The Great Chicago Fire Festival

Redmoon Theater

Funding Received: 2013
Chicago, IL
Funding Period: 1 year and 5 months
April 11, 2014

Redmoon's Fire Organ at Lunatique

Redmoon has been hard at work developing our plan for the summer celebrations and neighborhood programming. We’ve also been producing “Lunatique,” our annual gala and fundraiser. We’re building some exciting new objects for the event, including a “Cyclone Grill,” which is a motorized grill carousel that has three elevated grilling stations and a wireless DJ station and speakers. It’s a huge indoor event for Redmoon and we are excited to see how it goes.

We’ve also tried to simplify the summer celebrations we’ve been planning while providing robust arts programming. Developing our neighborhood programming has been an ongoing test in answering some of the questions about scale and capacity we posed in our last blog post. How do we create authentic collaboration on this scale without stretching our partner organizations or ourselves over capacity?

Our answer to that question has been to simplify our programming while still creating authentic neighborhood involvement and representation. The Summer Celebrations now consist of a large-scale neighborhood barbeque and four smaller canopy workshops:

Based around the celebration of food, the Neighborhood Barbeque will serve as a neighborhood party while allowing Redmoon to introduce itself, explain the Great Chicago Fire Festival (GCFF), and begin to develop relationships with community members and organizations. The barbeque will feature Redmoon’s Cyclone Grill. We will provide food, music, and low-barrier arts activities in which community members can participate. The barbeque will also include an open sculptural build and a bake-off contest where local bakers will compete for the chance to sell their goods on the shore of the Fire Festival.

Redmoon will create 15 Fire Sculptures to be decorated uniquely by each community. During the barbeque, Redmoon will provide materials for the community to decorate their neighborhoods’ Fire Sculptures as a part of the open sculptural build.

During the grand spectacle, each neighborhood will have a designated site along the shore. These sites will be decorated uniquely with a neighborhood banner and canopy that is made in the participating neighborhoods of the GCFF. These art objects will be the centerpiece for the neighborhood sites along the river and the visual representation of the neighborhood.

Redmoon is also creating portable PhotoBooths for our Canopy Workshops, which will happen four times in each neighborhood. The PhotoBooth will be easy to set up and have the capacity to be used both indoors and outdoors, in public parks, during existing festivals or events, in restaurant foyers, in community-based organizations, and in classrooms, etc. Participants will take a photo in the booth, and it will instantly print on 8.5" by 11" fabric. Participants will sew their photos together to create a beautiful canopy that will be displayed at the neighborhood sites along the river on the day of the festival.

Recent Wins
Redmoon just held a fantastic GCFF Strategy Committee Meeting, where we invited a group of local artists, city officials, sponsors, and community partners to our home in Pilsen. The Strategy Committee met to help us brainstorm strategies and protocols for community engagement throughout the different neighborhoods where we are involved. We asked the committee to share their expertise in working with different communities and came up with a great list of rules for engagement, ranging from rules about respect, humility, and listening, to larger advice on conflict resolution and dealing with gang territories.

The Strategy Committee was also helpful in giving us suggestions for people and organizations that we might want to involve in the festival. It was an incredibly productive meeting that helped us further develop some thoughts on neighborhood engagement and got our Strategy Committee excited about the festival!

Even though we are still early in the process of planning the GCFF, we have already learned a lot about collaboration with different partners. Our work plan for the summer has changed several times, which has meant we have had to go back to our partners often and explain the changes (such as the fact that we are no longer doing the Pop-Up Tours, which has been frustrating for some of our partner organizations). This impacted our relationships with some of the schools we had planned to work with for the Festival, since the Pop-Up Tours would fit so neatly inside an existing classroom structure.

Changing our programming so much has been an interesting source of tension for Redmoon. Our organization often works iteratively, using multiple drafts. I think that this is a really beneficial process because it allows for creativity while also making sure that all the work we are doing is driving towards our culminating event. While interfacing with different community-based organizations, I have been able to see how our process can be frustrating for collaborators who are trying to work our ideas into their existing programming.

Having to manage this tension has been challenging because I understand that our needs, process, and ways of communicating are at times at odds with what our partners might need from us. As Redmoon’s emissary to different organizations, I can often see both sides of this frustration, and as we move forward I would like to continue to figure out ways to make sure that both sides are getting what they need.

So far, our adjustments in programming have taught us several things about navigating partnerships. While it’s important to engage partners in the early stages of a project, we must make sure that we are not promising something that we cannot deliver. In the future, we should take better care to only extend an offer for programming once it is absolutely certain that is what we are doing so that partners can better fit it into their mission and events.