The Great Chicago Fire Festival

Redmoon Theater

Funding Received: 2013
Chicago, IL
Funding Period: 1 year and 5 months
December 20, 2013

This month has been extremely successful for Redmoon; we’ve expanded our reach to different communities across Chicago and generated buzz for the Great Chicago Fire Festival. As of last month, we sent out a call to community-based organizations asking them to apply to be a part of the Great Chicago Fire Festival. In exchange for free arts activities provided by Redmoon through our Sidewalk Senates, we ask that these CBOs bring their community members to our GCFF events. So far we have garnered a lot of interest—we’ve received numerous phone calls from different organizations to learn more about the Fire Festival! Our deadline for the application is December 19th; we are excited to begin the process of reading applications and selecting community-based organizations with which to partner for the Festival.

Additionally, we have been hard at work developing our neighborhood engagement plan for the GCFF. We have developed a preliminary design of our Sidewalk Senatesa series of public events and community arts activities designed to discover and tell the story of each ward that Redmoon is working in for the GCFF. It has been an extremely fun (and challenging!) process to think about how to engage neighborhoods artistically in a way that inspires critical dialogue about obstacles they face as well as their sources of pride. These are two examples of the activities that we hope to include in our Sidewalk Senates:

Pop-Up Tours
Pop-Up Tours are interactive tours in which community members from a specific ward collaborate with artists to tell the story of the ward from their own perspective. Redmoon’s partner artists will work with groups of 15 community members from each ward to create a tour. The artists will come from a variety of artistic backgrounds and lead participants through a writing curriculum provided by Redmoon. The community members will come from different Community-Based Organizations programs that we are partnering with (such as church groups, youth centers, cultural centers). They will meet twice a week for 2 hours over the course of 2 months. The resulting tour should be between 30 to 45 minutes.

We are looking for artists of all mediums (ie, poets, graffiti artists, dancers, actors) to lead these workshops. By using diverse artists that bring expertise from different mediums, each Pop-Up Tour will be unique and the participating community members will not only develop writing and storytelling skills, but also learn from other artistic disciplines. We also are looking for artists that are connected to the wards that they will be involved in, either through family history, prior work in the community, or current residence.

We encourage artists to make the tour as interactive as possible by asking audience members questions about their experience with the locations in the tour and allowing audience members and performers to make impromptu detours in the tour. Similar to a ‘Choose-Your-Own-Adventure’ novel, no performance of the tour should be exactly the same. Artists, community performers and audience members should be encouraged to influence the path and build off each other in the moment.

Redmoon will provide a curriculum to the artists to implement in these workshops. While the curriculum will have structured writing and storytelling prompts, there will be enough room for the artists to bring in outside materials of other disciplines that compliment the questions of the curriculum. The curriculum will start with questions that are rooted in identity and location, beginning with general prompts and then move towards more specific answers and stories.

The writing workshops will begin in mid-March and end in mid-May. Throughout the summer the artists and community members will perform the Pop-Up Tour three times. Audience members consisting of neighborhood members, tourists, and members of other participating neighborhoods will follow the tour and be able to ask the performers questions. At the end of the tour audience members will participate in a TalkBack were they can reflect their thoughts back to the performers, ask more questions and tell their own stories about the neighborhood.

Chalk Talks
A Chalk Talk is a collaborative art making process designed around a call and response activity using chalk and stencils on sidewalks and buildings. Chalk Talks intend to interrupt community members’ daily lives by transforming sidewalks and buildings into empty canvases, asking questions that ask them to reflect on their community, space, history and potential. Using stencils, we will paint the following two questions on sidewalks or sides of buildings: “We Are…” and “I Wish We Were…” We will lay out chalk by these stencils, asking community members to take a moment out of their day to contribute to answering a question.

Chalk Talks will be an event that occurs from 1pm to 7pm on a given day. It will consist of two components: a passive stencil and chalk interface, and an interactive Table Talk featuring conversations between Redmoon interns and people passing by on the street. Chalk Talks will take place 5 times throughout the summer in each ward. The team for a Chalk Talk will consist of 1 community organizer, 1 artist, and 2 interns. Community organizers will be responsible for figuring out the best places to conduct these chalk and stencil questions and working alongside Redmoon to get the appropriate permits and permissions to stencil on the sidewalks and sides of buildings. The organizers will also be responsible for helping to promote the Chalk Talks using promotional material provided by Redmoon. Artists will be responsible for stenciling the questions and encouraging community members to participate in the event. Interns will be responsible for documenting the event and leading the Table Talks.

We will bring a table and two chairs for the Table Talks. An intern will sit at the end of the table, across from an empty seat. The intern will encourage people passing by to contribute to the sidewalk or building with an answer, or ask them to sit down and have a brief conversation with them. The conversations should be fairly informal, but the interns will be given questions and suggestions for topics. Similar to the curriculum for the Pop-Up Tours, the questions will start out generally and then steadily become more specific, based on the responses. In order to create the freest environment for dialogue, we will not tape record the Table Talks. Instead, Interns will be responsible for writing down responses. Here are sample questions that will be asked during the Table Talks:

-- Where are you going?
-- Where are you coming from?
-- Do you live around here?
-- Where do you live?
-- How long have you lived here?
-- How would you describe your neighborhood?
-- What do you like about living here?
-- What do you not like about living here?

We hope to cover a range of time that can get us a diverse range of participants. Through responding to these questions, community members will be creating artwork that is not only about themselves, but also in direct response to other people in their community. They will be able to build off the work of participants who were there hours before as well as talk to people who are around at the same time.

We have started meeting with our partner organizations and have started putting together plans for how to prototype these activities with their community members starting next spring. We are really excited to see how these activities turn out!

Recent Wins
Issuing out our RFP was a great moment for us. It alerted people to the festival and put us in contact with many interesting community organizations and Aldermen across Chicago. Another huge breakthrough that we have had this month is deciding on a preliminary design for the 15 Fire Sculptures that will float down the river during the GCFF. Previously, we thought that we would create an outside sculpture that was unique to each neighborhood, physically representing the different obstacles that faced each community. However, this posed an aesthetic problem. We felt having 15 similarly shaped sculptures that floated down the river before they burned would create a more exhilarating spectacle and an easier build process for us. Now we are trying to determine how to have each sculpture be of a similar shape, but still uniquely reflect the obstacles facing a particular community.

Additionally, we have had several successful partner organizations and individuals sign on to work with us. The media company DIGITAS just agreed with us on the Great Chicago Fire Festival. With a project this big it is great to have the expertise of DIGITAS working with us to create a media plan for the GCFF. Additionally, Dan Andries, a producer for WTTW, has agreed to lead a fantastic team of filmmakers in visioning a documentary for the GCFF. Dan and his team will follow our Sidewalk Senates in different neighborhoods throughout Chicago, as well as document the build process for some of our grand spectacle devices.

Creating the Sidewalk Senate activities made us think a lot about how we were creating arts programming to deliberately start conversations on obstacles and sources of pride that communities face. We had to think a lot about how to create open-ended questions and activities that allow for creative engagement and participation. We didn’t want to ask leading questions or push participants towards pre-determined answers; rather, we wanted to create an open interface that allowed for authentic responses. However, we worried that leaving a completely blank canvas or open interface might really intimidate participants who didn’t identify as artists or creators. So, trying to find a balanced approach that could include everyone was a very exciting challenge. How do you create arts programming that encourages authentic dialogue? How do you create participatory arts programming that doesn’t predetermine answers based on its structure, location and materials?