Monday, November 24, 2008

The End of Madonnari in Florence Italy

Cari Amici (Dear Friends),

There may soon be no more madonnari (street painters) in Florence, Italy. The Comune (city council) wants to have a concorso (competition) in December and eliminate about half of the current street painters in Florence. They do not want an organization of artists running the show, they prefer to issue the winners of this competition individual yearly permits to draw with rules that they have set.

My tired body can accept a rule such as “One artist cannot work more than 3 days per week,” while my artistic self cannot accept the proposed regulation that “One artist cannot work more than 6 hours per day.” It is difficult enough to make a well-done street painting in chalk or pastel in one day, but to do it in six hours is ridiculous, unless it is a very simple drawing. I am not sure whether this condition is a compliment to our talents or if it is some misplaced concern for the health of artists. I have a feeling it is option number 3 (a more political reason).

As an organization, we can be more flexible to the needs and abilities of our member artists, thus serving the public better. Sure, we have a few bugs to work out, such as some artists getting to work more than others, and encouraging artists to find a replacement if one cannot work on one’s scheduled day for reasons other than weather. Government red tape could not easily aid this situation.

But one of the major questions of the madonnari is “what criteria will be used to judge this competition?” Will the Comune choose artists based on someone’s idea of art quality, how much money an artist earns, experience, fiorentini or stranieri (Florentine artist or a foreigner), or some other quality? (Currently, the street painters of Florence are a healthy mixture of many nationalities, including Italian.)

The leaders of i madonnari have said that street painters are very different from other artists who sell their work in the streets. Street painting is more like performance art than it is fine art. They want the Comune to acknowledge our different purpose and function. For example, a fine artist does not train in the streets. But most street painters, including myself, did. We help each other learn the process of creating a large drawing on a rough flat surface, as well as the psychology behind connecting with our audience of passersby.

Allora, Florence’s organization of street painters has decided to send our list of questions and comments about specific ideas presented by the Comune regarding the future of our work and this proposed competition. In order to be heard we have to buy a special francobollo (stamp) and pay some other fees. So this weekend, i madonnari worked on a large collective drawing – a copy of a Botticelli (that I have never seen before) – to earn money to pay these fees.

Thus far we are refusing to participate in the Comune di Firenze’s competition. If nothing happens after we submit our responses, then there will be no more street painters in Florence, Italy. We cannot afford to fight the Comune more than we have.

So this Thursday (which happens to be the American holiday of Thanksgiving) may be my last opportunity to work as a madonnara. Let us hope that it warms up and does not rain!