Stroll the streets of historic downtown Lorain, and it doesn’t take long to see why the city is fast earning a reputation for being an artists’ enclave: International fashion designer Jevon Terance — whose clothing has graced runways in Paris and New York— opened a boutique in his native city. The boutique is filled with eclectic jewelry and apparel. A few doors down on Broadway Avenue at JuiceMe Juice Bar, owner Georgia Curry whips up healthy smoothies amid exquisite mural art painted by Cleveland’s Laurel Herbold. Out-of-towners are welcomed by the giant “Greetings from Lorain, Ohio” postcard Amherst’s Mike Sekletar painted for the exterior of Speak of the Devil Cocktail Bar on W. Fifth.
“It’s important, especially in these times, to bring art experiences right to our own neighborhood,” says Joan Perch, interim director of FireFish Arts, a nonprofit organization dedicated to enhancing cultural, civic and economic development in Lorain through innovative arts events and education. “When we began, there were empty storefronts everywhere, and you didn’t have to look both ways when crossing the street. Now, there’s a vibrancy that’s leading to rebirth.”
In 2015, to celebrate the region’s link to Lake Erie and the Black River and a storied industrial heritage, FireFish Arts staged the first-annual FireFish Festival. The daylong event, which drew more than 10,000 visitors, showcased art, dance and theater and culminated in a dramatic pyrotechnics display. James Levin, founder of Cleveland Public Theatre and Cleveland’s IngenuityFest, produced the inaugural fete and the three that followed.
“We owe a great deal of gratitude to James Levin, as our founder and executive creative director of the first four festivals,” Perch says. “FireFish is an event known for its high quality and wide-ranging signature and unique performances in unexpected places, as well as its fiery finale. That history continues to inspire and drive our work.”
This year, plans are underway for a host of events celebrating local artistry. From April through September, “Broadway in Bloom” installations will beautify the street with foliage and art. Other summer events include a performance in BroadWaves Studios that will be livestreamed and a show by Hollywood stunt performer Schuyler White, owner of Ohio Burn Unit. Main Street Lorain First Friday events include shows by FireFish designer and puppeteer Daniel McNamara and installations by local artists.
August brings a month-long FireFish Fest featuring a live and streamed performance of Broadway show tunes by singer-songwriter Jaclyn Bradley, owner of Rock Town Music Academy, and Lorain native Melissa Driscol.
The grand finale, which takes place September 25, will be the burning of a 30-foot giant fish sculpture — a tradition that’s become the hallmark of every fest. In addition to being a stunt performer, White is the pyrotechnical expert who oversees the burning of the fish sculpture and manages the fireworks show after the fish is burned.
“The idea of ritual, beauty and celebration through the arts has been with us since the beginning of time — from cave paintings to dance to creating beautiful objects,” Perch says. “When we bring the arts into our lives, it connects us and reminds us we’re all human. As Pablo Picasso said, ‘It washes away the dust from our souls.’”
For more information on upcoming arts events, visit firefishfestival.com.