Italian Pavement Painters Showcase Art on Santa Barbara Streets

Photo by Addison Morris

Addison Morris
Arts and Entertainment Editor

Last weekend, Italian pavement painters, known in their native language as madonnari, put their street smarts to good use as they turned Santa Barbara’s famed Old Mission into a showcase of their combined 150 ground murals. The talented artists painted on behalf of local businesses, causes, or simply themselves as they beautifully metamorphosed the black concrete in front of the historic monument into a collage of chalk drawings for the general public to see for free.

Now an annual tradition, the premier Santa Barbara Italian Street Painting Festival represented the first jump of the festival to American soil from its original home in Grazie di Curtatone, Italy. This year, the coordinators enlisted dozens of artists of all ages to contribute to the exhibition, which donates all proceeds to the Children’s Creative Project of Santa Barbara.

Ranging from magnificent, resplendent butterflies to explicit, provocative cartoon dogs, the murals themselves covered all the grounds. Some artists who painted just for themselves had the liberty to choose their own subject matter and design while others, commissioned by sponsors, were given restrictions or instructions on how to craft their pieces.

A handful of kids and students helped the head-artists on their projects, adding to the cheerful atmosphere of the family-friendly activity. Additionally, patrons could buy a square of chalk from the event’s hosts for their children to color alongside the commissioned artists.

The hosts also sold postcards, posters, t-shirts, and other event merchandise to promote their cause. All proceeds go to Children’s Creative Project of Santa Barbara, a nonprofit education program which fosters artistic development in Santa Barbara County.

The festival also brought in local vendors and musicians to enrich the experience. Revelers could enjoy a “sno” cone, or the more fitting Italian gelato, while listening to upbeat, live music and taking in the flavors of the sumptuous paintings.

One such splendid painting was of roses blooming along a vine which followed a crack in the pavement, incorporating it into the painting instead of trying to ignore it or work around it as other artists did with their less-than-ideal plots.

Making the best of “an unexpected situation,” student artist Ally Campos, who will be attending UCSB in the fall, said, “[the painting] was originally [designed to be] the other way around but we saw this [break in the pavement] yesterday and were like, ‘alright we have to switch it.’”

In another interview with The Bottom Line, student artists Paloma Mckeam, Maria Telles, and Maria Rios, who were working with Mckeam’s grandmother on a mural said of their painting for the Santa Barbara Opera House, “It’s [our] rendition of Madame Butterfly.” It was a picture of a lovely woman fanning herself, surrounded by flowers and butterflies, chosen to promote the Opera House’s production of “Madama Butterfly” scheduled to debut in  November.

Among the other wonderful pieces was one of a serene swan gliding through midnight-blue water, another of a soft, sleeping orange and purple fox for the Santa Barbara Zoo, and another of fighter planes cutting through meringue clouds of sunset pinks, oranges, and baby blues.

Overall, the Santa Barbara Italian Street Painting Festival brought a little piece of breathtaking Italy to sunny SoCal this weekend as it provided the opportunity for talented artists to prove their street cred. Attendees happily relished all the festivities the event had to offer and, no doubt, cannot await next year’s celebration.

For those who cannot patiently wait for next year’s festival, The Santa Barbara Museum of Art and UCSB’s Art, Design, and Architecture Department host a number of painting exhibitions throughout the year. Visit their websites ( and ) for more details.