The Great Chicago Fire Festival

Redmoon Theater

Funding Received: 2013
Chicago, IL
Funding Period: 1 year and 5 months
October 24, 2013

Invitees mix, mingle, and learn about opportunities to collaborate on the Great Chicago Fire Festival at the Affinity Dinner

With the closing of our summer Night Out in the Parks series and the beginning of our fall season, this has been quite a hectic month for everyone over at Redmoon! We are deep into generating ideas for the Great Chicago Fire Festival—working on building solid foundations with our partner organizations, imagining the aesthetics of the festival, planning lead-up programming and researching different communities all across Chicago.

With so many ideas floating around our staff and partners, this is an incredibly exciting time to be working on the Great Chicago Fire Festival. Generating and improving upon existing ideas is one of my favorite parts of undertaking a project; I love the listening and thinking that is required, as well as the joy of collaboration and finding solutions to existing problems.

For example, one of the many thought processes that we were able to advance in the last month was how to approach community relations. Early on, we began thinking of our involvement in different communities as a way to prototype Town Halls and different methods of community engagement. Authentic and sincere community engagement is a huge priority for Redmoon for planning the Great Chicago Fire Festival, and we knew that each community would require a unique plan of engagement depending on resources and community character, dynamics, organizations, and interests. While some of our communities might have a thriving literary scene that we can join, other areas might have a more robust graffiti or visual arts scene with which we might want to partner. Depending on the interests and resources of each community, we were hoping to tailor our involvement in a way that compliments the community in the best way possible while also initiating real learning and communication.

When we spoke to our partner organizations about this, something that came up was the politics surrounding the term Town Hall. Some of our partner organizations loved the idea of Town Hall discussions, building on Chicago’s rich tradition of holding them. Others thought that they would not resonate well with communities across Chicago, some of which may feel like the very notion of a Town Hall offers an opportunity to give voice but then doesn’t move from conversation into action. All of these conversations around the term made us question what we really meant and what we hoped a Town Hall unique to Redmoon might look like.

We came up with the preliminary idea of an art-infused Town Hall meeting. Instead of sending artists and facilitators into communities to solely lead discussions, we decided to start from what we do best by trying to infuse our discussion process with spectacle. Compiling a list of art projects and artists that we admire, we came up with a preliminary process for our town-hall series: creating unique spectacles in public places that arrest the audience’s attention, garnering information from the community through participation and interaction with the spectacle, and then reflecting that learning back to the communities through the effigies of the Great Chicago Fire Festival. We then brought this idea to our partner organizations that were really excited about this prospect and added to the ideas and possibilities of what this could do. This new approach caused a lot of excitement because an arts-based town hall could involve communities in art-making throughout the entire process, and not just in the culminating event of the Great Chicago Fire Festival.

We are thrilled to continue to plan and build on the idea of the town hall meetings, and how to create authentic, sustainable and valuable involvement in communities across Chicago.

Recent Wins
As mentioned above, we’ve made a lot of gains in advancing our thinking around the process of the Great Chicago Fire Festival. Its been tough and also fruitful to have thought partners on the planning of the festival and to be challenged and further push our ideas of what we can do. A lot of the gains that we have made have been in spin-off programing, such as securing partners who are interested in creating a documentary about the Great Chicago Fire Festival and collaborating with educators to begin imagining supplemental educational material around the festival that can be taught in Chicago Public Schools.

Given the scope of the Great Chicago Fire Festival, so much of the success of our project depends on our relationships with our partner organizations. We have had a lot of successes in moving forward with our partners this month by emphasizing collaboration and listening and by running our different ideas and process of design (i.e., imagining the Town Hall series) by them. This has created a very genuine collaborative feel among us and our partner organizations, one that will continue to grow with time and effort.

Insight/ Provocation
As we’ve continued to develop the Great Chicago Fire Festival and have been focusing on designing a process to pick communities, something that we have spent some time thinking about is what makes a community? What shapes a community’s identity? In creating the Great Chicago Fire Festival how can we give equal weight to both the positive and negative sides of a community’s unique identity?