Get your Monkeyshine On! Why you’ll love this 18 year old Tacoma Tradition…

Let the hunt begin!

It’s time to get in on the monkeyshine action during this most wonderful time of the year. For all the newbies wondering what exactly monkeyshine is, long story short, it’s a gorilla, er, guerilla art movement that has taken Tacoma by the ankles, turned it upside down and shaken all the gloom out of it. 

The long(ish) story begins in 2004 when an artist, feeling the pull of depression, found an innovative outlet in the form of creating glass pieces and medallions. She wanted to use her art to take others in her community on a journey to find and spread joy and love. When she could not find the magic in Tacoma anymore, she decided to create it. Instead of succumbing to darkness, she chose the shine.

The thing is, even after 18 years, no one knows who she is. 

We know only three things:

  1. She goes by Ms. Monkey 
  2. She started the monkeyshine art movement in Tacoma
  3. She’s a freaking legend

The mystery, covertness and epicness of the monkeyshine hunt has shown the power art has to positively impact a community. 

And people go BANANAS over it! Each year since it began more and more Tacomans have donned their hunting gear and battled less-than-cozy temperatures for the chance to find a monkeyshine. 

So, what IS a monkeyshine?

A monkeyshine can be glass orbs, pottery, medallions or small pieces of art handmade by local artists and hidden around Tacoma. They are stamped with the coinciding animal for the Chinese Lunar New Year. 2021 is the year of the Ox, so monkeyshines this year will be stamped with an Ox. 

Here are examples of monkeyshines from 2020’s Year of the Rat: 

Ok, but how does monkeyshining work?

Think of it like a city-wide treasure hunt. There are three known stages that go into this monkey business. Let’s start with the makers. 

The Makers –

Each year, Ms. Monkey and her band of local artists team up and create thousands of monkeyshines. This year they have confirmed over 2000 completely unique monkeyshines are being made.

The Hiders – 

Next, the monkeyshines are given to a group of volunteers, identities are also withheld, who hide them in various public spaces and parks throughout Tacoma. The catch is, they never reveal WHEN exactly the art pieces will be hidden. Although, it’s been said hiders have been known to disperse them a few days before the Chinese Lunar New Year and up to a week after. 

The Hunters – 

Then there’s you. Us. We. The Hunters. Our job is to sniff out these hiding spots to unleash our shine! If you find a monkeyshine you get to keep it! But there’s an art to the hunt. More on that later. 

More importantly, there is a reason why monkeyshining has become such a beloved and popular Tacoma tradition. It’s not just about the hunt, it’s about the people, the art, and going beyond what connects us geographically to what connects us as humans. As families. As Tacomans. 

If you’ve never monkeyshined before or have lost your appetite for it, here are 9 reasons you absolutely should in 2021. 

  1. Socially Distanced Fun – It’s hard to come by these days! Being in and out of lockdown, subjected to screens screaming horror at you nonstop, and the general gloominess of Winter, there’s really no time like now to take a break from it all. We can go from Netflix Zombie to MonkeyShine Hunter! We can breathe in the excitement of something new, adventurous AND safe!
  2. Support Local Artists – There is so much time and resources that go into creating monkeyshines and the artists who are a part of it are doing so largely on a volunteer basis. It’s such a great opportunity to acknowledge, recognize and support the work of these talented and generous creators!
  3. Experience a new Tacoma – Maybe you’ve lived here for years, or maybe you’re new. Either way, traipsing the streets and parks of Tacoma for treasures will give you an entirely new way to experience Tacoma. Monkeyshining is something so unique to this city, it’s a thrill to be a part of and makes you feel connected to Tacoma in a magical way.
  4. Uplift your Community – There’s truly nothing more bonding than sharing a secret. A secret smile as you pass a fellow monkeyshine hunter, a secret hint a kid shares with you on a possible location. The secret is out and spreading farther. It’s in the happy dances, the passing “good luck”, the random acts of kindness, the palpable excitement. We need more of that, especially now. 
  5. Free Family Fun – looking for something to do with the family without breaking the bank? Monkeyshine. It’s something for everyone – kids love it and your inner kid will rejoice. So many hunters have said monkeyshining made them feel like a kid on Christmas morning!
  6. Dance, Monkey, Dance! – Put that fitbit on and watch those steps climb when you get into the hunt! It’s a great exercise for you, the kids, and your furry friends as well. 
  7. Have a BLAST – You’ll be tired. Muddy. Wet. You’ll have cold fingers and toes. Your legs will sing. But, you will absolutely not regret it. And you’ll have so much fun, none of the rest will matter. 
  8. Make Memories for years to come – This is an adventure you can pass on to the next generation, and the next. You can start or continue this tradition and always have something to look forward to each year. 
  9. Find a Monkeyshine – Ahh, yes, of course. If you find it you get to keep it. And what a prize! There will be no other art piece like it. But, even if you don’t find one this year. Maybe you found a new friend. Garbage that can be picked up. Or a reason to spread love and hope. In that case, you’re still winning and that’s the true gift.

2021 is Year of the Ox. Oxes are known to be diligent, dependable, strong and determined. They’re also patient and known for taking action. However, before taking action they make sure to have a detailed plan. 

So, in honor of the Ox, here are eight quick tips to help you master the art of the monkeyshine hunt!

  1. Rise and Monkeyshine – The earlier you hunt, the better the results! Most of the goods are found before Washington’s version of the sun peaks. 
  2. Plan your route – Start with parks and public places. Some popular spots where monkeyshines have been found previously include UWT, UPS, Wapato Park, Point Defiance, Titlow, and Wright Park.
  3. Monkey see, Monkey do – Wear a mask, gloves and bring hand sanitizer.
  4. Dress for the Mess – It’s Tacoma. Enough said. But, seriously, bring rain gear and flashlight(s)!
  5. Eyes on the prize – Bring your family so there will be more eyes on the lookout and hopefully hitting any blindspots.
  6. Think like a detective – Or a pirate. Or a kid. Look high, look low, use your senses and be curious! Kids often do well with monkeyshining because they are so innately curious. (And they’re closer to the ground lol).
  7. Always be on the lookout – Whether you’re running errands, on your way to work or taking the kids outside always observe your surroundings. This will help train your eye to notice things it normally would not. 
  8. Keep hunting – you never know when it’s YOUR time. Most times, you don’t find the monkeyshine, the monkeyshine finds YOU.

There is only one rule. You can take only one monkeyshine piece per family. If you find more, hide them for someone else to find! The second unwritten rule is to enjoy the journey, respect the art and it’s home, and spread joy! 

Happy hunting Monkeyshiners! 

**As mentioned previously, so much work goes into creating this unforgettable artistic experience. If you would like to support these incredible artists please donate what you can to Monkeyshines Gofundme and share with friends and family! Thank you. **