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HomeArtMermaid Ambassador Installed at Visit Florida Welcome Center

Mermaid Ambassador Installed at Visit Florida Welcome Center

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Hernando has sent a sparkling new ambassador to represent the county at the Visit Florida Welcome Center in Jennings, Fla. And while this beautiful, statuesque representative is a woman of few words and frequently wears a fin to work, she is bound to draw much positive attention and many visitors to our area.

Mermaid Meraki, a sculpture representing the Mermaid Tale Trail, was unveiled on Feb. 15 and is now stationed at the welcome center, where she is ready to greet visitors to the Sunshine State. Drivers heading southbound on I-75 into the state can now find Meraki, the masterwork of artist Arielle Katarina, just inside the front entrance at the Florida Welcome Center, 1247 I-75, Jennings, FL 32053, where visitors can admire her beauty and learn more about Florida’s Adventure Coast, Brooksville – Weeki Wachee.

Destination Mermaids – The Tail Trail project is co-sponsored by Florida’s Adventure Coast Visitors Bureau, Brooksville Main Street, and the Hernando County Fine Arts Council. A colorful coterie of life-sized mermaid statues line The Tail Trail, launched to mark the 75th anniversary of Weeki Wachee Springs.

The first phase of the Tail Trail consists of 27 life-sized mermaids on display, mostly throughout Hernando County, at the local businesses and agencies that have agreed to sponsor and display these 80-pound statues, standing 6’8″ tall, 32” in diameter, and 54″ across.

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“The Adventure Coast now has a 7-foot tall representative at Visit Florida,” said Tammy Heon, Manager of Tourism for Florida’s Adventure Coast Visitors Bureau.

As an Adventure Coast representative on the Visit Florida committee, Heon proposed placing a Mermaid Trail statue at the welcome center.

“I definitely wanted to see one of our Tail Trail statues at the center, where she could welcome visitors of all ages to our state, letting them know more about our county and the mermaid trail,” said Heon.

In Heon’s view, the azure-haired siren with the vibrantly patterned fin known as Meraki (whose name means to do something with soul, creativity, or love) was the mermaid for the job. “Meraki lives up to her name in that she is colorful and beautiful,” she said. “And Arielle Katarina, the artist who created her, is an exuberant woman with great positive energy.”

Meraki stands tall and proud at the welcome center, where the sculpture is posted on a platform that is likened to a boat dock. She comes complete with signage and brochures that describe the Tail Trail project and a QR code for those who wish to follow the Trail- visiting Hernando County in the process.

“More than 800,000 people visit the welcome center yearly,” said Heon. “About half of these people, it is estimated, have not made all of their travel plans when they visit the center. Once they see Meraki, they may very well feel motivated to visit Hernando County and explore the Tail Trail.”

Moreover, Meraki is presented in a way that evokes images of Weeki Wachee Springs. “Former Weeki Wachee manager Toby Brewer made the platform, and it looks like a dock,” said Heon. “This is all too perfect.”

At the Feb. 15 unveiling, John Athanason, a tourism marketing specialist with Florida’s Adventure Coast Visitors Bureau, joined David Dodd, Visit Florida Welcome Center, in revealing Meraki to center visitors–many of whom immediately gathered to have their photo taken with the smiling mermaid.

“We’re thrilled to have Meraki here from the Adventure Coast,” said Dodd in a video presented on Florida’s Adventure Coast Facebook page. “This is people’s first impression when they come into the State of Florida. We’re all about storytelling here. And what better way to tell stories than with mermaids? (Visitors) are going to be inspired by this. They’re going to go to Hernando County. I can guarantee this is going to be effective. People love this already.”

Representatives of the Hernando County Fine Arts Council love the idea of a locally based artwork finding an exciting new home—and at a place where it can well represent the people, places and artistic contributions of Hernando County.

“We are so excited about the newest mermaid finding her home on the Mermaid Tale Trail – all the way in Jennings, FL!” said Jessica Knutila, Hernando County Fine Arts Council administrator. “With projects like this, public art is becoming more accessible all across Hernando County. Mermaid Meraki is so beautiful – we hope she will inspire people to come visit the adventure coast and see the rest of the Tale Trail!”

“The Hernando County Fine Arts Council loves partnering with Florida’s Adventure Coast to bring fun arts events and public art programs into Hernando County,” she continued, “and we are grateful for the opportunity to showcase a piece of our thriving arts community in the official Florida Welcome Center.”

Meraki’s artist, Arielle Katarina, is a freelance artist living in Bradenton. She loves to go on adventures and creatively share her experiences through her artwork. She likes approaching art with a fun and bold style and works on projects ranging from beer labels to large-scale murals. Arielle graduated from Savannah College of Art & Design with a BFA in Illustration in 2011. She is a lover of sea and space, a finder of fruit and fossils, and loves to go hiking and birding. One can find her work on beer cans, walls, and in local businesses throughout the Tampa Bay area and beyond.

Meraki is one of two mermaid statues that Katarina has painted for the Tail Trail project, the other going by the name of Sirena de La Fruta. “’Meraki’ is a Greek word that means “to do something with soul, creativity, or love; leaving a piece of yourself into what you are doing.” Meraki is a creative mermaid who loves what she does, puts her soul into beautiful expression, and shares her creativity with the world,” she explained. “She celebrates the beauty and amazing experiences that can be had in this life. Her line work is bold, and her colors are bright.”

“Both mermaids represent who I am as an artist, yet they look completely different,” she continued. “My work ranges from soft and natural to bold and trippy. And all of it is a part of me.”

Katarina is thrilled to see her sculpture posted at the Visit Florida Welcome Center. “When I found out that my mermaid would be welcoming people into the Sunshine State, I was over the moon with excitement!” she said. “I am so honored to be a part of welcoming people to Florida, and I think she’ll bring a smile to everyone’s faces.”

Katarina has just completed a camping-themed mural for a tech/marketing office in Lakeland, and her next project will be creating a puck design for the Tampa Bay Lightning. The puck will be a part of their fan appreciation night on April 17th. Also upcoming are some new murals to be located in Maitland, Tampa and Portland in 2024. “I’ve gotten such awesome compliments on Meraki,” she said, “from people being so excited to visit her the next time they’re on a road trip to how beautiful and fun her patterns and colors are. I love seeing people’s photos with her!”

For more information about the Mermaid Tale Trail, visit http://floridamermaidtrail.com/tale-trail.

Megan Hussey
Megan Hussey
Megan Hussey is a features journalist and author who is the winner of Florida Press Association honors and a certificate of appreciation from LINCS (Family Support Domestic and Sexual Violence Prevention Task Force) and Sunrise Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Center for her newspaper coverage of these issues. She graduated cum laude from Ball State University in Muncie, Ind., with a journalism major and English/sociology minor, and previously wrote for publications that include the Pasco editions of The Tampa Tribune and Tampa Bay Times. A native of Indiana, she lives in Florida.
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