First Night Canceled

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The Rockford Area Arts Council is canceling First Night.

For 14 years, Rockford's First Night festivities celebrated the visual and performing arts and worked to unite the community through a shared cultural experience, but after more than a decade, First Night is shutting off the lights.

"Over the past few years, the board noticed it's been more difficult to get sponsorships, there's been venue changes, cost increases, and our volunteers who've worked so hard, but it's become a strain on their time," says Rockford Area Arts Council executive director Anne O'Keefe.

O'Keefe says these things, aligned with a decrease in attendance, led to the decision. In it' heyday, First Night used to draw about 10,000 people. Last year, the event drew about 3.500.

O'Keefe attributes the loss to a number of issues.

"I think people even if they're not going to an event that serves alcohol, they may be afraid of people out there who are drinking, they don't want to take that risk. I also believe the economy has something to do with it, and I think a lot more people are entertaining at home," says O'Keefe.

The Arts Council lost $7,000 on last year's event. O'Keefe says although it was a difficult decision, the board believes ending the event was the right thing to do.

It's the end of one chapter, but O'Keefe says there's new and exciting ventures for the Arts Council on the horizon.