For those who haven’t visited the Los Angeles County Arboretum and Botanic Garden in a while, it might be time to see the historical site in new light as it beckons with dazzling Chinese lanterns set upon a mile-long stretch of the Arboretum’s lush grounds, a festival called “Moonlight Forest: A Magical Lantern Art Festival.”
Open now until Jan. 6, “Moonlight Forest” transforms the Arboretum’s gardens at night into landscapes illuminated by more than 60 displays of larger-than-life, handcrafted lantern art depicting a parade of pandas, dragons, shimmering flowers and more.
“It’s a marriage of sorts between the art of these lanterns and the natural landscape of the Arboretum,” said Richard Schulhof, the Arboretum’s CEO, during the festival’s kickoff. “I think it’s the beginning of a focus on great cultural exhibitions and presentations here at the Arboretum. This is a one-of-a-kind festival and an opportunity to see so much richness of the Chinese culture without actually hopping on a plane.”
“Moonlight Forest” lanterns are designed and produced by artists from the production company Tianyu Arts & Culture Inc., the American subsidiary of the international design and manufacturing company Sichuan Tianyu Culture Communications Co., based in Zigong, China. Over the past three years, Tianyu has created about 10 similar exhibits across the United States, typically at outdoor spaces like zoos, gardens or state fairgrounds. The Arboretum’s exhibit, however, is by far the largest to scale so far, said Ai Luo, Tianyu Arts & Culture representative.
“This kind of lantern festival has thousands of years of history in China. It originated in Sichuan, and the artistry has been passed down from generation to generation,” said Luo, noting that the parent company had focused on the local Chinese market for many years before realizing the opportunity abroad. “We want to bring this amazing Chinese art and culture to the United States, so people here can enjoy it, too.”
Nestled in Arcadia, in the heart of the San Gabriel Valley, the
Arboretum is a unique 127-acre botanical garden and historical site located in what was once Rancho Santa Anita. Its cultivation of natural, horticultural and historic resources has culminated in displays of Native American, rancho period and late 19th century treasures. The Arboretum also is an official wildlife sanctuary — hundreds of colorful peafowl roam the grounds, which also feature other species of resident and migratory birds, aquatic creatures and numerous species of small reptiles and mammals.
Not only does the glowing exhibit fit in perfectly with the Arboretum’s outdoor paradise, it also speaks to the surrounding Chinese community of Southern California, Schulhof noted.
“Given the cultural diversity here, the vibrant Chinese community around us, it just seemed like a natural fit,” said Schulhof, who visited a similar festival in Virginia before committing to the Arboretum event. “A light bulb went off where I just thought, ‘Oh my gosh, this would be a fantastic hit for us.’ These lanterns show off to their best advantage in natural landscapes surrounded by shrubs, trees, wildlife, lakes and water features, so I just knew the lanterns would be gorgeous here.”
Arboretum staff walked the grounds multiple times with Tianyu designers to bring the lanterns to life in some of its most coveted gardens. Lanterns re-creating the soldiers of the Terracotta Army of Xi’an, China, loom above the central fountain pool, magnifying their golden reflection, and a fierce-looking, colorful dragon stretches over the expanse at Baldwin Lake. The hues of colorful lights reflect and glow on the botanical surroundings, bringing a different life to even the eerie, high-pitched calls of the nesting peafowl, hundreds of which claim the Arboretum as home and roost some 140 feet up in the trees at night.
The festival is part of the Arboretum’s continuing efforts to serve its diverse membership across Southern California and to reach new members, Schulhof said. The Arboretum is governed through a private-public collaboration between its foundation and the county Parks and Recreation Department. The foundation, founded in 1948, has been instrumental in providing a strategic direction and raises funds and throws annual concerts and events. It leads a broad community of members, volunteers and donors in establishing the philanthropic support needed to realize the Arboretum’s potential as a premier public garden and educational resource. There are some 20,000 members, and the Arboretum serves more than 17,000 schoolchildren annually. This past year, a record number of visitors, 435,000, came to the gardens.
“We’ve always been open to cultural events, and we’ll continue to attract new audiences to the Arboretum to really showcase what a beautiful jewel we have right here in the San Gabriel Valley with this urban sanctuary,” said Sylvia Rosenberger, chief development officer of the L.A. Arboretum Foundation. “We are just a mile off the 210 Freeway, and yet this is a place where schoolchildren can come, anyone can come, to see stunning landscapes, hawks flying overhead and papayas on trees.”
The lantern festival is also a bet to wrangle visitors of all ages —
especially with its visually Instagrammable moments, whether they be underneath a sea of red Chinese lanterns or amid ethereal, floating jellyfish. Children can run amok on the grounds, food trucks are on site to provide a picnic dinner, and there are also featured Chinese performing arts and crafts.
County Supervisor Kathryn Barger also took a turn of the grounds during the festival’s launch party, praising the Arboretum’s plentiful events and singularity.
“I’m seeing people who are really enjoying coming into their own backyard and experience getting to see the Arboretum truly through a different light,” she said. “When you get to see it at night with all these magical lanterns, you really get to experience the Arboretum in a way that many have never done.”