Lantern Festival is cancelled this year

June 20, 2014
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The Forest Hills Cemetery (FHC) will not hold its annual Lantern Festival this summer, a landmark event that it has held for the last 15 years.

FHC Assistant Treasurer Janice Stetz told the Gazette that the Cemetery is “reviewing procedures and logistics” and that the festival “may come back next year.”

Stetz said she does not know when a decision about next year would be made.

The Lantern Festival was inspired by Japanese Buddhist tradition. A key part involved sending messages to dead loved ones, written on paper lanterns that were floated on Lake Hibiscus at sunset. Showa Boston Institute for Language and Culture in Jamaica Hills, an affiliate of a Japanese women’s university, was heavily involved.

“We’re saddened. We’ve participated almost every year. It was a great opportunity for us,” Showa Boston Community Outreach Coordinator Erin Naumann told the Gazette last week.

Showa students volunteered to paint calligraphy on the lanterns at the festival since its first year. Naumann said she already had a sign-up list out for students to volunteer at this year’s festival when she heard the news.

Naumann said she thought the cancellation might have to do with the large number of attendees.

“People started coming in droves [after the first year] and it became a bit overwhelming. I wonder if that’s what pushed them over the edge,” she said.

She also said that Showa would have been happy to provide more volunteers to help, if FHC had only asked.

The end of the Lantern Festival follows turmoil in cemetery arts programming that previously saw other events and programs cancelled.

The Lantern Festival was organized by the Forest Hills Educational Trust (FHET). The cemetery and FHET are separate organizations with separate boards of directors. FHET previously functioned like a “friends” group of the cemetery, fundraising and organizing programming that the cemetery had to approve.

FHET announced in December 2010 that all programming would be suspended indefinitely, a move that coincided with the last executive director, Cecily Miller, leaving. The rest of the staff was let go at the same time. FHET Programs Director Jonathan Clark returned in 2011, but left about a year ago to pursue a graduate degree outside the state, a FHC employee told the Gazette.

The Gazette was unable to reach Clark for comment this week.

Before Miller’s departure, the FHET sponsored and ran contemporary art initiatives, concerts, poetry readings, history tours, education programs and signature events such as the annual Lantern Festival and Mexican-inspired Day of the Dead celebrations at the cemetery. Thousands of people attended those events.

According to Stetz, the Trust currently has a few part time employees “taking care of walking tours,” but no full-time employees. Walking tours are currently the only programming expected in the cemetery this summer, she added.

In a 2012 interview, cemetery CEO George Milley told the Gazette that many of the arts events, especially the Lantern Festival, were enormous drains on resources and staff with little economic return.

“I guess the Trust has ceased to function as we’ve known it over the years. I hope they realize how much the community values all the arts events it sponsored,” said Joe Bergin, a member of the JP Carpenter Poets, a group that used to stage poetry readings at the cemetery. “I can only hope it makes some kind of resurgence next season.”

An unrelated but similarly named event, the Jamaica Pond Lantern Festival held in October by Spontaneous Celebration, is unaffected.

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