THE BLOG

Nuit Blanche: Toronto's Culture Juggernaut

10/07/2013 02:29 EDT | Updated 01/23/2014 06:58 EST

A debate continues to rage onward between two fire-hearted camps -- those that believe Scotiabank's Nuit Blanche is an art event and those that argue it's more of a social gathering. It's time we move away from this bitter rivalry and conclude the white night is simply pure fun where both of these opinions combine into a colourful marinade for overnight mind cooking.

Everyone shake hands and let's move on to the 24-hour coffee shop.

With events on all 6 habitable continents and 24 cities participating in Nuit Blanche events across 2013, Toronto's edition is North America's largest, boasting over one million visitors in 2012. That number is expected to continue growing in 2013 and beyond as the event gains more traction with Toronto and its neighbouring cities. This year's edition is markedly different too, while the regular overnight festivities will commence as normal, five of the flagship exhibits are staying in place for just over a week while Ai Weiwei's impressive visual oddity Forever Bicycles will be open until October 27th at city hall.

Nuit Blanche was originally conceptualized in 1984 as a way to invite citizens of Nantes, France out of their houses for a magical night in museums and art galleries. Just less than 30 years later and the idea has become not just a boost to local artists and creative designers but the economies of the host cities. In the specific case of Toronto, it also counts as one of the many cultural events that have helped shed the city's boring Victorian image while bolstering Toronto's new role as one of North America's leading ambassadors to modern art and progressive design.

People we can now consider forerunners to Toronto's modernization like Frank Gehry and Santiago Calatrava can be thanked for lending Toronto some landmark architecture over the last decade with Gehry's AGO redesign and Calatrava's gorgeous glass cathedral Brookfield Place. Both of these highly visible examples have helped promote Toronto as a city worth exploring.

While some would prefer to explore the bottom of a Canadian Club bottle to accompany walking around, a number of the exhibits are mind-bending in their own right. Baycrest Health and the University of Toronto's Faculty of Medicine have teamed up to create an exhibit worthy of college-aged psychedelic experimentation without the risk of waking up on top of a flagpole.

Half science equipment, half audience participation, My Virtual Dreamis one of the more outlandish 2013 exhibits. Wearing Brain Computer Interface (BCI) headsets, groups of participants will project their brainwave frequencies into brilliant visualizations across a 60 foot dome viewable from the inside and out.

My Virtual Dream and Forever Bicycles may evoke introspective playfulness but traveling to and from exhibits is part of the fantastic social fun, tagging along with a group of people becomes an adventure where almost anything can and will happen. Whether walking, biking or taking transit, you meet truly fascinating people along the way. From revelers dressed in Steampunk gear to fire twirlers, there are many unofficial exhibits along the way often showing off a variety of skills and Nuit Blanche spirit.

Meeting weird and interesting people is part of what makes Nuit Blanche a unique experience compared to other events, being pulled way out of a comfort zone and avoiding bed for as long as possible creates a sort of camaraderie between people. For Torontonians often too busy to slow down, participating in an event focused on social culture can be a much needed system shock as roving bands of merrymakers inject conversation into chance encounters and force you to reconsider what communication means.

When Toronto became the first North American participant in the Nuit Blanche network it was introduced as part of Live With Culture, at the time a 16 month celebration of the city's diverse tapestry, now an incubator and insider to Toronto's emerging and existing creative industry. While citizens and even leaders involved in the program weren't too sure originally what to make of it, Nuit Blanche has now become a Toronto mainstay and a landmark event on the civic calendar.

There are other events on the calendar but none as novel as Scotiabank's Nuit Blanche and - for a city whose residents often vocalize their desire for a stronger identity - you won't find a better indicator that our art and cultural programming has turned Toronto's creative industry into a world leader.