Milpitas Camera Club Field Trip
Field Trip: San Rafael Italian Street Painting Festival
Trip Date: June 11, 2005
Report Author: Scott Hinrichs
Report Date: August 10, 2005

A carload of camera club shooters left Milpitas early the morning of Saturday, June 11 to experience an intriguing and novel street festival held in San Rafael. The Italian Street Painting Festival, staged near the landmark Mission San Rafael Arcangel, is one of the largest such events in the nation. Sponsored by Youth in Arts, a San Rafael-based charitable organization, which underwrites arts programs in San Rafael schools, last year’s event attracted an estimated 60,000 spectators. 

For this year’s festival we chose to witness the first day of the event and saw the artists setting up in more than 200 designated work areas, taped off in squares, on the newly asphalted streets of downtown San Rafael. Some artists chalked out grid patterns to help them reproduce the small originals of famous paintings and other scenes they chose to replicate; others—the veteran artists—composed their images freehand using their years of painting and drawing experience to create breathtaking temporary masterpieces.

Although the setup was rather interesting to watch, the best images could probably be harvested as the artists complete their pieces on the last day of the festival. This event will most likely appear on next year’s field trip schedule and will include the last day of the festival. I imagine that Sunday’s action will also attract more spectators than the Saturday event, so Sunday is likely to be more crowded. (We’ll see about that in 2006.) 

The event is situated very conveniently to the freeway, right in the center of town, making obtaining lunch or dinner a breeze. Parking is generally convenient and metered parking is available on the street as well as in several large parking structures.

The festival includes a large stage and a small stage, where various bands perform, and a food vendor area. I found the Italian fare at the food court to be a bit of a disappointment—you’d probably do better scouting out a local restaurant and enjoying your lunch there.

According to the promotional literature, street painting originated in Italy and has taken root in several festivals held in many large American cities.  San Rafael’s event includes professional artists from around the world as well as local amateurs and children from the local schools.

Our group stayed about five hours at the event before the subject matter began to get a bit tedious. One thing for certain, the colorful paintings were not to be rivaled for their vibrant colors, and watching some of the artists perform was nothing short of amazing. A large area was reserved for last year’s event winner, and we watched her create a large reproduction of a an Italian Renaissance painting. At one past year’s festival, a block-long segment of street was set aside for a huge reproduction of Michelangelo’s masterpiece on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. I wish I had been there to see that!

I can’t help but imagine, in my mind’s eye, the river of colors pouring into the storm drains after the festival is over, as the fire trucks wash away all the beautifully chalked pictures from the city streets. If you would like to attend next year’s event you can find all the details on this festival's official web site:

© 2005 S.R. Hinrichs