Walking along Powell Street, blink and you'll miss The MOTN. Behind the unassuming black door and opaque window is a hub of arts and culture in Vancouver that is full to the brim of optimism, positivity, and community run by a crew of enterprising twenty-somethings.
Every major cosmopolitan city has a thrumming lifeblood of underground music, comedy, photography, and art. There's a scene. And venues that host these communities provide the stage for talent to cut its teeth on the way to becoming great. In the late 90s, Largo in L.A. was one such venue—it hosted Tenacious D before they found the pick of destiny and now regularly plays host to comedy royalty.
The MOTN is an unintelligible space that's sole purpose is to help create a scene in Vancouver that can survive and thrive. Owner and founder Austin Jamieson is 21 with the energy of Gen Z and the ambition of someone unafraid to fail.
What is The MOTN?
Last April, Jamieson visited a small photography space that was essentially an alcove inside a much larger studio attached to another room that was already occupied. He was informed that all three spaces were part of the deal and, at first, he turned it down - he wasn't ready to take on that kind of commitment - but once the idea was in his head, he says, he couldn't shake it. He'd been saving up to go on a sailing trip before the pandemic hit, so he had some start-up capital to make it work.
According to Brennen Little, an in-house Photographer and Videographer at The MOTN who's known Jamieson since high school, he was the kind of guy who showed up to photography 10 in a white button-up shirt and a black blazer and approached people about working on projects that he actually saw through.
The pair had a production company where they would make short films and music videos for their friends who were rappers. So it's no surprise that Jamieson took over the lease for the space and, over a year, 'tricked it out' in art and brought on board a team of creatives to help turn it into a one-of-a-kind event space.
Before he took it over, 582 Powell St was a photography and event space that hosted everything from yoga classes to BDSM photoshoots. And within a few months of taking on the lease of the business, he shared the lease with left, and Jamieson called in his friend Jake Lapierre to turn the second room into a tattoo studio which recently added an apprentice, Jamison Minard.
The MOTN became a tattoo and photography studio by day and an events venue by night. "I thought there was a gap in the market for things that were interesting and versatile to do in Vancouver," he explains. There are several other venues and studios in Vancouver that rent space to creatives, but Jamieson saw several issues with the way they were operating. Firstly, "everything has a niche but here is versatile," he points out. Secondly, the rent is much more affordable than most other galleries or venues, which take a 40 per cent commission from artist earnings, and finally, most other places don't offer resources.
A generation of comedy
Over the course of eight months, Jamieson did everything he needed to do, like renting out the room and working 12- to 16-hour days to keep the lights on. In November, things really solidified for The MOTN's identity when they had their first comedy show.
"I was hooked," he says, "I loved being part of the community."
Jamieson started to develop comedy show ideas and pitch them to local stand-ups. He believed during the pandemic, shows had to have a hook to them so people who were nervous to leave the house or who were perhaps new to the comedy scene would be enticed to come out.
Shows like "Hot Takes" saw comedians eating progressively spicier wings while trying to perform their stand-up sets, the NFT show asked comedians to bring in a picture that only existed in physical form that would be completely wiped from the internet, and the audience would bid whatever they had in their pockets based on how much they liked the performance. The plan worked, and shows sold out every time.
The team at The MOTN helped promote and market the shows by making art and posters that the comedians could then use personally. The marriage of visual and performance-based creatives is a gap that has yet to be bridged in other spaces in Vancouver.
"It's not just an artists' hub but instead is focused on supporting business and making sure people can pay their rent," says Jamieson, "the biggest success is being able to be self-sufficient off your art." People come from all over to watch and be a part of The MOTN events, and it's not limited to comedy. The Cypher series supports local rappers with a beat that runs for two hours, and people can jump up open mic style.
Behind the stage is a graffiti street art piece by rapper Soul along with a massive painted game show wheel that Ola Dadda uses for the "Wheel of Comedy" show.
Above the stage is a life-size Silver Surfer and neon signs dot the walls. Although it probably won't look like that for long. Jamieson says the plan is to re-do the look of the room as often as possible. "No one, including the staff, comes in and it looks the same twice," he says, "and if I'm doing my job correctly, it won't."
The one section of the space that is largely blank is the aforementioned photography alcove which is home to Sam Pilson and her wild Y2K-esque portrait photography that papers one of the three walls. "This isn't my retirement plan," Jamieson shrugs. He's more concerned with building a scene, a community, and leaving a lasting impact on the city. As are many of the others who work at The MOTN.
Meet the crew
Little and Jamieson have known each other since Grade 10. They started a production company while still in high school, making short films and music videos for their friends who were rappers. "I do a bit of everything," he says of his role at The MOTN. Little feels that this is the kind of venue that Vancouver needs "100 per cent, especially after COVID." There are places that do comedy and do underground rap, but there's never been a place that's like Thursday a comedy show, Friday a fashion show, and Saturday rappers freestyling.
"A lot of content is really solo," says Little of the arts in Vancouver. "I could tell you content I see in Vancouver but not names of people." In L.A.. he says there's a scene, and that's what they're trying to accomplish here.
Ellen Sigurdson is a photographer who was friends was Jamieson before The MOTN. "I kept showing up," she says of being a part of The MOTN.
She says there is a lot of youth in the crowds here, and at previous comedy shows she's been to, the audience has skewed a lot older, so she says, "I'm really excited to see where this venue goes." It's only a year old, and they've already hosted Just for Laughs.
Pilson previously owned a studio in Langley and didn't realize how important collaboration was. "It's so important to have that support," she says, "I couldn't imagine just doing the photos on my own the way I was before." After attending her first rap Cypher event she thought to herself, "this is the best community that exists in Vancouver." Pilson loves how The MOTN brings all the different types of art communities together and of all of the venues in the city, "I think this is the dopest one," she says, calling it "a place for art to happen" that includes everyone.
Vancouver has a reputation for being cold or isolating, but after moving downtown from Langley, she says, "I don't see Vancouver that way at all anymore... It's about how you chose to view the world."
"I have a lot of faith in this place," says 21-year-old tattoo apprentice Jamison Minard. He calls The MOTN "the most ideal place I can think of working in Vancouver." According to him, "everyone has a similar mindset when it comes to ambition, especially Austin." Minard was first introduced to The MOTN through a friend who had an art show in the space. When Minard's own art started doing well on social media and people began encouraging him to tattoo it, he asked around about apprenticeships, and Jamieson connected him with Jake Lapierre, The MOTN's resident artist.
Minard describes his tattooing as 'Robert-core' which isn't so much an actual genre as it is him trolling people who like to argue over what to call it. He says it's been compared to Cyber sigilism, but that is trademarked by an artist/studio in New York.Minard is the newest addition to the crew, but he puts it best, "we're all on the right track."