Backstage at the Utah Arts Festival 2023: With Tree Utah as thematic anchor, Kids’ Art Yard will be a beehive of creative projects celebrating forests and trees

ART YARD (June 23-25, noon-9 p.m.)

‘Let me tell you about this tree. It was a rock-solid hardwood, three feet in diameter with a trunk magnificently embossed in rich gray tones, set in deep relief with an exquisitely interconnected skin of bark that was somehow both coarse and forgiving to the hand. The ash is actually from the olive family, but designed by nature to reach 70 feet upwards. This particular specimen had been carved back over the years, allowed to grow no more than 30 feet high, the center trunk removed some 15 feet up as the remaining limbs wrapped like a giant green chalice, obscuring the power lines. Regardless, the lush, dense canopy spread almost as wide as the height. It was indeed a thing of beauty, and so much more.’ — Pepper Provenzano, founder of TreeUtah, 2002.

Over the 17 years that Margaret Willis has been coordinator of the Art Yard at the Utah Arts Festival, she has developed a loyal core of local arts, cultural and community institutions that add depth to programming and offer make-and-take projects that resonate with the annual theme of the venue. With that, Willis now invites a community organization which ties directly to the theme.

For Forest and Trees, this year’s Art Yard theme, Willis has invited Tree Utah as the anchor for the creative impetus for activities and projects. TreeUtah has ongoing projects, including community tree planting and ecological restoration, where volunteers plant thousands of native trees and woody perennials along riparian corridors such as Jordan River. They also work on reforestation efforts on U.S. Forest Service lands in Little Cottonwood and Big Cottonwood Canyons. In the last 35 years, they have planted more than 400,000 trees.

The most enduring characteristic of the Art Yard is how Willis and the team emphasize the value of upcycled materials that pops with incredible bursts of do-it-yourself and imaginative take-home projects. Many parents are overjoyed to discover that these activities do not overburden their pocketbooks. Reiterating a point from previous years: creative activities do not have to break the bank and they are sensitive to being smart and responsible about the environment. Furthermore, parents and kids can easily replicate these projects at home.

The venue will have trees and forests, upcycled from common objects, which will be available for young festival goers to add leaves, bark and paint to decorate them. Cans, bottles, plastic soda bottle, cereal boxes and newspapers are upcycled to create tree sculptures and fabric remnants and glue are ideal for adorning these sculptures. And, yes, along with deers and other forest animals, there will be Bigfoot (Sasquatch). 

The forests cover common climate zones, including temperate, tropical, boreal and desert. Students from a seventh grade art. class at Wasatch Charter School also have created forest animal sculptures, which festival goers will be able to decorate. Also, Art Yard staff will provide toilet paper rolls so children can create trees for their own tiny forest. 

Any object conceivably can become the basis for a tree. For example, old tomato cages, depending on whether they are straight or turned upside down or looked at from a different angle, become palm, deciduous or evergreen trees. Willis encourages parents and kids to do this with any common object when creating a DIY art project. Willis adds that she is especially fond of this year’s theme of forest and trees, as both her and members of her family have been involved as wilderness firefighters. 

Make and take projects also will be available. Part of the festival’s Emerging Artists program, the local nonprofit What’s Ya Vibe? will be in the Art Yard providing materials for making flowers and masks. Led by Shalandrea Houchen, the organization’s team will provide flowers, branches, paints, oil,pastels and jewels to festival goers to make their own flower or a tribal mask representing Oshun, the goddess of love important to Yoruba-based religions, which originated in West Africa and became part of Afro-Caribbean and Brazilian cultures and spiritual practices. 

Various organizations also will have booths for activities including Craft Lake City, Make Salt Lake, Utah Film Center, Utah Museum of Contemporary Art, Utah Museum of Fine Arts and Visual Arts Institute. For example, Craft Lake City will have a make-and-take rock painting craft project.

Make Salt Lake volunteers will demonstrate how to create bee habitats for solitary bees (Mason Bees, Leaf Cutter, etc.). Beth Sallay put out a call for empty soup can (any of that size) to make sure they would have enough supplies. In addition to donated supplies of PVC pipe. she is also using mailing tubes, measuring 3″ x 4″. “I painted an entire gallon cans’ worth yellow,” she explains. “When that ran out different colors were donated by the Utah Arts Alliance.”

The outside center is wrapped with black vinyl and is hung with twine. Inside are wood mulch and biodegradable paper straws. Sallay says that volunteers will teach participants how to make paper straws from copy paper. “The tent will be decorated with drawings of bees, “she notes, adding, “I’ve asked for them from all kids I know (plus adults).” She invites any festival goers to bring their own drawings for bees, which will be added to the Make Salt Lake tent.

Utah Film Center will demonstrate techniques for making short animated films and animation toys, including stop-motion digital animation, set design, green screens and creating animation with paper craft. The Utah Museum of Contemporary Art (UMOCA) will have supplies available for young artists to make their own ecosystem poster with butterflies, flowers made from tissue-paper, and drawings in pen and paint. The Utah Museum of Fine Arts will have supplies for kids to create their own leaf stamp and print a tree with details about family and/or friends. The Visual Art Institute will help kids design and create leaf pendants and earth buttons. 

An Art Yard staple returns: Summerhays Music Centers Instrument Petting Zoo. Summerhays is the state’s oldest family-owned music store, which opened in 1936. Also, kids will be invited to view Fear No Film KIDS! screenings (June 23 and June 24, 2 p.m., June 25, 12:15 p.m.) in the City Library Auditorium.

For more information and tickets, download the Utah Arts Festival app for free, available to Android and iOS users. There also are links to the UAF’s standard website. 

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