Creating a community legacy

Art Gallery of Swift Current Director and Curator Kim Houghtaling stands at the community fire pit at the Firelight Festival, Aug. 16.

A central feature at the Firelight Festival during the 2019 Western Canada Summer Games will become a legacy that can be used at future events in the community.

The Firelight Festival used the summer tradition of gathering around a bonfire as theme for creating this cultural event at Kinetic Exhibition Park.

A large bonfire was located in the centre of the festival area that immediately drew the attention of visitors upon arrival. The large fire pit became a gathering place for people during each of the four nights of the festival, and some of the music and dance entertainment took place by the fireside.

The fire pit is a unique design that was created through a collaborative effort between the Art Gallery of Swift Current and local businesses.

Art Gallery of Swift Current Director and Curator Kim Houghtaling designed this community fire pit. His goal was to reflect the spirit and culture of Swift Current and southwest Saskatchewan.

“I started thinking about the symbolism, because basically this was a cultural festival about Swift Current and southwest culture, and what could the fire pit do to enhance that,” he said.

He decided to use a large tractor wheel rim as the starting point for the fire pit’s design, because in this rural and agricultural area it will not be an uncommon use for an old rim.

“That for us is common, but it’s exotic for others who have not been exposed to tractors or farm industry,” he said. “So the more I explored that idea, the more I realized that there was a lot of symbolism that could be represented in the building of the fire.”

He incorporated various elements in the design of the fire pit to reflect the region’s past and present. There are bulrushes to represent the creek, wheat stalks, an old pickup truck and train, as well as a pumpjack and a wind turbine.

He intentionally designed these elements to be inside the fire pit. They are highlighted by the fire, but they are also helping to create silhouettes.

“I started to think that we could create shadows or silhouettes around the fire or within the fire,” he recalled. “So this idea of the silhouettes within the fire was developed.”

As soon as the design was completed, Houghtaling began talking to local businesses about building the fire pit. Len’s Plumbing and Heating created the custom-built burner. Wheatland Machine Shop was responsible for fabricating the fire pit, and helped to create an even more authentic design by finding an old steam tractor rim.

“Their craftsmanship and creativity were engaged both for the burner and the icons,” he said about the two companies. “It was quite a treat to be able to work on something like that. When we shared it with the fabricators, they got really excited about it, and also creative in their own way. They found very special materials, that wonderful tractor rim, and started designing how they were going to make some of the elements that were going to be build into the fire.”

The process to create this community fire pit became a reflection of the collaboration and cooperation in the community.

“Everybody involved got quite excited about it,” he said. “They felt they were part of something really special, and so it started to really grow. Every time I went to visit the fabrication shop to view progress, it was just a real creative beehive around what we were doing there, and how it was going to turn out. So in the course of building this thing there was a real reflection of how community works, and also these same businesses wanted to sponsor it. They really believed in the product and what it might do, and so there was a lot of excitement around that.”

There was a positive response during the Firelight Festival to this community fire pit, and people reacted to the design and its potential future use.

“I’ve heard nothing but really positive things,” he said. “People are thrilled about it. They think it’s a really cool thing. They think it represents the community in a really special way. It’s an unusual kind of fire pit and fire idea. They enjoy that and they think it’s very creative.”

The intention is to use this fire pit at future events in the community to help create a special atmosphere at gatherings.

“It’s going to be used again and again at any community gathering that would like to use it,” Houghtaling said. “So we can see it being used at the Christmas tree lighting. It’s great as a heat source for everybody to warm up. We could use it at Long Day’s Night [music festival], if they would like. Any kind of public event that would like to use the fire can request it.”

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