First Night Evanston (FNE) began in December of 1992, affiliating with First Night Boston and known as First Night 1993. Joe Zendell, City of Evanston Arts Council staff person, was instrumental in getting funding from the Illinois Arts Council, the Evanston Arts Council and many local businesses and organizations. The budget grew from less than $25,000 in its first year to over $150,000 in 2007 as the audience grew and venues were added.
Unfortunately the City of Evanston is no longer a sponsor; neither is the state in any way. FNE relies on contributions from local businesses and organizations in order to keep the ticket price affordable. Where else can you get 5 hours of live performances for $4/hour?
To help celebrate the millennium in 2000, over 15,000 people from over 70 zip codes joined an even larger day of events. The budget was $250,000 and it was one of the largest new year’s events in the US. During its last years, FNE had over 100 acts at more than 20 locations, all located in or near the downtown, with almost 500 volunteers helping staff the sites.
FNE disbanded in October of 2006. All bills were paid, the corporation formally dissolved, and 501c3 status abandoned.
When the 150th anniversary of Evanston’s incorporation became a city-wide event, several former First Night board members came together in March of 2012 to discuss bringing back First Night Evanston to cap off all the many events planned for that year. The organization re-incorporated with the State of Illinois in 2012 and renewed the 501c3 status.
No one wanted to take on the task of raising $250,000, so by shrinking the size and scope of the event, the budget would also be smaller. $50-75,000 was the goal. That year Raymond Park in the 1500 block of Chicago between Grove and Lake served as a hub for the event with venues located around it at First Presbyterian Church, First Congregational Church and First Methodist Church just two blocks north at Church and Hinman.
In December of 2013, despite 6” of snow falling by 6 p.m., over 3000 people attended the renewed version of First Night Evanston. We continue to bring together first-class talent, both national and local.