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The lights go out on Opening Night…

9:56 AM EDT on July 14, 2023

There’s now officially one less boring thing to do in Oklahoma City for New Year’s Eve. 

Early this week, the Oklahoma City media ecosystem announced the OKC Arts Council is doing away with its annual New Year’s Eve “Opening Night” celebration after a 37-year run, officially putting an end to one of the few remaining traditions from Oklahoma City’s pre-Renaissance days.

Here are the details via BAM!:

After 37 years, downtown Oklahoma City will no longer be ringing in the New Year with Opening Night.  

Arts Council Oklahoma City is discontinuing its long-running New Year's Eve celebration…

"With Opening Night, this wasn't the first time that it's been considered in terms of — 'Is it a viable project, and does it meet our mission?'" Arts Council OKC Executive Director Angela Cozby told The Oklahoman…

Dropping attendance, particularly during the paid portion of the event, was a primary factor in Arts Council OKC's decision to discontinue the Opening Night New Year's Eve celebration.  

"This event was started to bring people to downtown Oklahoma City and give families an opportunity to celebrate a holiday when there wasn't hardly anything for them to do 37 years ago to ring in the New Year," Cozby said.

I kind of want to poke Cozby with an old Opening Night button for ending the event without one final send-off, but I think we can all admit that this is a good call. 

When it was conceived in the mid-80s, Downtown OKC was a ghost town ravaged by urban renewal gone awry – a place nobody wanted to enter after sundown. Opening Night finally gave people an excuse to go downtown again and have a fun night and it not involve buying sex or crack or sex and crack.

But now we’re a “Big League City” with plenty of hip local bars, restaurants, sporting events, and street cars to bring people to the city’s core and keep them drunk and entertained, and Opening Night doesn’t make sense. 

That’s why I think instead of canceling the event, the Art Council should just move it to OKC’s neglected suburbs! You know, set up shop at NW Expressway and MacArthur so people will finally use that new weird pedestrian bridge or whatever. 

Although I, like most OKC residents, haven’t attended Opening Night in decades, I’ll still miss it from a nostalgic perspective. 

During its early years, my dad – the other Patrick Riley – was very involved with the OKC Arts Council and helped plan and volunteer at the event, so we always had a large supply of Opening Night buttons – which you had to wear for entry into venues – laying around the house that my brother and I would use to decorate things. 

On New Year’s Eve of 1989, when I was a big 11-year-old, I got to tag along with my dad to help him set up some displays downtown, which basically meant I stood around bored while my dad hung up some masks. 

We ended up sticking around and I got to celebrate the New Year in downtown OKC. I vaguely recall walking in and out of buildings and venturing into the OKC underground, but to this day, the thing I remember clear as a January night is the midnight fireworks extravaganza, and a bright green “1990” display lighting up and glowing like a million sparklers in the distance. 

It's a fun memory, and in an abstract way, will keep Opening Night alive in my mind.

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