A museum of West Coast creativity has been disassembled.
Hundreds of hand-crafted paper lanterns accumulated over the past 20 years were rehomed this month as the Tofino Lantern Festival was put on “indefinite hiatus,” according to Raincoast Education Society executive director Mark Maftei.
Maftei told the Westerly News that the festival was extinguished by a “perfect storm” of circumstances, fronted by the Tofino Botanical Gardens being put up for sale and the coronavirus pandemic casting uncertainty around what public gatherings will look like next fall.
“I’d like to think that by September of next year, things will have calmed down and we’ll kind of be back to normal, but there’s a lot of question marks and, in the short-term, the bottom line was we had nowhere to move the lanterns,” Maftei said.
“It’s safe to say that it was definitely a fan favourite, so we want to come back to it, but we want to do it properly and not until we have a better idea of when we can bring 1,200 people together and when we can have a venue that can host an event like Lantern Festival. We’re not turning our back on it, but we’re not in a position where we can make any kind of definite plans. I’m optimistic and I’m trying to be realistic.”
The society hosts the event at the Botanical Gardens every September, though this year’s was cancelled due to COVID-19. In the days leading up to past events, festival goers have gathered to create new lanterns to add to the ever-growing treasure trove that’s been displayed over the years, from massive spectacles like the 12’ ‘Tree of Life’ to smaller contributions the size of baseballs.
The lanterns have long been stored at the Botanical Gardens but, with the property being put up for sale last August, Mafeti said owner George Patterson needed that space cleared and the society was unable to find an alternative storage.
“There’s so many of them, they’re super fragile, it’s really difficult to transport them and we were just unable to find a suitable location,” Maftei said. “We tried and we were unable to find a workable solution.”
He added that the society cannot be certain that a potential new owner of the Gardens would be interested in hosting the festival and he expressed gratitude to Patterson for donating the space over the years.
“We are super grateful to George and the Botanical Gardens for all their support. I don’t want anyone to get the impression that we were left high and dry in any way. George was just doing what he absolutely had to do,” Mafftei said. “I don’t want anyone to think that we have any hard feelings or anything like that.”
The society reached out to the community this month and hosted an Adopt A Lantern Day where Maftei said hundreds of lanterns were re-homed.
“The other ones live in our memories forever…Those lanterns are all super fragile, they’re made of paper, they’re delicate and they’re impermanent, but the memories are what’s going to be around forever. To anyone who participated or came out, you’re part of that and that’s never going to go away,” he said. “Hopefully, if we can organize another Lantern Festival in the future, which we would like to do, we can bring those lanterns back together and build on that.”
Along with being a popular staple on the West Coast’s fall calendar, the festival has also consistently been the society’s largest annual fundraiser.
Maftei said the RES now needs to come up with creative new ways to find funding and not be shy about the impacts that funding has on the community through RES-hosted initiatives, like field school, speaker series and ongoing research.
“It’s not like people donate money to us and we put it in a bank account and sit on it. Every dollar that we get goes right back into programs and community services that I hope people appreciate, but it’s hard to ask people for money, especially when times are tight and everyone’s struggling. This year has been a crazy one for all the local businesses and for all the people who work here. No one’s coming out of this past season riding high,” he said. “We just need to come up with a creative way to make it easy for people to support the organization in a way that feels right for them and that is sustainable for us.”
Maftei said other avenues will need to be found to fill the void not just from a fundraising perspective, but a social one as well.
“Everyone loved the event. It was fun and it was cool and it was great but, at the end of the day, for me, what I really liked about it is that it brought people together. I loved the lanterns and we’re eternally grateful to the Botanical Gardens for making it happen and everyone who put work into making these beautiful lanterns, all of that is super relevant, but it was all a means to an end and the end was to bring people together,” he said.
“I think the biggest loss here is really the loss of a major community event and I’m hoping we can fill that void. If it’s with another, different, Lantern Festival, that’s great and if it’s something totally new, that’s great too, but I think it is important that the community has these events, these things that just bring people together throughout the year. We were happy to be a part of that and we are really, really, hoping that we can make that happen again in the near future.”
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