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Garden of Wonder: China Lights at City Park

After a stop in the Netherlands, China Lights has traveled to New Orleans, bringing with it dazzling silk sculptures true to Sichuan heritage.

A closeup of the Qilin, the Chinese Fortune Animal, with the Chinese Ornaments hanging in the ancient oak trees along Victory Avenue -- near the entrance to the Botanical Garden.

There’s a brand new, one-of-a-kind, must-see experience awaiting you at the Botanical Garden in New Orleans City Park. China Lights has arrived, and it’s guaranteed to dazzle. Previously seen in only a handful of other cities (including Rotterdam, Netherlands), the exhibit’s stop in New Orleans means you’ll be one of the first in the States to experience the majesty of these gorgeous light sculptures first hand.

The exhibit features more than 30 larger-than-life sculptural displays handmade by Chinese artists at Sichuan Tianyu in Zigong, China. The China Lights displays are fabricated out of brightly colored silk slipped over metal forms and lit from within.

China Lights is open now for daytime and nighttime viewing; it remains open Tuesdays through Sundays until May 1, 2016 (so if you’re planning on going to French Quarter Fest or Jazz Fest, you’ve got the perfect after-fest activity — it’s also within walking distance from Jazz Fest). Tickets are available online or in-person at the Tolmas Center at the entrance to the Botanical Garden in City Park. Tickets range for daytime viewing are $12 for adults and $8 for children ages 3 to 12 (kids under 3 are free). For visits after 6 p.m., tickets are $18 for adults and  $12 for children ages 3 to 12. Group discounts are available.

Once inside the Botanical Garden, enjoy live entertainment nightly featuring dragon dances and other cultural presentations. The event also features Chinese-inspired cuisine to snack on or create a light meal — sriracha popcorn, dinner combo plates with fried rice and an egg roll, as well as burgers and fries, General’s Chicken Pizza, and two types of only-in-NOLA egg rolls: a Deep Fried S’more Egg Roll and a Muffaletta Egg Roll complete with olive salad filling. Domestic and Chinese beers, wine, and soft drinks are all for sale on the Botanical Garden grounds, too. (And after touring China Lights, you’re perfectly situated to stop by the Morning Call coffee and beignets stand in City Park.)

