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Boston’s First Night festival saved by donors

By Travis Andersen

|  GLOBE STAFF  OCTOBER 09, 2013

The festivities draw a million people to the heart of the city. The event has inspired dozens of similar festivals across the country and pumped millions into the local economy.

ESSDRAS M SUAREZ/GLOBE STAFF FILE

The festivities draw a million people to the heart of the city. The event has inspired dozens of similar festivals across the country and pumped millions into the local economy.

Donors have banded together to save the city’s annual First Night celebration, guaranteeing that the festival will go forward on New Year’s Eve, even though its longtime organizing body folded in June, officials said Tuesday.

The Highland Street Foundation, a Newton-based nonprofit group, said in a statement Tuesday that it will be the “lead sponsor of the First Night 2014 celebration.”

Blake Jordan, the foundation’s executive director, said Highland Street will donate $100,000 toward the event. It was not known how much the other donors will offer.

“Boston needs First Night,” Jordan said. “It was created here, [there’s] something for everyone, and I think that’s what Highland Street is all about.”

Dot Joyce, a spokeswoman for Mayor Thomas M. Menino, said in a phone interview that Highland Street and “many others” will be donating funds for the festival.

‘Boston needs First Night. . . . [There’s] something for everyone.’

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“The mayor is very pleased that the Highland Street Foundation, who have for 25 years been giving back to the Boston community, will be a part of making sure First Night happens again in our city,” Joyce said.

The future of First Night was uncertain in June, when the nonprofit group that had organized the New Year’s cultural extravaganza for nearly four decades announced that it was closing due to declining donations and sponsorships.

At that time, Menino criticized the nonprofit, First Night Boston, as lacking the “creativity” to make the event sustainable. Officials also indicated in June that the city would probably run First Night as another major event, without devoting a full-time staff.

Geri Guardino, executive director of the now-defunct First Night Boston, could not be reached for comment Tuesday. In a statement released in June that remained on the group’s website Tuesday, she expressed hope that the festival would continue.

“We all hope that the spirit of First Night will live on and that the First Night Festival will be reinvented in the not so distant future,” Guardino said. “This cherished Boston tradition has most certainly been one of the city’s signature events for decades.”

Asked if the city would provide funding for the event, Joyce would only say that more details about the festival will be released in November.

With its fireworks, Mardi Gras-style procession, famed ice sculptures, and artistic performances, the holiday festivities draw a million people to the heart of the city each New Year’s Eve, a beloved tradition that showcases hundreds of artists and captures Boston in full winter glory.

The oldest and largest event of its kind in the country, Boston’s First Night has inspired dozens of similar festivals across the country and pumped millions into the local economy.

On Wednesday evening, the Highland Street Foundation will celebrate its 25th anniversary at the Boston Common, the group said in its statement.

During the event, the foundation will announce its support for First Night and several other initiatives, including funding for a playground outside the new Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital building in Charlestown and grants for 10 hunger relief organizations.

“In the past 25 years, Highland Street has quietly given away $150 million to nonprofit organizations in the areas of education, housing, mentoring, health care, the environment, and the arts,” the statement said, adding that the foundation has provided funding for more than 900 groups in Massachusetts.

Joyce, Menino’s spokeswoman, commended the foundation for its work in Boston.

“The Highland Street Foundation has been a longtime supporter of many free activities for our residents,” she said.

Peter Schworm of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Travis Andersen can be reached at travis.andersen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @TAGlobe.

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