Lorain's FireFish Capitalizes on City's Cultural Turnaround

In its second year, Downtown Lorain's FireFish Festival expands its efforts to revitalize its riverside business area through the arts. A brainchild of James Levin (Cleveland Public Theatre, IngenuityFest), FireFish celebrates the area's unique and historic setting, presenting art, music, dance, theater and more on stages and in concealed alleys, vacant storefronts, balconies, fire escapes and other unusual locations.

The festival takes place this Saturday from 2 to 11 p.m.

"Similar to what Public Theatre brought to Gordon Park and what the Ingenuity Festival brought to East Fourth Street, this Festival has begun the reinvention of Lorain as a dynamic, artistic mecca," says Levin, who serves as the festival's executive director. "Since last year's festival, a sound studio has opened on Broadway, a new dance studio operated by two FireFish dance artists is opening, and a young entrepreneur who was inspired at last year's festival has bought a building and is transforming it into a physical therapy clinic. This is another great example of art as an economic engine."

Last year's FireFish Festival was a big success – drawing an estimated 10,000 attendees to downtown Lorain. Drawing upon that success, this year's festival promises to be both bigger and better.

This year's expanded efforts include extended festival hours, additional venues (including the marquee and stage of Lorain's Palace Theatre) and the use of the Black River for an even more exciting, blazing finale. FireFish also includes interactive family-friendly art and activities, performances and sound and art installations created especially for the event. Additionally, in honor of Hispanic Appreciation Month, FireFish celebrates with Latin artists and performers from throughout Northeast Ohio.

The evening's festivities come to a sizzling conclusion with a percussion parade that culminates in the burning of an oversized, ceremonial fish effigy. Guests become participants, joining in the FireFish procession toward the Black River landing with fire jugglers, stilt walkers, ballet dancers, hoop artists, baton twirlers, belly dancers and more. The 36-foot-long papier mache fish was created by FireFish Steam Artists, directed by puppeteer Dan McNamara and Monica Idom, with pyrotechnics designed by Schuyler White of Ohio Burn Unit, whose credits include special effects for the Avengers film series.

The festival is presented by FirstEnergy Foundation, with support from the Ohio Arts Council in partnership with Lorain County Community College.

"FireFish is deeply important to our community as it celebrates creativity, fun and the arts — really it's about appreciating what makes us human," says Lorain County Community College president Marcia Ballinger. "We are thrilled to have wide-ranging involvement in this year's FireFish Festival that includes students, faculty and staff who are artists and composers to our Unity Lab students who designed the FireFish graphics and the website. It's these shared connections between learning and the community that spark creativity and inspire innovations that help us imagine the best future for Lorain County."

Seven international artists will be residing in Cleveland for the next three months, working with local collaborators and host organizations to create a dozen murals throughout Ohio City's Hingetown, the recently branded neighborhood between West 25th Street's Market District and Gordon Square. To welcome the new class of Creative Fusion artists, the Cleveland Foundation and its six host organizations invite the public to a kickoff event at Transformer Station from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. this Saturday.

Beyond the Hingetown murals, organizers are hoping to get permission from the city and the Ohio Department of Transportation to install murals on the walls of the Shoreway along Washington Avenue. The artists will be working in Ohio City/Hingetown through Nov. 30.

"The goal of this project is to bring more visitors to the area and promote the arts activities that are already occurring in the Hingetown area of Ohio City, while leveraging the investments that are taking place along the Detroit Avenue and West 25th Street corridors to create a more walkable and welcoming environment," says Ashley Shaw, economic development and property manager for Ohio City Inc. "This is also part of a larger effort to break down the barriers that exist between both sides of the Shoreway by building meaningful and safe connections within the neighborhood."

This fall's class of Creative Fusion artists and their hosts includes Loreto Greve from Santiago, Chile (Cleveland Print Room); Luis Ituarte from Tijuana, Mexico/Los Angeles (Ingenuity); Maria Lopez and Javier de Riba of Barcelona, Spain (Ohio City, Inc.); Ananda Nahu from Salvador Bahia, Brazil (Cleveland Public Theatre); Michela Picchi from Italy/Germany (Spaces) and Rainer Prohaska (Transformer Station).

During this weekend's kickoff, participants will be discussing their projects outside the Transformer Station. Additionally, three local artists will be installing murals in the neighborhood. Look for Ohio City residents Joe Lanzilotta (West 29th and Church Avenue), Erin Guido (West 26th and Detroit Avenue) and Mike Sobek (West 28th and Church Avenue).

Following the official kickoff, guests are invited to continue the party at Jukebox.

Conveniently, Hingetown is a stop on this Saturday's Sparx City Hop; guests can pick up a map to visit future Creative Fusion mural locations throughout Hingetown. To participate in Sparx, guests will need to first stop at the Main Hub under the GE Chandelier on Playhouse Square to obtain a wristband. For more information on Sparx, visit downtowncleveland.com/events/sparx-city-hop. For more info on Creative Fusion, visit clevelandfoundation.org.