End of an Era: Vermont City Looks for New Way to Celebrate New Year's Eve

First Night Burlington has ended its 35-year run of programming performances and activities to celebrate the New Year

A prominent Vermont arts organization is working with a production company to come up with a new way for the city of Burlington to celebrate New Year’s Eve, after a long-running event announced it would be coming to an end.

First Night Burlington announced earlier this year it would be taking its final bow—ending a 35-year run—citing brutal cold last year and other years, which cut into revenues.

“It’s always a challenge for nonprofit arts organizations to find sustaining funding,” said Becky Cassidy of First Night Burlington.

The celebration was modeled after First Night Boston, bringing parades, concerts, comedy, circus acts, and more to Vermont’s largest city on New Year’s Eve.

“When we found out that was not going to happen this year, we immediately knew we had to do something,” Zach Williamson of Burlington City Arts said of First Night Burlington’s announcement to cease operations.

BCA is now teaming with the Burlington production and events company Signal Kitchen to ask performers, community groups, businesses, and others what should be showcased in a fresh New Year’s Eve party, called “Highlight.”

Proposals will be taken through October 15, with some funding available to make top ideas a reality.

“The easy thing would be to do exactly the same thing,” Williamson said. “But we knew something had to be changed to reimagine the event, reignite the excitement, get people involved again.”

Williamson described the approach to designing the programming for Highlight as “grassroots,” and said he hopes that it will celebrate the many creative thinkers and talents in Burlington.

Williamson said he expects Highlight to appeal to a wide range of community members, from families during the day to a younger crowd in the evening.

BCA said it hopes to see Highlight grow in future years after the initial launch this New Year’s Eve.

“I wish them luck,” said Bob Conlon, the owner of Leunig’s Bistro on the Church Street Marketplace.

Conlon said he appreciates the push behind the new event, hoping it’ll attract visitors who’ll want to return to downtown Burlington’s prime shopping and dining district.

Conlon said he knows there will be challenges, though.

“You’re pushing that boulder uphill to get people to go out when it’s very cold,” the restaurateur observed.

One big question for this new event: will there be fireworks?

Williamson said he’s optimistic for fireworks, but noted it’s not a done deal yet. He said he wants to focus first on programming, to ensure a good crowd that’ll be energized to explore the city’s waterfront.

To learn more about how to propose shows or activities for Highlight Burlington, and to apply online, visit the Burlington City Arts website.

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