5 reasons to join in on GPGLCC’s annual holiday tradition
By Laura Latzko - Dec. 4, 2014
The modern holiday tree has come to represent family togetherness, hope, traditions, the spirit of giving as well as life and rebirth in countries around the world.
Here at home, the Greater Phoenix Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce’s Festival of Trees returns for its sixth consecutive year to raise money for charity, spread the holiday spirit and bring the LGBT and allied communities together for some of the season’s most ornately ornamented delights.
Whether you’ve never been or you attend year after year, the Festival of Trees continues to offer a memorable holiday experience as well as various opportunities for attendees to give back to the local community.
According to Joseph Gesullo, GPGLCC chair and Festival of Trees founder, the event has become an annual tradition for many in the LGBT and allied communities.
“[This] is an event that people look forward to every year, and it’s an event anyone can come to,” Gesullo said. “It really invites allies and everyone to come out and bring their kids and bring their grandparents and see what typical LGBT people do during the holidays.”
With each passing year the Festival of Trees evolves, and 2014 is no exception — here are five reasons to attend this year’s event.
1. THE TREES, OF COURSE
Community members have more time this year to see the trees on display this year, as they will be up for six days — from Dec. 6 to 12 — on the first floor of the Arizona Center (the northwest corner of Seventh and Van Buren Streets). This is the newest venue for the event, which was previously held at the Herberger Theater Center and a variety of local hotels.
Top local designers have spent months putting together 10 uniquely themed, high-end trees.
“The quality of the trees is different than we’ve ever done because these were all done by designers. These are top of the line Christmas trees,” Gesullo said. “I think it will give it a more upscale feel.”
Every year, community members, businesses and organizations donate trees, ornaments, decorations as well as their time to the cause. Gesullo added that last year one woman created a tree with ornaments she had collected throughout the past 30 years.
2. THE EVENING
While this collection of trees will be on display for all to enjoy, the main event takes place Dec 12. This evening will include hors d’oeuvres, drink, entertainment, a pop-up boutique and a live auction of all the trees, hosted by Leticia Frye.
The trees — with such extravagant names as “Indigo and Ice,” “Mid-Century” and “Hollywood Tree of the Stars” — all come with gift items such as hotel stays, tickets to arts and culture events and a variety of travel experiences and accommodations. According to Gesullo, when combined with the value of these gift, these trees would retail for anywhere from $3,000 to $5,000.
Guests can also bid on an assortment of other items, such as a culinary experience from Chef Gabriele Bertaccini and a piece of artwork from Robert Miley, but there will be no wreaths or menorahs up for auction this year.
3. THE RUNWAY
As part of the evening’s entertainment, attendees will be treated to a runway show of Emmy Award-winning designer Randall Christiansen’s collection of dresses. Christiansen also served as the exclusive dress designer for 11 seasons of Dancing with the Stars.
4. THE CHEF
Chef Gabriele Bertaccini will be honored by PSA Art Awakenings and the GPGLCC with the first-ever Spirit of the Season Award for his his giving spirit and philanthropic gifts in support of Arizona non-profits, which included raising more than $700,000 in the past two years alone.
“His actions and advocacy for organizations that make a difference in our community are unmatched and we are proud to honor him with this inaugural Spirit of the Season Award,” according to the Festival of Trees Website.
Currently Gabriele is the executive chef and owner of iL Tocco, a private boutique dinner and catering service, and he also organizes and directs Culinary Mischief, an invitation-only underground roving event featuring a six-course dinner and paired wines.
Additionally, there will be a an opportunity for attendees to meet Chef Gabriele and share a champagne toast from 5:30-6:30 p.m. at a private reception for those with VIP admission.
For the third year, proceeds from the event help to support PSA Art Awakenings, an organization with 13 Arizona studios that works to empower youth and adults who face behavioral health challenges develop self-esteem, social skills and independence through a broad range of range of art forms and creative expression.
For the last two years, PSA Art Awakenings has organized the event, which drew around 220 people last year.
David Reno, director of marketing and community relations for PSA Art Awakenings, said Festival of Trees’ proceeds have allowed the organization to purchase musical instruments for a band out of the Tucson studio and start a mobile art unit in Cochise County.
“Any dollar that we can raise that buys an extra canvas, keeps them off the streets and out of the hospitals and allows them to give back through their art,” Reno said, adding that he has seen the impact art can have on the lives of these individuals. e
Festival of Trees
6 p.m. Dec. 12
400 E. Van Buren St., Phoenix
VIP Admission: $150 to $900
For one community member, decorating a tree for the Greater Phoenix Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce’s Festival of Trees event has become an annual holiday tradition.
Paul Riley is the only person to design a tree for all six years of the Festival of Trees. His annual holiday tradition begins each July when he starts planning the theme and then buying and making all the decided accouterments for his tree.
“Every year it is my goal to do something different. I always push myself,” he said. “I put a lot of thought and detail into every tree. They aren’t just thrown together.”
In the past five years, Riley has designed Wells Fargo-inspired and Countdown to Christmas themed trees. He also created a “bubble Lady Gaga” wreath for auction one year.
This year, Riley, who describes himself as “crafty,” has put together a “shopping tree” inspired by the storefront windows of Barney’s New York on 5th Avenue.
“It is high end. It is trendy. It is runway ready,” Riley said of his tree.
For Riley, as well as his friends and family, the Festival of Trees has become a tradition they look forward to every year. And, he added, that he continues to participate in the event because it gives him both an outlet for being creative and way to give back to others.
“Christmas is my favorite holiday. I grew up in house where Christmas was a big deal. I loved helping to decorate the tree every year,” Riley said.
In his own home, Riley sets up nine trees, ranging from 3 to 10 feet in height, and proudly added that the ornaments all have special meaning.
“When you pull those ornaments out of the box, they bring back memories,” Riley said.
Riley attributed his love of the holidays back to growing up in Denver in a family with very traditional Christmas celebrations with cookie-baking, arts and crafts activities and tree decorating each year.
And, needless to say, he has passed his love of the holidays onto his two sons, ages 20 and 26. Though they are adults, Riley admits that he continues to address their presents “From Santa” every year.”
“They love the thought of Christmas and the meaning of Christmas,” he said. “It is just joyful for them.”
– Laura Latzko