Twelve years ago, some Tacoma artists decided to make glass balls, stamp them with a monkey design and hide them around town on Asian New Year for fun. Now, one 12-year lunar cycle later, Monkeyshines has grown from 200 to more than 1,000 pieces of artwork, involving multiple art groups and around 40 people to hide the objects for lucky folks to find.
It’s a lot of work, but the tradition has inspired so much joy that the anonymous organizers have decided to keep it going. This coming year — just like the first — will be the Year of the Monkey, on Feb. 8.
“We were saying last year was the final year,” said Ms. Monkey, a local glass artist who has organized Monkeyshines since the beginning, and requests anonymity to keep the whole enterprise a secret. “It was such a huge commitment.”
But this fall people started writing to the Ms. Monkey email address, telling their stories of finding friends or making memories while hunting for the glass orbs and medallions emblazoned with the animal of the current Asian year.
“There were so many poignant stories, and this is such a bleak time of year in the Northwest — people really look forward to it,” said Ms. Monkey.
She’d also heard that other groups who had joined the event over the years, such as Marbleman, a group of ceramicists, and Grant Elementary students, were planning on doing Monkeyshines anyway.
So she made the decision to keep Monkeyshines alive.
My goal over the next 12 years is to see 10,000 pieces of art go out, and to work on this project year-round.
Ms. Monkey, anonymous Tacoma glass artist
This year, however, all the funding is private. With the decision coming too late to apply for City of Tacoma grants, Monkeyshines will be supported by anyone who wants to make a Paypal donation or buy a glass candle cup stamped with the original monkey design.
While much of the anonymous glassblowing labor is given for free, donations are needed to buy materials and offer small stipends to the most hardworking of the artists. This year, Ms. Monkey says she’s hoping to get more than 1,000 art pieces hidden around the city, including at least 700 glass items stamped with this year’s monkey design. How many objects go out depends on the donation revenue.
“My goal over the next 12 years is to see 10,000 pieces of art go out, and to work on this project year-round,” she says.
But Monkeyshines is bigger than that.
“My other goal is to have the whole community think about what they can do to take part, to uplift the community,” Ms. Monkey says. “It can be as simple as rolling up your neighbor’s garbage or being extra kind. We want to make Tacoma a small town again. One common thread that I hear is community — people talk to each other again because of Monkeyshines.”
Ms. Monkey knows this for a fact, because last year she went undercover in Wright Park the day after the glass balls were hidden, and pretended to “find” one. A woman came up to her and enthusiastically told her the whole Monkeyshines story, giving hugs and smiles and finally saying ‘I wish I could meet Ms. Monkey — I’d like to tell her thank you!’
“That was super exciting,” said Ms. Monkey. “That’s why we’re moving forward again. It’s so much fun.”
How to Monkeyshine
Hunt: Get out around Tacoma’s streets a few days before or after Asian New Year (Feb. 8). Glass balls, medallions and other items are hidden on publicly accessible land. Early morning is the best time to look.
Information: Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.