Will it even be a real holiday season without the beloved Festival of Trees?
The Quad City Arts tradition and largest fundraiser of the year planned to celebrate its 35th year in November, with “Believe,” but the unbelievable year of 2020 and Covid-19 forced us to re-imagine the in-person festival, as many events have been canceled throughout the year.
In July, we made the difficult decision not to host the 35th-annual Kwik Star Festival of Trees in person due to uncertainty and concern for the safety of volunteers, staff, and community as a whole regarding the Covid-19 pandemic. The Holiday Parade and all other special events will also not be held this year.
This decision was led by Festival of Trees volunteer management team with the full support of the Quad City Arts’ staff and board of directors. “This truly was a difficult decision,” executive director Kevin Maynard posted on Facebook. “The team worked this from every angle, but in the end, we kept coming back to the health and safety of our community.
“It takes 3,000 volunteers to make the Festival of Trees happen,” he said. “Over 30,000 attend annually. Thousands crowd the streets of Davenport for the Holiday Parade. It will be missed this year but will come back stronger next year.”
In lieu of an in-person event this year, we are partnering with KWQC to present a fun-filled one-hour Holiday Special to air on Saturday, Nov. 21st during the traditional parade hour, and are asking the community to partner for a Day of Giving on the same day.
The TV special event will consist of coverage from past parades, Center Stage acts, messages from staff, volunteers, and community members as well as a message of hope from Santa himself.
Our goal is to set up matching donors and sponsors who will help make donations go farther. We know VIP Baskets are a crowd favorite at Festival of Trees, so they will be returning this year, but with a new twist. We invite the community to join us for this special day of support and celebration that we hope will fill everyone’s hearts with holiday cheer.
In addition, there will be select designs and items available for sale at the Quad City Arts Rock Island Gallery (1715 2nd Ave.), along with other favorites like the Honor Tree and Isabel Bloom ornaments available for purchase. We know many will still want to commemorate this year in their collection and honor loved ones with a personalized ornament. Interested in being a designer? Visit qcfestivaloftrees.com.
Festival of Trees – the largest fundraiser of the year for the organization -- started in 1986 with a small group of volunteers that believed in the impact of the arts. They set out on a mission to support bringing high-quality artists right here to the Quad-Cities, inspiring a generation of students and families through access to the arts.
That first year, their purpose was twofold: First, be a community celebration of the holiday season. Second, raise funds for the Visiting Artist Series, which first began in 1974 as its own organization.
Over the years, Festival of Trees has not only continued to be a major supporter of the Visiting Artist Series and Quad City Arts, but it’s also become a staple in the Quad-Cities as the unofficial kickoff to the holiday season, bringing together hundreds of sponsors and tens of thousands of supporters to experience the magic of the festival at Davenport’s RiverCenter.
Festival has raised over $5 million in support of local arts and has been recognized as one of the Top 100 Events in North America. It typically takes 3,500 volunteers, 650 designers, 3,500 CenterStage entertainers and over 100 sponsors to make Festival of Trees happen each year. More than 100,000 people experience Festival of Trees annually, making it one of the largest community attractions in the Quad-Cities.
Longtime volunteer loves the Festival
It's been a passion of former longtime Moliner Marty Huber since the start.
She and her husband Don lived in Moline 53 years, and they built their dream retirement home five years ago on 60 acres in Kalispell, Montana, to be close to their younger son and his family. They moved there full-time last year; she was a consultant for the 2019 Festival, and Huber planned to return to see Festival of Trees this year.
She got involved in the event because of the Visiting Artists program. In the mid-1980s, Huber served as Cultural Arts Chairman for the Moline Schools PTA, which would give a small donation to the Visiting Artists.
Huber wanted to find out more about the program and she started volunteering to plan and be part of Festival of Trees before the first event in 1986, which brought in a visit from legendary actor Cary Grant (who suffered a stroke and died in Davenport, at age 82).
“Why? Because of the Visiting Artists, that has been my whole thing,” Huber -- who co-chaired Festival in 2004 -- said recently. “I believe in the project, the program, how it gets artists in the schools. If there’s a kid you can make excited by some form of the arts, rather than the rectangular thing he holds in his hand, that’s the goal.”
“We’ve never hosted artists in our home, but we’ve driven them all over the place, ran errands for them,” she said. “We all have foundations and charities we believe in. No matter where we go, for our Quad-City community, it’s a fantastic thing.” In Montana, they have seen some outstanding artist programs, but “not on the same caliber of Quad City Arts,” Huber said.
“We aren’t really big donors, but we do what can do to offer support here and there,” she said. Huber did a bit of everything for the Festival over the years, including co-chairing the gift shop for 11 years, what used to be the Zoo Tree (with stuffed animals) for five years, and she was an on-floor designer, and got a few ribbons for her designs.
Because she had a background in retail sales, she gravitated toward the gift shop. For each item she and her co-chair bought for the shop, someone had to open the box it was in, mark it for price, re-box it, store it until the time of the festival, open the box, then put the item on display. At the end of festival, an inventory had to be made, and items that did not sell had to be re-boxed, put on a truck and stored until next year. Another job Huber had was being in charge of the Zoo Tree, now the Toy Tree.
