I’Madonnari at the Santa Barbara Mission | Credit: Children’s Creative Project

One of Santa Barbara’s most vibrant and colorful celebrations hits the pavement this weekend: the Children’s Creative Project’s (CCP) 37th annual I Madonnari Street Painting Festival. 

Inspired by the International Street Painting Competition in Grazie di Curtatone, Italy, I Madonnari has been a Memorial Day weekend tradition since its creation as a fundraiser in 1987 (by former CCP executive director Kathy Koury) as the first festival of its kind in the Western Hemisphere. Now there are more than 100 similar street painting festivals throughout the U.S., Canada, and Central and South America — but there’s still something uniquely special about ours.

CCP Executive Director Kai Tepper, who took over when Koury retired in 2022, has a special place in her heart for I Madonnari, which takes place at this year at the Santa Barbara Mission from 10 a.m.–6 p.m. on May 27, 28, and 29. 

“Having grown up in Santa Barbara, I have early memories of seeing some of the incredible street paintings on the pavement, weeks and even months after they had been initially created. I was always mesmerized by the caliber of some of the artists and took notice of the wide range of different businesses that support such an art-centric event.  It always felt like a ‘locals’ takeover’ of the asphalt in front of the Old Mission,” said Tepper.

I’Madonnari at the Santa Barbara Mission | Credit: Children’s Creative Project

The featured artist this year is Lorelle Miller, a California-based artist who is nationally known for her work as a “Madonnara,” (street painter) in festivals throughout the U.S., Canada, Mexico, and Norway. 

Working on “street paintings” is a special skill requiring a deep understanding of perspective, light, and shading, as well as excellent stamina and a strong back. 

As Tepper discovered, “Several years ago, while I was still working with another arts organization in town, I had an opportunity to create a street painting with chalk, which was a challenge considering I am an out-of-practice oil painter. I was overly ambitious and signed up to do a square that was perhaps larger than was adequate for my skill level at the time. I will never forget the adrenaline I felt in trying to conquer that black asphalt in the span of three exciting days.” 

She continued, “I don’t remember if the piece was ever fully complete or not, but I’ll never forget the organic and joyful collaboration that happened between friends and strangers over the course of those three festival days. Now I get to be part of a community project that helps give other people the same opportunities to experience the spontaneity of experiencing joy through creative collaboration.” 

Not only is the festival a beautiful and colorful communal experience, but it’s also an important fundraiser to bring vital arts programs to our county’s schools.

“As a program service of Santa Barbara County Education Office, Children’s Creative Project is uniquely situated as a nonprofit organization to provide critical pathways to arts experiences and opportunities for students across Santa Barbara County and throughout the 805 region,” said Tepper. “We believe that the arts should be an essential part of every student’s experience, beginning with early childhood development and following them through elementary and secondary education.”

While CCP has historically focused on serving elementary schools, Tepper shared that they are now looking at ways to increase capacity to ensure that the arts are accessible to students of all backgrounds in every grade and every school. Funds raised from I Madonnari support the hiring of professional teaching artists to work with schools through artist in residency workshops, provide matching funds to sponsor touring artists to present at schools, and support an investment in our expansion into after-school and summer school programs. 

“It took me many years to finally discover that I Madonnari is in fact a fundraiser for Children’s Creative Project (whose programs I also benefited from in local public elementary schools),” said Tepper. “That discovery made the festival that much more meaningful to me. It’s truly amazing to see local youth, artists of all ages, and people from all over the U.S. as well as other countries coming together to make this festival happen.”


Please note this login is to submit events or press releases. Use this page here to login for your Independent subscription

Not a member? Sign up here.