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Born to Be Free: LunarFest Vancouver, The Lantern City, and LNY Splash put inclusion at forefront of Lunar New Year festivities

LunarFest, Lunar New Year, The Lantern City
Charlie Wu (third from left) joined dignitaries, artists, and festival supporters in front of The Lantern City exhibition at Granville Island. Lenny Zhou photo/Linkedin.

In most cities, Lunar New Year is seen as a celebration for people from China, Taiwan, Korea, and Southeast Asia. However, that’s certainly not the case with LunarFest Vancouver, The Lantern City, and LNY Splash exhibitions and events in Vancouver.

At the opening ceremony on Friday (February 9), organizer Charlie Wu talked about the importance of inclusion, as well as the diversity of participating artists. In this way, he demonstrated how Lunar New Year can be reinvented in North America by forging new ways of celebrating this important holiday on the Asian calendar.

“We acknowledge our privilege to be gathered on this land and commit to work with and be respectful to the Indigenous people, whose cultures and stories inspire us to bring communities together,” Wu said at Ocean Artworks on Granville Island.

He explained that this year’s theme is “Born to Be Free”. As a result, Wu said, people will see many different things at LunarFest Vancouver, The Lantern City, and LNY Splash than what’s displayed at Lunar New Year celebrations in other places.

“We thought that we should be able to imagine a new symbol for a community like Vancouver,” Wu declared. “We’re so diverse. Everyone is from different places. Perhaps we can think of the symbolism [of Born to Be Free] as something that we can all share together, going forward.”

He noted that on Granville Island, mixed-race artist Tajliya Jamal designed one of the lanterns. Jamal’s father is Ismaili Muslim and their mother is from Hong Kong. Birmingham, England–born Sara Khan designed another lantern at Granville Island. She grew up in Lahore, Pakistan. Now, she works in Vancouver.

Indigenous artists’ work is showcased in the Coastal Lunar Lanterns exhibition at Jack Poole Plaza

Lantern displays are at several locations

Meanwhile, Nuxalk-Kwagul Nations carver and artist Anuxumana designed one of the eight Lunar New Year lanterns in šxʷƛ̓ənəq Xwtl’e7énk Square. It stands tall on the north side of the Vancouver Art Gallery) beside others designed by Vietnamese Canadian Kristina Luu, U.S. immigrant Odera Igbokwe, Indian immigrant Rashmi Tyagi, and Indigenous artists Jerry Whitehead (Cree), Richard Hunt (Kwakwaka’wakw), and Damian John (Tl’azt’en).

School children in the Eastside Arts Society’s Studio 101 program designed the eighth lantern, as well as another one at Granville Island. In addition, there are large Lunar New Year lanterns on display at Jack Poole Plaza and the Pendulum Gallery.

That’s not the only public art. Luna the Dragon is another piece in šxʷƛ̓ənəq Xwtl’e7énk Square as part of LNY Splash. Created by eco-friendly artist Nickie Lewis in partnership with the Downtown Vancouver Business Improvement Association, this sculpture glows at night.

“Let me talk about this magical moon dragon,” Wu said. “She is 10 feet long, 4.5 feet wide, and seven feet tall. And she is created entirely from organic and biodegradable materials.”

Moreover, LNY Splash is presenting The Gift of Life installation in partnership with the West End Business Improvement Association. Created by Taiwanese bamboo artist Huei-Ting Tsai, it features many fish who appear to be swimming in the air. Check it out at the corner of Robson and Cardero streets.

“In Mandarin, fish sounds like surplus,” Wu explained. “We always hope to have extras to share in a new year. Fish, in many Chinese-speaking communities, symbolizes prosperity.”

With that, Wu encouraged everyone at the opening ceremony to head over to the Granville Island Public Market afterward to buy plenty of fish.

South Granville
South Granville Plaza features eight large lanterns designed by artist Kuan-chih Su.

Dragon viewed as symbol of power and passion

The third LNY Splash public-art exhibition is at Granville Plaza (Granville Street and West 14th Avenue) in partnership with the South Granville BIA. It features eight large lanterns designed by artist Kuan-chih Su.

Wu also noted that LNY Splash will present seven films from Asia at the VIFF Centre from February 16 to 18. Following his presentation, several dignitaries spoke on-stage, with some sharing their thoughts about Lunar New Year.

Vancouver city councillor Lenny Zhou told the crowd that he loves LunarFest and The Lantern City because it includes the work of artists from so many communities.

“This is the diversity we celebrate in the City of Vancouver,” Zhou said. “That’s why we all love Canada.”

He mentioned that he’s proud that the city contributed $5,000 to support this event through its cultural and artist grant. Moreover, he expressed his belief that the Year of the Dragon is the most significant year in his Asian culture.

“It’s very interesting—all my friends want to have a dragon baby this year,” Zhou quipped. “So, our healthcare system is going to be very busy. The dragon is the symbol of power, passion, but also good fortune.”

Another politician of Chinese ancestry, Vancouver-Langara MLA Michael Lee, mentioned how much he loves the theme “Born to Be Free”.

