Toronto is the black sheep of the White Nights

Nuit Blanche has come and gone and proved once again to be a wonderful evening for thousands of participants. And once again, the event has triggered debates about the level of corporate sponsorship that accompany the many performances and installations scattered across the downtown.

Nuit Blanche events happen all over the world and almost all of these events have corporate sponsorships, yet Toronto is the only city I could find that has sold the naming rights. I received a publicly funded newsletter from the Deputy Mayor this week that contained the word “Scotiabank” nine times because his staff felt obliged to use the full, branded, name of the event. Press releases from the Mayor’s office have done the same.

Here is a collage of logos from Nuit Blanche events all over the world:

Only Toronto’s logo has a corporatised name. The Scotiabank logo was also plastered on tents, brochures, stuck to people’s clothing and prominently displayed on all event signage. Our Nuit Blanche need not be so branded. If the city is going to accept corporate sponsorships, they have a responsibility to negotiate terms that are appropriate and attempt to protect the nature of the event. Why are we the black sheep of the White Nights? Why do we give away so much? Let’s take the lead of other cities and reduce the branding at Nuit Blanche to an appropriate level. It’s an unnecessary blemish on a wonderful evening.


  1. Mez, you should get a hold of the questionnaire they were asking people to fill out at computer terminals. It was extremely self-conscious about the sponsorship issue. Maybe they’ll even share the results?

  2. This may have something to do with the fact that Toronto is the only city that has a Mayor that ran for election on the slogan of a beer commercial.

  3. hydro quebec is a corporate sponsor for montreal’s nuit blanche is it not?

  4. Look closer, Montreal’s is called “Hydro Quebec Presents Nuit Blanche.”

  5. I found this week’s cover of Eye Magazine sort of amusing as it read “Scotiabank NUIT BLANCHE!!!”

    Basically, Scotiabank was written in a very small size, while Nuit Blanche was much larger.

  6. What about Hydro Quebec on the left? or the two on the right in which the text is too small to be legible?

  7. Dave – I’m so sorry that when Nuit Blanche was an unexpected success and the City went to plead with Scotia for another year’s money for something which was planned to be one-off (because of insufficient faith in Torontonians but that’s another story), that they didn’t take your suitcase full of money instead.

  8. You don’t consider Hydro Québec to be a corporate sponsor?

    And dude, five of those logos are from the same city – Paris – just different years.

    Come on.

  9. The problem is that Scotiabank is clearly punching above their weight class. They only contributed $300,000 of a $1,300,000 budget. That shouldn’t entitle them to effectively own the event. Last year they had the same sponsorship level, but they didn’t ‘take over’ the event in the same way at street level.

    Simply put, the city could of easily run this event without sponsoship, it may of just been a tad smaller. The city seems determined to get corporate sponsorship for its programs in order to give them some ‘legitimacy’ or something (see the Museum Pass program as an example of unnecessary sponsorship). Why do we pay taxes? Maybe we should just rely on corporations to pay for all goods in society. After all, they ahve the common good in mind right?

    BTW why didn’t the city shut down the core to cars for the event? This is obviously a pedestrian event, and cars should not have been part of the equation, there simply was not enough space.

  10. I’m not too concerned about the branding. I think the discussion should be about the night’s other problems: the terrible TTC service, the crowding, the poor infrastructure, and the hit-and-miss exhibits. There is a lot of room for improvement.

  11. Is this another one of those self-loathing, “Oh my god, other cities are so much better than sucky old Toronto!” articles?

  12. I agree that the sponsorship was too ‘in your face’ at this event. I made a point of not mentioning Scotiabank once (save for crediting the site for images) when I wrote our guide and liveblog, and I don’t see why other media chose to do so.

    There’s no rule that says it’s necessary to, and Scotiabank has no right to tell you to do so. As far as I’m concerned, it’s just ‘Nuit Blanche’.

    As Dave mentions, if they were to maybe sponsor road closures or improved TTC service for the night, then maybe the sponsorship would be worth mentioning.

  13. When it comes to corporate sponsorship, plurality is all that matters. If Scotiabank only ponied up $300K, then the next must have only put up $299K. You pay the most dough, you get your name all over the thing.

    Furthermore, if I had to choose between NO Nuit Blanche and Scotiabank Nuit Blanche…well, give me a Scotiabank sticker and let’s have some fun.

    I am fully with Dave in thinking that knocking corporate sponsorship, however trendy, isn’t where we should be putting our focus post Nuit Blanche ’07. Events were poorly located and the horrible transit situation made seeing everything or even many things impossible, especially once the bars let out.

