Monday, May 11, 2015

I Madonnari Italian Street Painting Festival planned for May 23-25

News release

The I Madonnari Italian Street Painting Festival will celebrate its 29th anniversary from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on May 23, 24, and 25 at the Santa Barbara Mission. A ceremony at noon on Monday, May 25, on the Mission steps will introduce and thank the major festival sponsors and featured artist Blair Looker 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 with chalk pastels 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 $150 to $700, 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, Mesa Lane Partners, Yardi, Daniel and Mandy Hochman, Bella Vista Designs, and Union Bank. 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.

This year’s featured artist, Blair Looker, can be viewed from the Mission steps as she creates a 12-by-16-feet painting. Visitors can view the progression of her work (and all the street paintings) from 10 a.m. Saturday through Monday. Artists Sharon Namnath and Melody Owens will assist Blair with her featured street painting.

Blair Looker is a working artist, musician, and educator with 26 years of street painting experience. “Street painting is my passion and public art is my venue,” says the former ceramic artist with several major public art installations in downtown Santa Barbara. Blair is also a teacher with 25 years experience. For the past 12 years she has taught both art and music to the nearly 500 children of Isla Vista Elementary School. In addition to her art, music, and teaching, Blair serves on the boards of the Goleta Education Foundation and the Looker Foundation. She has been married to Tom Ridenour for 27 years and they have a daughter, actress Rebecca Ridenour.

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-feet patchwork of colorful paintings. Throughout the three-day event, the 2-by-2-feet Kids’ Squares 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 three-day event. 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.


Street Painter: Ann Hefferman
Photographer:  Macduff Everton

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 fund raiser 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., Canada, and Mexico. In November 2014, five I Madonnari street painters — Ann Hefferman, Blair Looker, Melody Owens, Phil Roberts, and Meredith Morin — 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 Painter: Jay Schwartz (original artist Thomas Hart Benton)
Photographer: Macduff Everton

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.

Street Painter: Meredith Morin
Photographer: Macduff Everton

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. Through resident artist workshops, 75 artists provide lessons in visual and performing arts for more than 35,600 children. Fundraising from the I Madonnari festival helps to continue the CCP’s work to support annual performance events and other activities.

On April 22 at the Santa Barbara Bowl, the CCP presented free performances for 4,800 elementary schoolchildren who experienced Las Cafeteras with special guest Jorge Mijangos and Ballet Folklórico de Los Ángeles who performed music and dance of Veracruz, Mexico. The performances were presented in collaboration with the Santa Barbara Bowl Foundation Education Outreach and ¡Viva el Arte de Santa Bárbara! Funding support comes from Santa Barbara Bowl Education Outreach, The Towbes Foundation, and the I Madonnari Festival.

This school year 50,000 children at 92 school sites will view some 500 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.

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 To interview featured artist Blair Looker, call 453-4094.