• Kelly Malave

A Labor of Love - An Electric Forest Installation

A Labor of Love


Every summer my friends and I find ourselves back in Rothbury, MI. No matter the distance, we all drop what we’re doing and make sure we’re there year after year since 2009. 12 years later and it somehow gets more magical each time. Let me take you back to the beginning...


It all really began in the beginning of 2009, when our close friend, Steve Fanning, passed away saving others from a burning apartment. Tragedy and heroism all rolled up into one, it was a tough feat for all of us to handle, only being 18 years old. That summer, we all brought Steve’s ashes to Rothbury, MI to spread them in Sherwood Forest where the Rothbury music festival, now known as Electric Forest, was taking place. Upon finding a place in their “reincarnation forest”, we had a beautiful ceremony for our fallen friend.


Following 2009, our group would return back to the forest every year to celebrate music and life. Upon trying to find the original tree we spread Steve at, we crossed paths with a member of the festival’s production team who asked what we were looking for. We told him the story of our friend Steve and he was truly touched, telling us to contact him after the festival to speak further. No numbers or contact information exchanges needed – we’d eventually find each other someway, somehow. At the time, we didn’t realize how impactful that chance encounter would be for our future.


Fast forward to 2015. Electric Forest gets sold out immediately and I’m sitting on the couch with a friend brainstorming ANY way we can score tickets. We come across a link on their website to submit an idea for an Electric Forest Art Installation. We immediately think back to honoring Steve’s life, our chance encounter and how much our experience could truly help others.


Almost immediately after hitting send on the installation submission page (okay maybe a few days after), we get an email from a guy named Brad, recalling that we’ve met before, in the forest, and he was so happy to hear from us. Immediate chills, disbelief and excitement warmed over us as we quickly wrote him back, and thus the Luminaria Project was born and put into effect at that year’s festival! A truly serendipitous moment.


What started out as just a canopy tent and a lot of amazon searching for materials has now blossomed into a fully functioning art installation. The concept behind the project is to have a place to go during the festival where you can bring someone who isn’t physically there into the forest. An interactive medium to keep any soul alive and present there. It doesn’t have to be someone whose crossed over – it can be anybody – your dog, your mom, a friend who couldn’t make it for any reason – anything goes.


Prior to the festival beginning, Electric Forest opens up a portal under our installation page where the first 300 people can submit a name and a description of the person they want to bring to the forest. The Luminaria team hand pants and crafts luminaria bags to commemorate the person and we have them there in the forest for people to find. On-site, people can create their own bags and we’re there to assist them and speak to them of our own experiences, losses and why this project manifested in the first place.


Submissions are always filled with heart wrenching stories, and it is truly a beautiful experience to read through these stories ahead of time, create the memory and see someone find their bag in the forest. Our station is filled with laughter, tears, happiness, sadness, but most of all, connectedness. It’s one place you can go to get away from all the madness surrounding you and take a moment to breathe.


Our first year was a huge success with thousands of bags being created on site. I don’t know who was more in shock – our group or the Electric Forest production team! They decided the Luminaria Project was here to stay and wanted to make it more permanent.


Tune in next week to see how our project has grown to what it is today! Spoiler Alert: It has grown more than we ever would've imagined.