By Barbara Brockway

The Atlanta Beltline Lantern Parade is coming this month and Chantelle Rytter wants you to be ready. The longtime Atlanta resident is synonymous with the now-popular annual parade that kicks of Art on
the Atlanta BeltLine; she has worked tirelessly over the past several years to see her vision grow from 500 participants and a handful of spectators in 2010 to a crowd of over 20,000 in 2014.

Lantern Parade founder Chantelle Rytter

Rytter is Founder and Captain of the Krewe of the Grateful Gluttons, the organization hosting the parade, which is sponsored by Atlanta Medical Center. Anyone who has been to Mardi Gras in New Orleans is familiar with the word “krewe;” they are the private clubs who throw parades as a gift to the city. Founded in 1999 right here in Atlanta, the close-knit group of Grateful Gluttons boasts 45 members.

“The first year, we were the largest number of people on the Beltline ever,” Rytter says. “We walked through dirt and the weeds were waist high. A krewe member’s wheelchair-bound father wanted to march with us and people helped carry his chair over the puddles.” Why is the Lantern Parade so important to Rytter? She answers that question philosophically. “I believe that individual creative participation in civic events is priceless cultural development.”

A freelance artist, Rytter believes the homemade aspect of the lanterns cannot be over-emphasized. “The heart recognizes what is genuine and it soars,” she says. Seeing the individual expressions of art “charges the ground beneath your feet, it changes the way you feel about a place. A connection is formed.”

Rytter admits living in New Orleans profoundly affected her. Describing it as her “soul city,” she fell in love with all things Mardi Gras and wanted to bring a part of that joyous celebration to Atlanta. She mentions the term “second lining,” a reference to the group of parade goers following the marching band and official parade participants or “first line.” The second line is just there to enjoy the music, they have no official role in the club, but they have become a quintessential New Orleans art form, a riot of costumes and dancing. Rytter says the Lantern Parade is second lining at its best.

The Krewe of the Grateful Glutton at last year’s Lantern Parade

The growth of the parade is a testament to its founder’s hard work. In 2014 there were over 10,000 marchers and more than 10,000 onlookers. With four marching bands booked to play the two-mile route between Irwin Street and Piedmont Park on Sept. 12, Rytter believes the group will be much larger this year. In partnership with the Atlanta Beltline, she is leading lantern building workshops at Ponce City Market. “You can get to know who you’ll be marching with. They’ll see you at the parade and say, ‘hey, I remember you making that bumblebee lantern next to me.’ ”

So, if you venture out to watch the Beltline Lantern Parade, you’ll see Chantelle Rytter leading the crowd. And if you want to make a lantern, she’ll show you how at one of her 26 workshops. Rytter wants all interested Atlantans to be part of this special event, whether they want be a dancing reveler or they’re content to watch from the sidelines.

The Atlanta Beltline Lantern Parade will be held Saturday, Sept. 12. The parade steps off at 8:15 from Irwin Street and marches along the Eastside Trail, ending at Piedmont Park. For more information, go to gratefulgluttons.com. To sign up for a lantern workshop, go art.beltline.org/lantern-parade/.

Collin Kelley

Collin Kelley has been the editor of Atlanta Intown for two decades and has been a journalist and freelance writer for 35 years. He’s also an award-winning poet and novelist.