Inaugural FireFish Festival in Lorain This Weekend Blends Fire, Art, Dance and More in Hopes of Rejuvenating Downtown Area

James Levin (Cleveland Public Theatre, IngenuityFest, Cleveland World Festival) has been busy preparing for another community-based festival. The inaugural FireFish Festival plans to transform Lorain’s Broadway Avenue into a playground of art, music, dance and more.

According to Executive Director James Levin, “The FireFish Festival will provide a glimpse of what is possible in the reimagining of downtown Lorain, which has and should be the beating heart of Lorain County. Similar to what Public Theatre brought to Gordon Square and what the Ingenuity Festival brought to East 4th Street, this festival will be the impetus for the reinvention of Lorain as a dynamic, artistic mecca. By bringing together local and regional visual, performing, and installation artists, some experimenting with the forms of fire in their art, presented in places that you may not expect, we hope to create an unforgettable one-of-a-kind arts festival that will attract thousands of new visitors to this Northeastern Ohio hidden gem on the water.”

He continues, “By juxtaposing beauty among abandoned, unknown and little-used spaces, I think we can heighten both the artistic expression and the use of space. The idea behind FireFish is not simply to do another festival - but to bring attention and life to a beautiful but under-used, and to a certain degree, abandoned industrial downtown. Vacant, long empty storefronts will feature paintings, drawings, sculptures and interactive installations from some of today's most exciting artists from Cleveland and Lorain. Some live art will be happening on the street, and the public will be invited to paint a flying fish on Broadway. Dana Depew, former curator of the Asterisk Gallery in Tremont is curating a large armada of artists that will transform a former Woolworth's and you can see Seth Chwast and other artists' fish interpretations in what was once a JC Penneys.”

The festival aims to present art experiences in unexpected places. Organizers imagine, “Opera on a fire truck, art installations lighting up storefronts, fire dancing on rooftops, ballet in an alley or cabaret in an abandoned building."

“FireFish is an important part of the transformation of downtown Lorain in oh so many ways,” explains Joan Perch, chairperson of FireFish Arts. “The night, and finale, will be magical. James Levin is a master of that – creating ‘arts magic’ on inclusive and diverse stages in urban settings that are on the cusp of revitalization. Just like Lorain. But to reach its highest potential, that revitalization needs to be authentic, creative, innovative, lively and true to the history of arts support in Lorain. People will be blown away. We know they will have fun, and we hope they will be inspired ... and begin to really understand how important it is that artists and creative people with new ideas and experiences are at the table as the city and county move forward.”

“James Levin contacted me last month and asked me if I would be interested in participating in some capacity with the festival,” explains artist and curator Dana Depew. “This space at FireFish is a large storefront space that once served as a department store and the last time it was occupied was 20 years ago.”

Depew once owned and operated one of Cleveland’s most beloved avant-garde galleries, Asterisk Gallery (Tremont). Artists exhibiting in Asterisk on Broadway include John Casini, Dana Depew, Eileen Dorsey, Annette Yoho Feltes, Eli Gfell, Ron Gundel, Sally Hudak, Anne Kibbe, Charles Kiss, Jerry Mann, Liz Maugans, Christine Mauersberger, Doug Meyer, Erica Raby Moore, Debbie Apple Presser, Cynthia Penter, Edward Raffel, Dante Rodriguez, Grace Summanen, Paul Sydorenko and more.

Organizers promise a Grand Finale that you’ll have to see to believe. It includes ballet by Brittany Drost, the Bareketh Belleydancers, Ohio City Dance Theatre Youth Ballet, Fire and Light Performing Artists, stilt walking fire artist Cavan Meese, Taiko Drummers, trumpets, drums and the highly anticipated fire spewing FireFish created by Dan MacNamara with the FireFish 502 Summer Arts Project, accompanied by the chorale from TrueNorth Cultural Arts. It all leads to something, but organizers are remaining tight-lipped, insisting that you won’t want to miss whatever it is. Better have your cameras ready.

Reflecting on the role festivals play in rejuvenating communities, Perch adds. “Lots of great festivals have been energizing Lorain. Rocking on the River brought great entertainment every weekend to Lorain, Light Up Lorain is transforming into WaterFront WinterFest, and the International Festival is an anchor. We would hope that the FireFish Festival keeps growing and can become the signature, unique arts (and fire!) festival that will help brand us a place where festivals and fun (and creativity, artists, risk-taking and entrepreneurs) are welcome. That is a game-changer for a city and region.”

“The FireFish Festival showcases more than the creative resources of a great Coastal Ohio city,” adds Honorary Chairwoman, Representative Marcy Kaptur [D-OH9]. “It shows that communities like Lorain can harness those resources in new and dynamic ways to make great things. Northern Ohio has all the raw materials and talent needed to build a new creative economy that will carry us forward, creating jobs and opportunity as an epicenter of creative design, modern manufacturing, and sustainable growth.”

It all takes place from 4 to 10 p.m. this Saturday, Sept. 26. Free. (FireFish)
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