The tradition of street painting began in 16th century Italy with itinerant artists, many of whom had been brought into the cities to work on the huge cathedrals. When the work was done, they would often recreate the paintings of the Madonna onto the pavement. They became known as I Madonnari. They traveled across Europe joining in the festivals making their living from coins received from passers-by. For centuries I Madonnari were folk artists, reproducing simple images with crude materials such as tile, coal and chalk until World War II disrupted their traditions. In 1972, street painting was rejuvenated by the formation of a festival in Grazie di Curttone, Italy and today the performance art-form is recognized all over the world. I Madonnari, the first such festival in the United States was established in 1985 in Santa Barbara, California.
The creation of a large and intricate chalk painting may take hours or days to complete, only to be gone after the next rain. The artists will tell you that the process is more important than the finished piece and that spectators are a vital part of the performance as they view the work in various stages. Below are links to some chalk festivals throughout the United States: