A new downtown festival launching tomorrow celebrates the “grit, greatness and renewal” of Chicago by paying tribute its greatest tragedy. In a move reminiscent of Las Fallas in Valencia, Spain, The Chicago Fire Festival will float some theatrical pyrotechnics down the Chicago River on Saturday evening.
Chicago’s most infamous disaster has long been less a symbol of destruction than rebirth. The Great Chicago Fire of 1871 killed hundreds of people and leveled several square miles of the still young city. That cleared the way for the birth of modern Chicago, a bittersweet legacy celebrated to this day by a star on the city’s flag, as well as in the names of its major league soccer team and its downtown tech business incubator.
The city tasked local Redmoon Theater with organizing the inaugural Chicago Fire Festival, corralling corporate sponsors and non-profit foundations to produce the event.
“The Great Chicago Fire basically birthed our great cultural export: architecture,” Redmoon’s director Jim Lasko told Chicago Magazine. The festival will be a culmination of Redmoon’s previous effort, a three-month series of free events throughout dozens of Chicago neighborhoods that asked residents about challenges they’ve overcome and successes they celebrate. Many of their answers will be projected on floating barges in the river between State Street and Columbus Drive on Saturday night.
If the festival is a success, organizers hope it will become an annual fixture of public art in Chicago. If not, it will burn away with the models of Victorian homes and period-specific Chicago architecture that Redmoon is offering up in the name of The Great Chicago Fire Festival.