May 12, 2014
Photo by Michael Brown, 2013 I Madonnari Italian Street Painting Festival.
Local artists create masterpieces in chalk in 150 street-painting spaces drawn on the pavement in front of the Santa Barbara Mission.
The I Madonnari Italian Street Painting Festival will celebrate its 28th anniversary from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on May 24, 25, and 26 at the Santa Barbara Mission. A ceremony at noon on Monday, May 26, on the Mission steps will introduce and thank the major festival sponsors and featured artist Jessea Gay Marie 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 vital funding for the Children’s Creative Project (CCP), a nonprofit arts education program of the Santa Barbara County Education Office.
The festival features 150 street-painting squares drawn on the pavement in front of the Mission. As the public watches, 300 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-by-12 feet and in price from $125 to $650, each one 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; Heritage Oaks Bank; Bella Vista Designs; Union Bank; Yardi; and Daniel, Mandy, and the Girsh and Hochman families. 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 become an artist for next year.
This year’s featured artist, Jessea Gay Marie, can be viewed from the Mission steps as she creates a 12-by-16-foot painting. Visitors can view the progression of her work (and all the street paintings) from 10 a.m. Saturday through noon Monday. She has been a local artist for 18 years and has also taught digital art at Santa Barbara City College for more than six years. Employed as the graduate adviser for Global and International Studies since the program’s inception in 1996, she will be retiring from UCSB this month.
Although she has always considered herself an artist, her formal study began when her sons entered their teens and she returned to college, completing her associate of arts degree, two bachelor of arts degrees, and a master of fine arts degree in ceramic sculpture and digital art at UCSB. When she moved to Santa Barbara in 1996, she stumbled upon the I Madonnari Festival and became entranced with street painting. She first volunteered as a painter helper in 1997, and thereafter worked on her own street paintings — participating in subsequent festivals both in Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo. She expanded her participation to festivals all over California and as far as Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. Now she will be the 2014 featured artist where it all began, at the Santa Barbara Mission.
Marie said this festival is particularly close to her heart because the Children’s Creative Project funds art programs and events for students in public schools, where she has taught visual art. In addition, the act of street painting enables her to interact with other incredible artists and to meet with spectators to explain her art, as it allows her to explore her creativity on a very large scale before a very large audience.
An expanded area for children to create street paintings will be located 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-foot patchwork of colorful paintings. Throughout the three-day event, the 2-by-2-foot Kids’ Squares can be purchased for $10, which includes a box of chalk.
Live music and an Italian market will be featured on the Mission lawn throughout the three-day event. In a free concert from 6 to 7 p.m. Saturday in the Mission sanctuary, the Quire of Voyces will present a program of Russian sacred music, with first-come, first-served seating. The festival’s fabuloso Italian Market offers authentic Italian cuisine produced by the Children’s Creative Project Board of Directors. According to Board President Phil Morreale and Market Coordinator Bryan Kerner, this year’s market will include lemon-rosemary roasted chicken, pasta, pizza, calamari, Italian sausage sandwiches, gelati, coffees, and specialty items designed from prior years’ festivals including T-shirts, posters, note cards and more.
I Madonnari is produced by the Children’s Creative Project (CCP), a nonprofit arts education program of the Santa Barbara County Education Office. The organization is the first to create a festival in North America featuring the public art of street painting. After traveling to a street painting competition in Italy, CCP Executive Director Kathy Koury created 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 also 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. and Mexico. In November 2013, five I Madonnari street painters — Ann Hefferman, Blair Looker, Melody Owens, Phil Roberts, and Jay Schwartz — 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 further develop the festival that has taken place 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 that is believed to have begun 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.
Festival proceeds enable the CCP to sponsor fine-arts programs conducted by touring artists during school hours for 50,000 children in county schools. In addition, through resident artist workshops, 43 artists provide lessons in visual and performing arts for more than 25,000 children. Fundraising from the I Madonnari festival helps to continue the CCP’s work to support annual performance events and other activities.
In January at the Arlington Theatre, the CCP presented free performances for 4,000 elementary schoolchildren who experienced the Lula Washington Dance Theatre. In March at the Arlington, the CCP and UCSB Arts & Lectures co-presented the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis for 2,000 elementary students. Additional funding comes from Yardi, Santa Barbara Bowl Education Outreach, and The Towbes Fund for the Performing Arts, which is a field-of-interest fund of the Santa Barbara Foundation.
This year 50,000 children at some 100 school sites have viewed more than 500 performances presented by 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.
For festival photos or more information about the Children’s Creative Project or I Madonnari, or to arrange artist interviews, contact Koury at 964-4710, ext. 4411, or go to imadonnarifestival.com. To interview featured artist Jessea Gay Marie, call 895-0894.