Cultural event produces temporary masterpieces and enduring impact
Remember Bert from “Mary Poppins”? Every day, it seems like Bert has a new job – a one-man-band one day, a chimney sweep another – but the business that leads to the most fantastic adventure is when he serves as a street painter. This is where Mary and the children are able to take a “Jolly Holiday.”
What you may not know is that the art of street painting started in Italy in the 16th century. Temporary chalk paintings constructed by transient artists for tips at the foot of cathedrals and in piazzas were meant for the public and, many times, represented Catholic images. These beautiful masterpieces have been documented by authors and in newspapers for centuries, but weather and technologies of the time prevented the actual artwork from being recorded.
Known as madonnari (for their subject matter), street painters have come into the 21st century, expanding their focus, improving their painting mediums and photographing their work for posterity – but because of the nature of the canvas, madonnari continue to travel from festival to festival and town to town to showcase their work. The Association of Madonnari was formed to unite these talented painters, and the annual Garzie di Curtatone street painting competition in Northern Italy was founded in the early 1970s to expose this ancient form of art and the artists that continue to practice it.
If a holiday in Italy this summer is out of the question, you can experience these magical creations in Houston. This month marks the city’s first-ever Via Colori festival downtown. Showcasing more than 150 local and regional artists the weekend of Nov. 18-19, Via Colori invites visitors to embark on their own pictorial adventure at Sam Houston Park and along Allen Parkway. Intent on attracting both art enthusiasts and families, this free fall festival should prove wonderfully entertaining with everything from innovative street paintings to live music, food and drink venues to children’s activities, and a Saturday night Street Party. Intended to be an annual affair, this year’s festival features local painter John Palmer. Additionally, the event benefits The Center for Hearing and Speech, raising funds for the nonprofit organization, as well as awareness for children’s hearing impairments.
“We chose Via Colori after doing a lot of research,” says Lori Grubbs, manager of community relations for The Center for Hearing and Speech. “It is a new and unique event that can reach a broad range of people from all walks of life. It’s such a perfect fit for Houston, which is a festival city and has a wonderful art community.”
In addition to providing a distinct cultural experience, the center hopes to make a difference in the community by educating visitors about hearing problems in children. “One of our biggest challenges is that a lot of people don’t know that children with hearing loss can learn to listen and talk if it’s diagnosed early, so this was a great way to raise those funds and awareness,” Grubbs adds. “We’re really excited about the event for what it is offering and what it’s going to bring to Houston.”
Happy to head up the list of notable artists, Houston native John Palmer is eager to not only showcase his art, but also help The Center for Hearing and Speech in their mission. Completing a canvas work and recreating the image at the festival in a 12-foot-by-12-foot format, Palmer created “The Sound of Art” specifically for The Center for Hearing and Speech and Via Colori. “I like, every year, to pick one charity to focus on, so this is the charity for me that I wrapped my time around,” he says. “And I had a speech problem as a child, so this had even more meaning for me.” Previously chosen as the feature artist for The Periwinkle Foundation’s Making a Mark endeavor with Texas Children’s Hospital, Palmer strives to encourage children to enrich their lives through creative expression. Using bright colors in a free form, he describes his works as escapism and admits that his energetic style is continually evolving as he proceeds to grow as an artist. “I do what I do because I want to affect people in a positive way,” Palmer adds.
Not only will festival-goers be able to see original pieces from Palmer and other painters, but they will also experience the process that the artists undergo to create these temporary works. On Saturday morning at 10, the gates of the festival will open, and the artisans will start their masterpieces. Every lap through the grounds will allow guests to see the progress of the creation, from sketches to final representations. With some street canvases stretching 10-feet-by-10-feet, these paintings should prove a uniquely monumental outdoor gallery.
Young attendees will also be able to join the whimsy at the Via Bambini area of the festival. With age-appropriate and hands-on activities, kids are sure to develop their creativity and imagination. In fact, parents can purchase 2-foot-by-2-foot squares for their little sidewalk artists to compose their own masterpieces, with proceeds going to The Center for Hearing and Speech.
Visit www.viacolori.com/houston for more information on this spectacular event. With so many unique artistic options, plenty of fun, and proceeds benefiting such a wonderful charity, the only word to describe Via Colori comes from Mary Poppins herself: “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious!”