By Sarrah Peters
The Mary G. Hardin Center for Cultural Arts has been hosting the annual Festival of Trees for 29 years.
“The Festival of Trees was an exhibit idea when the center opened 29 years ago to involve the local schools and engage them for field trips,” said Hardin Center Executive Director Tom Banks. “A lot of schools, once they decorate the tree, then they come on a field trip to visit the trees.”
The Festival of Trees features about 30 trees decorated by local non-profits and local elementary schools. Each year, the Hardin Center picks a theme. This year, the theme is “Notable Alabamians,” which ties into the state’s bicentennial celebration.
“Each tree is a different notable Alabamian, or someone who is from here or lived here in the state of Alabama,” said Banks. “Besides that, it is up to the schools or the group to choose how to symbolize that person in the different ornaments and things they use on the tree. We encourage them to handmake as much as possible and use recycled materials whenever possible. It is always fun to see what they come up with because it’s a surprise to us.”
Schools and non-profits picked Alabama authors, athletes, actors, musicians, scientists, politicians, activists and artists. Although Banks was unable to pick a favorite tree, he noted that he liked Eura Brown Elementary School’s tree on author Kathryn Tucker Windham, as he enjoyed the author’s book “13 Alabama Ghosts and Jeffrey” when he was a child. The Humane Society Pet Rescue and Adoption Center, in order to highlight the organization’s mission, featured famous Alabama animals instead of one famous person.
Glencoe Elementary decorated their tree like a unicorn, in honor of Rozlyn Greene who loved unicorns. Rozlyn was diagnosed on December 9, 2018 with Acute Myloid Leukemia. She passed away September 12, 2019 at nine years old.
Throughout the years, the Hardin Center’s Festival of Trees has remained a popular holiday exhibit, but Imagination Place’s “Let It Snow” exhibit offers another holiday exhibit for the community.
“Festival of Trees was the biggest highlight of the holiday season around here until about eight years ago when we added Let It Snow,” said Banks.
Imagination Place was inspired to start “Let It Snow,” after a similar exhibit was introduced at the McWayne Center in Birmingham.
“We talked to the McWayne Center about it and they jokingly told us not to do it unless we were willing to do it every year because it had become so popular,” said Banks. “We have seen that that is indeed the case. People expect and look forward to it every year.”
The exhibit includes holiday inflatables, a sledding area and an area to play in the snow, which is made of a non-toxic polymer material that feels cool to the touch but won’t get visitors wet.
The Festival of Trees will be on exhibit until December 31. Let It Snow will be open until January 31.
The Hardin Center is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Monday through Saturday, and 1 to 5 p.m. on Sunday. Admission includes “Festival of Trees,” Imagination Place’s “Let It Snow,” Kathy Chan’s “Celestial Dreams: The Art of Space Jewelry” and the ongoing upstairs train exhibit.
For more information, call 256-543-2787 or visit www.culturalarts.com.