said, “and then it’s not permanent.”