Tiptoe through giant, glowing tulips, stroll the full length of a luminous 131-foot-long dragon and find out what it tastes like when a muffuletta meets an egg roll.
It’s all there at the new “China Lights” exhibit in New Orleans City Park.
Open to the public through May 1, “China Lights” has transformed the park’s Botanical Garden into a vibrant Far East wonderland of more than 30 silk-covered structures — ranging from a panda playground to a towering three-story pagoda — along with hundreds of lanterns and a few surprising additions, like a quartet of mythical glowing creatures created entirely from Chinese medicine bottles and colored water.
“Nothing like this has ever been seen in the southeastern United States,” said John Hopper, chief development officer and public affairs director for New Orleans City Park. “As soon as we found out about it, we knew we had to bring it here.”
The traveling exhibit is the work of artisans at a company called Sichuan Tianyu, out of Zigong, China.
“We contacted them and were given a kind of menu with all the different kinds of structures and items they had,” Hopper said. “We could choose from there the ones we thought would work best for us and suit the space.”
After almost two years of meetings and site visits, the exhibit finally arrived.
“Sixteen giant shipping containers were delivered, and they were packed so full that nothing was even on pallets,” Hopper said. “Some of the smaller pieces came already assembled, but for the most part, everything was constructed on-site over a period of about four weeks.”
Fortunately, the park had help with construction.
“I believe the company sent about 20 people total — a mix of craftspeople and Chinese entertainers,” he said. “Some have been staying here on-site with us in modular housing; others are staying close by.”
Hopper said the arrival of their guests inspired some on the park’s staff to start studying Mandarin. “I think everyone can now at least say ‘hello,’” he laughed. “That and a smile can get you a long way. Of course, we’ve also been lucky to have some great translators.”
Due to the delicacy of the silk creations, Hopper said the company provided a backup for all of the items.
“Some of the workers will be staying with us for the duration of the event to help as needed,” he said. “They’ve really got this down. It’s been a great experience to work with them.”
A festival complete with creative food options — including Sriracha popcorn, deep-friend s’more egg rolls and more traditional Chinese dinner favorites like sweet and sour chicken — along with nightly live entertainment, “China Lights” will hopefully serve as an economic boost to the park.
“Unlike basically any other major park in the country, we have to raise about 85 percent of our revenue ourselves,” Hopper said. “And now, with the changes being talked about in the state budget, our budget will likely be cut. An exhibit like this really has the potential to help us out.”