Nuit Blanche transforms downtown Calgary
Second-ever art event attracts thousands
Subtlety and strangeness pervaded the warm September air as thousands of Calgarians of every age and persuasion crowded the city’s Olympic Plaza and surrounding areas on Saturday Sept. 20. All had hopes of partaking in the festivities. Numerous performances and installation artwork scattered the square, all part of the second ever Nuit Blanche event in the city.
The global art event has been gaining momentum over the past few years in cities all over the world. Although the event is a widespread phenomenon, each city has independent rights on what they want it to look like. The events all have a distinct local flavour, acting as a mirror of a city’s particular art scene and cultural landscape at large.
“Right now in Calgary, they’re working towards that cultural arts center as more and more people are beginning to appreciate it,” says Vanessa Mariani, the communications coordinator for the event.
Unlike other cities that host Nuit Blanche, Calgary is still a relatively grassroots affair, in comparison to much larger events such as Toronto’s all-night Scotiabank subsidized experience.
Mariani, a former resident of Toronto, thinks that isn’t such a bad thing stating, “To me Toronto feels very diluted in terms of arts and culture, because there’s just so many people, and so many things going on.” In contrast Calgary’s effort is small but focused, and decidedly less steeped in corporate branding.
Calgary’s first Nuit Blanche took place two years ago, conveniently nestled in the middle of a stacked roster of other happenings during 2012’s Cultural Capital run. The event’s sophomore year, offering twice the size of its predecessor in terms of scope as well as attendance, is a testament to the ravenous appetite for culture that has been developing in the city.
“In an arts community, culture just kind of goes with the flow of a growing city,” says Mariani.
Perhaps Nuit Blanche’s greatest accomplishment, is that it hasn’t sought to dilute its presentation for mainstream consumption. Instead, it opts to bring forward works that are unfettered and raw, as they would be experienced in obscure gallery spaces. Or better yet, in the fertile testing grounds of art schools across the country. In essence, it is an example of the further democratization of art, an undeniably positive trend.
That being said, this year’s Nuit Blanche was a little weird — at least that was the sentiment shared by many overheard conversing at the event.
While wandering the premises and gazing upon the twelve commissioned instillations, many still likely maintained memories of light bulb clouds and make shift pubs. Although 2012’s event featured only half the works of this year’s event, nearly all of them were immediate, accessible and likeable. They were quite different from Saturday’s sprawling collection of vastly unique works — although there was still room for laughter and fun.
Benny Nemerofsky RamsayIn’s auditory installation “The Lovers” comes to mind. The work was tucked neatly away from the commotion of the plaza in the park space adjacent from city hall. The audience was greeted by a low hum of a song that grew more intense as one approached the center of a clustering of speakers. By the time one made their way to the middle, they would be entirely enraptured in a highly captivating spell of sound.
Lucy + Jorge Orta’s “Symphony for Absent Wildlife” was equally as arresting, despite it’s hushed and deliberately downplayed quality. The orchestra of felt-costumed woodland creatures, quickly took on an eerie, thought-provoking tone, commanding silence from an otherwise boisterous audience.
In its quick maturation, Nuit Blanche Calgary has made room for pieces that are fun, confrontational and challenging, but also meditative and pensive. It demanded even more of viewers and challenged their conceptions of what art can be and how it can be experienced.
Considering the success and increasing popularity of the event, it’s safe to say that Nuit Blanche will continue to grow and evolve as a cultural entity in Calgary. While currently a bi-annual event, Mariani says that the event may one day become a yearly occurrence, as organizers continue to secure sponsorships. The next event is planned for 2016.