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 â€œThe Lord’s Day,â€ 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 showâ€¦ 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 â€œedginessâ€ 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.
Soâ€¦ maybe staying up late made me cranky as well as ecstatic. Alas, â€˜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