A stretch of bad news had Ms. Monkey down in the dumps about 12 years ago, and she decided Tacoma needed some cheer.
The ever-anonymous character conspired with a band of helpers to start The Monkeyshine Project, a citywide scavenger hunt for beautiful glass floats, called monkey balls.
It was supposed to be a Christmastime tradition, but the group wasn’t able to hide the floats in time that first year, and the next holiday on the calendar happened to be the Lunar New Year.
It seemed fortuitous, given that they’d stamped that year’s floats with a monkey, during what was the Year of the Monkey on the zodiac calendar.
Keeping with tradition, the Monkeyshine crew hides the balls close to the Lunar New Year annually, which is Thursday.
Like the identity of the founder, when the monkey balls are hidden is top secret.
The collaborators made a pact that they would see the project through a 12-year cycle of the zodiac. That comes to a close this year, without plans for another 12 years.
On what is expected to be the last year for the project, Ms. Monkey spoke with The News Tribune — on the condition of anonymity.
Q: Why do you call yourself Ms. Monkey?
A: It sounds much more grown up than Miss Monkey, don’t you agree?
Q: Is this the last year for The Monkeyshine Project, and if so, why?
A: It depends. It’s a big undertaking. It’s an incredibly expensive undertaking. The Tacoma Arts Commission gave a very generous donation to the project. If I had to put a cash value (on what monkeyshines costs to put on), it’s easily $15,000.
Q: How many of these things do you hide?
A: The first year was 200, last year was about 1,000, and this year we’ll have a lot of surprises, including about 2,000 glass items.
Q: Why did you start this?
A: There was all kinds of horrific news being reported. I was getting as blue as can be. It was never something I intended to do. It was a self-serving project to bring joy.
People have started adding to it with their own little gifts. It’s really becoming this community-making event that just organically occurred. We all have the ability to positively impact each other, and I think sometimes we forget about that. It’s really not a high-level concept.
I put out a big huge call to all the artists I knew to see if anyone wanted to help. I think 40 people showed up. All of the glass shops in Tacoma are included in The Monkeyshine Project.
Q: Why is the project called Monkeyshine?
A: Merriam-Webster defines monkeyshines as a mischievous or playful activity, a prank. The original balls were stamped with a monkey head, because that was the stamp we had, and serendipitously it the was the Year of the Monkey.
Q: Why do you stay anonymous?
A: We’re putting glass out in public spaces. We didn’t want it to come back to haunt us if anyone got hurt. (Editor’s note: No one has, to Ms. Monkey’s knowledge). We also liked the idea of it being a big secret. People write to me like I’m Santa Claus, and I love that.
Q: When should people start looking this year?
A: We keep it random. We have had issues with being followed. That becomes problematic. It’s not about a hunt. The word gets out that it’s happening.
Monkeyshine is around Chinese New Year, which is about the most dreary and dismal time in the Northwest. It’s nice to have something to look forward to. It’s just a little bit of sunshine.
Q: Where should people look for monkey balls?
A: Anywhere in Tacoma, everywhere in Tacoma. All over the city. In public places. In places everyone can get to. They may be in places where you’d be looking down, or to the side. Up where people might be looking while daydreaming. We love making people go into the water for them.
One year a young man hopped a train and put it there. I know there are some from the very first year that are still out there.
Q: What other gifts, besides monkeyshines, have people hid before?
A: Marbleman is a marble collector. I believe he was a monkeyshine hunter, and he started leaving marbles for people to find while they were hunting for monkeyshines. There’s a group that’s called the 12th Girls, I think, and they hide glass stones with 12 on them. In the Year of the Horse, someone left My Little Ponies around. I have no idea who that is.
Q: What animal will be stamped on the monkeyshines this year?
A: They have whatever the animal of the year is. This year is a ram, or a goat, or a sheep. Take your pick.
Q: What are the rules?
A: It’s not an Easter egg hunt. The gift of the monkeyshine is to take the time to look around your surroundings and say hello to strangers, make new friends and explore your city on foot.
If you find one, great, but it’s not about getting one. The rule is only take one thing. If you want to see people fired up, post on Facebook that you got three or four monkeyshines.
Q: Are you sure this is the last year?
A: I would love to see Tacoma embrace it as their uplifting, unsanctioned community event. If they want it to continue, I guess they have to somehow interact personally, and be able to support the event.
Write the Tacoma Arts Commission, and write Ms. Monkey. Figure out what they can do. I don’t know that this could happen in any other city.