First Night ® Burlington County 2011
Lunar Calendar Sculptures History
On 31 December, our County seat will host its twelfth annual First Night Burlington County (FNBC). Once again, hundreds of families & friends, kids & adults, residents & visitors will be coming into our historic downtown for a fun, safe, affordable New Year’s Eve celebration. Every year, FNBC features a variety of performing & visual arts, ice carving, fireworks, processions, and more. Folks buy an Entry Button for $10 (5 for $25), and wander among the venues, housed in and among Mount Holly’s beautiful public buildings.
The “First Night” concept was created by a group of civic-minded artists in Boston in 1976 as a meaningful alternative to traditional New Year's Eve revelry. The idea was to bring the community together through a shared celebration, reviving the ancient traditions of marking the passage of time in a present day context. These founding artists felt that New Year's Eve is a time for renewal and new beginnings. It is an opportunity for a community to look ahead collectively with hope and optimism and appreciate our common bonds. The name "First Night" symbolizes this look forward rather than the technically correct words, "Last Night."
The idea spread out across the USA from Boston, and by 1999 three towns in Burlington County held similar community New Year’s Eve events. Only Mount Holly has been able to maintain the tradition. While the other towns are more affluent, they do not have the core of public & private support (nor the passionate volunteers) that is making downtown revitalization a success here in our County seat.
Part of the FNBC concept is not only to present a diverse, high quality program of visual & performing arts, but also to engage the built environment as part of the festivities. Thus, residents and visitors get to experience in a new way our County seat, furthering its revitalization.
For the second year of our event, we not only introduced the annual carving of an Ice Sculpture, but sculptor Isaac Witkin curated a three-dimensional arts exhibit inside the Historic Prison (before it was turned into a Museum) that included numerous sculptures, including a Seward Johnson figure named “Time’s Up” in the front yard. The outside piece was so successful, that for the next two events, bronze & stone art from Grounds for Sculpture lined High Street.
In 2003, local artist (and FNBC Visual Arts Czar) Lynn Lemyre suggested doing a “Cows on Parade” exhibit in Mount Holly. The idea of getting local artists to decorate fiberglass animals and display them around town began with an exhibit in Zurich during the summer of 1998, moved to Chicago in 1999, and went to New York in the summer of 2000. After that, dozens of towns produced similar exhibits: pink flamingos in Miami Beach, mustangs in Santa Fe, bears in Berlin, donkeys & elephants in DC.
But what animal would best represent Mount Holly? After much deliberation, FNBC decided our town would host the only exhibit in the world that is time-specific rather than place-specific. We introduced a sculpture show tied to the lunar calendar. The upcoming year? Year of the Monkey!
A prospectus was issued to the arts community, and twelve designs were selected for execution. The primed resin monkey sculptures were ordered from Rock Art Studios in Chicago, and distributed to each Artist. The buzz started in November with a billboard on the Route 541 By-Pass that shouted, “Monkeys Invade Mount Holly!”
Within days, the artist-decorated Monkeys were placed in various outdoor locations around the downtown. That’s when things started getting interesting. Historic Mount Holly Monkey by Irvane Spraklin was missing within hours of the exhibit being installed. A week later, two more were stolen, and one vandalized. This resulted in news coverage by local TV stations, and a half-page article in the New York Times. (Curiously, the next year during the Moorestown “Nipper” exhibit one of their sculptures also went “missing” for a couple days. Unfortunately they didn’t get the same publicity we did.) “We realized they couldn’t survive in the wild,” said Lynn Lemyre. Downtown storefronts become their new “Monkey Habitats”.
Since then, artist-decorated Roosters, Dogs, Pigs, Rats, and Oxen have graced our downtown storefronts. FNBC is the only such New Year’s event in the world that features the animals of the lunar calendar. This 31 December, we’ll be hopping into 2011, the Year of the Rabbit, with The World’s Largest New Year’s Eve Bunny Hop and Decorate-a-Bunny figurines, along with all our usual visual arts, music, street performers, and fireworks.
New Year's Eve is a time for renewal and new beginnings. Now, more than ever, folks need a family-friendly way to usher in the coming year with hope and enthusiasm. We invite you to join us for this year’s celebration.
OTHER PUBLIC ART IN MOUNT HOLLY
Mural - The Great Mount Holly Fair - Mill St. near Pine
Mural - Quaker John Woolman - 49 Mill St.
Mural - The Smithville Bicycle Railway - Cor. of Madison and Washington
In 2005, The Burlington County Office of Cultural Affairs and Tourism, in collaboration with New Jersey Transit, conducted a public art project called "The Eagles Have Landed," which consisted of the creation of 15 sculptured majestic eagles. Click here for the Illustrated Booklet describing each of these eagles.