Art Of Cleanliness Makes An Awesome Impression

The next time you're traveling in the vicinity of 38th Avenue North and Interstate 275 in St. Petersburg, slow down and take a closer look at the grimy underpass. What you'll see peeking out from the grit may put you in a better mood and reinforce how one person really can make a difference in the lives of others.

That's the goal of self-described architect-by-day, artist-by-any-means-possible Carrie Matteoli, who was recently awarded a $1,000 grant by Awesome Tampa Bay to fulfill a pet initiative of hers "to identify and transform dirty, dirty locations around the Tampa Bay area.''

Matteoli, a graduate of St. Petersburg College with a master's degree in architecture from the University of South Florida, says to think of it as reverse graffiti. Her plan: create large works of art using a pressure washer that etches artistic cleanliness into blackened, well-trafficked walls.

She got the idea a couple of years ago while sitting in traffic pondering what would make her surroundings more interesting. The more she thought about it, the more she began to realize how much more pleasant it would be to bring a little serendipitous art into Tampa Bay’s traffic jam experience.

"Beautiful blooming flowers, abstracts and other subjects appear suddenly, adding an element of whimsy to what might have been a boring everyday commute,'' writes Matteoli in her Awesome application. She says it could mean a "huge shift; it can really alter someone's perceptions of the rest of their day.'' Matteoli says that is her sole purpose.

Awesome Enthusiasm

Awesome Tampa Bay, the local chapter of the national The Awesome Foundation, provides quarterly $1,000 micro-grants "dedicated to furthering the awesomeness of the Tampa Bay area.'' The grants are provided with no strings attached and no claims to ownership over the projects supported. The organization looks for projects that "spark an instant of joy and delight and inspire a long-term hope for a more awesome future.'' Other factors taken into consideration are "hilarity,'' "wow-ness'' and "bigness.''

Matteoli's project stood out, for these reasons and because, as Christine Burdick, President of Tampa Downtown Partnership and Trustee of Awesomeness notes, "she was very enthusiastic and recognized that sometimes the littlest things you can do make a difference.'' And that, says Burdick, "is awesome: enthusiasm, combined with small steps.''

Not Your Average Paint Brush

Where did Matteoli learn this particular kind of art? "Doing," she says.  "The joy of doing"  is what drives her. She says there is a Japanese term "ikigai'' which means roughly, the reason you get up in the morning, what keeps you going. She says that art and making stuff interesting is her ikigai.

She initially practiced on a friend's driveway making daisy chain flowers and "om'' symbol, and later practiced on her own driveway with the new equipment a few days before heading out to the project site.

Getting the project started took longer than expected. As it turns out, dirty walls rarely have an adjacent water hook up or convenient power source. So, Matteoli had to find a pressure washer that could draw water from a tank and run with a mobile energy source. After some research and false starts, she found a gas pressure washer that could exert 2.6 gallons per minute from a portable 40-gallon tank of water.

Enter logistics: How to transport equipment and the water? At nearly 10 pounds per gallon, a 40-gallon tank would be much too heavy to carry or disembark. Indeed, some engineering was required.

Matteoli, who lives in Largo and works at Myers & Associates Architecture in Seminole, retrofitted her car to hold the heavy equipment without damaging her seats, found the perfect formula for dividing the water into manageable containers, and constructed a sturdy-wheeled platform to ease the mobility of the pressure washer, a requirement for the fluid artwork at hand.

Lights, Camera, Action

After three months of putting the system into place, her first cleanliness masterpiece was in production just in time for Thanksgiving, and was greeted with some fanfare from St. Pete's finest. Two police cars, lights rolling, swooped in to investigate. A call had come in about possible graffiti, but when the police saw what she was doing -- and were enthusiastically invited back by Matteoli to view the final product -- they were satisfied all was in order, though they declined to be photographed.

At first hesitant to reveal the location of this first work, hoping to allow some mystery in the experience, Matteoli then realized "if people are looking for it, that can be just as effective.''

So, as mentioned above, next time you're near 38th and I-275, take a look.  

Matteoli is currently scouting her next sites for acts of cleanliness, likely in the northern Tampa area. You'll have to find those on your own.

Kendra Langlie is a freelance writer and communications consultant based in Tampa. Comments? Contact 83 Degrees.

Read more articles by Kendra Langlie.

Kendra Langlie is a feature writer at 83 Degrees Media in the Tampa Bay region of Florida.
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