Visitors stroll Main Street, enjoying the chalk art late in the afternoon May 28. Photo: Denise Civiletti

The Community Mosaic Street Painting Festival once again decorated Riverhead’s Main Street with chalk art yesterday, following an unprecedented rainout on Sunday.

It was the 22nd annual rendition of the popular street-painting festival and the last for East End Arts executive director Patricia Snyder, who announced in March she will be leaving the organization at the end of this year. Snyder brought the event to downtown Riverhead in 1996, when she was education director at the East End Arts and Humanities Council, which was working to resuscitate the programs of the Eastern Suffolk School of Music. The arts council had taken over operation of the failing school and hired Snyder in 1995 to oversee it.

Snyder was an art teacher before becoming director of the school and had read about a street painting festival in Santa Barbara, California in an art teacher’s magazine. She was enthralled with the idea of bringing a festival like that to downtown Riverhead and pitched the idea to the arts council’s board of directors — partly as a way to gain attention for the school.

The festival and the school took root and grew — the school of the arts celebrated its 20th anniversary in 2015. With only a few dozen students taking music lessons at the school when Snyder took charge, the School of the Arts now enrolls hundreds of people in a large and diverse music, art and theater education program.

East End Arts executive director Patricia Snyder, right, who founded the street-painting festival in 1996, was surprised with a quilt made by her daughter Kristen Realander, displaying some of the commemorative festival T-shirts going back to its first year, 1996. Courtesy photo.

Snyder was named executive director of East End Arts in 2001 and under her leadership, the organization — and the street-painting festival — has continued to grow. Today the Community Mosaic attracts chalk artists of all ages and experience who create works of art ranging from depictions of cartoon characters to chalk replicas of famous masterpieces, in the process transforming Main Street into a colorfully painted art gallery.

The event usually also showcases performances by music students and faculty at the School of the Arts and other local musicians and dancers, as well as craft artisan vendors. This year, however, since rain Sunday forced postponement of the event to Monday, the festival lost use of the town’s showmobile. The town provides its showmobile to the Calverton National Cemetery Support Committee for the cemetery’s Memorial Day ceremonies.

“Thank God for Warren McKnight and his banjo,” Snyder said this morning. “You really need the sound of music in the air for an event like this.” Before McKnight arrived, “it was eerily quiet,” she said.

The festival was a great success in spite of the postponement and its shortened duration. This was the first time in the 22-year history of the festival that it had to be held on its rain date, Snyder said. There have been some close calls in the past. A couple of other times, threatening skies opened up either at the end of the festival or right after it concluded, briefly turning Main Street into a giant multi-colored abstract impressionist canvas before the chalk washed away.

Because of the rain date, yesterday’s event didn’t start until 2, instead of the usual noon kickoff. That’s because when Snyder first organized the event 22 years ago, the Memorial Day parade marched down East Main Street on its way to St. John’s Cemetery. Now, the parade route takes marchers north on Roanoke Avenue instead.

“The rain date’s start time just never got changed,” Snyder said.

Since this was the first time the festival was held on the rain date, a holiday that usually means family barbecues, picnics and time at the beach, Snyder said event planners weren’t sure what to expect in the way of turnout. They were pleasantly surprised, she said.

Each year East End Arts offers spaces for sale to sponsors and assigns them to artists who register in advance to participate. Then on the day of the event, the group sells four-by-six spaces to anyone who wants to be a “Maddonari” chalk artist for the day. 

“We sold 150 squares to walk-ups yesterday,” Snyder said. Sixty spaces were sold in advance.

Each of those spaces are marked out by event volunteers and East End Arts staff before the event, using wooden frames built by Snyder’s husband Joe for the festival’s second year.

Net proceeds of the event — including all of the proceeds of walk-up sales — go to scholarships for students of the School of the Arts. Each year, the festival raises $3,000 to $6,000, Snyder said.

People love the event, though the art they create is temporary. Even on sunny days, as soon as the festival ends, Main Street is opened to traffic and the canvas on which the art is created reverts back to ordinary pavement once more.

“The art is beautiful, but this event is really most about community, about people coming together to enjoy the art and enjoy the day,” she said.

From all standpoints, the Community Mosaic Street Painting Festival, which typically draws a few thousand people, has achieved its objective.

RiverheadLOCAL photos by Denise Civiletti


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Denise Civiletti
Denise is a veteran local reporter, editor, attorney and former Riverhead Town councilwoman. Her work has been recognized with numerous awards, including investigative reporting and writer of the year awards from the N.Y. Press Association. She is a founder, owner and co-publisher of this website.Email Denise.