The Pittsburgh Zoo and the PPG Aquarium has a new animal in town – a 30-meter-long and colorful kite that stands at the end of a tunnel filled with lanterns.
As part of their newly revealed Asian Lantern Festival – which opened on August 14th and is slated to run through October 30th – the Pittsburgh Zoo has brought animal-related and handcrafted lantern art along the zoo’s entire route.
Tickets are available online for $ 19.95 or in person for $ 25, but are separate from daily admission tickets to the zoo. The festival runs Thursday through Saturday.
Allan Marshall, vice president of internal relations for the zoo, said the zoo was always looking for something different and that he had heard about the festival in recent years. Other zoos like that Cleveland Metroparks Zoo in Ohio have held a similar Lantern Festival in the past.
“We just wanted to try to find something else that was unique and unusual. When this emerged, we considered this to be an option for our mission, ”said Marshall. “We make sure that people know what we are doing to protect nature and show them what nature is all about.”
The lanterns themselves capture a different part of Chinese culture. At every lantern exhibition there is a small board that describes the artistic meaning of the lantern and the Chinese roots in detail.
Aimed at all ages, the festival also features live performances and entertainment on certain evenings, including dance, music, and food that represent parts of Asian heritage.
Entertainment is all provided by local groups and artists, such as: Organization of Chinese Americans. The zoo has partnered with the Pittsburgh group to bring their lion dance, drumming, and martial arts team to the zoo.
When Elena Liberto, a senior psychology student at Pitt, visited the zoo over the weekend, she was amazed by the details of each lantern.
“You think you’re coming to see little lantern animals, but they’re huge and so detailed. Some of them even blink, ”said Liberto.
Marshall said people hear about the festival but can’t really imagine what exactly the Lantern Festival will bring without being there.
“They just don’t really know what it is until they go in and then they see a 30-foot-long kite that’s lit up at night,” Marshall said.
The company that Pittsburgh Zoo worked with to bring this festival to life, Tianyu, exclusively manufactures lanterns for various festivals. Marshall added that they are popular around the Chinese New Year and have only recently started hosting international festivals like the one in Pittsburgh.
“They have a few places they do in North America, Europe, and various other places, and they brought a team of people from China to get out,” Marshall said.
Each lantern is completely handmade from scratch with no instructions or instructions. According to Marshall, some of the lanterns were even built right on the zoo grounds.
“The kite is a classic example, they built this from scratch, just pieces of steel, and they bent and shaped it and welded it all together,” Marshall said. “Then they had artisans put the silk around the frame, everything is from scratch.”
For Ian Hunter, Public Relations and Media Manager at Pittsburgh Zoo, it was a new surprise every day to watch them build the lanterns. According to Hunter, the anticipation and excitement for the festival could be felt by the zoo workers themselves as they watched the construction process from the beginning.
“Usually once a day, [a zoo employee] tried to go downstairs and ask, ‘What are you working on today?’ “Hunter said. “We just had to go down the hill to see how it happened.”
Liberto said she was particularly amazed at the different types of lanterns. While most are animal themes – featuring pandas, elephants, and giraffes – there are also flower lanterns, decorative archways, tunnels, and even a butterfly tree.
“You just stare at this butterfly tree and watch all the different colors and how each of its wings move, you just can’t take your eyes off it,” said Liberto. “It’s nice that there are not only animals, but also nature and only art.”
Targeting all populations, Marshall said the festival has attracted families, older couples, and college students alike. Liberto was visiting with a few friends but said she would like to bring her friend back.
“Going through that would definitely make for a really cool date night activity,” said Liberto.
If the idea of a 30-meter-long kite alone isn’t enough of a stimulus for people who aren’t sure whether to go and visit, Marshall said that just go see them and see for yourself.
“Get off the fence because as far as I know, Pittsburgh has never seen anything like it,” Marshall said. “You will be enthusiastic.”