Ventura will take on a little Italian pizazz Saturday when artists--professional and amateur--get down on their hands and knees to paint the street.
Only it won't really be paint they are dabbing in vibrant colors and designs on downtown's California Street. It'll be chalk, in the centuries-old tradition of Italian street painting.
This is the city's first such festival, although the custom might sound familiar. For 10 years, Santa Barbara has been packing in thousands of people at the Santa Barbara Mission for its "I Madonnari" street painting festival, whose artists also work in chalk.
"We hope ours grows to that scale," said Donna Granata, an Ojai photographer who is helping to coordinate the Ventura event, a fund-raiser for arts education.
For viewers, this is a chance to see art in the making and a chance to stroll the street and peer over the shoulders of artists who can do amazing things with chalk. Meanwhile, continuous entertainment will go on throughout the day, followed in the evening by the Summer ArtWalk, another opportunity view creations at Ventura's galleries and coffeehouses.
The chalk art festival will turn the California Street hill into a blaze of color. Called "Give 'Em Something to CHALC About," here's how it works: Artists, businesses, individuals, and parents buy squares ranging in size from 3 by 3 feet ($27) to 9 by 9 feet ($243).
Early on Saturday morning, California Street (between Main Street and City Hall) will be marked off in squares and assigned to all the participating artists. Then, beginning at 8 a.m., they will have the day to create whatever they want.
The result will likely be a vast assortment of art subjects and styles, if the Santa Barbara festival is any example. Often there are reproductions of classical works by such masters as Michelangelo, as well as wildly contemporary pieces and geometric designs.
"The majority of the painters are going to be adults, and the professional art community we have is phenomenal," Granata said. "Everyone is going to be blown away."
Among the artists will be students from Buena and Ventura high schools and local art schools. Alysia Blanford, 18, a recent graduate of Ventura High School who plans to study art at college, will team up with three others to chalk a creation Saturday. The school does its own chalk art festival each year and she is a veteran of several.
"The back of your legs get sore," she said. "It's a lot of time squatting on the ground."
Blanford, who has chalked reproductions of Picasso and other masters, has used a grid but usually does it free hand. The street is a far cry from paper or canvas; things like cracks have to be dealt with.
"Gum is a big thing," she said. "You have to go around gum."
The idea of street art is steeped in Italian history dating to the 16th century. Vagabond painters would arrive in small towns and transform the sidewalks and plazas into showcases for their work, which would then wash away with the next rain. The tradition was called "I Madonnari" because the artists would try to reproduce the image of the Madonna.
"Street painters would put out the hat, earning enough for meals and a night [of lodging]," Granata said. "Even today they do it. There are huge festivals in Italy."
Artists use different methods to transform their squares into art. Some have a small picture that they mark up in a grid corresponding to a larger grid they make on the square.
Others might use a stencil or template. The chalk will be supplied, but some professionals bring their own, Granata said.
It's not too late to buy squares. Some will be available Saturday morning. Artists unable to buy squares are being matched with businesses or other people seeking an artist to decorate their square. Younger kids will have a chance to create their masterpieces on 2-by-2-feet squares that will go on sale Saturday for $10.
The festival, organized in conjunction with the Summer ArtWalk, is the brainchild of Arts Alive!, a group of local artists, educators, social service workers, business people and parents. The group formed to help arts education programs last year after the unexpected death of Kim Loucks, a popular Ventura County arts educator and musical entertainer.
The organization's goal is to raise at least $20,000 to establish an arts education fund. (CHALC stands for Communities Helping Artists Live and Communicate.)
"This all came about after Kim Loucks' death," said Lori Steinhauer, one of the festival organizers. "She was a real moving force in the arts community."
Loucks, 40, died in Ventura last July 30. She taught art for Ventura's Artists in the Classroom program and elsewhere in the county, and was perhaps best known for her "trash totems," mounds of trash piled into wire mesh shaped like totem poles.
The entertainment lineup Saturday begins downtown at 10:30 a.m. with a performance by De Anza Middle School's band whose members also assisted with the festival.
The list includes Pam Cohen's youth dance troupe, Ta Dah!, J Peter Boles Band, John Welborn, Babette, Jimmy Adams and Danny Wilson, Southern Cross, Blimp, Vuja De and Markahuasi, playing music of the South America high lands.
The Summer ArtWalk, running from 6 to 10 p.m., includes 35 venues, mainly downtown, where art lovers can view exhibits. Shuttle buses will run every half-hour for outlying gallery sites.
* WHAT: "Give 'Em Something to CHALC About," street art festival.
* WHEN: 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday.
* WHERE: California Street, between Main Street and City Hall.
* HOW MUCH: Free to festival goers; squares for chalk drawing vary in price.
* CALL: 643-4069.
* FYI: The festival is in conjunction with Ventura's Summer ArtWalk, running from 6 to 10 p.m. Also, Arts Alive! benefit concert at 7 p.m. Sunday, Nicholby's, 404 E. Main St., Ventura, featuring Paul Sanchez, along with Vuja De and Sliding Rene; admission $5.