The first annual FireFish Festival was launched in 2015, presenting an opportunity for the community to “re-imagine Lorain as it became “a stage for a scorching array of art, dance, music, and fire.” Designed to celebrate the region’s freshwater link to Lake Erie and the Black River and its storied arts and industrial heritage, that first event drew more than 10,000 visitors to a barren downtown. Showcasing art, dance, theatre, and culminating in a dramatic pyrotechnics display and the burning of the first “FireFish,” that first FireFish Festival set the stage for the work of FireFish Arts while becoming a much-anticipated and iconic community event.
In the seven years since that first FireFish Festival, Downtown Lorain has evolved from an almost barren corridor with many empty storefronts to one that is now coming alive with small businesses, eateries/bars, and creative and arts-based entrepreneurs, all supported by innovative public and private partnerships. In 2021, responding to new community needs and the aftermath of the Covid 19 Pandemic, FireFish Arts began to expand its scope and services in alignment with the mission and vision of the organization.
The work of engaging artists living and working in downtown Lorain as members of the new Community Artist Board became a key part of the organization’s expansion. FireFish Arts also began building the youth component and year-round programming, seeking to involve more community members and groups in our programs. In partnership with Main Street Lorain, FireFish offered Fire It Up! programming that helped “light up the streets” at their new monthly block parties with offerings that included fire performers, twirlers, and acrobats. The success of this work continues to grow and impact the community.
Starting with the very first FireFish Festival, community youth participating in partner programs have worked with artist Daniel McNamara to create the “FireFish” and participated in the finale. In 2021, youth from the ACES program helped to build the much larger FireFish, built on-site along the Black River, providing an opportunity for the community and visitors to watch, visit, and see the fish as it was being constructed. In 2022, FireFish will expand this partnership and others by expanding the FireFish Finale Community Parade. Youth and community art-making will take place from May 2022 and continue through the FireFish Festival on September 17th. Additional work with community youth includes the Lorain: Portrait of a City project, which connects local students with local artists to create community art that will be highlighted at the FireFish Festival.
The FireFish Festival speaks to the power of the arts as a tool for transformation. As a result of their participation in an event that transforms this urban city for a day into an arts mecca teeming with nearly 10,000 people, youth, artists, and participants experience a deep sense of pride and accomplishment, as well as a sense of possibility. We look forward to continuing and expanding our programs and impact on artists and the community as we look toward our shared future.