Over 400 local artists and schoolchildren will be decorating the streets at the three-day I Madonnari Italian street painting festival outside the Santa Barbara Mission this weekend.

The festival will feature more than 150 sidewalk squares colorfully and intricately decorated with chalk, each square sponsored by a business, organization or individual. In addition to the artwork, there will be live music and an Italian market during the event. Admission is free and the festival will begin on Saturday at noon and run from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. every day through May 30.

The festival proceeds benefit the Children’s Creative Project (CCP), a nonprofit program run by the Santa Barbara County Education Office. The office sponsors fine arts education programs for local schools.

Kathy Koury, director of CCP, said the festival helps parents instill in their children an appreciation for art.

“It inspires people to understand the creative process, and hopefully viewers will make the connection that it is important for children to learn about developing the imagination and process of creating art,” Koury said.

Koury said CCP plays an important role in providing art education to local schools.

“This program is the largest arts education program in Santa Barbara, and without it, it would be difficult to serve the schools throughout the county,” Koury said.

According to a press release from the county education office, 600 squares measuring two square feet will be available for children to decorate for $10 per square. The purchase price includes a box of chalk. The squares will complete a 40-by-60-foot patchwork of street paintings.

“We have the sponsored squares, but we also have wonderful food, clothing and posters that are created with the drawings from festivals of previous years,” Koury said. “The T-shirts, note cards and posters are unique to the festival, and you can only buy them here.”

The festival will also include live music and an Italian market during the three days of the event. There will be free live performances each day at the mission church from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m., featuring Opera Santa Barbara on Saturday, Luna Gitana on Sunday and Canticle A Cappella Choir on Monday. The market will serve authentic Italian cuisine, including lemon-rosemary roasted chicken, pasta, pizza, Italian sausage sandwiches, gelato and coffees.

Self-guided tours of the old mission are also available form 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. in the mission’s gift shop.

According to a press release, the I Madonnari Italian street painting festival was first held in 1987, when the Santa Barbara Mission celebrated its bicentennial. Koury created the festival concept after traveling to a festival in Italy, where street painting dates back to the 16th century. Koury said the festival was the first of its kind in the U.S., and in recent years it has been replicated in cities throughout the country and in Canada.

“Many people ask why we are doing this because [the chalk] will all go away, and the reason is because we are celebrating the creative process and the joy in it — that the process is important, not the holding on to the finished product,” Koury said.

The Santa Barbara Mission is located at 2201 Laguna St. and can be reached by exiting Highway 101 at Mission Street and going east to Laguna Street.