In the summer of 1990, Artsplosure’s Board of Directors committed to creating a special community New Year’s Eve celebration in downtown. First Night Raleigh was born, under the direction of Ann Smith, joining other cities worldwide in a joyful, family-oriented, alcohol-free New Year’s Eve celebration of the arts. Admission buttons, worn proudly by participants, make First Night Raleigh the most accessible, inexpensive and safest way to celebrate the New Year. Attendance was estimated for First Night Raleigh ’92 at 15,000-20,000 on December 31, 1991.
This amazing public response paved the way for plans to produce a bigger, more spectacular First Night Raleigh in years to come. The event has grown to be the largest New Year’s Eve event held in eastern North Carolina. Recent First Night celebrations have exceeded all expectations with attendance regularly over 40,000 people. The city’s Millennium Celebration (R2K) culminated with First Night Raleigh 2000, and attracted 75,000 people from all over the state.
In the years following R2K, First Night Raleigh has continued to thrive as an arts festival devoted to the Four Pillars of First Night: Celebration, Community, The New Year, and The Arts. First Night Raleigh has evolved with the changing environment of a revitalized and vibrant Downtown. It continues to use the city as a stage, presenting artists and performers in plazas, churches, museums, theatres, bank lobbies and street corners throughout two dozen blocks of Downtown Raleigh. First Night Raleigh 2012 saw a record-setting 80,000 revellers celebrate the dawn of the New Year in downtown Raleigh.
First Night came into existence in Boston in 1976 at the end of the country’s Bicentennial Celebration, to bring the neighboring communities of the city together in a joint celebration, while providing the public with an alternative way of ushering in the New Year. Since 1980, the concept has inspired many communities to start their own First Night celebrations in the United States. Currently First Night is celebrated in about 75 cities across the country.
Current First Night cities across the United States are able to offer mutual support and gain insight through the efforts of First Night USA — The National Association of Community-based New Year’s Arts Festivals.