Last February, there was no telling how many people from around the world took photographs of the luminous art installations and thousands of lanterns twinkling on rows of trees along downtown Granville Street’s pedestrian mall. Few public events in this town can hope to draw hundreds of thousands of people, but that’s exactly what CIBC LunarFest managed to do in 2010. It helped, of course, that its site to mark the Lunar New Year was located amid ground zero for the Vancouver Olympics celebrations.
In many ways, that multicultural, widespread participation was a perfect realization of the organizers’ goals for the event, which happens again this year, from today (February 3) to February 13 at the Vancouver Art Gallery plaza (on the Georgia Street side).
“It’s really just something to do this time of year when it’s cold and dark. We want to share that the tradition is celebrated by more than the Chinese; it’s not just for Chinese New Year,” explains spokesperson Sherry Wang, whose Asian-Canadian Special Events Association—an umbrella group that spans everyone from Korean Canadians to the Taiwanese—is organizing the event. Speaking over the phone, she’s referring to the fact that this week marks the turning over of a new calendar for several cultures, from the Vietnamese to the Japanese. “So we want people to come and really make it their own Lunar New Year. We want to show that Lunar New Year is not just about lion dances but can be contemporary and that anyone can participate. You don’t have to be Asian.”
This time out, for the year of the rabbit, the group is hoping to rekindle some of 2010’s magic but with a different environmental theme. It has installed a multifaceted “lantern aquarium” at the VAG plaza called Ocean Heart, which it hopes will draw attention to the value of protecting ocean life. It’s a 24-metre-long tentlike tunnel that visitors will be able to walk through. Hanging from its ceiling will be 3,000 fish lanterns created by schoolchildren from the Lower Mainland and Taiwan. Wang, whose team has been unpacking the ocean of sea creatures in recent weeks, says their diversity is stunning: “These children’s imaginations have really come out. Some have really thought outside the box, and some have made very realistic fish.”
As part of the inclusive atmosphere of the installation, Ocean Heart will also include pieces by professional artists alongside the children’s work. Several artists in Taiwan have created a Coral Castle out of fabric and metal that stands three metres high and conjures an entire ecosystem of marine life, from magnified plankton to seahorses. In addition, Taiwanese artist Hung Hsin-Fu has hung realistically scaled white paper lanterns of flying fish, sharks, salmon, and more in an exhibit called Paper FantaSea. Everything will be lit, ethereally, by LED lights, in keeping with the environmentally friendly theme.
The Public Dreams Society, the artful innovators behind events like Illuminares and the Parade of Lost Souls, will also be working with aquatic themes and costuming for the lantern processions it leads both Saturday evenings, February 5 and 12. People can drop by the site both dates for workshops from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. to make their own lanterns, or they can visit the CIBC Pavilion any day to pick up a rabbit-shaped, LED-lit lantern (for a small donation to the Vancouver Aquarium), as well as a hot drink. Anyone can join the illuminated parade as it starts to wind around to Granville Street starting at 6:30 p.m., complete with stilt walkers, Hula-Hoopers, and Afro-Brazilian bands. By 8 p.m., the celebration will have made it back to the VAG site, where Public Dreams will showcase shadow puppetry that—like the rest of LunarFest—blends Asian traditions with contemporary western art.
Expect a lot of extra buzz on the second procession night (February 12), when the festivities take place amid wider downtown celebrations for the one-year anniversary of the Vancouver Olympic Games opening. Just like last February, Granville Street will be closed between Drake and Georgia streets for the party, and droves of revellers will be sporting their red-and-whites.
Wang admits the fest might not attract the massive number of visitors it saw last year—but it can at least re-create a lot of the same magic when it lights up the night.