Remember how Austin's first First Night celebration came off so triumphantly on New Year's Eve? Ten straight hours of cultural offerings, 25 locations stretching from the state Capitol to Auditorium Shores, more than 80 area artists and arts companies taking part, and an estimated 100,000 spectators taking it all in. That spectacular a debut promised a sophomore celebration that would be even bigger and better. Unfortunately, just pulling together the second First Night has been a struggle, and now, with New Year's less than four months away, it's lost a key administrative figure. Ann S. Graham, who spent a decade working with Boston's version of First Night and helped shepherd First Night Austin into existence as its executive director, resigned her position on Aug. 23. That was also the day that Graham and First Night Austin's only other paid staffer (a half-time assistant) were furloughed without pay, a move that suggests that fundraising for First Night was not all it could be. Indeed, Graham claims that on the day her pay was suspended, "The board's development committee had raised less than half of the approved budget for this year's event, and the president emeritus expressed pessimism that many additional dollars would be raised." Making matters more difficult, she says, was the growing sense that she and the board had conflicting visions for the event and of the executive director's role in it. Suggestions that the event be scaled back in length or scope in response to the funding shortfall led Graham to fear that First Night would not simply be smaller but that its integrity would be compromised.
Feeling that she couldn't fulfill the organization's mission with conditions as they were, Graham resigned. The organization has yet to make public any response to the move, which leaves First Night Austin in a tough spot. It's certainly possible that in the coming months the organization can rebound and treat Austin to another memorable New Year's Eve, but the sands in Father Time's hourglass are running out rather quickly.