Last year’s Lantern Parade. Photo by The Sintoses, courtesy of Art on the Atlanta Beltline.
The Lantern Parade is truly a sight to behold. Every year, thousands of people gather to march down the Beltline carrying illuminated lanterns – some simple, some over-the-top elaborate. But what was the genesis of this breathtaking cavalcade? To understand the Lantern Parade, you have to understand how it fits into the vision of its founding organization.
Art on the Atlanta Beltline began in 2010 as an initiative to encourage people to explore the growing corridor trail system. At the time, many residents viewed the space as being off limits or unsafe, says Miranda Kyle, Arts and Culture Project Manager for the Atlanta Beltline told Atlanta Loop. “Art, especially big, sculptural pieces were leveraged as a means to encourage people to come and explore what the potential of this space could be,” she says. The program has since grown to become the largest temporary public art exhibition in the South.
The Lantern Parade was one of the initial initiatives to encourage people to become more familiar with the Beltline, Kyle says. In Art on the Beltline’s first year, the organization partnered with Chantelle Rytter of Atlanta’s Krewe of the Grateful Gluttons, who had been exploring the community-building nature of lantern parades across the country and globe. Heavily inspired by New-Orleans style parades, the celebration had big aspirations but started small.
There were only about 200 or 300 people in the first parade, Jenny Odom, communications and media relations manager for Art on the Atlanta Beltline said. “It was adorable – it was just us marching around the trail with lanterns.” However, since its humble beginnings, the Lantern Parade has grown into one of the organization’s flagship performances, with over 75,000 participants and spectators at last year’s event. “It’s one of the bigger events in Atlanta now,” Kyle laughs.
This year’s parade is expected to be even bigger, and as such, organizers are encouraging those who wish to participate or just watch to use not drive. “The Lantern Parade is a magical utopian moment where cars do not have access anywhere near the space,” says Kyle. “We encourage people to not plan on parking… we want to encourage riding your bike, walking, ridesharing or taking MARTA something of that nature.”
The parade route. Map via Art on the Atlanta Beltline.
The parade lines up Saturday night at 7 p.m. and will step off at 8 p.m., marching down the East Side Trail. The route begins at the intersection of the trail and Irwin Street, right next to the Krog Street Market. Kyle says participants don’t have to march the entire length of the route – that there are plenty of access points along the trail where people can join in; however, it’s important to go with the flow of the parade and not walk in the opposite direction, pass anyone or stop.
It’s free to march in the parade, and no registration is required. The only requisite is to be holding a lantern. “It doesn’t have to be anything fancy, just a lovely illuminated globe of some sort,” Kyle says. The event is kid-friendly, but pets should stay at home. Bikes should be locked up off the route, or carefully walked.
This year five marching bands will be spread throughout the parade, says Odom, and Kyle shares that a special lantern, constructed by the Krewe of the Grateful Gluttons will be unveiled for the first time at the parade’s conclusion. “It pays homage to a hometown hero,” Kyle hinted.
The Lantern Parade is one of Atlanta’s most magical nights, Kyle says, and this year is planned to be the most impressive yet.