Nuit Blanche verdict: A contemporary art event with legs — but balls?

Well, I’m sorry I didn’t post on this yesterday, but frankly, in the spirit of all things Nuit Blanche-y (ie. staying up all night, seeing lots of people you like, sleeping in to excess the next day, being Euro-style and honouring “The Lord’s Day,” etc.) I’m glad I didn’t. This way, I had some time to process the event that was Nuit Blanche.

The best part of the event, hands down, were the people who came out in droves (reportedly 450,000 strong) to participate in and spectate — get this! — contemporary art. I could hardly believe, walking east on Queen from the Gladstone over to 401 Richmond, Grange Park, and eventually the U of T campus, that so many people wandered about excitedly, being curious, just seeing what was going on out there. The sidewalks were jammed with awake, alive folkery at 2am. And strangely enough, they weren’t puke-ready drunk. But they were still cheering on the Bantam AAA Art Team’s marbles games at OCAD’s Butterfield Park like they goddam well were!

All this reminded me of the best in successful art outreach projects — make art viewing/creating safe, interesting, relevant, fun, well publicized, and best of all, FREE, and the people will come. Not surprising, then, that these are the elements of art institutions and events that so impressed me when I recently made a trip to London, England. The museums are free, so that they are, not surprisingly, choked with patrons of all ages and backgrounds — not just monied tourists. The contemporary art institutions run inspired outreach programs, including hip-hop and open mic nights. And major collectors like Charles Saatchi even allowed the public to curate part of their most recent exhibitions.

My conclusion from the popular success of Nuit Blanche? Bring its spirit and strategies to more of Toronto’s art institutions. De-fee it and they will come!

Yet Nuit Blanche’s success is not as white as the driven snow of shavings from an ice sculpture melting in a decrepit car wash. (OK, so I thought Rebecca Belmore’s memorial to Neil Stonechild was the best object in show… though Edgar Heap of Birds’s billboard across the street was also very fantastic.) Noo-ett Blan-chee was tarnished by the ongoing (and much less publicized) marginalization of artists themselves within the city of Toronto – at the same time that their art is embraced as the core of an entire urban marketing scheme.

The city, at last and quite wisely, has twigged to the importance of art and culture in creating a vital, engaging city for both residents and visitors. But how are artists actually being compensated for the service they’ve provided, both on Saturday night and over the past fifty years? Their studios at 48 Abell, which drove the revitalization of Queen Street West and other areas, are denied heritage designation by the city and are likely to be razed for condos. The pocketbooks of some artists, in exchange for 12 hours of labour to Nuit Blanche proper and many more dozens of hours of prep beforehand, are lined with a fraction of Ontario’s hourly minimum wage. And their image of edginess, an “edginess” honed by years of poverty-line living and Value Village shopping, is appropriated by one of the country’s largest banks — a bank that likely wouldn’t lend any of them a dime based on their earned income and assets profile.

So… maybe staying up late made me cranky as well as ecstatic. Alas, ‘tis often the way. That non-art water balloon some jerks threw from their high-rise apartment onto me and my friends at Grange Park didn’t help much. They’re lucky we weren’t little kids or someone frail and elderly – and they clearly need to, as we say in the art world, get a life.

If you want City Hall to make 48 Abell a heritage site, sign here. And if you just want to enthuse about your fave sights or experiences from NB (still a valid option!) make sure to post a comment below.

Image from BlogTO


  1. I also wondered how the artists were being paid. And you’re right : Scotiabank wouldn’t loan any of them a dime.

  2. The artists were paid. None of that happened for free. I didn’t have to take my tour by the Scotiabank in Yorkville and sigh people up for accounts, so I didn’t see any problems.

  3. Valid point, and good to get an artist perspective. I understand that some of the artists were very well compensated for their work, while some (as I point out) effectively made well less than minimum wage. I’m sure many artists experienced the great crowds and group spirit as compensation. And Scotiabank, whether you sign your viewers up for accounts or not – and this action in itself could be an interesting project! – will certainly reap some branding returns for having the city’s artists throw a party in their name. I’m not suggesting that corporate sponsorship be rejected – that’s virtually impossible for a project of this scale – just that all artists involved be adequately compensated in turn.

  4. “Get a Life!” I definately agree with you, homes.

    That was fun though at the gym, it was a giant, chaotic dodgeball game.
    However, this next dumbass in the gym, started provoking one of my friends, where a mini-fight broke out to smarten him up. He threw a ball less than 2 feet from my boi’s face, with purpose too. Becuause he went at it again, nearly mashing up his glasses, so then my friend wasn’t gonna have it.

    Seriously, did we really need that kind of foolish behavior on such a magical or chillin’ night? Why must ignorant idiots ruin or spoil the little things we strive to enjoy ourselves with? It’s people like them, that we don’t get many oppourtunities and events like this.
    Ya know?

    The Big Chess at OCAD was great. But did the one pawn have to get stolen? (That’s what I figure.. it was replaced with a cushion, lol)

    See you peoplez next year! Rest up loads until then.

  5. It’s true there’s an irony in Scotiabank burnishing its image by associating with art when it probably wouldn’t *actually* associate with artists commercially in its core business.

    A nice solution would be for Scotiabank to use its expertise to start a program that provides financing targeted for the specific situation of artists. The City’s latest culture report calls for a special mortgage program enabling artists to buy their studio space so they’re not pushed out by the kind of gentrification happening at 48 Abell. Helping out with a program like that would make Scotiabank a champion of artists in its business as well, not just in its marketing.

    I was too tired to do all the fun activities, but I saw a print made from conception to final product, which was really intriguing.

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