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Arts, Sports & Culture

Pittsburgh Zoo’s Asian Lantern Festival Under Construction

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Susan Scott Peterson
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90.5 WESA
Artists from the Chinese company Tianyu are building the lanterns on site, using steel and colored silk to construct giant frogs, flamingos and a hundred-foot-long dragon illuminated from inside with LED lights.

The Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium will soon welcome visitors to its first-ever Asian Lantern Festival, featuring more than 40 glowing animal sculptures installed along pathways throughout the zoo.

A team of 10 artists and one translator from the Chinese company Tianyu, based in Sichuan, has been working since mid-July to construct the lanterns on site. The artists create the lanterns by stretching painted silk over steel armatures, which are illuminated from the inside with LED lights. Some of the sculptures include a giant frog with blinking eyelids, a flock of flamingos and a 100-foot-long dragon.

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Susan Scott Peterson

Allan Marshall, vice president of internal relations, says the zoo faced challenges managing international transport of the lantern materials, as well as securing visas for the artists. But since the Tianyu artists arrived, Marshall says installation has been going smoothly.

“We’ve been working really closely with these guys, between working with our electricians here to provide power supplies and … working with our horticulture team because we’ve got a lot of valuable plants in the area,” Marshall said. “Once it’s all set up and running, it’s just going to look spectacular.”

The festival also plans to feature performances by regional groups including the Organization of Chinese Americans Pittsburgh Performance Ensemble, Pittsburgh Taiko and Win-Win Kung Fu Cultural Center.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, zoo attendance and revenue dropped in 2020. The Asian Lantern Festival may help the zoo overcome some of the losses.

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Susan Scott Peterson

“We realized very early in the pandemic that it was going to have a significant impact on our attendance and our operations…. It had a significant impact on what we were able to do last year,” Marshall said. “This lantern festival, I think, is really going to help us come back out of that hole from last year.”

The Pittsburgh Zoo has been involved in a dispute about the name of the festival, which Cleveland Metroparks Zoo also uses for its lantern event. But a federal judge recently ruled in favor of the Pittsburgh Zoo, denying Cleveland Metroparks’ motion for a temporary restraining order on the use of the phrase “Asian Lantern Festival.”

The outdoor festival will run from Aug. 14 through Oct. 30 Tickets are on sale now.