    Secondly, I was so happy to see the density increase from last year, both in contributors and attendees. However, a majority of pieces left much to be desired. The more I think about it, the more I think that there needs to be some kind of selection process for Nuit Blanche. I hesitate to say jury, but I suppose that’s what it would become. If the quality of displays isn’t there, then soon the crowds won’t be either.

    It’s also fairly apparent that, as others have said, more streets need to be closed for this event. Specifically Queen St. between Shaw and Gladstone. It was were the best exhibits were to be found and even in the early evening people were spilling into the streets.

    Oh…and free TTC after 2am would be great. Maybe we can get BMO or CIBC to chip in for that. CIBC would be a good choice, the streetcars are already red after all.

  14. Josh> The big exhibitions in each zone were curated by separate curators — so the quality of the pieces largely depends on them. Last year the three zones were extremely well curated, this year, the Trinity-Bellwoods area was not so well done, while other parts were great.

    I don’t mind the zones being in the hands of competent curators — I think an event like this would suffer if it was by committee. Of course, we can debate what they picked, and think some of them didn’t do such a good job.

  15. I see validity in not having a title sponsor in certain contexts, (Can you imagine the credibility issues of having an Indigo Word on the Street
    or Durex Toronto Pride Day?!) however I agree with the comments that a Scotiabank Nuit Blanche is better no Nuit Blanche at all, especially in the context of the arts. It’s not like the art community gets by on government grants alone!

  16. 1) “Hydro Quebeec Presents Nuit Blanche” is very different than “Hydro Quebec Nuit Blanche”. It’s not in the name. I think I made it clear that I wasn’t opposed to sponsorship, I was opposed to the excessive branding and naming rights. In Montreal, the event is called “Nuit Blanche”. If it is mentioned on the cover of a weekly, or in a press release from the mayor it simply reads “Nuit Blanche”, not “Hydro Quebec Nuit Blanche”. Toronto’s approach forces everyone from the Mayor to Eye Weekly to become an advertising rep for a bank.

    2) “Is this another one of those self-loathing, “Oh my god, other cities are so much better than sucky old Toronto!” articles?” Yes. What’s wrong with wanting my city to be better, and using other cities as examples of what we can achieve? Sometimes Toronto is sucky. This is a perfect example of suckiness.

    3) I don’t see what’s wrong with using multiple logos from Paris, representing different years. Each year was a different event, and each year they had the choice to sell-out their event. And they didn’t. Only Toronto does.

  17. I was OK with the sponsorship and didn’t find it intrusive.

    In fact if I were going to cut Nuit Blanche’s budget I’d cut the city’s $400,000 portion.

    I agree that more street closures were necessary (e.g. Bloor and Avenue Rd. area, Dundas and McCaul area, etc.)

  18. The street closures cost too much $$ too. Cut that. Cut it all, no matter the economic and cultural benefit the evening brings to the city. Snip snip! Snipping costs too much!

    My burlap clothes are itchy! Cut it all! Somebody scratch my itch!

  19. Street closures definitely necessary … I was amazed how many cars still stubbornly chugged their way through Yorkville even when pedestrians had more or less overtaken the street.

    I understand Mez’s differentiation … it would have been a bit more deferential to say “Scotiabank presents” rather than slapping the Scotiabank name right on the event, as if they invented it.

    I do like our logo though. It’s minimalist and very simply captures the idea of turning night into day. Much better than cheesy nightlights.

  20. Great street party. Not much off an art event really.

  21. How about an entry next year called Nuit Blanche presents Scotiabank. You could turn the (Rogers) Skydome into a giant ATM and have people deposit their soul for money. Of course there would be an ATM fee, so you’d also have to leave an article of clothing, like the shirt off of your back.

    At 7 in the morning you could open the roof and release all the souls into the sky, followed by a huge donation to goodwill of all those shirts.
    Has this been done already?

  22. Hi Shawn,

    Thanks for the heads up on how the curation works.

    I was a big fan of the area west of Trinity-Bellwoods, but I think that was because of the large number of venues “providing refreshments” in the form of cheap (and sometimes free) beer. I thought the Drake put on a good show and the pink Parkdale post office was appropriately over-the-top. I missed not having something in the car washes and the Bohemian Embassy building, now boarded up, was a blight.

    I agree that for such a large park with some many wonderful nooks and crannies, Trinity-Bellwoods itself was a disappointment. Or rather, it was incredibly empty. I was also really bummed with the concert in the Works building across from Lamport Stadium. They put interesting musicians in there with a stage and everything and then kept the house lights on, preventing it from becoming a real event. I’m a lighting designer so I probably took that worse than most. I was there when Holy Fuck was playing and I could sense that the crowd wanted it to be more.

