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I Madonnari Italian Street Painting Festival Memorial Day Weekend

Annual festival unites chalk art drawings, food, music and more, and benefits Santa Barbara's Children's Creative Project

The 23rd annual I Madonnari street painting festival will take place from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday, Sunday and Memorial Day, on May 23, 24 and 25 at the Santa Barbara Mission, with a special ceremony to take place at noon on Monday, May 25, on the Mission steps.

This year’s festival and a commemorative poster are dedicated to Father Virgil Cordano, who died on May 22, 2008. I Madonnari, the first festival of its kind in North America to present the performance art of street painting, is presented by the Children’s Creative Project (CCP), a nonprofit arts education program of the Santa Barbara County Education Office, William J. Cirone, superintendent. The festival is sponsored in part by the Loreto Plaza Shopping Center, The Berry Man and The Dreier Group.

In December 2008, six Santa Barbara street painters, and CCP Executive Director Kathy Koury, traveled to Santa Barbara’s sister city, Puerto Vallarta, to present the art form of street painting for the third time in the city’s main plaza. The trip was co-sponsored by the Santa Barbara-Puerto Vallarta Sister City Committee.

An expanded area for children to create street paintings will be located at the left side of the Mission inside a private parking area. A total of 600 Kids’ Squares are available and when completed, will form a colorful, 40–by–60 foot patchwork of street paintings. Throughout the three-day event 2–by–2 feet Kids’ Squares can be purchased for $10, which includes a box of chalk.

Featured artist Jennifer LeMay can be viewed at the base of the Mission steps, where she will create a 12–by–16 feet street painting. LeMay has participated as an artist in the Santa Barbara festival since 1988. Her paintings have ranged from Italian Renaissance pieces to modern-day images depicting animals, people and landscapes. This year, with assistance from Jessie Alstatt, she will paint an underwater view of sea life in the Santa Barbara Channel. Jennifer’s company, J. LeMay Studios, is a Santa Barbara-based business that provides graphic design, illustration and Web development services to businesses, nonprofits and public agencies. Jennifer is a member of the Santa Barbara Art Association and a founding member of SCAPE (Southern California Artists Painting for the Environment), and exhibits her work in juried art shows. For more information, visit

The festival will feature more than 150 street painting squares drawn on the pavement in front of the Old Mission. The squares range in size from 4–by–6 feet to 12–by–12 feet and in price from $125 to $650, each one bearing the name of its sponsor — a business, organization or individual. As the public watches, 300 local artists transform these pavement canvases with images of elaborate compositions in unexpectedly vibrant colors. 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 apply to be an artist for next year.

Live music and an Italian market in keeping with the Italian theme will be featured on the Mission lawn throughout the three-day event. In the Mission Church, a free Sunday evening concert from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. will feature the Adelfos Ensemble. According to Children’s Creative Project President Phil Morreale, this year’s market will include lemon-rosemary roasted chicken, pasta, pizza, Italian sausage sandwiches, gelati, coffees and other authentic Italian cuisine. Self-guided tours of the Old Mission will also be available from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

I Madonnari is produced by and benefits the Children’s Creative Project. The organization is the first to create a festival in North America featuring the public art form of street painting. After traveling to a street painting competition in Italy, Koury created the concept of sponsored street painting squares as a fundraiser and produced the first event in 1987.

The I Madonnari Festival was one of a yearlong series of events that celebrated the Santa Barbara Mission’s bicentennial. Father Virgil Cordano and the Mission’s bicentennial committee members worked with Koury to include the street painting festival in Mission’s celebration. From this time, the festival has continued to grow and now is being replicated in dozens of other cities throughout the United States.

Since 1992, the Children’s Creative Project has produced a second festival in San Luis Obispo to raise funds for CCP arts education programs in its county. This year’s festival will take place Sept. 12 and 13 at the downtown San Luis Obispo Mission Plaza. Since 2002, the San Luis Obispo festival has been presented in collaboration with the American Institute of Architects California Central Coast Chapter.

Street painting, using chalk as the medium, is an Italian tradition that perhaps began during the 16th century. Called “Madonnari” because of their practice of reproducing the image of the Madonna (Our Lady), the early Italian street painters were vagabonds who would arrive in small towns and villages for Catholic religious festivals and transform the streets and public squares into temporary galleries for their ephemeral works of art. With the first rains of the season, their 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 in the piazza of the Catholic Sanctuary.

This year 60,000 children at 150 school sites have viewed more than 900 performances presented by 50 touring companies sponsored in the Children’s Creative Project’s arts catalog. To support this program, festival proceeds also provide every county public school with a $200 arts credit to subsidize in part touring company performance fees.

For more information about the Children’s Creative Project, I Madonnari, visit

Tracey Beauchamp works in communications in the Santa Barbara County Education Office

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