Lantern Parade lights up Midtown, draws large crowds

Morgan Watkins

By Morgan Watkins

Dusk fades into evening. The streets are quiet except for the drone of speeding cars and honking horns. The city settles down as people retire from their day and prepare for relaxation.

People grab dinner from their kitchens, recline in their chairs and settle in. The city goes quiet as the sun fades behind the Atlanta skyline.

Suddenly, the streets burst with life. Cars come from all over the city, and hundreds walk up and down the sidewalks, lifting their handmade lanterns into the air.

Thousands of Atlantans marched in the annual Art on the Atlanta BeltLine Lantern Parade on Sept. 9.

“I am struck by how it connects people to the city,” Chantelle Rytter, director and creator of The Lantern Parade, said. “It is a joyful, physical and live tradition.”

The art exhibit has transformed from a few sculptures on a dirty walkway to an illuminated display of artistic expression. The parade began in 2010 after Rytter requested a grant from the city. The first parade attracted nearly 400 participants, and since then, the event has grown.

In 2012, 1,200 people marched in the parade. In 2016, over 78,000 people joined in the festivities. The parade was a bigger success than Rytter “ever dreamed possible.”

She “had been itching to do a lantern parade,” and the annual art exhibit on the BeltLine gave her the opportunity. After living in New Orleans, Rytter was inspired by the rowdy atmosphere Mardi Gras parades created. She loved the music and free-flowing spirit of the parades but wanted to create something new.

“I wanted to give people an outlet to show their stuff,” Rytter said. “I wanted an atmosphere of individual creative expression.”

Rytter researched parades throughout the country and found inspiration in the lantern displays in China. She wanted to create a unique parade, so she combined her research and her personal experience to bring the Atlanta Lantern Parade to life.

In the weeks before the parade, Rytter hosted lantern workshops in an attempt to attract more attention. Though Rytter said the turnout was a happy surprise, she continues to search for ways to inspire participation. Rytter’s advertisement of “free form celebration” has succeeded in attracting many first-time parade attendees.

“Everyone is invited,” Rytter said. “No RSVP needed.”

The parade also appealed to many participants in a religious, spiritual or cultural sense. The parade’s traditional Chinese foundations held a strong allure to longtime Atlanta resident Ross Thoreson. As a Buddhist, the parade offered him a way to immerse himself in a long-time religious expression of spirituality and joy.

“Asian culture is known for its lantern parades,” Thoreson said. “I’ve seen the online pictures of the Asian parades, and I love community things like this. When I saw this, I was immediately drawn in.”

Many Atlanta residents agree the lantern parade is an intriguing way to bring the community together. This year, thousands gathered just to watch the parade.  Though they did not march, many spectators crowded the sides of the BeltLine with homemade lanterns. Junior Ruth Payne supported the parade in this way.

“I think the parade helps fuel a conversation for many people in the city of Atlanta for all types of issues — local and national,” Payne said. “Also, the parade brings together people from all walks of life from all over Atlanta in a fun, judgement-free space.”

Robin Sanders, who attended the parade for the first time this year, noted the unity inspired by the parade.

“It’s a great way to bring so many people together who are different,” Sanders said. “It’s fun to experience the beauty of our city together.”

Morgan Watkins

Morgan Watkins

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