IF MOLLY ROSS had a business card it would read: "Spectacular Celebrations." The Baltimore-based artist has staged a kaleidoscope of pageants, parades and installations across the country and is now working on the largest spectacle right in her own back yard: Baltimore's Great Halloween Lantern Parade.
The event is a luminous assemblage of giant swan lanterns, enormous skeleton puppets, live bands and hundreds of glowing handmade bamboo and paper lanterns. Ross has directed the parade since its inception five years ago and has seen participation grow from fewer than 100 people its first year to almost 1,000 last year; she expects to double that number this year. The parade is scheduled for Oct. 30.
During October, Ross runs free workshops open to the public, inviting children and adults to come and design their own lanterns for use in the event. Hundreds of people, from students to senior citizens, have participated. The final workshops will be held Sunday, and reservations are still being accepted.
"Making lanterns is such a fun experience," Ross says. "Adults, kids, I think everyone is surprised by how much they enjoy the process."
Workshops are geared toward all ages, with cardboard box lanterns for kids under 10 to make, and bamboo construction for those older. The results, as Ross explains, are a host of "elegant, vibrant, handmade and decorated luminaries."
The workshops are two hours long, and all materials are included. Ross has trained facilitators to teach the process, so there are several seasoned lantern guides on hand to help out. Workshops fill with about 50 people or more, with each person creating and decorating a lantern that represents his or her individual expression.
"The room can become very quiet," Ross says. "It's really amazing when you have that many people gathered together for a creative project.
"People's imaginations really take off."
The parade and workshops were the brainchild of two young nonprofits: The Creative Alliance, an arts organization, and the community-based Friends of Patterson Park. The two groups are representative of a growing and thriving community in southeast Baltimore. The Friends of Patterson Park's goal is to draw attention to the park, a place the group calls "the best back yard in Baltimore." The Creative Alliance's mission is to connect the arts to the community; lantern workshops are held at the nonprofit's headquarters in the Patterson Building, a renovated 1930s movie theater that houses a multimedia community arts center with a theater, galleries, classrooms, media lab and artists studios.
Once the lanterns are made, and the preparations are set, neighbors, friends, artists, families and children -- more than 1,000 people -- will gather together to carry them in the parade. A sea of glowing lanterns will be seen floating and shimmering in the night along the parade route. Joining the festivities will be costumed Mummers from Philadelphia, the Polish American String Band and Mambo Combo.
There will also be giant mechanized lanterns, wild magic wands taller than people and illuminated skeletons.
But the pyrotechnic processional is only a part of the night's events.
It is the parade's finale where Ross's work gets started in earnest. At parade's end, a 30-foot screen will rise, and giant shadow puppets will be projected onto it. Under the stars, illuminated by hundreds of homemade lanterns, Patterson Park will be filled with dancing skeletons, special effects and live original music. The finale, based on a fairy tale by the Brothers Grimm, will tell the story of a little boy who steals the moon -- the young boy has to place the moon back in the sky and banish all the monsters to the underworld.
The logistical demands of directing a community event on this scale is part of what Ross finds so exhilarating about the production. She has been at work on it since February and calls the parade "a unique signature event."
"There are tons of challenges in putting this together, but the best part is that the community can be involved in all aspects -- from making the lanterns to marching in the parade. It's about the power of art to bring people together."
All are welcome to watch the large sprawling art piece from the vantage point of Pagoda Hill in the park -- even if they don't want to march in the parade or make a lantern. Bring a blanket or lawn chair and be prepared to sit back and bask in the glow of shimmering lights, live music and one spectacular celebration.
FREE LANTERNMAKING WORKSHOPS -- Creative Alliance at the Patterson Building, 3134 Eastern Ave., Baltimore. www.creativealliance.org. Sunday from 10 to noon, 1 to 3 and 4 to 6. Advance registration suggested; advance registration required for groups of more than five; children must be accompanied by an adult. 410-276-1651.
GREAT HALLOWEEN LANTERN PARADE -- Oct. 30 at 6:30. Patterson Park, Baltimore. Directions to Patterson Park: From Interstate 95 north, take I-295 toward Baltimore. Pass M&T (Ravens) Stadium and Camden Yards. Turn right onto Pratt Street. Stay on Pratt until it ends at Patterson Park Avenue and the park. 410-276-3676. www.creativealliance.org. Parade participants (costumes are encouraged) line up at Pulaski monument, at the Southeast corner of the park, Eastern and Linwood avenues. Observers gather at Pagoda Hill, Patterson Park and Lombard avenues. Free. The rain date is Oct. 31.
For more Halloween events, visit www.washingtonpost.com/halloween.