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I Madonnari Festival Chalk Full of Color as Artists’ Creations Come to Life

Drawing on famous artwork and iconic scenes as inspiration, street painters get down and dirty at Santa Barbara Mission

The 29th annual I Madonnari Italian Street Painting Festival continues Monday at the Santa Barbara Mission. Click to view larger
The 29th annual I Madonnari Italian Street Painting Festival continues Monday at the Santa Barbara Mission. (Fritz Olenberger photo / www.olenberger.com)

[Click here for a related Noozhawk photo gallery.]

For the 29th year, the I Madonnari Italian Street Painting Festival brought art, food and entertainment to the Santa Barbara Mission. The annual Memorial Day weekend festival is a fundraiser for the Children’s Creative Project.

Artists coated in chalk from head to toe sprawled across the pavement in front of the church, turning the hot black asphalt into a kaleidoscope of color as passers-by gawked at and took photos of the large-scale drawings.

The I Madonnari festival continues Monday, Memorial Day, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. at the mission, 2201 Laguna St.

Tents set up in the grassy area by the chalk drawings featured a variety of food and drinks for spectators.

The scent of barbecued chicken and veggies wafted over dozens of tables where families and friends gathered together to eat while a band played jazz standards in the background.

Proceeds from the purchase of barbecued food, Italian sausage sandwiches, snow cones and gelato all fund the Children’s Creative Project, a local nonprofit arts organization affiliated with the Santa Barbara County Education Office and host of the I Madonnari festival.

“Every piece of food you put in your mouth has donated money toward this effort,” said Diane Pulverman, board vice president of the Children’s Creative Project.

The mission of the Children’s Creative Project is to keep art in local schools. Proceeds from the fundraiser provide stipends for the programs.

“When they are bringing in performing artists, musicians, fine artists, storytellers, etc. they will be able to use that to pay for it,” Pulverman said. “We use it to put on at least one free performance at a local theater where the students are bused in. We try to piggy back off of (UCSB) Arts & Lectures, where the artist will do their UCSB performance and then work with us the next day.”

The first I Madonnari festival was held in Santa Barbara in 1987, before the idea caught fire and spread throughout California and elsewhere.

Kathy Koury, executive director of the Children’s Creative Project, had just been to Italy where she had seen the street painting festival in Grazie Di Curtatone.

“I had been seeking a fundraising idea for many years, so when I saw this, I thought, ‘This is perfect because it shows the creative process in action,’” she told Noozhawk. “It’s not about a finished project its about the joy of making art.”

Koury came up with the idea of sponsored squares to raise money, along with food and drinks.

This was the first festival of its kind in North America. Now there are at least 100 of these in the United States, Canada, Mexico and South America, she said.

“I feel really happy today,” Koury said. “It’s a lot of work building up to it but now I can just sit and watch what we’ve created.”

Amanda Zunino was putting the finishing touches on the square sponsored by Arts for Humanity!, a local nonprofit organization that helps low-income, at-risk youth, persons with disabilities and the elderly through participatory performing and visual arts programs.

“It’s really interesting, working with pastel chalk,” she said. “It’s a lot more like painting than drawing.”

Karsen Lee Gould, founder and creative executive director of Arts for Humanity!, explained the group’s choice for inspiration.

Marc Chagall is our iconic ‘resident artist,’” she said. “Each year, I choose one of the Chagall pieces and then I tweak some piece of it to add an element of Santa Barbara.

“This year, we took his original and included a palm tree and the ocean in the background.”

Noozhawk intern Ana Mezic​ can be reached at [email protected]. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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