China Lights at City Park Botanical Garden

One of the first exhibits you'll see at China Lights are these Chinese Fortune Animals known as Qilin, made up of medicine bottles filled with colored liquid. This is the first of many photo op stops on the walking paths in the Botanical Garden.
One of the first sculptures you’ll see at China Lights are these Chinese Fortune Animals known as Qilin, made up of medicine bottles filled with colored liquid. This is the first of many photo op stops on the walking paths in the Botanical Garden.
Panda Land features a cast of adorable, animated, and unique little pandas frolicking in the garden. Take time to look at the faces on each of the pandas, they're all different and very expressive.
Panda Land features a cast of adorable, animated, and unique little pandas frolicking in the garden. Take time to look at the faces on each of the pandas — they’re all different and very expressive.
Chinese Lantern Columns illuminate the path.
Chinese Lantern Columns illuminate the path.
A Lantern Gallery leads to a field of tulips in the formal gardens of the Botanical Garden.
A Lantern Gallery leads to a field of tulips in the formal gardens of the Botanical Garden.
At every turn, there's something new and brightly colored to see! One wonderful take away from the China Lights exhibit is that you can stroll underneath a display like these lanterns, and they look different than the view approaching them -- it's easy to spend more than an hour walking through the displays and revisiting them from a different path.
At every turn, there’s something new and brightly colored to see! One wonderful takeaway from the China Lights exhibit is that you can stroll underneath a display like these lanterns, and they look different than the view approaching them — it’s easy to spend more than an hour walking through the displays and revisiting them from a different path.
A colorful Dutch-inspired scene of tulips and an animated windmill.
A colorful, Dutch-inspired scene of tulips and an animated windmill.
Peonys, lotus flowers, and golden flowers make a real garden into a fantasy garden.
Peonies, lotus flowers, and golden flowers make a real garden into a fantasy garden.
Stroll under the long trellis of lotus flowers!
Strolling under the long trellis of lotus flowers.
The long approach to the Lotus Pagoda is through the Dreamy Gallery. This is definitely a photo op spot!
The long approach to the Lotus Pagoda is through the Dreamy Gallery. This is definitely a photo op spot!
One of the centerpieces of the China Lights exhibit is the 40 foot tall Lotus Pagoda, which has intricately painted (and rotating) silk panels. It can be seen from almost anywhere in the Botanical Garden. A nearly full moon was overhead the night that I got to preview the exhibit!
One of the centerpieces of the China Lights exhibit is the 40-foot-tall Lotus Pagoda, which has intricately painted (and rotating) silk panels. It can be seen from almost anywhere in the Botanical Garden. A nearly full moon was overhead the night that I got to preview the exhibit.
This lotus pond full of koi is a good example of the delicate silk fabric work that goes into the making of each sculpture. This koi isn't lit up (they were finishing up installation the preview night I attended) but even without lighting the craftsmanship on these pieces is evident.
This lotus pond full of koi is a good example of the delicate silk fabric work that goes into the making of each sculpture. This koi isn’t lit up (they were finishing up installation the preview night I attended) but even without lighting, the craftsmanship on these pieces is evident.
Don't miss a stroll through the brand new Enrique Alfrerez sculpture garden in the Botanical Gardnen. Alferez was aMexican-born, Louisiana resident who designed so much of City Park's sculptures and fixtures -- look anywhere in City Park and his work is abundant in benches, gates, sculptures and fixtures. This fitting gallery contains some of his major artworks from both inside and outside of City Park. Also, hark, there be dragons!
Don’t miss a stroll through the brand new Enrique Alfrerez sculpture garden in the Botanical Gardnen. Alferez was a Mexican-born, Louisiana resident who designed so much of City Park’s sculptures and fixtures — look anywhere in City Park and his work is abundant in benches, gates, sculptures, and fixtures. This fitting gallery contains some of his major artworks from both inside and outside of City Park. Also, hark, dragons!
Rows and rows of tulips in the garden!
Rows and rows of tulips in the garden.
A closeup of the Qilin, the Chinese Fortune Animal, with the Chinese Ornaments hanging in the ancient oak trees along Victory Avenue -- near the entrance to the Botanical Garden.
A closeup of the Qilin, the Chinese Fortune Animal, with the Chinese Ornaments hanging in the ancient oak trees along Victory Avenue near the entrance to the Botanical Garden.
The edge of the Dreamy Gallery looking onto the Lotus Pond. The Lotus Pond isn't lit in this photo, but it does light up, and has animated sculptures in the pond.
The edge of the Dreamy Gallery looking onto the Lotus Pond. The Lotus Pond isn’t lit in this photo, but it does light up and features animated sculptures in the pond.
Another view of the stunning lotus pond.
Another view of the stunning lotus pond.
A larger-than-life display of peacocks is ready to greet you!
A larger-than-life display of peacocks is ready to greet you!
Lucky Fish - one of the larger sculptures on display
Lucky Fish — one of the larger sculptures on display
The Peony Garden fits perfectly with the landscaping of the Botanical Garden
The Peony Garden fits perfectly with the landscaping of the Botanical Garden
Another stunning view of the Lotus Pagoda through the "Fancy Trees" near the Peony Garden. I gasped when I saw this view. I had seen the Pagoda earlier on my tour, but seeing it from this angle was like seeing it fresh again. This exhibit has so many "a-ha" moments like that.
Another stunning view of the Lotus Pagoda through the “Fancy Trees” near the Peony Garden. I gasped when I saw this view. I had seen the Pagoda earlier on my tour, but seeing it from this angle was like seeing it fresh again. This exhibit has so many “a-ha” moments like that.
Perhaps the most impressive display in the Botanical Garden is the Chinese Dragon.
Perhaps the most impressive display in the Botanical Garden is the Chinese Dragon.
This dragon is HUGE! It's 162 feet long!
This dragon is HUGE! It’s 162 feet long!
The entrance and box office to China Lights is along Victory Avenue at the new Tolmas Center. You can't miss the gigantic Welcome Gate to China Lights out front.
The entrance and box office to China Lights is along Victory Avenue at the new Tolmas Center. You can’t miss the gigantic Welcome Gate to China Lights out front.

Photos by Paul Broussard

Paul Broussard is a native New Orleanian, photographer, writer, and culture junkie. He regularly photographs for Visit New Orleans, Zatarain’s, and other great New Orleans brands, and his photography and writings have appeared in several national and international publications including Bon Appetit magazine and The Times-Picayune. He is the co-host of the long-running Stage & Screen radio on WTUL 91.5 FM.

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