Nuit Blanche is heading east.
The all-night art festival will expand to Scarborough in 2018 and 2019, bringing the kind of large-scale art installations and performances that have attracted crowds to the city centre annually for the past 12 years to the suburbs.
The event, which takes place on September 29, 2018, will continue to run simultaneously downtown, with yet-to-be-worked-out transit links connecting projects in the core to a hub at the Scarborough Civic Centre.
The decision to expand city-run Nuit Blanche to Scarborough is partially a response to an internal strategic review, but also community demand.
The residents group Friends of Guild Park and Gardens has been pushing for Nuit Blanche, but with the condition that the Scarborough art projects are on par with the downtown offerings.
“It can’t be ‘Nuit Lite,’” the city’s director of arts and culture services, Patrick Tobin, tells NOW. “There’s a real desire on the part of city council and residents to ensure city resources are moving outside the core.”
Scarborough has also become a cultural focal point in recent years. Celebrated books by Catherine Hernandez and David Chariandy were set in Scarborough, pop star the Weeknd put the area on the international map and Joyce Wong’s Scarborough-set film Wexford Plaza opened this month to nice reviews.
So the move isn’t just about stimulating neighbourhood artists and art organizations, but rather to encourage downtown dwellers to head up to the burbs.
“We’d like to shine a light on Scarborough that allows people to join in this cultural moment,” says Tobin.
Similar to the politically charged 2017 edition, next year’s Nuit Blanche will have an overarching theme. The curatorial focus will be You Are Here, and participating artists will be asked to consider personal, collective and cultural histories.
Scarborough-raised Alyssa Fearon, whose No Vacancy exhibit about the Kingston Road motel strip took place at Bluffs Gallery in March, will curate projects around the Scarborough Civic Centre and adjacent parks.
“The exhibition aims to illuminate the creativity and artistic production that has always existed, and continues to thrive in Scarborough,” she said in her curatorial statement. “What do we take with us, and what do we leave behind when we go to a new place? How do we create borders, both real and imagined? Who gets to create them?”
Curator Karen Alexander, who worked on Nuit Blanche 2017, will return to work with international artists and Toronto-based curator Tairone Bastien will curate downtown projects.
The University of Toronto’s Scarborough campus and the Toronto Public Library’s Scarborough Civic Centre branch will participate, as will community group RISE Edutainment, Scaroborough Arts and Y+ Contemporary.
Though the full list of projects and artists has not been finalized, artists already confirmed include Ghana-born Ibrahim Mahama, who recently exhibited as part of Kassel/Athens art event Documenta, and French/Tunisian artist eL Seed, who will create a “moving kinetic component” that will connect Scarborough and downtown via the Aga Khan Museum.
The city will have a better sense of the geographic area Nuit Blanche will cover in Scarborough once the open call for 2018 independent projects is finished.
In addition to connecting local artists with international ones, Nuit Blanche will have to connect Scarborough to downtown. Public transit in Scarborough is a political powder keg for city officials tasked with building city infrastructure, so the arts and culture programmers will have their work cut out when it comes to moving people around.
Though the plan hasn’t been finalized, Tobin expects shuttle buses transporting people within Scarborough and to and from downtown will play a role.
A third of the existing budget for Nuit Blanche will be devoted to the Scarborough event. The challenge for city officials will be to raise the rest through sponsorships.
In 2017, city council approved $700,000 in funding for Nuit Blanche, with sponsors contributing $2-$3 for every city dollar. Last year’s total budget was $1.9 million.
However, the downtown projects will be “slightly scaled back” in 2018, city programming manager Kristine Germann notes, adding “the last thing we want to do is not succeed on both fronts.”
Tobin is confident the city can tap into a new set of Scarborough businesses and corporate sponsors that would not typically back a downtown-centric event.
After taking over Scarborough for the next two years, the festivities will likely move to a different location in the city for 2020 and 2021, Tobin says.
The 2017 edition of Nuit Blanche attracted nearly 1.2 million attendees, according to the city. Tobin and Germann say the event primarily draws a young audience with the bulk of attendees – 73 per cent – falling into youth, millennial and Generation X demographics.
The city’s research shows that, in general, eight per cent of Nuit Blanche attendees have made the trek downtown from Scarborough and 10 per cent have come from Etobicoke. North York is best represented at 18 per cent, likely because the Yonge-University subway line provides the most direct access to downtown.
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