Christmas lights switch on at Temple Square, while a new holiday tradition lights up at Eccles Theater

(Sean P. Means | The Salt Lake Tribune) A "holiday tree" art installation made of thread-and-paper was lit for the first time Friday in the lobby of the Eccles Theater in downtown Salt Lake City.

Holiday revelers enjoyed a time-honored tradition Friday night in downtown Salt Lake City, as they watched hundreds of thousands of lights switch on at Temple Square.

Two blocks south, a small gathering of Salt Lake County officials ushered in what they hope will become a tradition: A holiday art installation in the lobby of the Eccles Theater.

The Temple Square spectacle, put on by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, will be lit from 5 to 10:30 p.m. and from 6 to 7:30 a.m. until Jan. 2. Among the highlights are the red-lit 75-year-old Cedar of Lebanon and the life-size nativity scene in front of the North Visitor Center.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) The Lights on Temple Square are switched on, Friday, Nov. 23, 2018.

At the Eccles Theater, about two dozen people gathered to celebrate the newest addition to the season’s exhibits: A “holiday tree” that isn’t a tree, and has no lights hanging from it.

The temporary art installation will be “the first of many to come” in the Eccles lobby, said Valerie Price, Salt Lake County’s public art manager. Price said the Eccles’ artwork will fill a gap on Main Street, between the Gallivan Center to the south and the City Creek Macy’s candy windows to the north on the way to Temple Square.

“It’s traditions like this that build community,” Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams said before the installation was illuminated. “It’s about family and memories and community.”

McAdams — who is preparing to leave the mayoralty on Jan. 2, a day before he starts his new job as a representative of Utah’s 4th Congressional District — said the event made him a bit nostalgic. “Being a mayor, you get to do fun things like this, things that celebrate community,” he said.

The “holiday tree” was designed and built by Salt Lake City artists/architects Sophia Malik and Nelson Hansen, who both work for the architecture firm EDA.

(Sean P. Means | The Salt Lake Tribune) Architects and artists Sophia Malik and Nelson Hansen talk to reporters about their art installation, a "holiday tree" that was formally lit Friday in the lobby of the Eccles Theater in downtown Salt Lake City.

It consists of 961 strings, made of industrial polyester thread, strung two stories high and 4 inches apart on a 10-foot-square grid. On those strings hang about 4,150 pieces of torn paper with silver leaf, forming the outline of a tall conifer.

“We wanted to create a tree that felt like it was still in the forest, something that might bring to mind memories of when you were a kid going and looking for that perfect holiday tree,” Hansen said. “We’re seeing falling snow forming the shape of the tree.”

The tree has no internal illumination, but is lit with white spotlights. “We try to create something that felt more like sunlight shining on it, something more natural, something more organic,” Hansen said.

“The really cool part about it is that the threads themselves kind of create what’s almost like a mist around the tree itself,” Malik said. “It gives it this really ethereal glow. It makes it come to life, for sure.”

The installation took weeks of planning, Malik said, with installation taking eight to 12 hours a day starting Nov. 12 and finishing this Tuesday. “We had a really tight schedule,” Hansen said.

The artists had to work around the Eccles’ performance schedule, which had a few side benefits. “[Writer] David Sedaris, oddly enough, spent about four hours in the lobby staring at our half-finished tree,” Malik said.

The “holiday tree” at Eccles Theater, visible through the glass wall facing Main Street or to patrons attending shows inside, will be on display until Jan. 2.