The plan was to collect 1,500 plush animal toys, put them on a 25-foot tree as an attraction and then at the end of the festival, distribute the animals to children in need in the area, with the help of its sponsor.
Through the years, Huber also served on the festival management team, the judging team and worked on the parade.
“Every sponsor I’ve had, they believed in Quad City Arts,” Huber said. “Everybody is in the same kettle of fish this year, with their events closed, they’re going to pick and choose.”
In past years, she has treasured seeing the creativity of Festival, “seeing the sparkle, seeing all the designs on the floor -- from small ornaments, stockings, doors, hearth and home, room – I’ve done most all of them,” Huber said of designs, noting one year she was part of having a red tractor on the floor. “We got a tractor group from the parade, and talked them into doing a room, and walked out with a first-place room design ribbon.”
She has been among at least three volunteers who have worked 30-plus years for the event, including Pat Wohlford (who’s married to artist Bill Wohlford and daughter Dawn is Quad City Arts visual arts director) and Carolyn Hamilton.
“One of the things we all say about it, it’s the people,” Huber said of why they volunteered. “Maybe you don’t see them much during the year, but we come together for the month of November. It was hard last year not being there. When you move, you move.”
“It’s a precarious position to be in,” she said of this year’s uncertainty. “The main concern is for the safety of ourselves, our guests, and our visitors. It’s the friendships. I have some really good friends with Festival.
“We’ve been in it through thick and thin. It’s been fun – it’s been challenging, been rewarding,” Huber said. In past years, she noted: “A lot of my friends, they would say, ‘you’re still doing Festival?’ Yeah, Quad City Arts, the Visiting Artist program is still going, still needs help. I might not do as much, you never say never. I’m not going to quit, even though I’m thousands of miles away.”
Passionate about the parade and arts
Erin Platt of Davenport has been involved with the Festival of Trees Holiday Parade since its inception.
In 1992, Quad City Arts started the parade and she wrote articles for the Festival Times newspaper insert to gain additional community involvement for her resume. Platt interviewed the first parade director, Donna Dobbs-Goldberg, about producing a parade of that magnitude, and wrote on how the helium balloons were constructed.
“I was so excited on parade day itself to see it come to life. There was so much enthusiasm surrounding it in the community,” Platt recalled. “I watched from the sidelines as the helium balloons, bands, floats, and dance squads went by the cheering crowds. A light freezing rain started to fall toward the end, and I was very relieved the balloons had made it through the route without incident because – as I learned during my interview with the balloon company – a heavy enough ice pellet could potentially cause damage to the fabric.”
She helped compile the script for the hour-long KWQC-TV6 live broadcast, which Platt went on to do every year since. That entails making sure every single parade entry has key information included, so that the anchors can talk about it as it appears on the TV screen.
“I typically turn over the script early in the week so that the anchors and producers have time to study it and become more familiar with the entries by Saturday. On parade day, I monitor the entry staging area to get a visual of the entries before the broadcast starts to be able to relay it to the producers,” she said.
“Most people don’t realize that what they see on their television screen during a live broadcast is not necessarily what the anchors and other production team members see due to the large number of monitors and camera angles needed for the broadcast,” Platt said. “One year I was frantically running down the street and shouting into my walkie talkie, ‘Where is Underdog!?!?’
“The units got unintentionally swapped coming out of the gate, and while the cartoon character’s balloon script was showing up next, there was no giant Underdog to be found in our view,” she said. “I also can serve as a relay between the production truck and the route management team to speed up or slow down the parade to fill time going into or coming out of commercial break.”
“There are hundreds of volunteers tirelessly handling the behind-the-scenes details to bring the parade and the entire Festival of Trees to life for our community,” Platt said. “I have an enormous sense of pride being involved with something of this magnitude. We’re elevating arts funding but in such a way that brings joy to families, boosts our economy, and shows off our region by attracting backyard and out-of-town tourists alike.”
Quad City Arts engages more than 350,000 people in the community with nearly 400 quality arts performances and activities annually. We take the art to the people by presenting performing, community and visual arts opportunities in our bi-state, six-county region.
The Festival all started with that group of people who believed it was possible, and they chose the theme for this year, “Believe,” in January 2020, not knowing what the next several months had in store, but we are invested in continuing to believe in the mission of Festival of Trees as a community event and fundraiser for Quad City Arts.
With that in mind, we hope to bring the spirit of Festival of Trees to the community this year through this one-day special event in support of the arts. The health and wellness of our community is, above all else, our first priority and we truly believe that the spirit of Festival of Trees will be preserved this year through community connection and a commitment to supporting the arts.
Because of the public’s support, Quad City Arts is able to bring artists into classrooms, inspire young people to pursue a career in the arts, pay artists for their work and make the Quad-Cities a more beautiful place to live.
On this Day of Giving Nov. 21, we are inviting the community to come together to share a little bit of holiday cheer and give from the heart in support of the arts.