The Inaugural Midwest Fire Fest will come to Cambridge July 23 and 24, bringing a wide variety of fiery arts, foods and performances that promise to draw a large crowd.

With the annual pottery festival coming to an end after nearly 25 years, and the end of the annual art fair, the Cambridge arts community wanted to try something new.

“An art fair is an art fair is an art fair; let’s do something different,” said Midwest Fire Fest Co-Chair Laurie Struss.

From there, Midwest Fire Fest was born. For the past year and a half, committee members Struss, Mark Skudlarek, Andy Wallman, Anneliese Valdes, Christianne Laing, Gina Eggert, Jana Funk, Michael Rehak and Joe and Carol Sapienza have been planning and planning to make the event a reality.

The Midwest Fire Fest Committee worked with a group of mentors, StarWORKS, out of North Carolina, to design the kiln that will be used in the bonfiring. Midwest Fire Fest Co-Chair Skudlarek had contacts within StarWORKS, and in April, a group of six Cambridge residents went to visit the artists in North Carolina.

Since then, the Midwest Fire Fest committee has been hard at work preparing for the event.

Skudlarek shared that part of the appeal of Midwest Fire Fest is that it is not geared toward one art form.

“It can transform itself from year to year,” he said, explaining that visitors will not see the same thing every year.

“It definitely allows us to stay responsive to what’s going on in the art world,” said Laurie Struss.

The committee hopes that the event will help drive a new resurgence in Cambridge, using the arts for economic development.

The Cambridge Arts Council and Clay Collective are sponsoring the event, and partnering with the Cambridge Chamber of Commerce, the Cambridge Fire Department, the Cambridge Lions Club, the Friends of the Cambridge Community Library and the Moravian Ladies, to make the event a success.

“It’s been really astounding that the community has really put their backs into it,” said Skudlarek.

Laurie Struss shared that the event already has 65 volunteers who will provide time during the event, but the committee is still looking for more volunteers.

The community has also provided financial backing through private donations.

The financial contributions made by the Cambridge Foundation are what really got Midwest Fire Fest rolling, Laurie Struss said.

“Without them, this wouldn’t be happening,” she said

Explore Cambridge through art

The main focus of Midwest Fire Fest is, of course, the art. The event will feature several demonstrations , in forging, blacksmithing, welding, pit fired pottery and glass blowing,

The main event will be the Big Bonfiring, to be held July 23 at 9 p.m. All day, the clay sculpture firing will be taking place, preparing for the big reveal.

The Midwest Fire Fest committee was given permission to use the kiln design by their mentors at StarWORKS in North Carolina. The Midwest Kiln was built by Steve Struss, Randy Schroeder, and John Lupiezowiec.

Midwest Fire Fest will also feature an Iron Pour with iron artist Alisa Toninato of FeLion Studios, located in Madison, which will be July 23 from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Toninato’s team is comprised of iron artists from across the Midwest.

Members of the public will have the opportunity to create their own iron casting with sand molds. While this opportunity will be available July 23, a workshop will also be held July 17 is being held in Westside Park.

Complete purchasing and registration information can be found at www.midwestfirefest.com.

In addition to demonstrations, Midwest Fire Fest will feature 20 different booths of art, representing metal, pottery and glass.

Additional vendors will offer TinType photographs, and the Avid Gardener will have a booth that will offer pudgy pie makers and recipe books and timber totes.

The Friends of the Cambridge Community Library will offer campfire songs and s’mores for kids, and children can also make beeswax rolled candles with the Cambridge Chamber of Commerce.

Visitors will also have the opportunity to glaze their own tiles at Rowe Pottery Works and watch artists in wood burning and glass bead making at the shops of 214 W. Main Street.

“If there’s some type of art that involves fire, it’s going to be there,” said Struss.

Midwest Fire Fest will also offer a surprise for visitors, which will be found in the CamRock parking lot during the event.

The Cambridge Arts Council is also working on a public art piece with shovels, hoping to create a giant pinecone. Anyone who would like to donate shovels can drop them off at Avid Gardener, located at 214 W. Main Street.

Eat and be entertained

Midwest Fire Fest’s Fire Feast will be held July 23 from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. The feast will include a catered dinner by Underground Catering, paired with wines from the Cambridge Winery.

Diners will get to take their plates, created by a Clay Collective member, home with them at the end of the feast.

Tickets for the Fire Feast are $75 each, and still available but are selling fast. A complete menu and the link to buy tickets are at www.midwestfirefest.com.

In addition to the feast, food will be offered throughout the weekend. On July 23, the Cambridge Lions Club will grill burger and brats and on July 24, the Cambridge Fire Department will hold a pig roast.

Flying Cow Pizza will have a wood-fired pizza on the premises both days.

The Cambridge Music Boosters will sell non-alcoholic drinks, and alcoholic drinks will be available at the event.

In addition to art and good eats, Midwest Fire Fest will offer music and dancing for visitors. Performers will include: DJ Fireman, Dave Landau, Sara Pace and the Rustic Road band, Alan Amundsen, Benny Koehler, Pyro and Penumbra, Girls are Go, Hirt Alpert, Something to Do, Tom Cooper, Michael BB Jazz Trip and The Gomers.

All in all, 20 artists, 11 bands and six demos will keep guests entertained throughout Midwest Fire Fest.

Struss shared that the event will be great for families, as it provides a little something for everyone.

“People are excited that our community is working together again,” she said.

Parking for the event will be in the three Cambridge school parking lots. Rickshaw bike shuttles will be available.

Fire Fest memorabilia will also be for sale, with steins designed by the Clay Collective members – Bruce Johnson, Ed and Laura Klein, Rick Hintze, Ric Lamore, Michael Schael, Glen Cutcher, Mary Pratt and Skudlarek. T-shirts will also be available.

For more information about Midwest Fire Fest, please visit www.midwestfirefest.com.

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