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Hume: Nuit Blanche, a good day’s night

In Canada on October 3, 2010 at 20:53
Back to Hume: Nuit Blanche, a good day’s night

Hume: Nuit Blanche, a good day’s night

October 03, 2010

Christopher Hume

Rob Ford must have hated it. It wasn’t a marathon but still the streets were crowded with people — all of them pedestrians — taxpayers’ hard-earned tax dollars were being spent and once again roads were closed to cars.

The occasion this time was Nuit Blanche, the annual all-night art shindig. This year’s outing — one of the best to date — comprised 130 pieces installed throughout the downtown core in buildings, lanes, squares, sidewalks and everywhere in between.

And as has been the case in the previous four Nuits Blanches, Torontonians came out in droves. For 12 odd hours Saturday night and Sunday morning, the city was alive. It was taken over, invaded, and ultimately revealed by an army of 300 artists and their countless followers.

Not every single one of the estimated million people who showed up was an art-lover — no doubt about that. Most, in fact, were young, teenagers and twentysomethings, enjoying a night out. But they were curious, engaged and refreshingly open-minded. The distrust of contemporary art so evident in mainstream cultural discourse was not a factor. The critics will cavil — the quality of the work, the size of the crowds — but the evening was a massive success.

The audience’s obvious willingness to enter into the spirit of the occasion made the event a party, a celebration not just of the imagination, but also of the city.

Despite all the election negativity about Toronto the Poor, Toronto the Desperate, the Little Town that Couldn’t, Nuit Blanche tells the story of a city rich in the things that make urban life worth living. That’s nothing to sneeze at; there are no Slaves of Manhattan here yet.

To appease the bottom-liners, organizers are able to justify the event on strictly economic grounds. The fact is it pulls in tens of millions of dollars for city merchants — in just hours.

And yet, as an item on the city budget, Nuit Blanche would likely be a designated target for those convinced that Toronto is broke, broken and much too impoverished to spend on frills such as an all-night arts festival.

“It would be great,” they would fume. “But we simply can’t afford it. Not until we get our spending under control.”

However compelling the argument may sound, it ignores the difference between expenditure and investment. The day we stop investing in Toronto is the day it starts to die.

Though hard to measure, the value of Nuit Blanche to Toronto is huge. In a world more urban than at any time in its history, the need to understand and appreciate cities, to open them up, make them inhabitable and improve quality of life is more urgent than ever. In Canada, one of the most urban nations on Earth, this is especially so.

Toronto, which has been called an “Accidental City,” somehow manages to flourish despite its own best efforts to do itself in. Whether cause or effect, the current political culture responds to anger and rewards outrage. The promises and threats would mean a downward spiral of cuts and cancellations.

In good times, greed is what motivates us. In bad times, it’s fear. So there’s little wonder why things have turned out as they have.

But again, the empowering message of Nuit Blanche is that the city belongs to everyone who lives here. Or, at least, that we all share it. That means the civic psyche as well as its public spaces, the emotional as well as the physical.

Nuit Blance only happens once a year, but that’s enough.

Christopher Hume can be reached at


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