DOWNTOWN STATE COLLEGE IMPROVEMENT DISTRICT ITALIAN STREET PAINTING FESTIVAL
Italian Street Painting Festival
Heister Street between College & Beaver Avenues
July 10 to 12, Painting is on a weather permitting basis
Holly Foy, Coordinator
Italian Street Painting has been a tradition in Europe since the 16th Century and a tradition in State College since 1999. In Renaissance Europe, underemployed artists would draw on the streets as a form of advertising their skill. In America today artists make street masterpieces for the joy of creating and for the entertainment of appreciative crowds.
The Downtown State College Italian Street Painting Festival is pleased to be the presenting sponsor of the Festival’s Italian Street Painting Festival again in 2014.
The Downtown State College Italian Street Painting Festival will once again feature street painters of national and regional significance, in addition to a Young Artists Alley.
At least 30 smaller works measuring 6’ by 4’ will be drawn by a variety of local visual artists, State College Area High School art students and Penn State art majors. To apply to be one of our street painters please email Holly Foy at email@example.com or call (814) 237-3682.
Finally, our Young Artists Alley provides artists of any age and ability with the opportunity to add to the festival! For a $5 fee, you get a beautiful box of pastels, a 14"x 14" square to draw on and the opportunity to create a masterpiece!
The Italian Street Painting Festival celebrates putting beautiful art on downtown State College
By Susan Field
During the Central Pennsylvania Festival of the Arts™, people strolling along Hiester Street can watch a blank canvas transform into an enchanting patchwork of brilliant color with intricate and bold, sweeping designs, only to see the creations disappear days later.
The transient nature of the Italian Street Painting Festival is part of the mystique and charm that keeps drawing the artists and the audiences year after year.
“You get to see this magical thing happening — this colorful, beautiful art gallery on the street — and then it’s gone,” says Holly Foy who coordinates the Italian Street Painting Festival along with assistants Bob Baumbach and Molly Gazda.
Foy says one of the reasons street painting was added to the Festival in 1999 by former director Philip Walz was so that Festival attendees could see the artistic process, not just the product. It also provides a unique opportunity for the public to interact with the artists.
“We encourage you to chat with the artists,” Foy says. “All the artists have T-shirts with name tags on the back so you can identify them while they’re working. The artists’ names, photographs, and bios are also written on the street in front of their work.”
Veteran feature artist Graham Curtis of Curtis Signs & Graphics in Petersburg says he didn’t know what to expect the first year he was asked to draw in the Festival, but found the interaction so refreshing he’s been back every year since.
“Most of the time as an artist, the creating is between you and paper and the pen, and with this there are people walking by and asking you silly questions about what you’re doing, and coming back and visiting throughout the process,” he says.
Interaction with the public is at the core of the tradition of Italian street painting, which dates back to the late Renaissance in the sixteenth century when underemployed would draw in public places to advertise their skills. Since they frequently created images of the Madonna, the street painters were called madonnari. Street painting eventually died out, but was revived in 1973 when the Italian village of Grazie di Curtatone hosted the first-known contemporary festival of street painting.
The first year street painting was in the Arts Festival, professional feature artists were flown in from New York and California, and there were only about four or five drawings taking up one block of Hiester Street. In recent years, the only thing flown in from California is the special high-grade artist pastel chalk that helps the artists — all of whom are local — craft more than 30 vibrant drawings spanning all of Hiester Street.
Foy was invited to join the Italian Street Painting Festival in 2001. As an art educator at State High, she got her students involved. Now, many of the madonnari in Arts Fest are State High students. Foy trains the students how to draw on a hard, bumpy surface by practicing on tarpaper, and she also teaches them how to draw on a large scale.
Feature artist Abby Cramer, a 2006 Penn State graduate who has participated every year except one, says that the main challenge for her is enlarging the image she’s chosen to draw without distorting it. Another challenge for her, and the other artists, is being out in the heat and the physical demands of bending over the drawings for days.
“It’s really hard work, and it’s exhausting. You’re on your hands and knees on that hot bumpy pavement for hours — 10 to 20 hours or more,” says Foy. “It’s kind of like playing Twister and doing art at the same time.”
But in the end, the artists love the unique experience and camaraderie, and keep coming back. One year, Cramer even planned her honeymoon around the Arts Festival. An art educator in Yardley, she had her first child in March — and she still plans to make it to Arts Festival this year.
“I have created a tradition of having people, who have come every year to support me, work on a small detail of my street painting,” she says. “Three years ago, each one of them drew one of the books on the top of the piano in the Renoir painting I created. The next year, I created a Reluctant Dragon by Maxfield Parrish, and each one of them added a scale to the dragon’s tail. Last year, they each did a detail on the lute in Parrish’s Lute Players.”
Other madonnari have developed their own signatures. Foy remembers one artist used to cleverly hide images of corgi dogs in all of her artwork. Curtis tries to incorporate imagination and innovation into his pieces. This year, he wants to keep pushing the boundaries and add some 3D, or interactive elements, into his drawings.
During last year’s Festival, each group of five drawings contained one replication of a Pennsylvania artist’s work and one work from Italian history. This year, for the 10th anniversary, some special things are being planned, Foy says. “We’ve been dreaming and scheming, but we haven’t announced anything yet, so people will just have to come see what they are,” she says.
For those who have never been to the Italian Street Painting Festival, Foy gives tours throughout the event to introduce the public to the artists and share behind-the-scenes stories.
“A lot of people might not go to an art gallery, but you can stroll down Hiester Street and get a history lesson,” she says. “We’re bringing art to the masses.”