This weekend, chalk artists transformed the sidewalks of the Santa Barbara Mission into hundreds of canvases in celebration of the 22nd annual I Madonnari Festival.
Held over Memorial Day weekend, the three-day Italian street painting festival featured 400 artists’ chalk creations, as well as live music, food booths and a special drawing section for children. The I Madonnari Festival has been a local tradition since 1987 and has consistently attracted crowds numbering in the tens of thousands.
The festival raises money for Santa Barbara Children’s Creative Project, a local nonprofit organization that encourages children to gain an understanding of artistic themes and heritage. The arts education program reaches 60,000 children annually and serves 150 schools across Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties.
The finished projects ranged wildly in subject matter, and most took two or more days to complete. The artists – many sponsored by local businesses – created everything from large portraits of Elvis Presley and Bob Dylan to scenic landscapes from around the world. Other street painters drew replicas of famous pieces of art, such as “Starry Night” by Vincent van Gogh and “The Medusa” by Caravaggio.
One artist, Stacey Isaac, said she enjoyed the time spent working on her rendition of one of Paul Cezanne’s famous landscapes.
“I did a reproduction of Cezanne’s work because I liked the setting,” Isaac said. “It comes from the Impressionist period and symbolizes a landscape off the coast of France. I put my headphones on and fade into a zone every time I start drawing.”
Cecilia Linayo, an artist from San Diego, attended the festival for the fifth time and said she relied on her personal experiences as the inspiration for her artwork.
“My drawing is titled, ‘Blake’n S.B.,'” Linayo said. “The portrait is of my nephew [Blake]. From toddler to assistant, he inspired me to draw him because he parallels my growth as a street painter. The red poppies in my picture also symbolize [Memorial Day]… I drew them to honor World War II veterans.”
Linayo said the portrait took her over two days to complete, thanks to its impressive size.
“I was here since Saturday and it took me two and a half days to draw,” Linayo said. “The portrait is eight feet by 12 feet, so that’s a lot of footage.”
Young artists were welcome to participate in the festival as well. Elizabeth Cutbirth, a middle school student from Santa Barbara, was sponsored by her father’s company, Champlin Windpower, and said she had a great time at the event.
“I really like drawing and doing art for Santa Barbara,” Cutbirth said.
Street painting likely originated in 16th century Italy and has existed since then in cities throughout Western Europe. The painters became known as “madonnari” because they typically drew icons of the Madonna.