More than 800 festive guests rang in the Chinese New Year at a recent Santa Barbara Museum of Art January Nights event to recognize the newly reinstalled Asian Art permanent collection and welcome the Year of the Dragon.

“The dragon is emboldened by an emperor in the old times in China. It represents righteousness, wisdom and justice for all,” said Neil Chu, president of the Santa Barbara Chinese American Association. “Nowadays the dragon stands for attitude, peace and also foresees the future for all the Chinese people.”

The dragon is on the 12-year cycle of animals referenced on the Chinese calendar and is considered to be the luckiest year in the Chinese Zodiac.

A dance troupe of nine performers ages 10 to 21 practiced 10 weeks for the event and debuted a new dragon that recently arrived from China, replacing an older one that was used by the agency for more than 20 years.

“This year is important to our people because every 12 years everybody wants their kids to be born this year,” Chu said. “They want their kids to be better than others — like the emperor.”

Kendall Pata, an art teacher and graphic designer for the museum, said the “Way-to-the-Way” Brush Painting Room was inspired by the newly renovated Asian Gallery.

“We have a giant landscape spanning the gallery where artists such as myself have created the initial landscape in pencil and then guests can add to it using paint and traditional Sumi Chinese brushes made of bamboo and horse hair,” Pata said.

On the opposite wall were passages from the Tao Te Ching, an ancient philosophical text from China written around the 6th century by the sage Laozi.

“The loose translation for Tao Te Ching means ‘the way,’ and the Chinese classic text depicts ways on how to live your life and how to spiritually become one with what is,” Pata said. “Guests can add to the landscape and also practice their Chinese calligraphy and write a poem of their own.”

In addition the performances, dance and music guests also visited the Department of Fortunes in the Campbell and Gould galleries to access their fortunes for the coming year amongst the beautiful artwork. 

Larry Feinberg, SBMA director and chief executive officer, standing in the active and bustling gallery, graciously welcomed guests to the celebration.

“We have many galleries full of art for everyone to see, including our Asian Gallery renovation which is about 90 percent complete and you can see a number of works of art that have been recently acquired and many that haven’t been on view for some time,” Feinberg said. “The gallery has a full selection of all of our Asian collections, Chinese above all, but also Southeast Asian, Tibetan and Japanese — the whole range of the Asian world.”

“The money that we make from this event goes to support our education programs,” Feinberg said. “We are in all 75 public schools in Santa Barbara with 25,000 children going through are programs and taking our courses.”

Feinberg went on to say that the museum is also collaborating with the Santa Barbara County school system and public school teachers as part of their educational outreach programs.

“Last year we trained 1,100 teachers on how to use the museum and the visual arts to teach children across the curriculum,” Feinberg said. “Our goal for this year is to train 4,000 teachers, and we have also recently made a new provision that all school teachers should be allowed to come to the museum for free admission anytime as long as they have identification.”

Karen Bradshaw, owner of The Dailey Method, arrived at the event with her two companions and said she amazed by the museum’s transformation.

“I was so impressed with the energy and creativity of the evening and was overwhelmed by how many people came out to support SBMA’s educational programs,” she said.

Noozhawk iSociety columnist Melissa Walker can be reached at Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkSociety, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Become a fan of Noozhawk on Facebook.

Noozhawk iSociety columnist Melissa Walker can be reached at Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.