Rhino's Ramblings: The End of Motif


Robert Thomas

For many it came as a bit of shock to hear the decision had been made to place Motif on one year hiatus but really, for this writer, it was, I'm sorry to say, inevitable.

The multicultural festival that has brought people together, for 44 years, in a cultural kaleidoscope of events, came to an abrupt end, about two weeks ago. This is what you are going to hear as the official story; but in reality, it was, in many ways, a festival that has been running on borrowed time since being cancelled, abruptly, about five years ago.

In its heyday, Motif was a cultural dynamo which for many cultural groups and organizations, was the monetary lifeblood which kept them going. I can personally speak about it because I'm a member of one of those groups that long ago left Motif. We are still around but Motif just doesn't fit anymore.

I remember being told about just how well attended Motif once was, and the amount of money a popular booth could generate was really incredible. On a good weekend, it was not at all impossible to earn $12,000 in profit from a booth. At the end of it all, the same booth was generating maybe $1500, if you were lucky, with the same amount of work but less people to do it.

Motif was a trade-off; put your culture on display and earn sufficient money to build it.
In the old days, the cultural groups used the funds to operate their language, music and dance programs. Today, things are different.

But really, what ended Motif? Why are they officially not operating in 2018?

In many ways, the last two years had a major impact on the festival. In 2016 you had the wet conditions leading to the moving of the stage area from the east end to the west end of the park.

It was not the greatest thing for many groups, as Happy Valley Park was not really designed to funnel the crowds to booths in that type of layout.

Secondly, and most decisive to the final coup de grace to Motif was Sidewalk Days  moving into the same weekend in 2017. Many cultural groups were in shock to hear this; someone had done a sacrilegious thing and moved right in on Motif's weekend.

For some groups, it was the ultimate horror story.

To add insult to injury, someone from Sidewalk Days allegedly phoned over and offered Motif to set their stage up in the parking lot behind the Royal Bank.

A totally oblivious statement to what really was the glory of Motif. It was never designed to be just a stage show. It was suppose to be more than just entertainment. Not part of a street carnival.

I remember being asked by a couple of the cultural groups and I told them flatly, "pull out". There aren't enough people to go around. Wisely, they listened.

Although they will not officially tell you this because they don't want to make waves, a couple of the groups who did stay in Motif last year, said financially it wasn't worth it.

The thing about Motif is this. Although it is a three day festival, quite truthfully, you only have two days when your booth is going to make money. On Friday evening for supper and Saturday. If you've done well, on Sunday at about 3 o'clock you will be out of everything and shutting up shop. That is after scrambling around into the early hours of Sunday morning preparing more food.

Motif 2017, I was told, was, for more than one group, a major flop.

All of the promotional and media coverage had done its damage and Tourism Moose Jaw showing up on Sunday wasn't going to change any of that. Really, who is going to pay money to watch performers when you can do it all for free on the other side of town?

Ironically, in the end, a weakened major tourist attraction, was, in many ways, finished off by a group dedicated to promoting tourism.

In case you don't realize it, these cultural events are actually big business throughout the world. I have been to quite a number of them in Germany, Belarus, Moldova, Ukraine and Russia, where they are major tourist draws.

For many people, Motif was a way to see the world and each year people headed down to Happy Valley Park to enjoy the festival. It's sad to see it go.

Who knows, Motif might be back, but really, when you look at any annual event put on hiatus in the history of Moose Jaw, the odds are against it.

Editor's Note - Columnist Robert Thomas traces his cultural roots to the Odessa, Ukraine and the disputed Donbas Region. He gets his cultural fix annually at local festivals there unless it cuts into fishing and sitting on a Black Sea beach.