News & Events

Lantern workshops creating connections

Friday January 31 2020

The illuminated wonder of community-created lanterns will light up the Square on 29 February to herald the start of this year's Festival of Cultures.

Photo shows two people making lanterns under a marquee in the Square.

Bridgette Murphy and Jim Richards, at the Lunar New Year Festival on 25 January, work on a one-fifth scale version of the rat lantern they'll build for the Festival of Cultures Lantern Parade.

The Lantern Parade will have live music and food available from 7pm, with the parade itself from 8.30pm. It's the culmination of workshops throughout February, run by Rangiwahia Environmental Arts Centre (REACT) from a pop-up workshop in King Street, near the Regent Arcade.

Bridgette Murphy and Jim Richards are the creative drivers of REACT. The couple are festival stalwarts and have fostered the development of the Lantern Parade during the years. The Lunar New Year celebrated in January heralded the Year of the Rat, and this year REACT will add a 4.5-metre rat to its lantern collection. Next year will see the addition of the ox, which will compete REACT’s set of 12 4.5-metre centrepiece Chinese zodiac lanterns.

For Bridgette and Jim, the free workshops are as important as the parade itself. Anyone can come, make a lantern, take it home, and bring it into The Square for the parade. The workshops have in previous years attracted participants from as far as New Plymouth, Hamilton, Levin and Wellington. Knowledge and lantern materials are provided at no cost to participants through support from the Palmerston North City Council.

“Some people think it’s a kids thing, but we prefer whānau involvement, teenagers, kids, elderly – it’s the intergenerational thing that makes these events special,” Bridgette says.

In the workshops, people work side-by-side, where art is the medium for people to collaborate in a community-minded space. “We encourage people to talk with each other and to make connections, to help people feel part of a community and break down barriers,” Bridgette says.

“We have a very diverse set of nationalities coming to make lanterns – we really love to see the interactions, the learning and talking, the friendships made,” Jim says.

Where other centres might use cheaper imported products for festival lanterns, REACT is proud of its sustainable practices. The organisation grow’s its own resources, with willow and specialist bamboo used in their creations grown at Rangiwahia. It also uses pest bamboo, which is locally sourced from people who wish to remove it from their gardens.

As for the lanterns themselves, bring your imagination. While people new to lanterns are encouraged to start simple and concentrate on decoration, those with experience can tackle more complex projects.

“There are two basic types of lantern forms and the decoration can be leant to anything – so any creature, any television show, anything at all. We can cut out stencils to fit onto lanterns, so we can adapt them to accommodate people’s imagination – we had a T-Rex last year,” Jim says.

“We’ve had people progress over three or four years from making the most basic pyramid shape to making very complex lanterns.”

It is expected the Lantern Parade will boast hundreds of lanterns, with people bringing back lanterns made in previous years. Some people at the workshops will redecorate previously used lanterns. “It’s a really nice sense of reusing and supports the sustainability message,” Jim says.

People bringing lanterns to the parade will need to note a couple of safety points – no candles, and no flying lanterns.

Suggestions for lighting lanterns include Two Dollar Shop torches, bike torches and solar string lights. “Last year some people used their phones to light them up,” Jim says. Lantern lighting is covered in the workshops.

To take part in one or more workshops (no booking needed), head along to 106 King Street, Palmerston North on:

  • Friday 14 February – 3pm to 8pm
  • Saturday 15 February – 11am to 4pm
  • Tuesday 18 February – 3pm to 8pm
  • Friday 21 February – 3pm to 8pm
  • Saturday 22 February – 11am to 4pm
  • Sunday 23 February – 11am to 4pm
  • Wednesday 26 February – 3pm to 7pm