Back in 2002 a brand-new contemporary art festival was born in Paris. The Nuit Blanche, commonly translated as “Sleepless Night”, was an attempt to bring modern art to the masses. In this it succeeded, and now draws over one million people to the streets of Paris over a 12-hour period every year. But few could have predicted that in the course of a decade its reach would extend far further than the streets of the French capital, or indeed beyond the French borders. However, Nuit Blanche has gone on to be celebrated in more than 25 locations worldwide, from Brussels to Bucharest and from Melbourne to Minneapolis.
The ongoing aim of the Nuit Blanche is to make contemporary art accessible, transforming unusual or forbidden spaces into interactive arts venues, and using sculpture, performance art, traditional concepts and mixed media to bring people together in the spirit of celebration and community engagement. It may only last for one night, but Nuit Blanche is certainly worth travelling for. So if you are planning to join in with the night of artistic action, where should you go?
Our pick? Toronto. In 2006, Toronto was the first to city outside Europe to be invited to take part in this fascinating event, and on 30th September the curtain as lifted and Nuit Blanche was set loose on the city. An impressive 425,000 people took to the streets from dusk until dawn to experience interactive works by local, national and international artists and a whole host of exhibitions staged in Toronto’s museums and galleries. More than 400 artists, 300 logistical staff, 87 venues and hundreds of volunteers came together to stage the event, which has gone from strength to strength over the course of a further eight years.
Venues vary, and each year details of the programme are released in plenty of time for visitors and residents to plan their night. If you are unsure where to start, head to City Hall/Nathan Phillips Square to get into the heart of the action, which grows year on year and now spreads throughout neighbouring Chinatown, Spadina Avenue, Fort York and Roundhouse Park. Highlights of the 2014 event included a huge public light sculpture entitled Global Rainbow, which beamed seven rays of laser lights across a viewing spectrum of 60km, and the Screaming Booth – a sound-proofed booth designed especially for those who feel the need to scream out loud without upsetting their friends and neighbours. Other draws included the Night Circus, a collection of 10 projects around the city’s Roundhouse Park, the Fortune Teller Machine and ‘Contagion’, consisting of a group of 100 ‘carriers’ who were dispersed throughout the city to ‘infect’ random participants with UV reactive ink markers.
Nuit Blanche takes place in Toronto in the last week of September or first week of October, and it is well worth adding a few days onto your trip to explore the city and discover the more permanent installations in Canada’s largest and most cosmopolitan city.