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.
In addition to having a unique opportunity to have an original piece of local art for your very own, searching for monkeyshines is also a great way for people to get out and explore their city, maybe discovering parks or landmarks they’ve never seen before and also, and perhaps most importantly, connecting with other people. If you’re out hunting for Monkeyshines, it’s very common to strike up a conversation with a fellow hunter, conversing over the cold, showing off your found treasure, or maybe sharing in some disappointment of not having found a piece quite yet.
The fun part about this and what makes it a little mischievous, is that you never know if the person you’re talking to is hiding Monkeyshines or just looking.
There aren’t just glass orbs and medallions to find either, there is a whole community of other monkeys out there - rogue artists and makers in Tacoma who are also creating items to hide as well. There are t-shirts, hand painted rocks and wood rounds, mugs, embroidery decor, resin cast in molds, laser etched medallions, ornaments, jewelry, magnets, and many, many more items. You never know what you’ll find while out exploring!
Some insider tips: If you’re wondering how the community is staying so well connected to hunt and share, it’s Twitter. If you want to know what’s happening when and where, that is the place to be. Just search the hashtag #monkeyshines2019. Some people post on Instagram too, but all the chatter and connecting happens on Twitter.
Dress for the weather. Trust me, you don’t want to get outside and suddenly be freezing, it won’t make for a fun experience. Sturdy shoes are a must, boots if you don’t want to get wet up to your knees - orbs and medallions have been known to be hidden in fountains. Warm layers, a hat, rain coat, scarf and gloves will save you from the chilly temps. You’ll also want a headlamp, flashlight or both, especially when hunting at night. Most items getting hidden after midnight when this first kicks off and people will stay up into the wee hours of the morning hunting.
Bring a trash bag - it’s a great way to help clean up the city while you’re out hunting.
If you want to know more about Monkeyshines, We Art Tacoma just released this podcast Behind the Scenes with Monkeyshines, where you can get to know more of the history.
And follow Monkeyshines Tacoma on Facebook see the art.
There are a few local events happening too if you want to immerse yourself into the Chinese culture and fun.
- 21st Annual New Year Celebration with the Asia Pacific Cultural Center at the Tacoma Dome February 9th.
- Lunar New Year in the Lincoln District February 10th.
- Tet New Year: a Celebration of Spring at the University of Puget Sound February 16th.
Have fun, happy hunting and enjoy the Chinese New Year Celebrations!
Thank you to Halley Knigge for showing us a glass orb she was hiding today and to Anne Jones and John Murphy for sharing their Medallion finds today!