What was Nuit Blanche like without overt corporate sponsorship? We didn't notice much difference.
While there was some sponsorship—a half-dozen “media partners,” and three companies (H&M, Shiplake Properties, and Shiseido) as program sponsors—the main partners this year were the government of Ontario, the Ontario Cultural Attractions Fund, and Tourism Toronto.
In other words, this really was the people’s Nuit Blanche, largely funded and produced by taxpayer dollars, and after seeing nearly 50 of the 90 projects on display this weekend, we’d say we got our money’s worth.
The main “zones” were more compact, and the overall number of exhibits considerably reduced from the approximately 130 total of 2014, or the almost 160 of 2012. But considering we went for 12 hours (13, if you include our 6 p.m. shuttle out to the Aga Khan Museum) and saw just over half of what was on display, does it really matter, if it’s impossible to see everything in one night?
Those three “zones,” all within the borders of Queens Quay and Dundas south to north, and Yonge and Spadina east to west, contained most of the biggest projects. Militant Nostalgia, curated by Paco Barragán and centred along John Street, included installations (as well as smaller exhibits) at OCAD, the AGO, and Artscape Sandbox. And The Transformation Reveals, curated by Camille Hong Xu and centred along Bay Street, included Daniel Canogar’s Asalto Toronto, projected onto the facade of Union Station, and a glowing river of books behind City Hall by Luzinterruptus. (The special Oblivion project, containing Director X’s giant orb Death of The Sun, continues at City Hall until October 10.) Around (and in) Harbourfront Centre, curator Louise Déry’s Facing The Sky featured occasional dance performances and a loop of Shary Boyle’s ASL project Silent Dedication in the theatre.
What was key for much of the night—increasingly so for the many “independent” projects on the periphery of Nuit Blanche’s map—was the importance of Toronto’s year-round cultural institutions participating and facilitating work on their premises. For the first half of the night, we focused on many of these: the Aga Khan, the AGO, 401 Richmond, Artscape Youngplace, the Bata Shoe and Gardiner Museums, and the Conservatory of Music—before venturing into Nuit Blanche’s core.
At the Aga Khan, we soon exhausted the programming on site; besides the outdoor CharBagh and Sparks installations, just the main floor permanent exhibit and a ceramics room were open to the public, though several ticketed events were taking place. It was a long wait for the busy shuttle bus back downtown.
The busy 401 Richmond centre was another story; we could have spent half the night there, watching theremin performer Clara Venice in Cymatic Theremin or theatre artist Michelle Polak in Leaving Still, or looking at exhibits like Zahra Saleki’s Girl Talk.
At the Bloor Street institutions, Melting out front of the Bata Shoe Museum had an intriguing premise; photos taken of ice formations in the Arctic were encased in ice blocks that were down to thin sheets holding the photos up at 5 a.m. At the Gardiner Museum, URBAN SYNCHOPATION was a dazzling display, though we couldn’t puzzle out what outside stimuli were affecting it from the dense project statement. But the Korsi exhibit was tearing down as we arrived at the Gardiner, as was the Bike Date project outside the Toronto Royal Conservatory of Music, belying Nuit Blanche’s claim that all exhibits would be available for the early-morning crowds.
Our favourite exhibits of the night were small efforts in local studios, and even “unauthorized” participants. At Bloor and Ossington, exhibitors in character as techno-conspiracy theorists at Site 3 coLaboratory showed us Photon Gallery 2.0‘s light sculptures, and gave off eerie audio tones picked up by handheld devices. At The World in Ten Blocks at La Bella Managua restaurant, we viewed a map on which the night’s patrons displayed their generational roots (and chowed down on delicious Nicaraguan food for a 4 a.m. breakfast). And “rogue” performances like B Current’s 11 p.m. Diaspora Dub outside Scadding Court Community Centre, rock band Snowblink‘s 10 p.m. in-store performance at Quixotic Records, and even the “dino rights” T-Rex protesters at Queen and Spadina, all contributed to a night rich in experiences.
It’s the breadth of those experiences—the sublime word installation Beauty vs. The World by Robert Montgomery in Cloud Gardens; theatre company Outside the March’s #100RedBalloons treasure hunt; stopping in between 3 and 4 a.m. at The Gladstone Hotel and Comedy Bar (both Nuit Blanche and JFL42 venues had 4 a.m. last calls)—that made Nuit Blanche such an engrossing night.
It accentuates Toronto’s late-night charms with both large and spectacular and small and sublime art experiences, sandwiched in between midnight snacks at Market 707 booths and noodles on Spadina, and the usual hustle and bustle of our city’s night life. The crowds can be managed if you plan for them (and especially if you travel by bicycle), and like Doors Open Toronto, it’s an opportunity to take advantage of Toronto’s year-round institutions (some more than others).
A recent Now Magazine article interviewed artists about their past Nuit Blanche experiences, and they talked about the cost of exhibiting all night, but also the intangible benefits. Showcasing one’s art for hundreds, thousands, maybe even tens or hundreds of thousands of patrons is a great opportunity.
Nuit Blanche may be tempted to land new sponsors so it can bring in more international artists, and up the “wow” factor of complex or large projects. But this past weekend’s Nuit Blanche proved that the festival can run just fine, so long as local studios, institutions, and businesses are onboard and facilitated.
Should Nuit Blanche land new sponsors, that’s fine, so long as they understand that the city’s culture itself is priceless.