This Saturday “We’ve Been Expecting You” signs that are on lampposts around Toronto should prove accurate, but with a twist. About a million people will hit the streets to expect the unexpected.
That evening until sunrise will be the 10th annual Scotiabank Nuit Blanche, a dusk-to-dawn art event that has earned a place as one of the centerpieces of Toronto’s cultural calendar.
In a city rich with experiences this year that range from the Pan Am Parapan Games to the Blue Jays’ playoff drive, Toronto’s art-all-nighter is a special cause to celebrate. It’s a sign of a city playing at the top of its game when its public officials, its businesses and its people, recognize the importance of culture as the driving force for the economy, for tourism and social connectivity.
This year’s Scotiabank Nuit Blanche promises a wide variety of art and locations, for the first time including Toronto’s waterfront. There are curated programs by Agustin Pérez Rubio and Christine Shaw; an entire district by artist JR; and 10 for 10th — Memory Lane, assembled by Che Kothari. In this program OCAD U joins other Nuit Blanche institutional sites, including the TIFF Bell Lightbox, the Art Gallery of Ontario, Royal Ontario Museum, University of Toronto, Gladstone Hotel, Drake 150, Gardiner Museum, Bata Shoe Museum and Artscape Wychwood Barns to celebrate the Nuit Blanche 10th anniversary.
Experience points to several reasons why Nuit Blanche is a hit. It ignites peoples’ imaginations through engaging and challenging art. It is an opportunity for a first exposure to visual art for a younger audience and out-of-town visitors. It’s a social blender, drawing individuals, families and communities from the GTA and far beyond.
Nuit Blanche draws criticism — all answerable. Some say that the event has strayed too far from its original focus on art, filling the streets with enthusiastic, rowdy young crowds that are out for a good time.
Others say that there’s too much corporate involvement and focus on cultural tourism. Or they challenge the quality of the art works; find the art inaccessible. Most importantly, some question the episodic nature of the event, expressing the concern that resources are focused on a one-time experience that does not train and retain an audience for contemporary art.
As Chair of the Volunteer Nuit Blanche Advisory Committee, I take these concerns seriously. It is true that Nuit Blanche relies on a mix of public and corporate support — it is a model for a successful approach to arts funding. The payback to Toronto is meaningful. Its impact since 2006 has grown from $1 million to $40.5 million last year, a lot of money flowing into Toronto’s economy for just one night.
Rowdy? Perhaps. Nuit Blanche is noisy and boisterous but it’s also fun and engages young and old as culturally diverse audiences interact with and comment on art works. Other countries in the world rejoice in cultural events that create a communal spirit around culture. Why not Toronto? We have embraced Nuit Blanche, an arts-based concept that began in Paris in 2002 and spread to Montreal, Bucharest, Riga, Tokyo, and now Edmonton.
If people scratch their heads about some of the art they encounter, Nuit Blanche is doing its job. Contemporary art plumbs issues and allows its’ viewers to pause and experience the world in different ways. The City of Toronto and the curators work hard to choose work ranging from the spectacular to the intimate and is of the highest quality.
Nuit Blanche draws a wide audience. This is a good thing, one that institutions can build on. To respond to concerns about the lasting impacts of the night, Nuit Blanche has established Extended Projects to ensure that some works are accessible to the public for a longer time. Let’s take the opportunity to review and refresh our public art policies in Toronto and find ways to retain some of the imaginative large-scale pieces that are part of Nuit Blanche on a permanent basis.
I am proud that OCAD University has been a sponsor and leader in making Scotiabank’s Nuit Blanche a ten-year success. OCAD U is pleased to be part of Nuit Blanche and keen to champion it and show leadership. Art makes Toronto great and we are living in great times.
- Sara Diamond