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Old Spanish Days

“Celebrating our heritage” can mean different things. For some, it’s all about confetti and sombreros, fish tacos and flamenco performances. For others, it’s about the pride of being a fourth or fifth-generation Californian. The kids, for their part, mostly love an excuse to dress up and parade down State Street.

For the complete set of images from Fiesta 2013, click here.

I Madonnari

The I Madonnari Festival at Santa Barbara's Old Mission : Photo by Scott London

I Madonnari was the name given to street painters in 16th- and 17th-century Italy, itinerant artists who traveled from town to town and city to city rendering images of the Madonna on sidewalks and in public squares. Like street musicians, the “Madonna painters” supported themselves by small donations—usually coins thrown to them by appreciative passers-by and festival-goers. Using chalks and handmade pastels, the artists sometimes created works of remarkable majesty and scale. But the art was always ephemeral, vanishing with the first rain.

Today, the tradition of street painting lives on in cities across Europe and in a growing number of communities in North America. 2013 marked the 27th anniversary of the I Madonnari Festival in Santa Barbara, California. When it started in 1987, it was the only street painting event of its kind in the United States. Today, the three-day event, held each Memorial Day weekend in the plaza in front of Santa Barbara’s historic mission, draws crowds of 25,000 or more from around the world. The art ranges from small chalk drawings by local artists to large-scale street murals by nationally recognized street painters. There is also a special chalk-drawing area for young artists.

The I Madonnari Festival at Santa Barbara's Old Mission : Photo by Scott London

I Madonnari is a fundraiser for the Children’s Creative Project, an innovative program that provides visual and performing arts education to public schools in and around Santa Barbara. At a time when arts education has been all but eliminated from school budgets, entrepreneurial communities have to take matters into their own hands. The I Madonnari Festival represents one of the more successful such initiatives—a community-building effort aimed at both making art and ensuring its survival in the local school system.

The 2013 festival just wrapped up. Yesterday, as the artists were putting the finishing touches on their work, a wild fire broke out in the mountains behind Santa Barbara. The skies filled with smoke and ash, partially obscuring the sun, as seen in the image above. For more of my photos from the event, you’ll find a collection here.

On the Oscar Trail

It’s not Cannes or Sundance, but over the last three decades the Santa Barbara International Film Festival has established itself as one of America’s leading movie fests. The event typically draws about 70,000 people and features some 200 screenings, along with an impressive line-up of tributes, award shows, and panels with industry insiders.

But the big story each year revolves around the celebrities—the beautiful people who come to town and, for a few days, transform the place into the epicenter of the entertainment world. Given Santa Barbara’s proximity and deep ties to Hollywood, as well as the festival’s serendipitous timing—right in the middle of awards season—it’s no surprise the event has become a crucial stop on the Oscar trail.

The festival announces its line-up of awards and tributes in early January, before the annual Oscar nominations are revealed. The organizers have proven to be surprisingly prescient in recent years, often booking appearances with actors, directors and others in the industry who go on to be nominated for Academy Awards. In 2009, for example, the festival welcomed more than two dozen Oscar nominees.

But the festival’s knack for predicting winners can be attributed in no small part to the Hollywood publicity machine. Today celebrities and industry insiders routinely go on “Oscar tours” to generate buzz for their latest films, often backed by million-dollar advertising budgets. For Academy Award-contenders, an appearance in Santa Barbara can not only generate valuable publicity but improve the odds of a big win at the Oscars.

But it’s movie aficionados who are the big winners at the Santa Barbara Film Festival. For what could be better in the end than eleven full days of screenings, panels with prominent writers, producers, and directors, and tributes to the best and brightest in the business?

It was my fifth year covering the festival. I’ve posted a photoessay here.

Jesusita Fire

The Jesusita Fire took almost everyone by surprise when it began on the afternoon of May 5. It’s the third major wildfire in Santa Barbara in just nine months, and many here are still recovering from the devastating Tea Fire last November.

The blaze is still out of control and details are sketchy, but we know that dozens of homes have already been lost. I witnessed some of them go up in flames myself before being forced out by the authorities.

