Be dazzled by incredible artwork at the I Madonnari Italian Street Painting Festival, celebrating its 34th anniversary over Memorial Day weekend (May 29-31, 2021) at the Old Mission Santa Barbara. From 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. each day, street painters (Madonnari in Italian) will transform the Mission Plaza into an art gallery of awe-inspiring, large-scale images. Using pastels, artists design more than 150 vibrant scenes showcased on the pavement throughout the weekend. Admission is free and the event is open to the public.
The annual festival was established in 1987 as a fundraiser when the executive director of Children’s Creative Project, Kathy Koury, returned home to Santa Barbara after observing a street painting festival in the village of Grazie di Curtatone in Italy, where the tradition is believed to have started in the 16th century. As the first I Madonnari festival in the Western Hemisphere, it also celebrated the Santa Barbara Mission’s bicentennial. Kathy has also traveled to Santa Barbara’s Sister City, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, to further develop the festival by creating street paintings with local artists and children.
Throughout the years, the festival has grown both in attendance and the expanse of pavement painted, and continues to benefit the Children’s Creative Project. This nonprofit organization sponsors fine arts education programs for more than 50,000 children in county public schools. Sidewalk squares are sponsored by local businesses and community members, and all sales from the adjacent Italian market also benefit the CCP.
Italian Market and Live Music
In addition to the artwork itself, you can check out the authentic Italian market and live music. The Italian market offers traditional Italian food items including gelato and pasta prepared by Children’s Creative Project volunteers, as well as unique festival souvenirs such as posters and notecards. Dance along to live music on the Mission Lawn or help the kids create their own street paintings on the west side of the Mission.
Tips for Attending the I Madonnari Street Painting Festival
Start your day with a self-guided tour of the Old Mission before observing the many street paintings. Open from 9:00 a.m. to 4:15 p.m., the museum, church, Sacred Garden and cemetery which are included in admission. With advanced reservations, groups can also explore the Sacred Garden on a docent-led tour.
Don’t miss the A.C. Postel Memorial Rose Garden across the street where more than 1,500 rose plants await you. The Garden is also a great spot to view Mission’s façade in its full glory too.
From museums to historic theaters, find out what other cultural treasures can’t be missed during your visit to Santa Barbara.