The Great Chicago Fire Festival

Redmoon Theater

Funding Received: 2013
Chicago, IL
Funding Period: 1 year and 5 months
March 17, 2014

Chinese New Year celebration at Navy Pier, Chicago

The last month has been a really exciting time for Redmoon and the Great Chicago Fire Festival. The Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events hosted a meeting where numerous cultural partners across Chicago gathered to talk about auxiliary programming that they could do for the Fire Festival. It was an inspiring meeting with a lot of great ideas coming our way. We are excited to see the partnerships that develop as a result.

Redmoon’s Great Chicago Fire Festival team also had an intense artistic visioning retreat about the Grand Spectacle. As we moved forward with the plans for the GCFF, we realized that we had complicated our original vision by taking on projects and programming that didn’t clearly relate to the festival. The visioning meetings helped us clarify our objectives and make sure that all the programming leading up to the Grand Spectacle is in line with the core mission of the GCFF. These were incredibly productive meetings and led us to develop a new plan for our neighborhood engagement strategy, called Redmoon’s Summer Celebrations.

The Summer Celebrations incorporate some of our previous ideas, but better align with the themes and work of the festival. From community feasts that will bring neighborhoods together through a shared meal, to ongoing workshops during which each community will create a neighborhood site to be displayed along the shore of the River, the Summer Celebrations and arts activities directly feed into the Grand Spectacle, and invite community members throughout the city to celebrate themselves, their community, and their city.

Redmoon will hold two barbeques in each neighborhood that is a part of the festival—an Introductory Community Feast and an End of Summer Community Feast. These feasts will allow Redmoon to introduce itself and develop relationships with the 15 communities of the Great Chicago Fire Festival while doing what it does best—creating site-specific spectacle that celebrates resilience, renewal, and community.

Redmoon will provide food as well as arts activities that relate to the Fire Festival. They will be open for all to participate and will include party devices, such as the SonicBoom device we used over the summer in the parks, or our mobile DJ cart. The feasts will be a chance for communities to celebrate themselves and the work they have done over the summer for the fire festival.

The End of Summer Community Feast will include a bake-off in which the winner will sell the deserts on the shore this year at the Great Chicago Fire Festival. Throughout the summer, Redmoon will advertise and recruit local bakers to participate in the end of summer bake-off.

The End of Summer Community Feasts will also include an Open Sculptural Build where community members will decorate the Fire Sculptures that float down the river during the festival. 

Chalk Talks
Chalk Talks intend to interrupt community members’ daily lives by transforming sidewalks and buildings into empty canvases while asking questions that ask them to reflect on their community, space, and personal histories. Using stencils, we will paint the following questions on sidewalks, Tyvek, and sides of buildings: “ What keeps you alive?” “Who do you live for?” “What do you fight for?” and “Who keeps you happy?” We will lay out chalk, asking community members to take a moment out of their day to contribute to answering a question. They can answer in words or pictures. Redmoon artists and staff will be nearby to encourage participation in the chalking and engage in dialogue with community members around what is being written.

Fire Flowers
Redmoon has partnered with Harvard University to create a basic template for making ‘Fire Flowers’ (pinwheels in the shape of lotus flowers). Redmoon will provide pre-printed Fire Flowers on paper that participants can cut out and decorate at the Community Feasts. Participants will be encouraged to write a wish on their Fire Flower. At the end of the Introductory Community Feast, Redmoon staff will gather all the Fire Flowers that were created so they can later assemble them into an art piece that they will bring to the End of Summer Community Feast.

Each community will have a neighborhood site along the shore during the Grand Spectacle. Each neighborhood site will be decorated uniquely with a neighborhood banner and canopy that is made in the participating neighborhoods of the Great Chicago Fire Festival. These art objects will be the centerpiece for the neighborhood sites along the river and the visual representation of the neighborhood.

Redmoon will identify 30 community members that will work with a team of Redmoon artists, interns, and community organizers to create the community table and canopy. Community members and Redmoon’s artistic team (consisting of an artist, community organizer and three interns) will meet twice a week for two hours over eight weeks to come up with the design and fabrication of the objetcs.

The finished products will be on display at the end of the summer community feast and at the neighborhood sites for the Great Chicago Fire Festival.

We are excited to move forward with the Summer Celebrations and begin our work with communities.

Recent Wins
Redmoon just threw a spectacular event at Navy Pier in celebration of the Chinese New Year. The event was beautiful festival, with seven different cultural groups performing and more than 1,500 people in attendance.

Additionally, we have had a successful RFP call, with about 30 diverse organizations across Chicago having sent in applications to be a part of the festival.

One of the most complicated factors of the Great Chicago Fire Festival is its scale—both in terms of the objects on the river and our community work across Chicago. The issue of scale is especially interesting when dealing with cultivating partnerships with numerous community-based organizations in 15 unique neighborhoods. Creating authentic collaboration among organizations often takes time and both parties being equal authors of the work that is being created. Since the work that we have to do for the festival has to be roped into our work on the shore for the GCFF, we have to be the lead authors on the work that is being created. Also, due to the large scale of the festival, we have to create a standard strategy of collaboration with our different communities and organizations, but still allow for unique and organic ideas to be cultivated and influence our work.

As we move forward, the questions most present on our mind are: how can we codify strategies and protocols for community engagement while taking into account the unique needs of the community-based organizations and neighborhoods that are a part of the festival? What does authentic collaboration with community-based organizations and neighborhoods look like for a project of this scale?