art // Monkeyshines : 2012

One of the things we love about Tacoma—at any event or festival, you’re as likely to run into a booth flaunting hot-off-the-hot-shop hand-blown glass than you are to find fresh bread or the more predictable artisan fare. Glass is cultural currency here, be it glittering from display cases, dripping from ceilings in serpentine installations or tucked under the welcome mat of a local bar.

Enter one of Tacoma’s most incredible yearly phenomenons—the clandestine Monkeyshines festival. Aligned with Chinese New Year and awash in moonlight and mystery, this populist hunt takes art to the people, tucking limited-edition glass baubles into the city’s most obscure nooks and crannies. It seems to be an egg hunt with streed cred.

Well, it’s our first Chinese New Year in Tacoma and tragically, we weren’t able to join in the hunt. Instead, we managed to find and document the spoils of someone who did uncover a medallion, when they weren’t even looking. You find the best stuff that way.

Here’s a press release from the mysterious and anonymous Monkeyshiners:

Tacoma, WA, January 23 – For the ninth year in a row, Monkeyshines, Tacoma’s anonymous glass art project, has hidden hand-blown glass balls throughout the streets and neighborhoods of Tacoma in celebration of the Chinese New Year. Now it’s up to treasure hunters to go find them.

Monkeyshines first became a news item in 2003, when they gave away more than 200 glass balls in honor of the Chinese Year of the Monkey. Since then, they’ve hidden literally thousands of pieces of glass art each Chinese New Year. In 2010, more than 500 glass balls and glass medallions were hidden to celebrate the Year of the Tiger. And last year, the same happened for the Year of the Rabbit.

In honor of the current Year of the Dragon, this year’s balls and medallions are stamped with a dragon’s image. The pieces were created by a team of local artists, including students from the Hilltop Artists in Residence glassblowing program. The artworks were hidden throughout the city late last night by a group of bleary-eyed but enthusiastic volunteers. “It’s become part of the fabric of Tacoma,” said one participant. “It feels like its become a bigger deal each year.”

“Celebrating the Year of the Dragon with glass art is a natural,” said Miss Monkey, the project’s official, unidentified spokesperson. “Dragons are all about fire, energy and beauty. And glass floats are beautiful in a way that is so true to a waterfront community like Tacoma. They are the ultimate beachcomber’s treasure. Everyone should own at least one.”

While a few of the glass floats may actually show up on local beaches, don’t assume they’ll all be there. The artists and participants who hide the pieces try to vary the locations to keep the chance of finding one a true surprise. On previous years, the glass artworks were spotted in the branches of trees, throughout downtown, and in clever spots in many Tacoma neighborhoods. The works are meant to be gifts for whoever finds them.

In conjunction with the glass art, local poster artists Beautiful Angle created a dragon-themed poster, which will also be distributed throughout downtown Tacoma.

Monkeyshines representatives want to be clear that the glass gifts are meant to be found, taken home, and shared with friends. “This is an art project that is of, by, and for our community,” said one of the lead participants, “but please take only one. Let others have some fun, too.”

Monkeyshines is not an organization. It is a slightly-crazed art project that may or may not occur again. Keep looking in the low-growing branches of trees for more information.

Comments are closed.