All about Monkeyshines in Tacoma - the history and where to find one.
Today is the start of Lunar New Year - a Chinese festival that celebrates the beginning of a new year on the traditional Chinese calendar. Celebrations can be as small as a family meal or as big as lion and dragon dances, fireworks, decorating the home with large family and friend gatherings in the spirit of spreading good fortune, happiness, wealth and longevity. This year, following the Chinese zodiac calendar, is the year of the boar or pig.
In Tacoma, we have our own tradition that goes back 24 years: Monkeyshines. What is a Monkeyshine? Well colloquially it’s a mischievous or playful activity, but in our community everyone knows it to be glass orbs or medallions with the Chinese zodiac animal stamped onto it hidden in parks, trails, beaches, and various other public spaces.
In the Pacific Northwest, the winter months can often bring a time of sadness for many as we don’t see the sun a whole lot, although we’ve gotten pretty lucky this year with some favorable weather days. The Monkeyshines over the years have brought joy to thousands during the rainy, cold season.
During the early days of monkeyshines these hand blown glass pieces were originally created by Ms. Monkey, and anonymous glass artist. Ms. Monkey knew of someone in the arts community who had a monkey stamp that just happened to coordinate with that year’s zodiac symbol. These orbs and medallions were hidden throughout parts of Tacoma for people in the community to find and a tradition was born that continued for 2 years on a much smaller scale than it is today. Over the years, many other artists and the Tacoma Arts Commission have since helped contribute to creating new pieces each year, increasing from around 200 orbs and medallions in the early years to around 2,000 individual pieces currently. In the days leading up to and around the Lunar New Year, over a hundred people in the Tacoma arts community help to hide these beautiful pieces of art throughout the city.