Madonnari, or street painters, transform the Mission plaza using pastels on pavement to create vibrant and colorful, large scale images. They are proud to be the first to bring this romantic festival to the western hemisphere from their sister festival in Grazie di Curtatone, Italy. The festival benefits the Children's Creative Project, a nonprofit arts education program of the Santa Barbara County Education Office. The Project serves 50,000 children in more than 100 schools with visual and performing arts workshops and performances throughout Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties.

Street painting, using chalk as the medium, is an Italian tradition that is believed to have begun during the 16th century. It is called "Madonnari" because of their practice of reproducing the image of the Madonna (Our Lady). The early Italian street painters were travelers who would arrive in small towns and villages for Catholic religious festivals and transform the streets and public squares into temporary galleries for their works of art. The I Madonnari artwork remains on display at Mission Santa Barbara for months until it naturally fades away under the elements.

The festival features 150+ street-painting squares drawn with chalk pastels on the pavement in front of the Mission. As the public watches, hundreds of local artists transform these pavement canvases into elaborate artwork in unexpectedly vibrant colors. The spaces range in size from 4-by-6 feet to 12-by-12 feet, each one bearing the name of its sponsor - a business, organization, family, or individual, that donates to the cause.

A special area for children to create street paintings is located at the west side of the Mission inside a private parking area. Hundreds of empty squares on the ground are available for purchase, that includes a box of chalk, so your child can have fun creating chalk art of their own. When completed, the entire children's chalk art area forms a 40-by-60-feet patchwork of colorful paintings.

Live music and an Italian market fills the Mission lawn throughout the three-day event. The festival's Italian Market offers authentic Italian cuisine produced by the Children's Creative Project Board of Directors. Each years the market usually includes lemon-rosemary roasted chicken, pasta, pizza, Italian sausage sandwiches, calamari, gelato, coffees, T-shirts, posters, note cards, and more. All proceeds from sales benefit the Children's Creative Project.

I Madonnari is produced by the Children's Creative Project (CCP), a nonprofit arts education program of the Santa Barbara County Education Office. The organization is the first to create a festival in North America featuring the public art of street painting. After traveling to a street painting competition in Italy, CCP Executive Director Kathy Koury created the festival and the concept of sponsored street-painting squares as a fundraiser and produced the first local festival in 1987.

Festival hours are 10-6 daily on Memorial Day weekend. Admission is free.