Allegheny Alumna Directs First Night Pittsburgh

Christina Bryson, Junior Editor

This New Year’s Eve people of all ages came together in downtown Pittsburgh’s Cultural District to enjoy an alcohol-free night filled with art, celebration and music.  For the past 20 years, a nonprofit organization, Highmark First Night, puts on a family-friendly New Year’s Eve celebration.

Darcy Kucenic, director of First Night Pittsburgh and a 1998 Allegheny alumna, has worked with the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust for 13 and a half years.  Over the course of Kucenic’s time with the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, she has seen the development of a world class performing arts district emerge from a previous red light district of downtown Pittsburgh.

According to the official website, “The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust has transformed a downtrodden section of Downtown into a world class Cultural District that stands as a national model of urban revitalization through the arts.  For over two decades, the Trust has led the cultural and economic development of Pittsburgh’s Cultural District.”

For the past 11 years, the Trust has collaborated with Highmark to produce First Night Pittsburgh, an arts-focused New Year’s Eve celebration.

“It’s really family oriented so the night really surrounds having the opportunity to spend time with your loved ones,” said Larry Hailsham, ’15, three-time volunteer for First Night. “I think it’s really cool because there aren’t many opportunity to kind of take your kids into the city and not really have to worry about anything.”

Events from this year’s First Night include music by Charles Bradley, two fireworks displays, a FedEx Ground parade, dance lessons, face painting, events indoors and outdoors and as the main project, an ice labyrinth.

“We start with fireworks and end with fireworks because the little kids won’t be up till midnight so we want to make sure the kids see it,” said Kucenic.

In addition to the first fireworks display, the midnight fireworks display also includes the Future of Pittsburgh Ball Rising. Unlike Times Square, where the ball drops, Pittsburgh audiences watch as the ball rises to the top.

Another main event of the evening included 95,000 pounds of ice creating the ice labyrinth. This 30 by 40 foot maze, with LED lighting and photo ops, was the special 20th celebration event. Hailsham ran the maze, as he has volunteered for First Night in the past.

“The ice labyrinth was a pretty large structure. It had buttons from each First Night from the past 20 years frozen in the ice and so people really had a chance to look into the history of First Night,” said Hailsham.

“I met Larry when he was still in high school,” said Kucenic. “He has volunteered for the past three years I’ve directed First Night. We needed someone strong to run the ice maze.”

In or to produce such a successful event, more than 300 volunteers were needed.

With 200 First Night celebrations worldwide, 75 within the United States, First Night Pittsburgh is the largest celebration in its region yet it is low on cost. Tickets were eight dollars in advance and 10 dollars the night of the event. Along with admittance, people would receive a button to wear the entire night.

“There’s something for everyone in the programming,” said Kucenic. “Parents don’t need to worry about bringing their kids downtown.”

“It’s really an awesome time for all of Pittsburgh to come out and celebrate together,” said Hailsham.

Kucenic and her colleagues are already planning for next year’s First Night celebration.

“We are in debriefing mode,” said Kucenic. “We never want the event to stay stagnant, we want to keep the ideas fresh and keep people wanting to come down and see it.”



 Darcy Kucenic, Director of Highmark First Night Pittsburgh 2013-Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, Dec. 31, 2012. Photo by Joey Kennedy.
Darcy Kucenic, Director of Highmark First Night Pittsburgh 2013-Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, Dec. 31, 2012. Photo by Joey Kennedy.