    The big disappointment for me was the McCaul area. The area under the OCAD table-top was great last year and a bore this time around. Also, the fake UFO crash at UofT was one of the biggest flops of the night with an interesting crash setup ruined by a quasi-religious installation featuring Yoda and E.T..

    Anyway, end of rant. I’ll keep spewing on my own blog I guess and stop taking up all the space here.

  23. In Trinity Bellwoods I heard a lot of cynical comments about the over-branding of Scotiabank. E.g. signs seemingly every few feet (rendundant, too: “Scotiabank Nuit Blanche presents Scotiabank People’s Choice”). People avoided the hub area because they thought they were going to be asked to sign up for credit cards. The general concensus was that the sponsorship appeared less like “nice – a corporation supports the arts” and more like “big bank just sees captive audience of half a million potential customers.” Favourite comment of the night: “oh look, they even have their own flag. It’s Scotiabank Nation.” City pride? Not so much.

  24. Josh> There were also things part of the official program, then things that people just did, independent projects. Which is great, how it should be.

    I loved the UFO crash, but didn’t see the tent (my first reaction though after hearing what was in the tent was — all that and ended with ET?). And I keep hearing others liked it. But that’s the great thing, the experience was immersive I thought, but we can talk about if it was good or bad on artistic terms. Some places like Trinity Bellwoods felt thrown together, so the like/dislike debate happens before even thinking of the stuff as art.

    Thus also concludes my half-ass art criticism for the afternoon.

  25. It’s worth noting, too, if we’re comparing to how other cities have handled this- I think Toronto’s Nuit Blanche is pretty ambitious compared to a lot of the other cities’, and so, presumably, costs more to run.

    I also feel that the Scotiabank branding was pretty overboard. But at the same time – I’m inclined to be happy about corporate funding of the arts, and realistic about the idea that the funding companies might want some visibility in exchange for that funding.

    Dave, I’m curious – what level of corporate visibility would you be comfortable with?

  26. While we’re on the subject, a map that lets me know all the Scotiabank ATM locations is a tad excessive too.

  27. This is a great comment Mez. Christopher Hume had a piece in the Star on Saturday about how great Nuit Blanche is in that it “exists outside of the commercial realm.” (My paraphrase.) This peeved me because it is, as you have pointed out, branded incredibly heavily.

    For me there is another recurring issue here: It would seem most art that is free for viewing in Toronto is in commercial galleries and/or is commercially sponsored. Several major “public” institutions (AGO, ROM, Power Plant more nominally) still charge a fee for entry. While I’m grateful for the great (if high-end) programming offered by commercial spaces, I’m ashamed of our “public” record. (Also thanks MOCCA for remaining free of charge.)

    What also peeves me is that the rate of return Scotiabank gets on that $300,000 is very high because of the (a) low real pay rate of and (b) high perceived glamour factor of contemporary art. The a large proportion of the 145 events (ie. those that were not curated or “independent projects”) were funded only by local businesses, galleries, or artists. However, Scotiabank still got their brand on all of them.

    Or, to put it another way, if Scotiabank had sponsored an NBA event rather than Nuit Blanche I suspect that $300,000 wouldn’t have gone nearly so far… because professional athletes, and the structures that support them, expect to be paid in full.

    That said, congrats to all the artists, organizers and volunteers and thanks for all your efforts. I wonder how much all your in-kind labour added up to? Maybe the Nuit should be named after you next year if it’s more than 300 thou?

  28. “People avoided the hub area because they thought they were going to be asked to sign up for credit cards.”

    Scotiabank was doing that at the hubs. Well for bank cards, not credit cards, but close enough. At the Zone B hub (the “Drive-In”) you could get your popcorn for “free” if you presented a Scotiabank card.

    Hey, Mez, did you see that letter in today’s Star? You should write a response.

  29. “Hydro Quebeec Presents Nuit Blanche” is very different than “Hydro Quebec Nuit Blanche”. It’s not in the name.

    This sounds massively nitpicky.

    In Montreal, the Nuit blanche is a component of a larger event called the Fàªte de la lumià¨re Hydro-Québec. Which runs right alongside Les Plaisirs de la table Air France présenté par American Express and Les Arts Financià¨re Sun Life.

