Sarah Whitmire poured herself a steaming cup of tea to warm her orange-and-blue-stained hands.
Bearing the chilly Thursday morning and bundled in layers of jackets and paint-splattered jeans, the artist carefully dotted handprints and streaks of paint along her mural in the Southwest Downtown Parking Garage.
“You are the magic,” the mural reads.
The 37-year-old Gainesville artist never plans out what her paintings will look like, she just waits to see where inspiration will take her, she said. Surrounded by other local artists creating on the walls around her, the message came to her.
“I want to remind people that they are the magic,” she said, “that they have it all inside themselves.”
Whitmire has seen the creativity come alive at the Southwest Downtown Parking Garage, located at 105 SW Third St. Through the help of the Urban Revitalization Project, the space is being transformed from solid gray concrete walls to five floors of murals, said Guido Montenegro, program director of Urban Revitalization Project.
There is space for artists of all ages and skill levels to create and explore using supplies donated by members of the community, Montenegro said. About 50 artists are currently working on the project, a majority of them local. They began painting the first floor March 16 and will be finished by March 30. Montenegro hopes to have it completed by the end of the summer.
“I wanted to facilitate local artists that wouldn’t normally have the opportunity for exposure and the opportunity to paint,” he said.
Urban Revitalization Project is a nonprofit organization that renovates overlooked public spaces with the help of local artists. Montenegro said this is the largest project his organization has done. Although the artists aren’t being paid, it isn’t stopping them from filling every wall with their work.
The diversity of the artists is reflected in the paintings. No two walls look alike. Some of the art comments on complex issues in society, while other walls sport drawings of nature scenes and animals.
When Whitmire looks around, she is overwhelmed by each artist’s distinct style.
“I think for most people, they’re going to be surprised at how much talent that we have right here,” she said.
One of the murals stopped 30-year-old Natasja Bevans dead in her tracks.
Walking past the garage she thought she saw a familiar face out of the corner of her eye.
There, immortalized in paint, was her friend, Mandisa Haarhoff, a UF graduate student and Fulbright Scholar. She whipped out her phone and snapped a photo.
“If you ask anybody who’s downtown, they know Mandisa. She’s just a really amazing spirit, and it’s pretty cool that she’s going to always be on a wall,” Bevans said.
Jenna Horner, the artist who painted Mandisa’s portrait, was in the garage from 9:30 a.m. Wednesday to 3 a.m. Thursday, coating the wall with shades of blue and purple.
The professional mural artist is seizing the space to comment on social issues, particularly race. Her wall follows the theme of a river and will incorporate two portraits and quotes from former President Barack Obama and Langston Hughes.
“I wanted to make a pretty deliberate statement about humanizing and unifying people,” the 26-year-old said.
Although she’s used to working alone, she’s been energized by the other artists and the differing stories they choose to tell on their walls.
“So many people have so much to say,” she said.