Utah’s Festival of Trees is moving to The Viv, ‘reimagined’ for virtual viewing

(Image courtesy of Festival of Trees) The logo for the 50th annual Festival of Trees, set for Dec. 1-5, 2020, in Vivint Smart Home Arena in downtown Salt Lake City. The event "is being reimagined" for online viewing, organizers said at a news conference on Oct. 22, 2020.

The Festival of Trees, one of Utah’s Christmas traditions, will have a new home for its 50th anniversary — though people will be encouraged, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, to enjoy the event from their own homes.

Organizers made the announcement Thursday in a virtual news conference from the front of Vivint Smart Home Arena, which will play host to the event Dec. 1-5 with the theme “Make Good Grow.”

Every year, festival volunteers gather hundreds of Christmas trees, decorated by people across Utah in a variety of themes, along with wreaths, quilts, playhouses, gingerbread displays, centerpieces and Nativity scenes. After the trees and other items are exhibited, they are auctioned off — and proceeds from ticket sales and the auctions go to Primary Children’s Hospital.

This year’s event “is being reimagined to include a variety of live and virtual elements,” said Melinda Simmons, who chairs Intermountain Foundation’s community development board at Primary Children’s Hospital.

The new website for the festival, makegoodgrow.org, will allow visitors to see every tree in an interactive format. The festival’s annual silent auction and gift shops will also be online.

Simmons said the festival will present, for the first time, a 90-minute broadcast featuring live entertainment from The Viv. Details on who will be performing, and where it will be shown, were not announced Thursday.

Since 2001, the festival has called the Mountain America Expo Center its home. Festival organizers decided to seek a larger venue when they decided this year’s event would be virtual, “to both effectively display virtual auction items and support the live production,” said Jennifer Toomer-Cook, a spokeswoman for Intermountain Healthcare, which operates Primary Children’s Hospital.

Jim Olson, president of Larry H. Miller Sports and the Utah Jazz, said his company and the team made The Viv available because “we wanted to be part of something special, something that provides joy and holiday fun to the community in a safe way.”

The expo center in Sandy could be occupied this year, anyway. It’s part of the state’s contingency plans to house an overflow field hospital if needed to handle patients in a potential surge of COVID-19 cases.

Last year, the event earned $2.6 million for the hospital, said Shauna Davis, chairwoman of its volunteer board. Over the last half-century, she said, the event has raised more than $40 million for Primary Children’s.