  30. I think part of the reason why the corporate branding was so noticeable was that the city wasn’t in a good negotiating position when it solicited the funds. IIRC last year was intended as a one off event; there was no planning (or budgeting) for another one — and only a minor public outcry over the success of last year’s event forced this one to take place. Scotia had a great position — it wasn’t clear that any other major sponsor was willing to step up to ensure another event took place. So they levered that into (arguably excessive) corporate branding. [the question is, do you think Nuit Blanche 07 would still have gone forward without Scotia’s involvement? securing a major sponsor is key to getting the OTHER sponsors to pony up, it’s like an axiom of fundraising. ]

    The whole weekend could be viewed as a clever confluence of Scotiabank marketing — they were major sponsors for Word on the Street and the Marathon as well, in case you missed the ads in the various papers…

  31. Hmm I should have got them to sponsor our psychogeographic walk too. We could have got new shoes, or at least paid for some drinks at the end.

  32. Disparishun – I think you’re being a little nitpicky too! I’ve pointed out a trend, across the globe, in cities including brussells, paris, rome and others that have sucsessfully organised Nuit Blanche events without selling naming rights. The fact that you’ve discovered other festivals in Montreal that have sold naming rights, doesn’t really weaken my point. Perhaps it shows that Montreal is a sucker city too. Perhaps it’s a Canadian thing. I’ll also point out that your facts are incomplete. All three of the festivals you mentioned are part of an umbrella event called “Festival Montreal En Lumiere” which is sponsored, but not branded (ie: no naming rights sold). And their Nuit Blanche event itself, is simply called “Nuit Blanche”

    Nate – “the question is, do you think Nuit Blanche 07 would still have gone forward without Scotia’s involvement?” First of all, I think the answer is yes it could have. But the question I want to throw back at you is “Would ScoatiaBank have withdrawn their sponsorship if the city had refused naming rights?”

    Misha – “what level of corporate visibility would you be comfortable with?” In an ideal world (which I believe is attainable if we can get beyond our defeatist political culture) there would be no sponsorship at all. Public art funds, allocated through arms length agencies, would fund stuff like this. We could all chip in a little bit of money, let’s say $1 on each annual tax bill, and then it would be free and unbranded. Revolutionary, ain’t it? Or how about selling $3 passes for the whole event. That’s about how much it would cost. But, since people don’t seem to want to give up their precious loonie and toonie, I propose this notion: The name of a work of art, is part of the art. Nuit Blanche is an art exhibit, a collection of hundreds of works. The name “Nuit Blanche” is poetic and was chosen as a creative expression to identify the event and set a certain tone or feeling. Many works of art are sponsored by private companies, and they usually ask that their sponsorship is aknowleged in some way. Perhaps a logo in the corner of a poster, or at the bottom. (that’s what most Nuit Blanches have). The idea that a company could (partially) fund an artistic endeavor and then actually have the name of that endeavor altered to promote the company is depressing. Let companies sponsor events. And let them stick their logo somewhere. But let’s let the artistic directors of the event decide what it should be called, what the colors are, how it looks, feels, tastes, sounds, etc. That’s all part of the art.

  33. mez – that’s all very well but you’ve forgotten the principle “you have to spend money to make money”. Having a little sticker in the corner for every exhibit means hiring people to find all these sponsors, which in turn eats into the sponsorship gained. Printing and distributing and collecting money for passes eats into revenues.

    What about art which is not “sponsor sticker friendly” – in Nuit Blanche it benefits from the overall funding. I think you’re kidding yourself that artistic directors won’t feel pressured to have their exhibits conform to something that brings in revenue.

  34. Hmm. I don’t really see the problem with the branding issue. With the general public’s perception that Bank’s are these big bad corporate entities that take people’s money, they SHOULD (as they’re doing) take up the opportunities to demonstrate that they are good corporate citizens and that they’re giving back to the communities in which they operate, no? Branding events like this one definitely demonstrates the initiative that Scotiabank took both last year and this…initiative that no one else was ballsy enough to take. what’s your bank done lately?
    I know the Scotiabank-Giller Prize is a great way to show the author community where the Prize money comes from. Scotiabank also held up an award for artists that viewers could vote for the night of the event. How much moeny have you given to charities or non-profit organizations lately?

  35. It seems unfortunate that our current climate dictates that only certain types of companies can contribute to arts causes and when they do, we as a people demand that they only contribute in a discreet manner. It’s a simple truth that 10 years ago this would have been the DuMaurier Nuit Blanche or the Benson & Hedges Nuit Blanche and just as with the Symphony of Fire, most of the attendees would have been happy enough with good fireworks and comfortable knowing that other laws prevented B&H from setting up cigarette machines and directly marketing to them.

