An old-school Boot Country tradition is taking over the sidewalks of Little Italy next weekend.
The inaugural Madonnari Arts Festival, October 1-4, will bring together more than 50 local and international virtuosos specializing in Madonnari—an ancient pavement-painting practice dating back to the 16th century—to transform South High Street into a walkable masterpiece.
Festival founders Germano Fabiani and Cyd Wolf, the husband-and-wife team behind restaurant and cabaret venue Germano’s Piattini, are excited to debut the event as an expansion of Little Italy’s annual Columbus Day Parade, on October 4 this year.
“The Italian-American community wanted so badly to turn the parade into a longer celebration, and we didn’t realize that they were looking for something just like this idea,” Wolf says. “The Columbus Day celebration has always been about celebrating the brave, courageous spirit of Italy, and this was a great way to further express the heritage.”
In addition to highlighting the likes of world-renowned street artists Flavio Coppola and Michael Kirby, the free arts fest will also serve as a sidewalk showcase for students from Baltimore School for the Arts (BSA) and MICA.
“The intention is to have a nice mix of professional and emerging artists coming from all over,” Wolf says. “The artists from Florence who are coming in are so excited that they’ve found people in Baltimore that speak their language—both Italian and art.”
Although the pavement pieces will be at the forefront of the event, its jam-packed lineup also highlights special vocal performances at Germano’s upstairs cabaret, a designated sidewalk chalk area for kids and aspiring Madonnari artists, outside dance showcases along Stiles Street, and rotating theatrical performances from BSA’s senior acting ensemble.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a true Little Italy bash without top-notch food and wine. Not only will a handful of the 25 participating restaurants double as performance venues for the event, but Wolf assures that many of the chefs have plans to serve specialty dishes during the festival’s run.
Wolf says that her primary goal for the event is to use creativity to unite the community, noting that the city is still recovering from the unrest surrounding the death of Freddie Gray.
“We’re really intent on turning the image of Baltimore around in the media and in the world,” she says. “We’re not politicians; we’re just small business owners who have been trying hard for decades to create something meaningful. We’re recognizing a renewed awareness of how important arts are to the community, and Baltimore does it right.”