Here are some of my photos:

Jesusita Fire

This image was taken from Painted Cave Road at 3:30 p.m. on May 5, just a couple of hours after the fire began. The trail of the smoke shows the typical sundowner pattern — blowing across the city and out to sea, just as the devastating Gap and Tea fires did last year.

Jesusita Fire

The Jesusita Fire burns in the hills above Santa Barbara, California. Taken from Camino Cielo in the late afternoon on May 5, 2009. The small black dot in the center is a fixed wing aircraft surveying the hotspots.

Jesusita Fire

Smoke and ash darken the sky above Santa Barbara as night falls on day one of the fire.

Jesusita Fire

On the evening of the first day, the fire was still confined to a relatively small area of less than 200 acres, as seen in this long exposure taken from Elings Park.

Jesusita Fire

Thick smoke drifts out over the city on the second day of the fire, as seen in this shot from Las Tunas Road on the Riviera.

Jesusita Fire

The flames rage in the hills perilously close to Santa Barbara’s historic mission. It seems fitting that local firefighters and police would use the spot as an ad hoc staging ground.

Jesusita Fire

Santa Barbara County firefighters gather at the mission to plan their next assault as the fire continues its spread east and south toward the city.

Jesusita Fire

Fanned by strong winds, flames and smoke wreak havoc in the densely populated neighborhood above Foothill Road, just west of Mission Canyon Road.

Jesusita Fire

Huge flames ravage the foothills above Mountain Drive.

Jesusita Fire

Putrid smoke and ash choked the skies and obscured the sun, bathing the city in an eerie red light.

Jesusita Fire

A chopper dumps water over a structure burning on Mountain Drive.

Jesusita Fire

Intense sundowner winds scatter and fan the flames, as seen in this photo taken from Stanwood Drive.

Jesusita Fire

The size and sheer force of the inferno was staggering.

Jesusita Fire

A terrifying firestorm erupts in the hills above Mission Canyon.

Jesusita Fire

A palm tree scorched in the recent Tea Fire stands on a now vacant lot on Conejo Road, as smoke and ash from the new Jesusita Fire darken the skies above.

Jesusita Fire

The eastern edge of the Jesusita Fire was still burning out of control late on Wednesday night. This photo was taken on Ortega Ridge Road in Summerland.

Jesusita Fire

Strong offshore winds continued to fan the flames of the Jesusita Fire above Santa Barbara, as seen in this image taken at Elings Park.

Jesusita Fire

Intense smoke and ash covered the city of Santa Barbara as the Jesusita Fire continued to burn on several fronts on Wednesday night.

Jesusita Fire

Relatively calm winds during the morning and afternoon of day three kept the Jesusita Fire confined mainly to the mountains near Cathedral Peak.

Jesusita Fire

As the afternoon wore on, the winds intensified and fanned the flames westward.

Jesusita Fire

A dark plume of drift smoke could be seen all the way to Ventura and beyond. This photo was taken from Carpinteria at 6:30 p.m. just as the sundowner winds kicked up and stoked the fires anew.

Jesusita Fire

Strong early evening winds fanned the flames and sent black smoke into the skies above Santa Barbara. This image was shot from Ortega Hill at sunset.

Jesusita Fire

As the sun set on the third day of the Jesusita Fire, the sky turned ominously red and ash started falling like snowflakes. The palmettos on Channel Drive can be seen bending in the strong wind.

Jesusita Fire

By 9:00 o’clock on Thursday, the fire was raging out of control across a wide swath of the Santa Barbara foothills, from San Roque Canyon to the east all the way to Highway 154 to the west.

Jesusita Fire

The Jesusita Fire continued to burn in Santa Barbara on Friday, though lower temperatures and relatively calm winds kept the flames confined mainly to the hills above the city. After sunset, the skies were still dark with drift smoke and ash, as seen in this image taken from Butterfly Beach.

Jesusita Fire

By Friday evening, the Jesusita Fire had consumed 8,400 acres and cut a swath some five miles wide from the ridges above Montecito all the way to Painted Cave.

Jesusita Fire

The Jesusita Fire continued to rage in the hills above Montecito on Friday evening.

Jesusita Fire

Flames from the Jesusita Fire lit up the evening sky above Santa Barbara on Friday evening, as seen in this image taken at the Andree Clark Bird Refuge.