Few cities have an event near as cool as Tacoma’s Monkeyshines—a guerilla festival of sorts that garners community participation in a way that no other festival in the area does. Monkeyshines usually coincides with the Lunar New Year and entails a massive, city-wide scavenger hunt for glass globes and medallions hidden throughout Tacoma. There is no real centralized control or event, other than the glass artists who hide the glass, but they are shrouded in secrecy. Anyone can join in and thousands do, and yet many Tacoma residents still don't know about this event...which is part of the fun. It still has a little bit of a clandestine nature to it.
Each year, a secretive team of glassblowers creates hundreds of these globes and medallions, all unique, all handblown by local artists who keep their identities private. The glassblowers don’t sign the pieces and don’t prefer to call any attention to themselves. Each piece is stamped with an image of an animal in honor of the Chinese New Year, including snakes, dragons, rams and other Chinese zodiac symbols. Each year's glass is marked with that year's Chinese zodiac symbol, but it's not impossible that you'll find pieces from past years as well if you really look. It's been known to happen.
If you find a medallion or globe, you can keep it. The only real rule is that if you find more than one, you should not take more than one piece per person. This is to help more people have a chance to get some glass. Monkeyshines is not supposed to be about hoarding glass. It's about community and art and getting outdoors to have some fun.
Along with glass, searchers also tend to find other items along the way courtesy of other renegade participants in the fun. Marble Man is a legend of Monkeyshines, leaving marbles for searchers to find. Random, unnamed guerilla participants have left stickers, smaller pieces of glass, lamp worked glass, shells or other crafts. Sometimes searchers leave other small gifts in the places they’ve found a piece of glass. Check every nook and cranny and you might be surprised what you find. You'll also likely find plenty of painted Tacoma Rocks as those are hidden all over town, all year round.
It's becoming increasingly likely that you'll find something that isn't a medallion or orb as more and more people join in the fun of leaving gifts, but finding anything gets to be pretty thrilling.
If you do find more than one thing, it's also fun to rehide items you find. Or if you want to join in, hide your own items of choice for other searchers to look for.
How can I find a piece of glass?
If you think you can sleep in until 9 a.m., take your time and hit the streets sometime in the late morning, think again! Successful Monkeyshines hunters almost always head out early in the morning. Usually sometime around 5 a.m. or 6 a.m. is a good time to get started. The early bird gets the worm—and the glass! It’s not impossible that you’ll find something later in the day, but your chances (at least from this glass hunter's experience) are higher in the morning. However, sometimes the monkeys (glass hiders) shake things up and put batches of glass out on different mornings or will sneak out during the day. You never really know and the monkeyshiners are always strategizing to keep the search interesting.
It’s also useful to check online before you head out. Searchers like to post pictures of what they’ve found in the comment sections on local blogs, or on social media (check for #monkeyshines). This is a great way to get up-to-date ideas on which parts of town to head out to. If someone found a piece in a location, chances are other pieces are nearby.
If you happen to go out very early and spot one of the Monkeyshiners hiding the glass, don’t cheat! Turn away. Move on.
Where should I look?
The entire point of Monkeyshines is that the glass is hidden. Globes are about six inches in diameter. Medallions fit in the palm of your hand. The pieces aren’t large and easily fit into all kinds of spaces—newspaper bins, plant pots, under trees and bushes, on doorsteps, on windowsills, in tree branches. Look carefully.
The fun is in the search, but because the city is large and searchers can’t possibly scour every inch of the city, glass tends to be hidden around popular spots rather than on neighborhood streets. Some of these include:
- Proctor District
- UW Tacoma
- Downtown – all over
- Theatre District
- Just about all parks around town, but Wright Park and Point Defiance are popular places to look
- Commercial areas in South Tacoma
- Chinese Reconciliation Park
- South Tacoma Way
- People’s Park in Hilltop
Don't Forget It's All For Fun
Every year, it's inevitable that someone grouses online because they searched and didn't find any glass. Remember that the fun is in the search and that you may or may not find any glass, but keep looking and you're almost certain to find other small treasures! And if you don't find anything, enjoy the sense of community. You'll almost always spot other people out looking and sometimes they offer tips about what they've seen or experienced in their search.