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  • Nicole Gordon Levine

Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival: An Interview with Wven Villegas & Jill Folino of Mano-a-Mano

The Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival attracts thousands of people offering 150 performances, over ten stages of music and dozens of comedians. The Bonnaroo Fountain is a 60 foot in diameter lighted fountain and is a great way to break from the Tennessee heat as well as a place to shower. Great to hear you are painting the enormous Bonnaroo Fountain yet again this year. The beauty that you get to design and paint this fountain is truly a tremendous honor.

Is it true that it was your own design this year?

Yeah. In 2015, Jill was assistant to the selected local NYC artist, and in 2016, we both returned to paint the art designed for Bonnaroo's 15th Anniversary. This is our 3rd year back on the farm to paint and year, it was Mano-a-Mano's design from concept to completion. Though we only physically worked on the design for a few months, we had been developing ideas since last year. But the idea was planted even further back — 5 years ago actually. About the time we first started working together. Jill had worked on a giant mandala dance floor for a private client, which was sort of the inspiration. It became our vision to create a mandala flower comprised of various natural elements, each of which has a special significance.

What kinds of obstacles does one encounter painting an outdoor horizontal canvas?

Manchester, Tennessee possesses some beautiful countryside, wildlife and climate. But you wouldn’t imagine that these were some challenging circumstances to paint under. We had days of humidity and beating hot ‪sun, from morning till night, which would have been great if we were just working on our tans. But that kind of heat can be unbearable to work in, not to mention the effect it has on the paint. Also birds who took residence in the various water towers that surrounded the fountain would do their best Jackson Pollack rendition daily for us.

And then there was the rain, which was unpredictable, regardless of the forecast. Some days we'd get a brief storm but the sun would dry the fountain's surface pretty quickly and we could continue working. There were days though when weren't so lucky and the rain persisted. But we worked on the 1000 square feet of walls which were under a solar shelter. These walls would later be installed near the fountain and were made to conceal the fountain's pump house filtration system. After the initial outline of the images was laid down and given base coats, we started to assemble and work with oversized, multi layered stencils. And that’s when the winds became a hindrance to our work. We also had days where it was a trifecta of all conditions — a beautiful sunny day would soon turn to strong winds, followed by a quick, violent storm.

The experience of working the two years prior in this setting taught us how to be prepared for such challenging conditions. Even so, an excessively stormy few weeks in Tennessee delayed us by making the paint run at times, almost ruining our stencils and finally having to extend our stay to complete the job. These things challenged our spirit, but never-the-less we had to complete our vision.

Does your personal design of the fountain signify meaning for either of you?

We looked at several of the prior years designs and although they were all colorful and visually engaging, we wanted to break away from the lines and angles previous fountain designs had in common. And like most projects Mano-a-Mano takes on, we strive to create something that is unique and unexpected. Because we're out there interacting with nature, it only seemed logical that the design should feel organic; so we let nature flow onto the floor.

As nature-lovers, we're passionate about the importance of protecting the environment From the necessities of water and the air we breathe, to the soil beneath and every creature big and small that lives amongst us. Not to sound cliché but its true when they say that everything is connected in the great circle of life. The elements were carefully chosen to reflect these beliefs.

The various images repeat sixteen times for the 16 years since Bonnaroo began. They float on a background of cosmic deep space to remind us that we are all one with the universe and that we are all Stardust.

This year was the first time you returned for the festival. How does it feel to see people interacting with your work?

Just being on the farm amongst all the stages, tents, vendors, amusements and fixtures set up and to be surrounded by tens of thousands of people is extremely surreal when you consider that we spent the past few weeks before the festival began out there painting practically alone.

Visiting the fountain with people basking in the cool waters on those hot, 90-degree festival days was extremely fun for us to witness. We made it our thing to pass by whenever we were walking around between performances and activities, engaging people and introducing ourselves as the fountain artists. We met some of the nicest people in Tennessee while working and during the festival. It was a truly wonderful experience for us. To be told by several Bonnaroovians that have been coming to the festival for years that ours was their favorite fountain is an incredible feeling to have been a part of so many people's experience. And that will stay with us for a very long time.

Although it was inevitable, it's a bit hard to see the piece that we worked so hard on meticulously perfecting, become eroded by the pressure of the water and the constant traffic of the thousands of visitors. But those feelings quickly disappeared when we spoke to people and saw them enjoying it. It has truly been our honor to work on this project and be apart of the magic of Bonnaroo.

Where can our readers learn more of your artwork?

Mano-A-Mano’s work can be seen on Instagram and Facebook at: “artofmano” and a soon to be up and running website-

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