Illustration by Roxanne Ignatius/Torontoist.
Torontoist is ending the year by naming our Heroes and Villains—Toronto’s very best and very worst people, places, and things over the past twelve months. From December 13–17: the Villains! From December 20–24, the Heroes! And, from December 27–30, you can vote for Toronto’s Superhero and Supervillain of the year.
It’s the night that hipsters love to hate and suburban tourists hate to love, and while we certainly enjoyed griping about Nuit Blanche’s many villainous shortcomings, there’s also a lot to celebrate about the annual contemporary art event.
What we cited earlier as one of its biggest faults is also one of Nuit Blanche’s biggest strengths: the event’s attempt to expose a large number of people—many of whom probably aren’t frequent followers of the arts scene—to contemporary art. From Darren O’Donnell’s dodgeball dance party Ballroom Dancing back in 2006, to this year’s nude awakening at Imponderabilia, the night consistently places people in new and strange situations, like dancing to a child DJ, or squeezing between two silent, naked individuals. Exposing a large number of people to images, sounds, video, and interactive performances that are unusual (and sometimes incoherent) provokes conversation, laughter, and introspection. And while there are always many complaints overheard throughout the night—this is Toronto, after all—there are always more exclamations of curiosity and interest.
Furthermore, as much as folks like us bemoan how crowded the night is (and it is a pain to hustle around), there’s also something beautiful about getting a million people out of their houses for something so completely inclusive. Nuit Blanche manages to take something intimidating and often hard to understand and brings it to our doorsteps. Rather than asking us to seek out contemporary art—which, let’s face it, we often don’t—the night creates a free outdoor interactive gallery out of our city streets. By allowing art to happen anywhere and everywhere the night makes it almost impossible not to be a part of an artistic creation, even if you were just going out for a carton of milk.
Nuit Blanche, too, is more important than ever now that Rob Ford is mayor. Ford has kept arts and culture low down on his priority list, and it seems likely that in the mayor’s attempt to derail the “gravy train,” municipal spending on arts funding will be cut. (Jeff Melanson, Ford’s newly appointed “arts and culture adviser,” is already advocating that arts organizations become more self-reliant and lean increasingly on the private sector rather than the public one.) Since Nuit Blanche is already mostly a privately funded event—thanks, Scotiabank—it’ll probably continue regardless of Ford’s slash-and-burn efforts. But when the leader of a city implies, as Ford did at the ArtsVote debate back in September, that Toronto residents don’t value art, it’s more important than ever to have a night like Nuit Blanche where a million people take to the streets to prove him wrong.