Just around the corner from Olympia High School (OHS) is a large, beautiful mural with vibrant colors accomplished with superb technique by talented artists. But it’s not like most artwork you might see because it’s painted on the street at the intersection of Hawthorne and Mountain View. Natasha Olson, a senior at OHS, tells me she heard about the Carlyon/North Neighborhood Mandala Project through the grapevine at school. Because the location sits just off school grounds, the area near the intersection has been a favorite spot for students to loiter and hang out. Natasha says the goal of the project was to find a way to make it into a more positive space. “I just thought it was a really great idea to try to bring some color and community to this area that I’ve just been walking by my whole life.”
For Natasha art is a way of life. Her father tells me she has always been drawing and creating things since he can remember. “It’s just kind of something that I’ve always done. I worked up to where I am now almost by accident,” Natasha states. Now she serves as the OHS Art Club President and brought the Mandala Project to the attention of other art students. Natasha tells me the actual term Mandala is used to describe art depicting the universe in symmetry and with bright colors.
Once the project was explained, students designed their own different representations over the next month. Finally, the sketches were voted on by OHS students and more than 80 residents in the neighborhood to find out which one would become the footprint for the mural. Natasha’s design was the winner and she was paired with local muralist Carrie Ziegler on the project.
With Carrie’s extensive background in murals and other large-scale artwork, she was a perfect fit. Natasha says Carrie’s expertise was essential in getting the project off the ground. “She was the one that made it possible to get it from this little drawing on a piece of paper to being on the road.” After many meetings with the neighborhood association, it was finally time to actually paint the mural. Natasha says it was SAT day so Carrie did the actually sketching of the mural on the street first. Then they worked together with about 50 volunteers to bring the artwork to life. Natasha shares with me that, “the whole thing felt a little surreal until we were actually here doing the painting.”
Painting on a road has it’s own set of obstacles including the fact the artists had to use highway paint to create the mural. Natasha says this was tough because it only comes in black, white, and primary colors. Carrie and Natasha mixed the vibrant colors they wanted to use. But the overwhelming amount of community support kept them going throughout the warm day.
Natasha’s dad, Doric, helped out as well and tells me volunteers brought food and refreshments. “You had people of all ages painting,” he says smiling. Due to the porous nature of the cement, the artists had to make multiple trips to the store for more paint, but it was all worth it for Natasha. “It was amazing to see how excited people were and how much this art could really help make this a good place to be.”
The mural itself was made possible by a grant from the City of Olympia Neighborhood Matching Grant Program and is part of a bigger project to help improve this specific area. With a pathway directly from Hawthorne Street to Olympia High School it is a favorite route of bikers and walkers. The project also calls for tree trimming along with the addition of a stretching bar and bulletin board. As for the street mural, the neighborhood association hopes it will encourage people to slow down and help address the speeding issue on that street.
Natasha says she’s lucky to call Olympia home because there is so much opportunity and support for community art. “It made me grateful that we live in a place where people say ‘yes, let’s have students from the high school draw on the street.’”
If you would like more information on the project visit the Carlyon/North Neighborhood Association online.