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Chicago Fire inspires new festival of lights on the river in Oct. 2014

Artist rendering inaugural GreChicago Fire Festival presented by Redmopartnership with City Chicago. |

Artist rendering of the inaugural Great Chicago Fire Festival, presented by Redmoon in partnership with the City of Chicago. |

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Updated: May 1, 2013 3:22PM

Four years after Venetian Night — the annual parade of illuminated boats on Lake Michigan — was sunk by cost-cutting, City Hall is planning a new and different festival along the Chicago River, inspired by the Great Chicago Fire of 1871.

In partnership with Redmoon, City Hall plans to create a “Great Chicago Fire Festival” in October 2014 — featuring acrobatics and live music — that will culminate in a “procession of illuminated fiberglass sculptures” on the main branch of the Chicago River.

Jim Lasko, co-artistic director of Redmoon, said the theater company plans to use its $100,000 city grant to work with local artists and community groups in at least 15 Chicago neighborhoods to “imagine the thing they most want to be rid of in their lives” and create sculptures symbolizing those impediments.

“It could be anything from drugs and gang violence to greed and laziness. Whatever these things are, that becomes the float that comes down the Chicago River and becomes the major set piece for the fire spectacle itself,” Lasko said.

“We’re gonna burn those and reveal from within them the hope for the community. It’s a huge public ritual. I hope it’s a beautiful, artistic and gratifying event. I hope the city feels its [cathartic] power and that people have the capacity to express and make a difference.”

Lasko said the inspiration for the festival is the Great Chicago Fire, a “seminal historical event” in the history and re-birth of Chicago.

“It was a tragic event. It was terrible. But it also gave us an opportunity to re-envision ourselves. This is a symbolic version of that. It’ll be a signature event and a huge public celebration of the city and its unique character. I hope it becomes a beacon in the city, nationally and internationally that calls people together to celebrate us,” he said.

The decision to create a new festival starring the Chicago River comes just one day after a $100 million federal loan breathed new life into the dream of turning a six-block stretch of the downtown riverfront into a San Antonio-style riverwalk that, Mayor Rahm Emanuel hopes, will become Chicago’s next great public space akin to Millennium Park.

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