An eye-popping splash of Chinese culture will light up the nights at Gilroy Gardens from mid-July through the Thanksgiving holiday when the theme park debuts “Lumination,” a one-of-a-kind attraction designed specifically for the location.
The exhibit will be open nightly from July 16-Aug.14, then can be seen Friday, Saturday, and Sunday evenings from Aug. 16-Nov. 27, and is expected provide an enormous boost in park attendance.
“We’re projecting an additional 200,000 visitors, in addition to our regular attendance, which is 400,000 to 450,000 each year,” said Barb Granter, who is in her 12th year as general manager of Gilroy Gardens. “But even if that number turns out to be on the lower end—50,000 to 70,000 new visitors—it will still be a tremendous win for our park, and a huge economic boost for the city of Gilroy.”
Each “Lumination” light sculpture will be composed of hundreds, and sometimes thousands of individual pieces, including traditional, hand-crafted silk lanterns, porcelain plates and tiny glass bottles filled with colored water, all assembled into intricate, individual sculptures.
About 100 Chinese artisans and technical staff are doing preliminary work on the display in Zigong, China, and preparing materials for shipping. Another team of 40 Chinese designers, carpenters, welders and electricians will travel with the materials to Gilroy, then live on site at Gilroy Gardens for approximately six weeks to construct the exhibits.
“We actually have enough space in some unused buildings to house that crew at the park,” Granter said. “They’ll bring their own chef, who will cook breakfast, lunch and dinner. All of the workers speak Mandarin—they don’t speak English—so we’ll have translators on site, and they won’t really integrate into the community while they’re here. And they’ll rent a huge tent, which is where they’ll build most of the exhibits.”
The light sculptures have been custom-designed for Gilroy Gardens’ 25 acres, winding along pathways, arching over buildings, reaching around and over trees, and integrating with the park’s waterways.
Attractions will include reproductions of historic Chinese landmarks and legends (the Great Wall, the Temple of Heaven, Terracotta Warriors), a 120-foot-long, smoke-breathing dragon, the mythical hooved creature known as the Qilin, and pandas playing in a bamboo forest. A water display will depict carp jumping over ornate Chinese gates.
The exhibit will include an artisan marketplace and a troupe of live performers from China. Gilroy Gardens also has converted one of its restaurants into a Chinese restaurant to honor the event.
“They’ve done similar exhibits in North America in Toronto, at the Texas State Fair, and at the Tampa Zoo, which is where I first saw it,” Granter said. “They design every exhibit specifically for the property, because every venue is a different size and shape.
“It’s actually pretty impressive during the day, because the silk is so pretty, but you can’t see it in daylight without realizing that you have to come back at night,” she said. “You really need to see it at dusk, and watch it light up as the sun sets. It’s absolutely spectacular when these things come on.”
That aspect of the exhibit is expected to provide a significant boost to the park, which typically makes its money during daytime hours. Now guests will have a reason to visit Gilroy Gardens after dark.
Granter says the company that produces “Lumination” receives a percentage of the gate while the exhibit is up, so Gilroy Gardens is assuming no financial risk.
“All we need is attendance,” she said.