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This Dec. 31, Missoula will hold its New Year’s Eve community celebration of the arts for the 25th consecutive year. Beginning at noon and continuing until midnight, roughly 70 arts events and activities will take place at 25 venues throughout the downtown, on the University of Montana campus, at Southgate Mall and at other locations throughout Missoula. A $10 admission button (free for children 10 and under) is all you need for an entire day and evening of arts and entertainment.

The initial First Night Missoula took place on Dec. 31, 1994. On that date, Bill Clinton was in his first term as president, Dave Dickinson had yet to win a national championship with the Griz (he would the following year), and dial-up internet was the only way to access the world wide web. Many of the original performance venues are no longer here: Mammyth Bakery, Second Thought Coffeehouse, the Front Street Theatre, the old St. Joseph School auditorium. Of the businesses serving as admission button outlets that year, only Rockin’ Rudy’s is still at it.

What began as a downtown-only event expanded within a few years to include the University Center, the Dennison Theatre and Southgate Mall. At midnight on the millennium, thousands filled the newly renovated Adams Center, as the Ed Norton Big Band and the Drum Brothers (both still with us!) helped us all reach the year 2000.

Though never quite as large as that millennium year, First Night Missoula has continued its run as other First Night communities have dropped out. What used to be more than 200 First Night cities in the U.S. and Canada now numbers about 30. Great Falls, Kalispell and Spokane, all inspired by Missoula’s example, held their own First Night celebrations for many years, but no longer.

There have been some big changes to Missoula’s cultural landscape as well, specifically the growth of the entertainment industry thanks to Logjam Presents, the emergence of brew pubs, wine bars and distilleries, and the building construction that shows little sign of slowing. With all the changes that have occurred both locally and nationally, it is indeed remarkable that Missoula continues to support this method of ringing in the new year.

In recognition of a quarter century, we have “rolled back the price” of an admission button to just $10 ($15 on Dec. 31). First Night Spotlight, the high-school singing contest, no longer requires an extra ticket cost. Beach Transportation will provide free shuttle service between the downtown and the university campus beginning at 6 p.m., and plenty of restaurants will be open that evening, both downtown and at the University Center.

Whether it’s the opening Hat Parade at the mall, the Lady Griz game in the afternoon, the all day and night Kung Fu movie marathon at the Roxy Theater, First Night Spotlight at the Dennison Theatre, the Burning Mini-Van downtown at 9 p.m., or the many new offerings or longtime performers occurring through the day and evening, there’s something there for all of us.

All the information is available at www.artsmissoula.org. Please come celebrate our community this New Year’s Eve as we have done for the past 25 years, by supporting our local artists, this place and each other.

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Tom Bensen is executive director of Arts Missoula. 

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