Craft Lake City Embraces the Brave New World of VR to present the 2020 DIY Festival

From its start 12 years so, Craft Lake City’s DIY Festival has been a beloved regular on Salt Lake City’s busy summer festival schedule. Then, of course, came COVID-19 and an unwelcome pause on much of what makes summer fun in Utah, from the Red Butte Outdoor Concert Series to Snowbird’s Oktoberfest. But thanks to a little creativity—and more than a little scrambling—the 2020 DIY Fest will go on. Only rather than gathering at the Utah State Fair Park to peruse hundreds of handmade-craft booths, this year DIY Festivalgoers will be treated to an interactive, “mind-blowing” virtual reality experience. 

“Contact with artisans is such an important part of the DIY Festival,” says Craft Lake City Executive Director and DIY Fest Founder Angela H. Brown, “and, this year, we simply could not guarantee everyone’s safety in our traditional format.”  So, along with the Craft Lake City board, and the DIY Fest’s long term sponsors—Harmon’s and Google Fiber—Brown hatched a plan to create an online space where the artisans and attendees could mingle in a way similar to the live fest. The board approved the idea and then “it then became my job to find the people to create it,” she says. 

Brown began by putting together a group of pro bono advisors from the STEM connections she’d fostered through the Fest. (Craft Lake City’s creative culture mission spans science and tech as well as art.)  And then, through her role as a member of the Salt Lake City Council’s Business Advisory Board, she tapped into the University of Utah’s David Eccles School of Business initiative to provide businesses and non-profits impacted by COVID-19 with support from graduate students free of charge. “And that’s how I met the two individuals who were critical in making this year’s VR Festival happen, Greg Bayless and Chris Manfre,” Brown says.

Bayless is an adjunct professor in the U’s Entertainment Arts & Engineering Department, and Manfre is a designer and 3D animator. Here’s how what they created for the DIY Festival works: Beginning Friday, August 7, festival attendees can go to the DIY Festival website where they will find a link to the VR platform. There, after selecting an avatar (a representative electronic image), festivalgoers will enter a virtual lobby area adorned with images representing each artisan, arranged on the walls in alphabetical order. Attendees can then click on an image to enter a specific artisan’s gallery. Once in a gallery, attendees can interact both with the creator but each other as well, in real time. “The first time you enter the space, it truly is mind blowing,” Brown says. “And it’s so easy to use, regardless of your tech-comfortability.” Watch a sneak peak of the DIY Festival VR experience here

Transitioning to the VR environment, however, was not easy for many of the artisans who’d displayed previously at the DIY Festival. This year’s virtual event will feature 150 artisans, down from the 300 the live event featured in 2019. “We had to ask creators to learn a computer program in two weeks, many of whom did not even have a web store,” Brown says. “We regret that some weren’t able to pivot as quickly as others but in some ways it has worked out OK as we are about maxed out with the number of artisans we are featuring.”

A few of the artisans that will have virtual galleries as part of the 2020 DIY Fest include JSK Jewelry, large and chunky pieces—most featuring turquoise, Ocean Jasper, opals, emeralds and more—handmade by the artisan Madeline in honor of her late brother; Olive & Vines Handmade soaps from the husband and wife team, Jess and Ross, who donate 15 percent of all sales to the Rescue Mission of Utah; and Sugarhouse Rag Rug Co., purveyors of beautiful rugs and placemats woven with upcycled fabrics on an 1890s-era loom.

As in year’s past, the 2020 VR DIY Fest will also include workshops, music, kids programming and even food. DIY Fest food crafters will have festival galleries similar to the artisans, where items like jams and cocktail mixers can be shipped directly to festival attendees, and DIY Fest food trucks will be parked at various locations around Salt Lake City, allowing in-person, curbside pickup. “We’re excited for attendees to patronize Virtual DIY Festival food purveyors—whether its shopping inside their virtual gallery or visiting their truck or cart in-person to grab a secret menu item,” Brown says. 

Typically, general admission tickets are required to attend the DIY Festival. This year, however, paid admission will not be required to attend; rather, Craft Lake City is asking all attendees to pay what they can. “As a non-profit, Craft Lake City needs and values the continued support of the community,” explained Brown. “However, we are also empathetic to the hardships we are all facing. Any amount attendees feel comfortable paying to enter will be appreciated and accepted as a donation in support of our organization.”

The Virtual DIY Festival is August 7, 6 p.m. to 10 p.m.; August 8, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., with the Kid Row Artisan Spotlight, 1 p.m. to 3 p.m.; and August 9, 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. Want first-in-line access? Purchase the Harmon’s VIP Virtual VIP Experience (just $60), which includes early admission (5 p.m. on August 7), exclusive digital content, private entrance to the VIP lounge, a Harmons bag filled with private label items from Harmons and some surprise Craft Lake City merchandise.

 Written by Melissa Fields