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Thousands Enjoy Santa Barbara Chalk Painting Festival at Mission

By ZAC ESTRADA — MAY 31, 2011


About 25,000 packed the Old Mission in Santa Barbara over Memorial Day weekend for the 25th annual I Madonnari Italian street drawing festival.


Sharp winds on Saturday and Sunday may have deterred some attendees, but artists were out refining their drawings
carefully crafted over the course of the event. Some of the volunteers, on their hands and knees for most of the three-day weekend, have attended the festival since its inception.


This year’s event took on an even more special meaning; it also coincided with the 225th anniversary of the Old Mission.


Artists filled up about 150 squares, ranging in size from 4-by-6 to 12-by-12 feet.


The festival dates back to 1987, when local resident Kathy Koury returned from a street painting competition in Italy and decided to start a local event as a fundraiser for Children’s Creative Project, a nonprofit arts education program operated through the county’s education office.


Each square is sponsored by a local business, organization or individual, and rates vary depending on the size of the space. Funds benefit the arts program, which sponsors arts education in local schools for approximately 50,000 students.


The history of street painting dates back to the 16th century, when early Italian street painters would travel from town to town for religious festivals and transform the streets and public squares into works of art. Artists called the practice “Madonnari” due to their habit of reproducing the image of the Madonna.

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