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I Madonnari Italian Hits Pavement May 27-29

Street Painter Rod Tryon works on chalk painting at I Madonnari Festival.
Street Painter Rod Tryon works on chalk painting at I Madonnari Festival. (Michael Brown)

The I Madonnari Italian Street Painting Festival will celebrate its 31st anniversary 10 a.m.-6 p.m. May 27, 28 and 29 at the Santa Barbara Mission.

A ceremony at noon on Monday, May 29, on the Mission steps will introduce and thank the major festival sponsors and featured artist Meredith Morin as her street painting is concluded.

I Madonnari, the first festival of its kind in North America to present the performance art of street painting, is presented by and raises funding for Children’s Creative Project, a nonprofit arts-education program of the Santa Barbara County Education Office.

The festival features 140 street-painting squares drawn with chalk pastels on the pavement in front of the Mission. As the public watches, 200 local artists transform these pavement canvases into elaborate compositions in unexpectedly vibrant colors.

The spaces range in size from 4-by-6-feet to 12-feet square and in price from $150-$700, each space bearing the name of its sponsor — a business, organization, family, or individual.

The festival is sponsored in part by The Berry Man, Loreto Plaza Shopping Center, Yardi, Daniel and Mandy Hochman, and Bella Vista Designs.

The festival thanks the Santa Barbara Mission for hosting I Madonnari. Members of the public can sign up at the festival’s information booth to receive a brochure to be a street painting sponsor or an application to be an artist next year.

Morin, this year’s featured artist, graduated from the Rhode Island School of Design in 1989 with a BFA in graphic design. She has worked as the graphic designer and art director at AGIA, Computer Motion, Nexxus Haircare, and Forms+Surfaces.

Morin currently works at her own design studio, MMGD Meredith Morin Graphic Design, opened in 2016, and works as an assemblage artist.

She has participated as a Santa Barbara I Madonnari artist since 1993, and has participated in festivals in Puerto Vallarta, San Luis Obispo, and Valencia.

An expanded area for children to create street paintings will be at the west side of the Mission inside a private parking area. Some 600 Kids’ Squares are available. When completed, they will form a 40-by-60-feett patchwork of colorful paintings.

Throughout the three-day event, the Kids’ Squares, which are 2 feet square, can be purchased for $12, which includes a box of chalk.

Live music and an Italian market will be featured on the Mission lawn throughout the event. The Italian market offers cuisine produced by the Children’s Creative Project Board of Directors.

According to Phil Morreale, board president, and Bryan Kerner, market coordinator, this year’s market will include lemon rosemary-roasted chicken, pasta, pizza, calamari, Italian sausage sandwiches, gelati and coffees.

There also will be specialty items designed from prior years’ festivals including T-shirts, posters and note cards.

All proceeds from sales benefit the Children's Creative Project.

After traveling to a street-painting competition in Italy, Kathy Koury, CCP executive director, created I Madonnari and the concept of sponsored street-painting squares as a fundraiser, and produced the first local festival in 1987.

The late Father Virgil Cordano and the Santa Barbara Mission’s bicentennial committee members worked with Koury to include the I Madonnari festival in the yearlong series of official events that celebrated the Santa Barbara Mission’s bicentennial.

The festival has continued to grow and now is being replicated in more than 100 cities throughout the U.S., Canada and Mexico.

In November 2016, four I Madonnari street painters — Ann Hefferman, Joy Davis, Cecelia Linayao and Lisa Jones — traveled to Santa Barbara’s sister city of Puerto Vallarta to create street paintings with local artists and children.

Koury has continued to work with Santa Barbara and Puerto Vallarta Sister City representatives to develop the festival that's been held in the city’s main plaza since 2006. The project is co-sponsored by the Santa Barbara-Puerto Vallarta Sister City Committee.

Street painting, using chalk as the medium, is an Italian tradition believed to have begun during the 16th century.

Called “Madonnari” due to their practice of reproducing the image of the Madonna (Our Lady), early Italian street painters were vagabonds who'd arrive in small towns and villages for Catholic festivals and transform the streets and public squares into temporary galleries for their ephemeral works of art.

With the season's first rains, the paintings would be gone. Today, the tradition lives on in the village of Grazie di Curtatone, Italy, where the annual International Street Painting Competition is held in mid-August.

Festival proceeds enable the CCP to sponsor fine-arts programs conducted by professional artists during school hours for 50,000 children in county public schools.

Resident artists provide workshops in the visual and performing arts for more than 38,000 children. Fundraising from the I Madonnari festival helps to continue the CCP’s work to support annual performance events and other activities.

In October at the Granada Theater, the CCP presented a free performance for 1,400 elementary schoolchildren who experienced the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis and their Jazz for Young People program Who is Duke Ellington?

The performance, presented in collaboration with UCSB Arts & Lectures, was fully funded by the I Madonnari festival with grant support from The Towbes Foundation.

This school year, 50,000 children at 90 school sites will view some 450 performances presented by multicultural touring companies featured in the CCP’s Arts Catalog.

To support this program, festival proceeds also provide every county public school with a $200 arts credit to help pay the companies’ performance fees.

— David J. Lawrence for Santa Barbara County Education Office.

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