“How many more sleeps ‘til the Mandala?”

Photo by Caitlin Hicks

“It’s like Christmas in July,” boasts Robert Marion, one of the core founders of the project, “the parents tell me there is nothing like it. The kids look forward to it like Christmas. They can’t sleep, they’re so excited – when is it going to happen?”

Photo by Chris Yeske

This is summer on the Sunshine Coast of British Columbia, where, rumor has it, there are more artists per capita than anywhere else in the province. And every year, since 1997, ‘Creeker’ artists, aided and abetted by a crew of volunteers of all ages – create a few magic days of public art at its best -- in the form of The Mandala in the cul-de-sac at the Roberts Creek Pier. The whole effort is inclusive, fun, interactive, site specific, and collaborative.

“Grass-roots storytelling through color and images, bringing people together from all over the world,” summarizes Marion,  “It’s a joy to design.”

The community thinks so, too. Every year the event attracts more and more people wanting to pick up a brush and connect with their inner artist. “I never start the first day of public painting on a weekend, “ Marion says, “the lines would be too long.”  People from around the world are attracted to this magical space near the water.

Photos by Caitlin Hicks
Photo by Chris Yeske

Initially a response to swastika graffiti on rocks at the entrance to the pier, and begun by a handful of local artists, The Mandala Project last year brought out nearly 700 people – from the community and around the world to try their hand at painting under the hot sun. At the end of it all the community has a painting at its core reflecting the spirit of The Gumboot Nation with an open embrace to world.

Photo by Caitlin Hicks

Every year Marion creates a new design for the 60 foot circular cement canvas. It usually reflects “a worldly theme important to community and our connection to the earth,” says Erica Snowlake, one of the original founders and artists, “the Mandala has always carried the meaning of a prayer, for healing, for manifestation. It’s more than an art project; it marks a passage, it holds personal legends of people – and a greater definition of the earth.” Past mandalas have centered around an eagle, an owl, a dolphin or killer whale – animals familiar to Sunshine Coasters. Marion and Snowlake keep the design a secret until it emerges from paint on the pavement.

Photo by Caitlin Hicks

The Mandala continues the tradition of medicine wheels and sand paintings. “It represents a wholeness,” says Snowlake, “because it’s a circle it ties everything together, especially the community.”    

Photos by Caitlin Hicks

Volunteers – directed by Marion, Snowlake and core artists Pamela Messner and her children Sully and Atom, wash the pavement and outline the design right onto last year’s faded painting. When this phase is complete, everyone joins hands and is led in a meditation. Then the Christmas moment – everyone is welcomed onto the Mandala with brushes and paint. Each participant is invited to express his or her artistic self within the small space allocated and each painting becomes part of the mosaic-like larger image.

Photo: Chris Yeske
“Magical phenomena happen, secret things that we get to observe as we’re working on it,” Snowlake enthuses. “The year we did the owl, a woman showed up with owl tattoos and owl feathers. And on the night the most people were painting, an owl appeared in the trees and began swooping us. It’s never happened. We’ve never seen an owl down here. The year of the orca, Orcas were spotted right off the pier, and also a big grey whale. We had a blessing from a native woman from an Orca tribe in Alert Bay; she drummed, sang songs, opened and ended on our celebration day. The year we did the eagle, a young eagle watched us, day after day as we lay down the painting. The Mandala is bigger than us, it’s transcendent.”
Photo by Caitlin Hicks

The whole thing from washing down the old painting, to the hands-holding opening ceremony and blessing takes ten to fourteen days. But painting on the cement canvas? Only three to five days.

To spearhead this popular community event, Marion takes three weeks off every summer from his job as a landscaper, with no pay.

“It’s been a tremendous success,” he states. “The cul de sac at the waterfront has become an almost sacred place of gathering; it has this temple-like quality. No advertising. It’s totally non-commercial.”

Photos by Caitlin Hicks

Marion chips in his own money to help finance the costs, which range from $3 K to $5 K every year. Community businesses and individuals also help to sponsor the painting.

Rob Marion & Gord Halloran (artist of Paintings Below Zero)
photo by Caitlin Hicks
“It calls people; it has a life of its own,” says Snowlake. “Like all good, high art, it is an instrument of channeling. We dance on it, it activates the energy of the community.

Photos by Caitlin Hicks
It’s an art gallery in the round. Kids give tours of it. It’s used by the hoola-hoop club who practice on it. It’s a meditation circle. Just last year it was made part of the park.”

Photo by Caitlin Hicks
“A few years ago, “ says Marion,” this guy from Australia came out for an afternoon and stayed on for ten days.” 

Photo by Katherine Kortikow
To get in on time for this year’s Mandala (design still a secret), come down to The Mandala beginning Thursday and Friday, July 18th and 19th. Thursday July 25th is circle blessing ceremony and official opening of The Roberts Creek Mandala.


Friday Night Live
at the Roberts Creek Legion
Friday June 14
Live, intimate music & spoken word
Doors: 8 PM
Tickets $5 and $8
3064 Lower Road, Roberts Creek * 604-886-9813

Dances on Water
Saturday, June 15th
Gibsons Landing Jazz Festival 


  1. Caitlin, Maybe I missed it, but how does the artist keep the design a secret? (secret until that day? or secret while people are painting and the image comes through... if so, does the artist give guidelines or?)
    Thanks in advance, I'm extremely passionate about community art and didn't know about this Mandala.

  2. He begins to paint the design onto the cement, and only when people can see what is forming up does the design become clear. When I first saw it, it looked extremely geometrical, as Rob had only drawn the beehive. I had to see it in the camera where it was more obviously a three-dimensional drawing, in order to understand that it was a beehive, and that the bumblebee was the central figure.