Tuesday marked the start of the Lunar New Year and the streets will soon be filled with dancing lions and the occasional firecracker.
In Tacoma, the season is known for a different kind of spectacle: people peek behind the bushes, crane their necks to peer into the trees, and, at times, squeal with delight.
It’s Monkeyshine season.
The guerrilla art event is basically a week-long scavenger hunt where the prizes are over 2,000 tanks and colored glass medallions. It’s become a Tacoma tradition – a tradition that echoes Tacoma’s reputation as a glass art center while bringing joy to people after almost two decades.
“We thought we needed it last year,” said organizer Ms Monkey. “We need it even more this year.”
Ms. Monkey, like her fellow artists, is anonymous. They create and hide the orange-sized balls and medallions embossed with a tiger – all over Tacoma without any public acknowledgment or payment.
Monkeyshines is now in its 19th year. Not bad for something that was first organized as a one-off event.
“We had no intention of it being anything other than a one-off thing,” Ms Monkey said.
The event centers around the Lunar New Year which kicked off on Tuesday, February 1. The Chinese zodiac animals engraved on the glass change every year. 2022 is the year of the tiger.
WHERE TO FIND MONKEYSHINES
Monkeyshines are only hidden in public places in the city of Tacoma. A researcher does not need to break into or snoop around people’s courses.
The art is hidden over a period of days – maybe weeks – they won’t say. They won’t even reveal when they’re hidden. But now is the time to start looking.
“There are so many monkeys hiding that we don’t know where any of us are going,” Ms Monkey said.
Parks are a natural place to look, but they’re not the only place they’re hidden. The monkeys will not comment further on the locations.
The event became so popular that people started following the monkeys as they hid the glass art in the wee hours of the night.
It’s bad form and just kinda scary, Ms. Monkey said.
What else is a no-no? Taking more than one a year, she says. And even if you can give them away or hide them, selling them is bad luck.
IS MONKEYSHINES COMING TO AN END?
The event started in 2004 — the Year of the Monkey. 2028, another year of the Monkey, will mark two full 12-year cycles of Chinese zodiac animals.
That’s when it might be time to hang up Monkeyshines, Ms. Monkey said on Saturday. It’s a lot of work and expense.
But, she said that before and then continued.
“I was getting emails, ‘This is the only time I’ve been spending time with my 15-year-old son,'” she said.
Monkey fever filled the group’s Facebook page this week.
“Thank you for sending me to parks I haven’t been to in years, I love the walk, you gave the whole town a great gift, to see our beloved home through the eyes of a child,” a Facebook fan wrote this week.
Monkeyshines is so popular that wannabes plan their lives around it. It even spawned its own fringe Monkeyshines movement – The Rogues. They make and hide their own art in the city. The monkeys approve, Ms. Monkey said.
“We are so excited, my daughter and I have made this a tradition every year for at least 10 years now,” another poster read.
Almost everyone who finds a Monkeyshines seems to have a story – of joy, of reaffirmation, of a resurrection of childlike joy. These moments are what keep her going, Ms. Monkey said.
Even those who have searched but never found are fans.
“My son and I never found anything, but we’ve been participating for years,” a Facebook poster said. “Honestly, it’s a great bonding experience and we love the search! The day we finally find one, it’s going to be very special!”
“The funds we raise support more glass studios, artists, artist grants and other elements for the project,” Ms. Monkey said.
The pandemic and its economic impacts have made it even harder for struggling artists.
“They needed help last year and this year,” she said. “It’s about paying people what they’re worth.”
In addition, Perched artists project support with its own grant-funded projects.
TIPS FOR FINDING A MONKEYSHINES
▪ Look only in public places. They are never hidden on private property.
▪ They come in all colors including clear and camouflage.
▪ There are more medallions than tanks in 2022.
▪ They are only hidden within the city limits of Tacoma.
▪ They can be hidden at a low, medium or high level. “We consider our entire audience,” Ms. Monkeyshines said.
▪ Look again if you don’t get it right the first time. The same location could be used again by a different monkey.