July 14, 2020
The lanterns that will be featured at the Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden during this year’s Chinese Lantern Festival are dazzling and magnificent, both in substance and size.
“We’re not talking tiny hand-sized lanterns, they’re huge structures,” said Jim Hoffman, COO of the Belmont, NC garden complex.
Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden is partnering with Hanart Culture, a producer of Chinese live theatrical entertainment that includes shows all across North America. The first Chinese Lantern Festival in 2017 attracted an audience of 100,000 people to the gardens. For reference, that’s the average attendance Daniel Stowe Botanical Gardens records in an entire year.
“We doubled our attendance in eight weeks,” said Hoffman, adding that 1,000 tickets have already been sold for this year’s edition that runs from October 15 – January 3.
This year’s theme is “A Beautiful Life,” and is loosely based around the four seasons. Illuminated lantern art, which includes flowers, plants, and animal sculptures, will be spread across the garden grounds.
All lanterns will come from Zigong, China, the original festival location, where they are handmade by master craftsmen in the city. The skeleton of each lantern is made of steel, then filled with LED lights, and wrapped in fabric that can withstand the outdoor elements. Some of the notable pieces include three-foot-tall insects and a basket of flowers over 12 feet high. Other art includes a dragon centerpiece made of porcelain cups and saucers, sprawling to a length of 200 ft long.
Accompanying the artwork will be interactive light displays and color-filled archways along the garden paths. Directly after the Prairie Garden section, there will be an acrobatics show with student and adult performers from China. A craft tent will feature authentic Chinese crafts for sale. Since the festival will be taking place in the latter part of the year, there will be a few seasonal elements included along with the traditional Asian art and architecture. A Halloween pumpkin carriage will be featured in the earlier weeks of the festival, after which a traditional Christmas scene including Santa will take its place.
The festival was originally scheduled for August 28 but had to be pushed back due to COVID-19. Complications from rising cases meant delays in key stages of planning. Hoffman explained that the festival typically takes around five to six weeks to set up, meaning that the China-based Hanart group would’ve needed to arrive in the U.S. sometime after July 4. With the process of securing work permits and visas typically taking considerable time, and with a reduced number of flights from China to the U.S., delivering an on-time festival date wasn’t logistically feasible.
Hoffman and Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden are using the extended time frame to implement the steps necessary to be in compliance with state and local government restrictions on social distancing. The garden itself is a large expanse of space, topping out at around 110 acres, but even with such a large space to spread out, there will still be limitations on the number of people allowed inside at a time.
For the festival, there will be designated time slots that will allow for 1,000 people at a time, compared to 4,500 people in 2017. The beginning dates of October 15 – November 8 have two times to choose from: 6 pm and 7:30 p.m. Beginning on November 11 and continuing until the end of the festival on January 3, there will be three time slots: 5 p.m., 6:30 p.m., and 8 p.m. Hoffman explained that since it gets darker earlier in the late fall, they can add another time slot. The duration of each time slot is around two hours in length.
When you arrive at the festival, the restrictions in place will help with the overall ease of the experience. Hoffman explained that reduced capacity cuts parking time significantly, leaving more time to experience the show. Inside the grounds, there will be a definitive pathway to follow, marked by signage and manned with staff and volunteers. Hoffman said that maintaining six feet of distance shouldn’t be difficult, and he wants people to be confident in the safety of the environment that they’ve carefully curated.
Tickets go on sale August 1 starting at $23.95 for adults, $21.95 for seniors (60 plus), $15.95 for children (ages 2 to 12), and free for kids under two. If you’re a member of the Garden, you’ll receive 30% off admission, including up to four guests. Prices will increase closer to the time of the festival, if there are remaining tickets.