Tucson’s Reid Park Zoo is hosting its first Asian Lantern Festival in celebration of the Lunar New Year.
The Lantern Festival, which started Feb. 2 and ends March 23, is in collaboration with the Confucius Institute at the University of Arizona, Tucson Chinese Cultural Center and Tianyu Arts and Culture Inc.
Zhao Chen, director of the UA Confucius Institute, said that the goal of the event is to promote multiculturalism in Tucson.
“We have people come from different parts of the world as well as different cultural backgrounds, so this place will integrate different cultures,” Chen said. “And learning about different cultures is very important to the heart of everybody.”
There are 478 lanterns scattered throughout Reid Park Zoo, including 40 larger-than-life lanterns. Some of the notable lanterns include the Chinese Palace, Fish of Abundance display and 120-foot long, 35-foot tall dragon. A Zen Garden, interactive floor lighting and Asian-inspired food are also a part of the experience at the festival.
Jed Dodds, event coordinator at Reid Park Zoo, says the lanterns were hand-designed over the course of eight months and constructed on-site by a team of 20 artisans.
“We had over 20 artisans from China that were out here handcrafting these things out in the front of the zoo outside, so I had to create a space that was safe for them to do all their work – getting their tools here, where are they staying, where do they eat, where do they cook,” Dodds said. “These are all logistical things that we had to solve to be able to bring an event like this to the zoo.”
The government shutdown earlier this year prevented some of the lanterns constructed in China from entering the port in Los Angeles. That meant that zoo staff had less time to set up the show.
When the lanterns were finally in Tucson and getting set up at the zoo, the locations of the lanterns became problematic.
Dodds says the real animals also complicated things: one of their giraffes had problems with the penguin lanterns being on top of her enclosure’s roof and the lions wanted to play with the panda lanterns in front of their enclosure.
Tickets for the event are $18 for adults and $16 for children ages 2-14. Zoo members get $2 off admission. There are daily and weekly craft games and activities, as well as entertainment activities all included with admission.
With the success of the Asian Lantern Festival at the zoo, Dodds hopes to make the festival an annual event.
Emmalee Mauldin is an AZPM intern and journalism student at the University of Arizona.