Craft Lake City offers a virtual wonderland to shop for holiday art

(Photo courtesy of Craft Lake City Holiday Online Market) An image from the virtual reality world created for Craft Lake City’s Holiday Online Market. During virtual meetups on Dec.11 and Dec. 18, from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., artisans and shoppers can interact in the online winter wonderland.

Over the summer, when Craft Lake City organizers saw that the coronavirus pandemic was not going away, founder and executive director Angela H. Brown realized that they wouldn’t be able to hold in-person events.

She saw artists trying to share their work through social media and Instagram stories, but she felt that there had to be another way to connect with people. She envisioned creating something different, like a video game.

Working with Utah game designer Greg Bayles, associate director of the Therapeutic Games and Apps Lab at the University of Utah, Craft Lake City produced its entire summer DIY festival using Mozilla Hubs, a new open-source social network from the Mozilla internet and search engine company. Fans overloaded the server the first day, with over 10,000 attendees over the three days.

Now, for its online Holiday Market, Craft Lake City is offering a virtual winter wonderland where visitors can shop and create their own avatars to interact with artists.

“It’s about having an experience, meeting creatives, and you’re probably purchasing a few items, but you’ve got a story to go along with those items that you purchased,” Brown said. “You’ve met the individual that made it, you learned about the process and are coming away feeling inspired about our local maker community.”

Virtual meetups with artists are planned for Dec. 11 and 18, from 6 to 8 p.m.

There are options to use virtual goggles for those that have them, or a desktop computer and a cellphone work just fine to operate in the space. Craft Lake City has created YouTube tutorials to help people get familiar with shopping and interacting in the 3D space.

Shoppers can create an avatar in their own likeness by uploading a photo into the program, or they can use a preset avatar. There are options such as flying, taking selfies and creating images within the virtual world.

Based on feedback from this summer’s participants, Craft Lake City also created “a shoppable website that people are a little more accustomed with, where they can go purchase at any time through craftlakecity.com,” Brown added.

And Craft Lake City helped its exhibitors create and use the virtual space that represents them. As shoppers explore, they will see plaques with images of artists’ shops and a link to connect to their web stores.

One of the artisans participating in the event, Josh Kissel from Elevated Map Design, began making colorful maps of states and national parks in 2019. He takes satellite imagery from NASA and uses digital tools to extrapolate elevation data. He then creates 2D image posters, with state elevation models and national park contour maps.

“I feel like you’re kind of playing a video game when you’re in here,” Kissel said of the virtual world. “I think it’s really cool to embrace the fact that we can’t be in person and not even make the best of it, but try something new. And obviously, nothing beats being in person, but this is pretty close.”