I Madonnari: Beloved Event’s Triumphant Return 

By Madeleine Nicks   |   May 31, 2022
CCP’s Youth Leadership team members: Elena Thomas, Helen Twining, Emerson Werner, Minnie Fehr, Ruby Story, and Stella Borgioli (photo by Gary Kim)

On Memorial Day weekend, the I Madonnari Italian Street Painting Festival will finally return to Old Mission Santa Barbara after three years. Admission is free and open to all, and the event will take place from Saturday, May 28, to Monday, May 30, from 10 am to 6 pm each day. Along with the art installations – the main attraction – festival goers can enjoy food, market, and merchandise booths.

Created in 1987, I Madonnari serves as the Children’s Creative Project’s (CCP) sole annual fundraiser. Longtime volunteer and festival coordinator Melinda Werner details the CCP’s impact saying, “The CCP is a nonprofit that supports the art projects and education of the Santa Barbara County Education office. The CCP supports around 50,000 kids in about 100 different schools in Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties. They provide visual and performing art workshops for the different schools as well as a space for local artists to share their craft and teach those workshops to the students. The CCP also hosts events with touring national and international artists.” Through the many booths at the festival, attendees are invited to support the CCP in its mission to protect the arts education in our local schools. 

The festival itself is centered around the unique Madonnari style paintings – which originally get their name from 16th century street art of the Madonna – that are done primarily in chalk on squares of pavement in front of the Old Mission. With upwards of 150 families, organizations, and companies purchasing the squares, there will be a wide range of talent coming together in one space. The art also evolves as the festival goes on, as artists are able develop their squares over the course of the weekend. Werner adds that “there’s going to be artists that have theirs done on Saturday, but some work all the way to Monday. So a lot of festival goers can see art being created as well as the finished product. You get to see the whole creation.” 

Along with the array of chalk masterpieces, I Madonnari welcomes attendees to enjoy the festival portion of the event, complete with food vendors, and booths. This marketplace is organized and run by the Youth Leadership team, an initiative that brings together a group of local students to learn valuable leadership skills in a real-world setting. The leadership team was first established by the President of the Board of Directors and festival coordinator, Bryan Kerner, in partnership with the National Charity League. 

“The kids have been meeting for the last two months weekly, and before they even broke into what they were planning for the festival, they were taught different leadership skills like how to communicate, organize, bond with your team, and reach out to the community to gather volunteers. They put those skills into action, organizing the different booth offerings at the festival,” said Werner. 

Emerson Werner, one of the student leaders (and Melinda’s daughter), adds that being a member of the team and program has allowed her to learn the “the strong qualities needed to become a leader, including teamwork, responsibility, listening to others, and being organized.” 

I Madonnari was created out of a beautiful, culturally-rich art tradition that allows a range of talent to have creative freedom and showcase their art to the greater community. Now, as Santa Barbara slowly opens up after two long years of the pandemic, the festival serves as a way for young leaders to gain valuable new experience and opportunities. I Madonnari involves the entire community in the history of Santa Barbara in a modern way and provides an open space for creation and inspiration.  

Madeleine Nicks is a senior at Laguna Blanca High School. She is the Editor-in-Chief of her school’s magazine and Assistant Director for the theater department. She will be attending Vassar College in the fall where she hopes to study English, art history, and film.


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