Opening Night provides revelers in OKC with food, fun and arts entertainment 

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It started with a simple desire to throw a huge, citywide New Year’s Eve bash that meshed nicely with Arts Council of Oklahoma City’s mission of bringing the arts to the community. That was in 1987. Almost 30 years later, Opening Night is the place to be to ring in the New Year in Oklahoma City.

Over the years, what started as a small Leadership Oklahoma City project has grown to draw as many as 80,000 people, depending, of course, on the weather. Today, it takes the work of over 400 volunteers to pull it off. That small project started with a trip to Boston, where Arts Council OKC executives and Leadership OKC members checked out First Night, Boston’s nationally known New Year’s Eve celebration.

They liked what they saw but thought they could do it better. They wanted more volunteer and community involvement. They also wanted to see more local businesses engaged in the event. But the seed for Opening Night was planted.

Now executive director of Arts Council OKC, Peter Dolese was a volunteer for that very first Opening Night.

“We decided to do it ourselves. We designed our own concept, which essentially was to create unique artistic scenarios happening in spaces that one would not normally consider a place where art activity would happen, like a bank lobby or an escalator,” he said.

Over time, the venues have changed but the spirit remains the same. This year, the event will have a smaller footprint, a request made by many of last year’s attendees, according to Opening Night 2016 co-chair Kristen Lary. Enjoying the night’s attractions will take less walking, with all of the venues bordering Bicentennial Park, 500 Couch Drive.

Entertaining arts

Performances begin 7 p.m. Dec. 31 and will take place at Oklahoma City Museum of Art (OKCMOA), City Hall, Ronald J. Norick Downtown Library and Civic Center Music Hall. Featured artists include OKC favorites Edgar Cruz, Urban Addiction, Tequila Azul and Allie Lauren. Performers will be at their locations all night long, and attendees won’t have to hop so quickly from stage to stage to catch their favorites.

“Practically every notable performer that has worked in OKC at one point or another has performed with us. We tend to focus more on local performers. We don’t bring in headline acts from out of state to perform at the event,” Dolese said.

A nationally known finger-style guitarist, Cruz will be playing in the Oklahoma City Council chambers on the third floor of City Hall. For many years, he was voted a top local musician in Oklahoma Gazette’s Best of OKC annual reader poll.

“Every year, the audience is great. They’re always very appreciative because they can see multiple acts that night and they choose to come hear me. So, when I have an audience at Opening Night, they’re a dedicated Edgar Cruz fan audience. We respond. The energy circulates with me and them, and it’s a great show,” Cruz said.

Urban Addiction, playing in Meinders Hall of Mirrors in the civic center, covers ’90s hits with its own twists. Tequila Azul will bring its high-energy Latin pop sound to the library while popular pianist and vocalist Allie Lauren mans the lobby of OKCMOA.

In addition to music, Arts Council OKC will be bringing the laughs. OKC Improv will perform in Samuel Roberts Noble Theatre at OKCMOA and Michael King’s One-Man Circus will entertain crowds in the lobby of City Hall.

“One of the things that’s different this year is you won’t have to make a schedule of where you’re going to go,” Lary said. “You won’t have to jump around to different areas to find who you’re looking for. They’re all going to be at these places all night.”

OKCMOA won’t just be home to two performance venues. It’s opening all of its galleries to attendees. A variety of food trucks will be on hand for hungry partygoers as they move from stage to stage.

Meinders Hall of Mirrors will also be home to a children’s area, complete with interactive art projects, human chessboards, face painting and other fun activities. The wishing wall invites kids to write down their wishes for 2016 and place them in chicken wire to create a massive paper sculpture.

“At the end of the night, it’s going to be this really interesting art sculpture. It’s going to be cool to see the progression of it throughout the night,” Lary said.

Opening Night culminates with a free show in Bicentennial Park by OKC’s favorite rhythm and blues band Shortt Dogg, a countdown to midnight and a fireworks display that co-chair Juan Flores says is second to none.

Dolese hopes the changes make this year’s Opening Night even more enjoyable for revelers in OKC.

“This year is more of a traditional performance structure. And we’ll see how it goes. This is an event that we absolutely love. We try hard to make sure that it meets the needs of the community from one year to the next,” Dolese said.

Wristbands are $8-$10 and are available at artscouncilokc.com. Children age 5 and under get in free.

(Cover illustration by Anna Shilling)

(Cover illustration by Anna Shilling)

Print Headline: OKC countdown, Opening Night provides revelers in OKC with food, fun and arts entertainment while they count down to 2016.

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