Ray Ford: I Madonnari Street Painting Festival Chalks Up the Creativity after 2-Year Hiatus | Local News


Great artists and events like Santa Barbara’s I Madonnari Italian Street Painting Festival often come about in interesting ways.

When Kathy Kory created the festival in 1987 I’m sure she had no idea that it would become the model for others like it throughout the country.

Nor did Dawn Morrison Wagner envision as a La Colina Junior High School teenager and budding artist more than 20 years ago that someday she would choose as the featured artist for this year’s I Madonnari Festival, which runs through Monday at the Santa Barbara Mission2201 Laguna St.

“My mom was a member of the local Italian American Boot Club,” the Thousand Oaks resident tells me. They wanted to sponsor one of the squares but did not have an artist to do the painting.

She laughs, “My daughter likes to draw, she tells the group. I had no clue what I was doing but she had taken me to see a chalk art piece by Kurt Wenner at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art.

“So I grabbed the bag of chalk when I got to the mission and it turns out that was the start of a love for chalk art painting.”

Featured Piece

Thus far, Wagner has completed three of the five Renaissance that will provide a compilation of what has become a love of hers — drawing the faces of classical women from throughout the centuries.

I Madonnari Italian Street Painting Festival
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Featured artist Dawn Morrison Wagner with Kai Temper, the new Children’s Creative Project director. Wagner, a Thousand Oaks resident, grew up in Santa Barbara and has been an annual I Madonnari artist since she was 11 years old. (Ray Ford / Noozhawk photo)

Given the two-year, coronavirus-forced absence of the festival, in working out how she would approach her painting, it seemed important to her to emphasize the original concept of what the street art was all about: people drawing Madonnas in chalk.

Her painting is a compilation of her work done over the years that includes three Madonnas from the Renaissance period, a Leonardo DaVincianother by Giovanni Battista Salvi and a composite based on several William-Adolphe Bouguereau paintings.

More Than a Festival

Along with the Madonnas, Wagner is surrounded by many of the most talented street art painters as well as dozens of local aspiring artists whose work may represent the future of the event.

Though much of the attention at the mission will go to the other featured who’ve come from throughout artists California, the festival also serves as an opportunity for youths to become involved, whether on their first 4-by-6 square as Wagner painted as an 11 year old or the children’s section devoted to the younger generation.

Along with the value from bringing together the community in a powerful and very positive way, the I Madonnai Festival helps fund many of the arts programs that the Children’s Creative Project brings into the classroom.

I Madonnari Italian Street Painting Festival
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The beginnings of a beautiful field of horses that will be one of the festival’s best. (Ray Ford / Noozhawk photo)

“The arts literally saved my life,” Kai Tepper, the new Children’s Creative Project director, tells me. In particular, the Visual Arts & Design Academy (VADA) at Santa Barbara High School provided a framework through which she could find a place for herself.

Tepper is looking at new ways to bring art more into the lives of the kids and the schools in the hopes that it will help them deal with many of the personal and emotional issues created by the COVID-19 years.

Perfect Time for a Visit

If you haven’t been to the mission yet to see the chalk art work or talk with the artists, Monday is the perfect day to do so.

By midafternoon, most of the pieces will have been finished or you’ll have the opportunity to watch as the artists put on their finishing touches and introduce your kids to the art of street painting.

Hope to see you there.


If you aren’t able to visit on Monday, the mission area will be open for viewing starting at first light on Tuesday and lasting till the chalk blows away.

Noozhawk outdoor writer Ray Ford can be reached at (JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).. Click here for his website, Follow him on Twitter: @riveray. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook. The opinions expressed are his own.



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