    But then we got real smart and banned cigarette companies from supporting arts events (or any event for that matter) and suddenly a great void was left. The ONLY organizations that could compete for those advertising dollars were the banks and the beer companies and the banks make the beer companies look like paupers, so it was a no-brainer who was going to get the best events. (The exception being the aforementioned Symphony of Fire which went to Canada Dry – uhhh???) It seems like the same show at the TD Downtown Jazz Fest as it was at the DuMaurier Downtown Jazz Fest except that the banks don’t sell a controlled product, quite the opposite. There’s no law against the sale of bank services to minors so who can blame the banks for exploiting an unregulated opportunity. So you have portable branded ATM spitting out dough to by branded swag while you sign up for branded loyalty programs.

    Sure, the government should adequately fund the arts but they aren’t going to so get that out of your head. We rate with some 3rd world countries in arts funding and I’m not prepared to put my creative ambitions on hold until we elect a federal NDP government and get at least 4 years of ludicrous, 1960’s level arts funding. So if that means Scotiabank Nuit Blanche then so be it.

    And if you really want a more subtle solution, then contact your MP and tell him you want to cigarette advertising rules changed to allow sponsorship funding from tobacco companies. It worked before, it could work again…and no, it didn’t make kids smoke. It might have made artists smoke, but we do that anyway.

  36. Ah, so are people now morally inferior because they can’t afford to sponsor artistic endeavours?

    A national bank has the means to be generous, and the principle of social responsibility indicates they should then do so. That said, they didn’t strictly *need* to. It was a wonderful gesture on Scotiabank’s part, since arts funds are awfully hard to come by for most artists and their works. It certainly is more than other corporate establishments.

    But it is, in the end, a city event. Scotiabank obviously benefits as well, sponsoring something so friendly to city pride and close to the ideas of free, popular art. Everyone here agrees that Nuit Blanche is good for the city, good for people, good for local art and artists. Would Scotiabank get as much publicity for sponsoring a more institutional event at, say, the AGO, featuring Italian Old Masters and a $20 admission fee?

    Not to slag the AGO, but Scotiabank gets a big boost from tying itself to Nuit Blanche. The fact it tries to brand it so overwhelmingly hurts the event’s autonomous spirit. It also hurts the institution itself, because it’s compromising the ideas from which it’s drawing so much beneficial association.

  37. The composite of logos are actually from different cities, not just Paris. Those logos are from Belgium, France, Rome and Riga, Latvia etc. Nuit Blanche happens all over Europe on different nights.

    Sadly, Toronto is the only true Nuit Blanche that uses a corporate name in its title. Montreal is not considered an official NB because it is a scaled down version that happens under the Festival of Lights umbrella. Montreal also softens the corporate sting by saying “Hydro Quebec sponsors” in small font.

    Nuit Blanche had to pimp itself out because the city does not support the arts…its very sad that Latvia can find the coin to pay for this event, but Toronto cannot?

    And the corporate money only covers a handful of exhibits. …don’t forget they were 100s of artists who gave their work and time for free. There were over 190 independent projects on Saturday night who busted their asses just for the love of art.
    Kudos to them and lets hope that Toronto matures into a city that supports the arts all year long – not just 1 night a year.

    I think the city should ditch the sponsor name of course considering that they didnt give a penny to the 100s of independent artists – and in my opinion it is those people who created some of the most magical lo-fi moments of the night. Things like street scrabble, a thriller video street dance, a giant kaleidescope at U of T and some mesmerizing sounds at the Music Gallery.

  38. I’m a bit of a naysayer re massive Nuit Blanche street closings as an end in itself, but with reason: it was a delight driving my mother to the St. Lawrence antique market and taking in the Gladstone/Drake activity en route at 4-in-the-morningish–and believe it or not, it was easy to find a parking space. On Queen.

  39. We should have all gotten some white stickers and pasted them over all the Scotiabank logos we could find. Anti-corporatism at its best.

  40. What does it mean that it only costs Scotiabank $300,000 to buy the conscience of Toronto’s artists? Perhaps Toronto artists have sold out. Perhaps there is little Bolshevik spirit in the Toronto art scene? Where was Istvan?

  41. The argument over the level/visibility of the sponsorship is separate from the art. As Leah said somewhere above, “is scotiabank getting more than they paid for” — that seems like a reasonable discussion.

    Artists should get paid for their work — I can’t imagine any of them connected their fee to the $300,000 paid by Scotiabank. Most were likely busy working on their thing.

    Istvan get’s paid, he pays his rent somehow.

  42. As a Scotiabank customer I was happy to think some of my bank charges were going to something useful rather than giving more cash to the Ottawa Senators. Now I’m thinking about writing to them and saying you know what – don’t bother sponsoring anything else in Toronto, people here are terminally ungracious and living in a goddamned dream world. Give me and everyone else a 1c reduction in bank charges instead.

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