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Today in
S.C.V. History
June 24
1980 - Saugus Train Station relocated to Hart Park, Newhall [story]
Saugus Train Station

Commentary by Stephanie O'Connor
| Wednesday, May 6, 2015

StephanieOConnorStreet painting is returning to Santa Clarita at “Chalk Art Slam” this Thursday in downtown Newhall. Don’t miss out on this opportunity to be amazed once again as artists create magic on the pavement.

Street painting, or chalk art, was originally the visual-arts equivalent of busking. Like the musician on the street corner playing for a few coins, the street artist is a performing artist, enchanting the audience by creating a work of art right before their eyes.

Some might wonder why artists choose to street-paint when their efforts disappear so quickly, but here the process is at least as important as the finished product, and for many, the interaction with observers can be as rewarding as creating their masterpieces. Spectators who view the work in all stages can “ooh” and “ahh” as the artist replicates a masterpiece, creates an original artwork, or astounds them with amazing feats of trompe l’oeil.

The tradition dates back at least as far as 16th-century Italy, when itinerant painters would recreate cathedral images on the pavement outside in hopes of picking up a little extra cash from admiring citizens. They became known as Madonnari because the image of the Madonna appeared so frequently in their work. The practice spread throughout Europe, and by the late 1800s, some estimate at least 500 screevers, as they were called in Britain, were making a full-time living painting the streets of London.

Bella Via at the Valencia Town Center Mall

Bella Via at the Valencia Town Center Mall

The first recorded street-painting competition and festival was held in London in 1906, but the devastation of World War II essentially wiped out the practice. It wasn’t until 1972, when the first “Italian” International Street Painting Competition was held in Grazie di Curtatone, Italy, that the art form began a revival.

In 1987, the first American chalk art festival, I Modonnari, was held right here in Southern California at the Old Santa Barbara Mission, and that festival is still going strong. Throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, street-painting festivals began popping up all over the country, including the Bella Via Festival in Valencia. Although born out of a marketing strategy, our local festival was the first of its kind in Los Angeles County and grew quickly, drawing nationally and internationally recognized artists to our midst. At its height, Bella Via rivaled some of the largest festivals in the country, boasted 150,000 visitors from all over the region, raised tens of thousands of dollars for arts in local schools, and provided a wonderful cultural event enjoyed by Santa Claritans of all ages and walks of life.

Originally organized by The Newhall Land and Farming Co. at the Valencia Town Center mall, Bella Via ended after Newhall Land sold the mall in 2000. The city of Santa Clarita then picked up the event, holding an annual Street Art Festival in Old Town Newhall. But sadly, as a result of the 2008 recession, sponsorship dried up and the festival was canceled. Not only was it a huge loss to the community – culturally, socially and economically – but given the continued growth and proliferation of similar events around the country and in other parts of L.A. County, it also seems to have been shortsighted.

chalkartslamThe festivals – Bella Via and its successor – were more than a marketing strategy. They were vibrant cultural events that put Santa Clarita on the map as a cultural destination. They brought untold thousands of dollars into the local economy as visitors ate in our restaurants and shopped in our stores. They supported our children and our families by providing funds for arts education in our schools, as well as exposing residents to replications of great arts masterpieces, and offering children the space to create their own art. In addition, they nurtured local, budding artists by providing opportunities to work alongside artists with international reputations.

That’s why it’s so exciting that chalk art is returning to the Santa Clarita Valley at this week’s Art Slam in downtown Newhall. Thanks to the Old Town Newhall Association and the city’s Arts and Events Office, a mini version of this cultural treasure will take place on Main Street this Thursday, May 7.

This year’s event will feature Lorelle Miller, who participated previously in Bella Via and is recognized internationally for her work in sculpture as well as street painting; and Chris Brake, who has a wide recognition for his street art in the greater Los Angeles area and beyond; as well as nine other local artists and numerous arts students.

Lorelle Miller creating street art in Sarasota, Fla.

Lorelle Miller creating street art in Sarasota, Fla.

The work will begin on the street at 9:30 a.m. and will continue all day long and into the evening when the monthly Art Slam takes place around it. Residents can stop by in the late morning or throughout the afternoon to watch the artists begin and come back in the evening to see the finished paintings emerge.

In addition, Joseph Jasik is providing daring spectators with 2×2 plywood squares painted with chalkboard paint, on which they can try their hand at creating their own chalk masterpieces. Unlike the professional works on the street, which will disappear at the end of the event, public participants may take their work home with them.

The Old Town Newhall Association plans to use this week’s event as a steppingstone to a larger event next year. If you enjoyed the Bella Via festival or the subsequent Street Art Festival as much as my family and I did and would like to see them or something like them return to Santa Clarita, please help them build support by commenting below.


Stephanie O’Connor is an actress, teacher, mother and arts advocate. She believes that through art, we not only tell our stories and discover our individual identities, but we also develop connections and bonds that build and strengthen our communal health and character. She recently co-founded Forge Ahead Arts and the Santa Clarita Arts Alliance. She can be reached at stephanie.oconnor229@gmail.com.

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  1. What happens if it rains? Is there another date or??

  2. What happens if it rains? Is there another date or??

  3. It’s supposed to rain.

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