As a proud Italian American, I was both truly saddened and gravely disappointed to see that “Italian” was removed this year from the local event that has always been entitled “I Madonnari Italian Street Painting Festival.”

I really tried to think outside-of-the-box in an attempt to find valid reasoning as to why a decision would be made that would likely offend the local Italian-American community, which is larger than most people probably think. “Italian” has always been embedded in the title of this very popular local festival for good/obvious reasons. The art of street painting originated in Italy during the Italian Renaissance. So why would the Children’s Creative Project remove “Italian” from the festival title? Was there a large influential group that was offended by the word? If so, Italian Americans would love to know who, and why, so that we could at least try and rectify the situation. Everyone should be for change — but only if a proposed change can be deemed as a true “enhancement.” Change is easy, but an enhancement is typically created by rational thought that considers all pluses and minuses caused by any changes being pondered.

If wiser spirits do not prevail, then can we soon expect that “Spanish” will be removed from “Old Spanish Days,” the true title for Santa Barbara’s uber popular Fiesta celebration? Well, of course the word “Spanish” will not be arbitrarily removed as the highly populous Hispanic community would, understandably, be livid.

After reading this, it is no surprise that I am extremely disappointed with a serious disrespect being targeted at the local Italian-American community. There really is no rational reason for the I Madonnari Italian Street Painting Festival to, after decades, have “Italian” removed from the title. Such a change is not an enhancement as it really is just discriminatory toward a proud group of community-oriented folks.

This action is not okay. I was fortunate enough to grow up in a wonderful culture that exudes loyalty, honor, respect, and the importance of family values. Hence, I confidently know that I speak for the vast majority of regional Italian Americans when stating that we urge the festival sponsor, Children’s Creative Project, to do the right thing by reinstating “Italian” within the original title of this delightful festival. 

Kai Tepper, Executive Director of the Children’s Creative Project, responds:

Since 1987 the Children’s Creative Project has been blessed, year after year, with an incredible amount of love and generosity for our annual fundraiser, I Madonnari. This event is made possible through our community’s unique appreciation for the arts and arts education. For decades, the nonprofit Children’s Creative Project has used the I Madonnari funds to support art education and experiences in K-12 Santa Barbara County schools. 

I Madonnari is not only the name for this beloved fundraiser but is an Italian word that has come to define Memorial Day weekend in Santa Barbara. The title is also meant to acknowledge the history and origin of this beautiful art form and word which originated in 16th-century Italy. 

With this history and experience in mind, the Children’s Creative Project made a decision this year to remove the word Italian for a few reasons. One reason is related to organizational branding in which the inclusion of the word Italian for I Madonnari appeared redundant. I Madonnari is a self-referential Italian term that points directly to an Italian art form and history that is centuries old and celebrated globally. We are proud to share and celebrate this tradition with people of all backgrounds who come to enjoy the festival.

We sincerely apologize for any offense that may have been felt related to choices made about visual branding for this year’s I Madonnari fundraiser. We gladly welcome anyone from the Italian-American community to reach out to the Children’s Creative Project to have a conversation about how to get more involved in the raising of critical funds for arts education in Santa Barbara County. 

I Madonnari will always celebrate and honor the Italian street-painting tradition and Italian culture. The Children’s Creative Project supports arts education for students of all backgrounds. We welcome the Italian community and all others to please contact us to see how their talents and artistic pursuits may best serve children and the arts in Santa Barbara. Children’s Creative Project believes in the ability for art to bring communities together and inspire the next generation of creative thinkers.

Mille Grazie for another amazing year of I Madonnari!


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