Gazing and Gathering

It has been over three decades that the “I Madonnari” Street Painting Festival chalks art up, down and around the old Mission Santa Barbara. It happens just weeks before Summer, Memorial Day weekend, to be exact. Namesake of Santa Barbara, the Santa Barbara Mission was always considered “The Queen of the Missions,”the most beautiful of all, known for its twin bell towers. Of California’s twenty-one Spanish founded missions; this was the tenth, founded December 4th, 1786 by Padre Junipero Serra. Located a top Santa Barbara in a grassy area surrounded by vast rose gardens; it is a fully active church operated by Franciscan Friars of the Province of St. Barbara

This beloved Mission is an integral part of the city of SantaBarbara’s celebrations. It has been a long time Memorial Day tradition to welcome the I Madonnari Street Painting Festival on the Mission Plaza, which transforms the pavement into an array of large chalk drawings reminiscent of its Italian origins in Grazie Di Curtatone, Italy. This formof street painting,using chalks,dates back to the 16thcenturyand is surely an Italian tradition.

It’s called MADONNARI because of the custom ofreproducing the image of the Madonna (Our Lady) atmanyCatholic religious festivals in Italy. Many of thesestreetpainters were vagabonds, who utilized publicsquares astheir personal art galleries.

Santa Barbara‘s I Madonnari Festival was the first of itskind in North America and is now replicated in morethan 150 cities in the Western Hemisphere. It came intobeing here when Children’s Creative Project (CCP)executivedirector,Kathy Koury visited the 1987 street painting competitionin Italy.It was her vision that this festival was an opportunityto benefit the arts in theSanta Barbara County schools.Today it directly supports arts education for more than50,000children. Here’s a fundraiser for kids’ visual and performing artsthrough the year.CCP is a nonprofit arts education program ofthe Santa Barbara Education Office.Kathy Kouryrelates, “The artists participate for the love of making art, and because it is a unique idea.”

Local artists are sponsored by businesses for a space 4-by-6 feet or12-by-12 feet at aprice of $150-$700, featured artistsare 140 streetpainters of all ages. Chalk artists paint a variety of subjects from whimsicalto classical and religious.Kids squares are available too, including a boxof pastels chalks for inspired kids to join in the art.About 150 images arecreated on the asphalt, all drawn with chalk pastels.

Visitors flock to the mission to gaze at the spectacular and colorful images.For locals I Madonnari is like traveling without leaving town and it istwice as nice as going away. There is a peaceful solitude meandering aroundthe plaza tostareat the artist’s renderings. Wandering through the plaza,Friars, cladin long brown robes,can be spotted chatting with visitors.

Creative artists at work is only a part of the celebration; there’s live musicand authentic Italian ediblessuch as:the popular lemon-rosemary roastedchicken, pasta, pizza, calamari, Italian sausage sandwiches, gelato, cappuccinoand more. The crowds dance to local bands, dine al fresco, listen and relax under umbrellas. For sale are t-shirts, posters and note cards of the chalkpaintings.You are bound to recognize a brown robed friar socializing or even dancing.

What Can You Expect at I Madonnari?Three days of artist watching, street performers, live musicfood specialties. Families, couples, kids and friendscongregateat the Mission,arrive anytime 10 am. to 6 pm.and you are on time.All profits benefit arts in the schools.

There are amazing talents here and lots of spirit. Here is the place towatch an artist create from start to finish and three days to view,reviewand keep coming back.If a picture is worth a thousand words,then a trip to I Madonnari is worth that pleasure.

On a personal note, Santa Barbara is my namesake and after years ofweekend retreats, I became a resident and spend many celebrationsat Mission Santa Barbara and coincidently,my birthday is December 4th,the same as the founding date of the Santa Barbara Mission.

Find out everything at Mark your calendarsfor next Memorial Day. Mission Santa Barbara, 220 Laguna Street,Santa Barbara, CA.