Academy of Art University to Ring in the Holidays at Ghirardelli Square

Photo by Tim Mossholder from Pexels.

By Greta Chiocchetti | Additional reporting by Kirsten Coachman

This year, the holidays will certainly be different from years past, and Academy of Art University is getting into the spirit with a little help from a legendary San Francisco landmark. 

In collaboration with Ghirardelli Square, students and faculty designed and decorated 16 Christmas trees, which will be on display at the iconic Marina District plaza and open for public viewing beginning on Friday, Nov. 27, through the rest of the holiday season. One of the trees, as part of Ghirardelli’s outdoor Winter Wonderland Holiday Market and Christmas Tree Stroll, will win a $1,000 gift prize. 

“I am thrilled to have the Academy partner with Ghirardelli Square during this upcoming holiday season in San Francisco,” said Academy of Art University President Elisa Stephens. “It’s a wonderful opportunity for our incredibly talented students to be able to showcase their innovative designs in such a festive design competition.”

Meet the finalists

The Schools of Jewelry & Metal Arts, Communications & Media Technologies, Illustration, Fine Art—Painting & Printmaking, Game Development & Esports, Photography (PH), Art Education (ARE), Interior Architecture & Design (IAD), Graphic Design (GR), and ART U Athletics designed and decorated the Christmas trees, each with their own unique concept. For ARE, the design had a particularly sentimental backstory. 

“The School of Art Education worked with our community partnerships at the Boys and Girls Clubs and the Police Activities League to bring holiday cheer to children during these stressful times,” said ARE Director Marybeth Tereszkiewicz. “M.A. in art education students introduced the children to the art elements of shape, symmetry, and negative space as they created one-of-a-kind snowflakes. These paper designs were then laser-cut into plastic to create a modern version of these classic decorations to decorate the tree.” 

With the support of GR Associate Director Tom McNulty, the department focused on the most essential themes of the medium—typography, iconography, and the tools that make graphic designers’ work possible—for its three designs. 

“The students identified heavily with the Adobe software product suite as a means to articulate how graphic design manifests itself,” said GR Director Phil Hamlett about their “Tools of Typography” tree. “Adobe is a valued enterprise partner of the Academy and might very well enjoy seeing their products enshrined accordingly.” 

After so many months of physical distancing, PH focused on the concept of physical touch in its design. 

“The photos the students and faculty have submitted represent the concept ‘Embrace,’” said PH Department Manager Candice Rollerson, who coordinated the team along with Technical Director Edwin Vargas. “We created Polaroids from the students’ images and will hang them on a tree wrapped in rainbow-colored lights, as during the holidays, we believe it is essential to embrace not only your friends and family but your entire community.”  

ART U Athletics Director Brad Jones praised the softball student-athletes and head coach for taking the lead on their department’s design as he shared the concept behind their department’s tree.

“We wanted our tree’s design to reflect our pride in our university, as an athletic department of student-athletes in giving back to the community and celebrating the holidays with everyone in a time where we’re trying to come together,” he said. 

Once the trees are unveiled later this week, Jones hopes visitors will see the well-rounded approach of the design and how it reflects the best of both the student-athletes’ athletic and academic experience.

“They’re utilizing the skills that they’ve had through classes to design the tree and to help decorate it and everything else with design,” said Jones. “They’re giving back to the community and they’re helping within the university and being willing to help others that need help with this project. And it’s a fun competition. And that’s what we’re about—as student-athletes, we’re here to learn, grow, and compete.”

IAD students make an impression

Amanda Carbullido, an undergraduate IAD student and finalist, took a tropical approach for her tree decor. 

“A lot of people come to warmer places during this time of year, and with travel the way it is right now that’s not going to happen,” said Carbullido, who lives on the big island in Hawaii but grew up in the Bay Area. “I wanted to bring our version [of the holidays] there to San Francisco and have it displayed there.”

Carbullido, one of IAD’s five finalists, made liberal use of poinsettia flowers in her design, which are native to Hawaii and bloom during the holiday season. She also included red berries, representing the coffee bean berries that grow all over her yard. 

Aicha Modi, an IAD undergraduate student and finalist, created a colorful display as a tribute to the diverse community in San Francisco since she was unable to be there physically this year.

“I decided to separate it in seven parts, so red, orange, yellow—I used all the colors in the tree. Not only rainbow colors, but the meaning behind the colors. As in red being the color of our school, so I wanted to showcase love, and then blue, orange for health, especially during our current situation of COVID-19 … I wanted to bring health into it, and then yellow for energy and optimism, green for balance,” said Modi. 

Undergraduate IAD student and finalist Crystin Sanchez took a unique and non-traditional approach when it came to designing a tree that would also incorporate her major.

“A lot of the classes I’ve been taking recently are about furniture design and the evolution of it,” explained Sanchez. “So, my tree has an evolution of furniture design alongside the evolution of Christmas tree decorations, because [people used] to use candles and popcorn garlands, and things like that. I have [those elements] starting at the bottom as it transitions into more modern decorations and modern furniture towards the top.”

Finalist and graduate IAD student, Wiwi Paimun drew inspiration from the one thing getting all of us through this challenging year: hope. The design relies on an arrangement of colors, beginning with red at the bottom, representing the sacrifice and life of the frontline health workers and the many victims of COVID-19. It’s followed by blue to represent calmness, healing, and faith, and finished by yellow or gold ornaments and the star at the top symbolizing hope, positivity, optimism.

“I just want people to relate to it and take comfort from it,” said Paimun. “I just want people to take that time they have if they get to come and see it—and all the other trees as well—and relate to it … relate to the message that I want to communicate and just take comfort in it. That really is my goal—to give hope to people and to say that 2021 will be a better year and hope always wins after all.”

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