Residents ring in New Year with First Night celebration

As a kaleidoscope of activities, colors, lights, musical entertainment and performances unfolds during this year’s First Night Monterey, the streets of historic downtown Monterey are reawakened with a festive breath of life, as it is considered by many to be the hallmark of local New Year’s festivities.

Streets will be transformed, as will buildings, theaters, churches and concert halls, until the entire block is bustling with activity, the idyllic, reclusive tranquility of the Monterey Peninsula replaced overnight with a city-like aura, each building a hotspot attracting hundreds of tourists and locals commuting back and forth, eager to experience the night to the fullest.

A procession of diverse cultural performers congregates along the streets of downtown Monterey, displaying an impressive array of intricate costumes and dances, each a unique and flavorful addition to a brilliant celebration of the peninsula’s cultural diversity through the arts.

“It’s far more complex than that,” executive director Ellen Martin explains. “By employing people within the artistic field, we contribute to the cultural economy.”

Opportunities for those interested in the arts can come rarely, as universally backed up with the “starving artist” phenomenon, so efforts such as this one have greatly benefitted aspiring artists in the area, and according to a census from the previous year, around 118 performers and 10 visual artists were employed.

Martin demonstrates great passion in the arts, emphasizing the importance of a strong artistic presence within the community, describing it as an indicator of where the community is in a period of time.

“What we can’t express through words or don’t have an outlet to express how we feel, art can give us that avenue and freedom to depict a range of emotions away from the restrictions of vocabulary,” she asserts, reaching across the table for a peace pole.

In a community outreach workshop last year, FNM connected with youth around the area through a series of artistic projects, one of which included the peace poles which depicted numerous accounts of prevalent social controversies found within society.

“This allows them to open up, to be vulnerable and to also be in the moment.”

Through a diverse lineup of different acts ranging from Chinese lion dancing to traditional African drumming, Martin comments that these performances offer a wonderful way to introduce a firsthand account of multicultural art.

Throughout the night, there will also be many various hands-on activities open to the public, which vary from kids’ finger to hat building—art is creeping around every corner, waiting to be discovered.

“It’s very important for one to feel like they are capable of being creative—far too often do you hear people say ‘art’s not for me’ and quit—because art, is a matter of interpretation,” she says. “There is no limit with art, as mistakes do not hinder the creative process, but enhance it to greater lengths.”

So, whether it be the sounds of rock ’n’ roll oldies or the mellow timbre of the MPC String Orchestra, this year’s lineup will not fail to impress.

More than 20 indoor and free outdoor venues will be spread around downtown Monterey for 10 hours, starting at 3 p.m. Dec. 31. For a full experience, be sure to purchase a button online at firstnightmonterey.org or pick one up at a local retailer. Investing in a discounted family pack or an advanced purchase, which goes on until Dec. 28, can save up to 50 percent. Adult buttons start at $22, youth at $15 and children under 5 are permitted free.

-Grace Liang