In 2012, a grassroots group of artists created the “Follow the Fish” arts campaign to highlight surviving small businesses in Lorain’s urban core. Inspired by the success of the campaign and determined to continue to promote the arts and economic development, this core group looked for next steps. Through the leadership of Joan Perch [Follow the Fish founder and coordinator of the Lorain Community College (LCCC) Stocker Art Gallery], arts entrepreneur James Levin [founder of Cleveland Public Theatre, Gordon Square Arts District, Ingenuity Festival and Cleveland World Festival] was engaged to build a sustainable community arts project with the FireFish Festival as an anchor.
In September of 2015, the festival was launched to immediate success. Named to celebrate the region’s freshwater resources in Lake Erie and the Black River, and its major industrial heritage, it drew 10,000+ people in the first year. The festival activated abandoned interior/exterior spaces along the main streets of the downtown core to set the city ablaze with art, dance, and theatre. Linked to technological innovation and opportunity. An educational/workforce development component, The STEAM Academy for interns ages 16-20, was included and provided key support such as with building the giant 30’ “FireFish” sculpture, whose burning provided the event with its dramatic finale. The festival grew its participation in 2016 despite non-stop rain all day and night. The decision was made to enlarge the event to two days in 2017. This resulted in a greater variety of participating artists/performers and experiences and an increase in attendance by 4000+ from the rainy previous year. The 2018 festival built on the success of the previous year’s two-day event and the increased marketing, strengthening of partnerships within the Lorain community in general – and the Latino community in particular – and dedication of board and staff resulted in the biggest and most successful event yet with an estimated 10,000 attendees over the two days.