Redmoon: A Hub for Collaborative Civic Art

The Innovation Lab for the Performing Arts allowed Redmoon to develop a collaborative system that strengthens relationships with community partners.

Collaborators and friends celebrate at Redmoon's Pilsen space during a culminating event for its recent Summer Park series. Image: Al Zayed.
Collaborators and friends celebrate at Redmoon’s Pilsen space during a culminating event for its recent Summer Park series. Image: Al Zayed.

This is the third post about Redmoon’s experience in the Innovation Lab for the Performing Arts. We asked Rebecca Rugg to share an update about the prototype project that Redmoon pursued through the Lab. Read more from other Lab participants here.

Committing to creating a structure for collaboration

Redmoon is committed to activating and empowering Chicago’s communities through art and performance in public space. At the core of this work is collaboration; Redmoon works with diverse groups of artists, interns, engineers, makers, students, community-based organizations, city officials, and community members – of all skill levels, ages, races, backgrounds – to create large-scale public spectacles that invite people to celebrate their community, and recognize the possibility for change.

In Redmoon’s first blog post about our Innovation Lab for the Performing Arts project, we wrote that through the Lab, we hoped to create a structure for this collaboration. In the past, our process of forging relationships has been based on our small core staff’s intuitive ability to work fluidly with partners of all organizational sizes, missions, and backgrounds.

The Innovation Lab allowed us to consider how to turn this intuitive process into a codified system – one that would allow us to scale up our work to reach new partners in new communities, and feed these relationships into a new collaborative platform that we call the Center for Civic Art and Design.

Realizing our vision: The Center for Civic Art and Design

Our vision for the Center for Civic Art and Design is that it will foster unique collaborative projects designed to activate public spaces with design and performance. The idea is that through the Center, Redmoon’s artistic mission will give way to our partners’ social missions.

This includes our upcoming Great Chicago Fire Festival – a massive, citywide event presented in partnership with the City of Chicago. In the inaugural year of the festival, we’re partnering with 15 community-based organizations in 15 Chicago neighborhoods to create a new signature event that celebrates Chicago’s unique history and future. It’s an ambitious project that expands Redmoon’s work to a new, citywide scale.

Listening to partners while planning our prototype

I joined Redmoon in July, but the team invited me to travel to the Lab’s Intensive Retreat in June as a way to dive headfirst into my new role as the Director for the Center for Civic Art and Design. There was no better introduction to that role, and it was incredible to sit at a table with so many of our core partners and hear their thoughts on how Redmoon’s style of collaboration works within their organization.

Our partners – from the Chicago Park District, to CureViolence (formerly known as Ceasefire), to Family Focus, a social service agency – thoughtfully contributed to the conversation about how we can continue to reach their communities with events like the Great Chicago Fire Festival, and helped us generate some great ideas for our prototype.

Our early conversations about our prototype were about creating a Spectacle machine – an interactive, massive, amazing contraption that we could take to communities to get people interested in and excited about Redmoon. But by the end of the week, after listening to our partners, we realized that we would need something entirely different in order to truly prototype this new idea and achieve what we set out to do in the Lab.

Creating a spectacular machine would be Redmoon doing what it already knows; what we needed from our prototype was a new way to approach how we forge partnerships so that we can continue to scale up our work. It then became a question of how we could create a system for collaboration that could be reflected upon, refined, and, ultimately, shared with others – so that we are equipped to begin working on a citywide scale.

A new tool to help build relationships

Our team decided that the prototype should become a communication packet – a set of tools that we can use when going to meet with new partners – that included pre-defined criteria to guide us through every time we sit down at the table with a new organization. In this way, we hoped to create a system for what once used to be an undefinable heirloom of the organization’s experience-based expertise.

To create this prototype and tool, we worked with a number of designers and thinkers to create an attractive, simple, and fluid packet. Our finalized version provides an introduction to Redmoon – our mission, our history, our origin story as told by Executive Artistic Director Jim Lasko – and an outline of collaboration: a six step process that walks through the steps of a partnership, from deciding on a goal, to the day of the event, to determining the next steps for our collaborative work.

External collaboration impacts internal organizational change

Bringing this structure to our external collaboration also inspired us to reflect inward – onto how Redmoon as an organization can better support internal growth and innovation. We held discussions about our internal culture: how Redmoon’s existing staffing structure can work to support the Center for Civic Art and Design and The Great Chicago Fire Festival; how Redmoon’s day-to-day operations inhibit and catalyze change within the organization; and how we can apply some of the same ideas about systemization internally, by creating work plans and organizational models that help us direct our resources to these new projects.

As we move forward, and gear up for the inaugural Great Chicago Fire Festival, we look forward to drawing on our experience through the Innovation Lab. The systems and structure that we created through the Lab, as well as the incredible insight we gained from our Innovation Team and our Process Facilitator Annie Marks, has motivated us for the exciting work we have ahead of us with the festival, and the Center for Civic Art and Design’s launch in late 2014.

Rebecca Rugg is a producer, dramaturg and teacher. She is Producer of the inaugural Great Chicago Fire Festival at Redmoon in Chicago. Before joining Redmoon, she worked as Artistic Producer at Steppenwolf Theater Company, and served on the artistic staff at the Joseph Papp Public Theater / New York Shakespeare Festival under George C. Wolfe, as Dramaturg and Director of New Projects, focusing on musical theater development. She produced the University network of the 365 Festival, a festival based on 365 Days/365 Plays, a year-long play cycle written by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Suzan-Lori Parks. Rebecca teaches in the Department of Dramaturgy and Dramatic Criticism at the Yale School of Drama.