By Chris Teale (Photo/DIY Del Ray)
Some sidewalks lining streets in the Del Ray neighborhood are set to be transformed May 14 into a sea of color during the first ever La Bella Strada arts festival, scheduled to run from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
The festival originates from an ancient Italian art form, and its name translates to “The Beautiful Street.” On Mount Vernon Avenue between Hume and Windsor avenues, the sidewalks will be filled on both sides of the street by five-foot-by-five-foot and 10-foot-by-10-foot square spaces for those wishing to draw with chalk.
The event is being organized by parents from The Del Ray Montessori School, as it looks to fund a move to a more permanent and larger home. Currently, the school uses classroom space in the Del Ray United Methodist Church at 100 E. Windsor Ave., which presents some challenges as the space must be cleared for church use on weekends and for summer camps.
“[The church has] been very cooperative, but the building is a shared space and it doesn’t have everything that we need as a Montessori school to make it function ideally,” said Candi Ellis, a teacher and parent at the school and one of the festival’s organizers. “We have some limitations as far as playgrounds — we walk to parks for the kids to play — we have limitations as far as the space itself. … We just want a place we feel is our own, that we don’t have to break down every weekend and put everything away.”
Ellis said the school — established in 2011 — hopes to raise $100,000 to get the project moving, of which she estimated $50,000 would be spent on the exploratory work with architects and the permitting process. She said $100,000 gives the school some extra money in the bank, so it could potentially begin the planning process and make a down payment.
“The difficult thing about a Montessori school that’s called ‘The Del Ray Montessori School’ is that there are some geographical limitations to where we can purchase and the real estate values are very high, plus the requirements that the city has [for] a school are significant,” Ellis said. “We need outdoor space. We need an easement for drop-off and pick-up. We need parking. There are a lot of things that we need.”
The school began its fundraising efforts last year by participating in Spring2ACTion, Alexandria’s day of giving organized by community fund ACT for Alexandria and raising nearly $14,000 toward its new building. And Ellis said there were other small fundraising events held like wine tastings and clothes swaps to add to the fund. This year, it raised an additional $11,869 through Spring2ACTion.
Ellis said La Bella Strada, which they anticipate will be the major fundraiser of the year, not only would raise money but also contribute to the community. Businesses will sponsor the squares, while anyone who wishes to donate $100 will get to create their own five-foot-by-five-foot painting on the sidewalk. Sponsors of the festival include the Del Ray Business Association and the Del Ray Citizens Association, as well as a number of the neighborhood’s small businesses.
Artists from the Torpedo Factory and other organizations will be featured, while some businesses have their own artists in mind to help promote their services. One example Leslie Duss, a parent at the school and another festival organizer, gave was of The Doggy Walker, which has an artist that paints pictures of dogs.
In addition, a so-called “Casa de Bambini” will be featured near the Mount Vernon Community School. Italian for “Children’s House,” the area will allow young artists to collaborate on their own chalk art, with the outline for that piece provided by the Potomac Art Therapy Association. There also will be events at the school, and a happy hour for artists and other participants at St. Elmo’s Coffee Pub afterwards, all while Mount Vernon Avenue remains open as normal.
“We’re not shutting down the streets, but the idea is that people will know about it, they’ll come, they’ll watch the artists work. They’ll shop, they’ll eat, go to the farmers’ market,” Duss said. “All that stuff happens, business as usual, but there’ll be this added, wonderful event happening from 9 to 3 that day, and other activities outside the school.”
The tradition of Italian street art began in the 16th century, when painters who had been employed to work on painting large cathedrals and other buildings needed to make extra money after their employment was complete. In Italy, they were known as “Madonnari,” as they often recreated images of the Madonna.
The organizers hope this will be the first of many such festivals on Mount Vernon Avenue, as the school looks to continue to fundraise for its new building.