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First Night is a North American artistic and cultural celebration on New Year's Eve, taking place from afternoon until midnight. Some cities have all their events during the celebration outside, but some cities have events that are hosted indoors by organizations in the city, such as churches and theaters. Since it happens on New Year's Eve, First Night celebrations are actually held on the last night of the old year. First Night celebrates a community's local culture, often featuring music, dance, comedy, art, fireworks and, in some cities, ice sculptures and parades.
The first First Night was in Boston on December 31, 1975. It was organized by a small group of artists who sought an alternative way of celebrating New Year's Eve, where Boston’s young, innovative artists and musicians could perform on both indoor and outdoor stages. They also wanted to avoid the emphasis on alcohol that is common at New Year's Eve parties. Soon other surrounding communities started their own First Night celebrations. By the 1990s, the First Night Boston event was attracting works by over a thousand artists. In 2006, more than a million visitors attended First Night events, including free outdoor ice sculptures on Boston Common and in Copley Square, and waterfront fireworks.
Live coverage of the final part of Boston's First Night, including the countdown to midnight and fireworks over Boston Harbor that begin at the stroke of midnight, is broadcast by WBZ-TV. CBS, the station's parent company, is an official sponsor.
In addition to the New Year's festival, First Night is deeply involved in Boston's art and culture communities via the Neighborhood Network. Started in 1994, the Neighborhood Network partners First Night with 25 community organizations throughout Boston's neighborhoods- including Dorchester, Mattapan, Jamaica Plain and South Boston- to engage young people and families in creative workshops with artists and educators. In 2000 First Night launched Summer Beat, a series of summer camp like dance and music workshops spread around the city of Boston.
In 2013, the non-profit First Night Boston organization closed for financial reasons, though Mayor Menino of Boston (in office for only another year) pledged to find private or public funding the January 2014 celebration.On November 11, 2013, Mayor Menino announced he had acquired the necessary funding and that the 2013 First Night would be a “a bigger, brighter display than ever before.”
There are about 45 cities with First Night celebrations happening on New Year's Eve 2013/2014.
First Night USA is the national off-shoot of the original Boston organization. It works with the numerous First Night licensed events throughout the United States.
Other celebrations on New Year's Eve, not labeled "First Night", have also sprung up. For example, in 2003, First Night Providence announced they planned to cancel future celebrations, which had been going on for 19 years. A group of local artists created Bright Night Providence, an artist-run New Year's Eve celebration based on the idea and spirit of First Night.