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Civic leader Emily Guthrie says she would like First Night, an alcohol-free, arts-centered New Year’s Eve celebration, return to Evanston.
“It was so great and so much fun,” said Ms. Guthrie. “I think people enjoyed it so much, and it is something that this town would do, so I am very sorry to see it gone.” Evanston’s last First Night celebration was in 2008.
Financial difficulties and a dwindling volunteer base were two of the main reasons cited for discontinuing the celebration. The unpredictability of the weather on any given New Year’s Eve may have also played a part, said Ms. Guthrie.
Ms. Guthrie said she has talked to former mayors Lorraine Morton, Joan Barr, Jay Lytle and current mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl about a potential comeback for the First Night festival.
Ms. Morton told the RoundTable she remembers the event from her tenure as mayor and is in support of its returning to Evanston.
“I certainly support First Night, and I strongly support its being regenerated,” said Ms. Barr. “It was a wonderful affair for the City.”
“First Night was a wonderful way to celebrate the New Year,” Mayor Tisdahl told the RoundTable.
If First Night returns this year, Ms. Guthrie said, it will be on a modest scale, headquartered at Raymond Park (1489 Chicago Ave.) with venues in the nearby churches and other institutions.
With a smaller celebration and nearby venues, there will be no need of buses to transport First Night guests from venue to venue. The buses, said Ms. Guthrie, were “hugely expensive” and not always popular because of the wait involved, particularly in cold weather.
An exploratory meeting is planned for 7 p.m. on March 28 at the Morton Civic Center. Ms. Guthrie says she hopes the meeting will attract First Night veterans who understood the festival’s successes as well as its shortcomings. She says she hopes those who come will brainstorm about the merits of bringing the festival back to Evanston.
“I am looking for people who were involved with First Night before to not necessarily commit, but share what it was that worked,” said Ms. Guthrie. “I don’t care why it failed. I want to talk about starting over … Start small, and that will keep the budget small and the number of volunteers needed small,” she added.
Even if only three locations are used this year, Ms. Guthrie said, she would be content. “It’s March and we have six months to see if we can do what we need to do,” said Ms. Guthrie. “I’m a big believer in deadlines, goals and projects, and you collapse the day after.”
Ms. Guthrie said she hopes to enlist local artists and community arts and cultural programs for the First Night performances and activities. Former Evanston resident and cartoonist and actor Ron Crawford has been one of Ms. Guthrie’s first contacts for the potential come back event.
“I’m not looking for money, but I am looking for support,” Ms. Guthrie said. “My experience with Evanston has been that people get behind anything that is good. The money will come. I just know it will, because people stand up for things that are really worthwhile. This is something that feels so much like Evanston.”
Anyone interested in the return of First Night is invited to attend the March 28 meeting.