“It does enable all of us to be who we are as peoples—and to be proud of our heritage and our own cultures,” Lee said. “That gives us a real coming-together to appreciate all of the contributions that we make to this Canadian society.”

Taipei Economic and Cultural Office of Vancouver Director General Lihsin (Angel) Liu and MLA Katrina Chen both spoke at the event.

Katrina Chen learns lesson from her son

Burnaby-Lougheed MLA Katrina Chen shared details of a conversation that she had with her son earlier that day. She told the audience that he was dressed up because he was a Lunar New Year “little ambassador” at his school.

“We were having a discussion and out of the blue, he asks me this question,” Chen revealed. “He said, ‘Mommy, I really love in our school that we learn a lot about Indigenous history. This is the land where I live right now and where I was born. I also love to learn a lot about European history, the migration, how Canada started, and everything.’ ”

Chen added that her son pointed out that most of her classmates are from Asian or various other ethnic backgrounds. While the school is celebrating Lunar New Year, her son wanted to know why “we never learn about a lot of our heritage and history” in class.

“I was, like, ‘That is a really good question. Maybe you should go ask your teachers,’ ” Chen told the crowd. “He’s, like, ‘My teachers are both Asian and I think they’ll be really happy to have this discussion.’ ”

That led her to think more about her Taiwanese heritage.

“My name is not originally Katrina,” Chen said. “I actually changed my name to be more western. And why is that?

“So today, as I was having this fun discussion with my son, I said, ‘You know what? I have to pull out this polo T-shirt that I have from Taiwan that shows the Hakka pattern—that shows my heritage from Taiwan,” she continued. “I told my son, ‘I’m learning from you. I’m going to be thinking about who I am more.’ ”

Nickie Lewis created Luna the Dragon from organic and biodegradable materials.

Lantern displays called a “winter landmark”

Another speaker, Taipei Economic and Cultural Office of Vancouver Director General Lihsin (Angel) Liu, described the LunarFest lanterns as a “winter landmark for Vancouver”. And she feels that LunarFest is a showcase of Canada’s diversity and inclusion.

“It provides Vancouver with a great platform to share Taiwanese culture with our Canadian friends,” Liu said.

At the opening ceremony, Granville Island general manager Tom Lancaster expressed tremendous appreciation to his staff and employees of the Asian-Canadian Special Events Association for their work in presenting the Lunar New Year lanterns and LunarFest Vancouver activities.

“Charlie mentioned this: we need to acknowledge these are the traditional unceded territories of the three host nations that we work with closely: the Musqueam, the Squamish, and the Tsleil-Waututh,” Lancaster said. “I was just on the phone with a member of the communities a couple of weeks ago talking about Granville Island and the meaningfulness of this place in Indigenous history. I just want to acknowledge that this is a really powerful thing for us to be here on these lands and for me to be here on these lands.”

Lancaster also acknowledged that the world can be “unbelievably terrible at times”, which is what makes events like LunarFest so important.

“Then, we step into a position like this and we see the celebration of diversity and people coming together,” he said.

Lancaster told the crowd that he didn’t know much about Taiwanese Indigenous culture, but he’s learned more as a result of what’s taken place at Granville Island over the years. And that has enriched his life.

TD regional head Jim Kershaw was the final speaker at the opening ceremony.

TD promotes inclusion

The final speaker was Jim Kershaw, regional head of TD Pacific Region and TD Wealth. TD Ready Commitment is a partner in The Lantern City and a sponsor of LunarFest Vancouver. He emphasized that clients and customers give his financial institution the ability to support community events like this.

Through TD Ready Commitment, the financial institution is targeting $1 billion towards community giving by 2030 in what it calls the “Four Interconnected Drivers of Change—Financial Security, Vibrant Planet, Connected Communities, and Better Health”.

Kershaw pointed out that LunarFest Vancouver originated 14 years ago when it was one of the cultural events held in association with the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver.

“I love the fact that we are able to bring what is the mosaic of Vancouver—all of the cultures—together,” he said. “There’s an Indigenous thread that weaves through much of it. Not just Indigenous British Columbian heritage but also Asian heritage as well. It’s an exceptional opportunity to be part of it.”

For more information and a schedule of events, visit the LunarFest Vancouver website, LNY Splash website, and The Lantern City website. Follow Pancouver on Twitter @PancouverMedia and on Instagram @PancouverMedia.

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Charlie Smith

Charlie Smith

Pancouver editor Charlie Smith has worked as a Vancouver journalist in print, radio, and television for more than three decades.



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The Society of We Are Canadians Too created Pancouver to foster greater appreciation for underrepresented artistic communities. A rising tide of understanding lifts all of us.

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We would like to acknowledge that we are gathered on the traditional and unceded territories of the Coast Salish peoples of the xʷməθkwəy̓əm (Musqueam), Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish), and Səl̓ílwətaɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) Nations. With this acknowledgement, we thank the Indigenous peoples who still live on and care for this land.