Mission plaza was filled with bright colors and the mouth-watering smell of Italian food Saturday as locals celebrated Memorial Day weekend at the I Madonnari Italian Street Painting Festival.
More than 1,500 people came out to see 200 artists turn the pavement in front of the Mission into a vibrant tapestry of chalk. Visitors walked around the artists at work, watching gnomes, religious scenes, flowers and portraits spring to life.
Many of the artists have been painting at the festival for years, giving a sense of camaraderie to the celebration.
“It’s kind of a family now,” said Kathy Koury, executive director of the Children’s Creative Project, “these artists have gotten to know each other and it’s just lovely.”
I Madonnari runs through Monday, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. each day. Admission is free.
The festival is produced by the Children’s Creative Project and is in its 33rd year of bringing the tradition of Italian street painting to Santa Barbara.
Children’s Creative Project is a nonprofit arts education program of the Santa Barbara County Education Office. During this school year 50,000 children at 90 school sites will view some 450 performances presented by multicultural touring companies featured in the Children’s Creative Project’s Arts Catalog. The organization is the first to create a festival in North America featuring the art form of street painting.
Visitors this Memorial Day weekend will be able to see the festival’s featured artist, Sharyn Chan, at work. A unique blend of scientist, artist, hip-hop dancer/choreographer, and motorcycle racer, Ms. Chan is a self-taught artist and student of her fellow street painters who got her start at I Madonnari in 2001. She works traveling around the world as a street artist, solo, with friends, and as a part of various teams.
Ms. Chan said she usually enjoys painting animals, especially birds. This year she has branched out by incorporating her love of dance to create a beautiful 16-by-12 foot painting of ballerina-inspired angels framing the Mission.
The best thing about chalk festivals is the family of artists who you don’t always find in other communities, she said.
“Here people are perfectly happy to share stuff with you. You say ‘man, I’m out of this chalk’ and they’ll just snap theirs in half and hand it to you,” said Ms. Chan, “It’s a really sharing, giving, caring community which is something I really, really love.”
Rima Villareal, a graduate of the nonprofit St. Vincent’s Family Strengthening Program, is participating as an artist for the fourth time. With the help of her mother, she is creating a piece that represents what she loves about St. Vincent and what it has done to help her family.
“I love doing this project,” said Ms. Villareal. “It reciprocates the assistance that my family got during a really critical time and it helps me honor it with art.”
The spaces range in size from 4-by-6 feet to 12-by-12 feet and in price from $150 to $700, each one bearing the name of its sponsor — a business, organization, family or individual. Members of the public can sign up at the festival’s information booth to receive a brochure to be a street painting sponsor, or to pick up an application to be an artist next year.
An expanded area for children to create street paintings is located at the west side of the Mission. Some 600 Kids’ Squares are available for $12, which includes a box of chalk. When completed, they will form a 40-by-60-feet patchwork of colorful street paintings.
Attendees will also find live music and an Italian market with authentic Italian cuisine produced by the Children’s Creative Project board of directors. There are rows and rows of grilled chicken, pastas, Italian sausage and pastries. Visitors can also purchase commemorative posters, shirts and souvenirs. All proceeds from sales benefit the Children’s Creative Project.
Ms. Koury said the event is the perfect fundraiser for Children’s Creative Project.
“It shows the creative process, which is what we’re about as an organization.” she said. “It relates to what we do so much. And it gives the public and children the chance to see this, which is rare. Something from beginning to end.”