Pavement Palette: Santa Barbara's I Madonnari

Look down, and sigh, at art-nice springtime delights.

ART IN ANY SETTING: Admiring a swirl of color on a canvas is a treat in whatever environment you happen to encounter it, but the treat-happy nature of the moment only grows when the surroundings match the canvas in beauty. Look to the Santa Barbara Mission, a treasure of a structure that has appeared in many (many many) paintings and photographs. To throw an art festival here seems to be the perfect marriage of beautiful spot plus beautiful thoughts, and so such a festival is thrown, annually, each Memorial Day Weekend, just outside of the mission's majestic front exterior. It's the I Madonnari Festival, a three-day celebration devoted to the ancient art of placing paintings upon the pavement.

TOTALLY CHALKTASTIC: Those paintings are made with chalk, of course, making the artworks that appear, suddenly, in hours or a day or two, highly ephemeral, far more so than the countless photographs snapped of the adjacent building. But it is the ephemeral nature of a chalk festival that lends is nowness wowness, an of-the-moment thrill, and a soak-it-up-here urgency. Absolutely, photographs of the festival live on, online, and great videos, too, but to be in Santa Barbara on a May Gray morning, chatting with the artist creating a three-dimensional sea scene, or castle, is a pleasure best not denied. A sweet asterisk? It's free to attend.

MAY 23, 24, 25... are the dates for 2015. The festival will soon celebrate its 30th, so expect a whole parade of talented picture-realizers to bend down to the sidewalk below, all in the name of art. The Children's Creative Project is the festival beneficiary, which means arts programs -- both visual and performing -- for "50,000 children in more than 100 schools" in the Central Coast area (Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties). That's a nice way to bid farewell to another school year, at the end of May, with a glance of good things to come. And, of course, plenty of glances downward, at the brief-before-the-eyes, always-in-the-mind artworks.

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