By Janice Bennink
Since 2005, the international cultural event Nuit Blanche has brought crowds into Toronto’s streets and public spaces to experience all-night projects by international and local artists. If you missed the second year of Nuit Blanche in Scarborough on October 5, you missed a chance to share the love of living here with all Toronto.
In past years, I looked forward to Nuit Blanche and made the trek downtown annually. Where else could you see a multi-storied helium-filled bunny in the Eaton Centre or watch windows in City Hall blinking text like an old-school computer game? It transformed the city night into an interactive experience.
Nuit Blanche changed for me as its popularity grew. At times the art seemed misplaced and crowds became overwhelming. I wondered why I was standing in a 45-minute queue waiting to be herded through an experience that had lost its intimacy and connection to me. I found excuses to stop going.
But in 2018 they moved part of Nuit Blanche to Scarborough and I ventured out again. Last year it was wonderful, and this year even more so – it was a celebration. Who doesn’t love a street party with your neighbours?
Curator Ashley Mackenzie-Barnes wanted to capture community pride, and titled her theme “Queens and Kings of Scarborough.” A fitting name for a night that honoured local heroes and places within its 20 art projects.
Scarborough Civic Centre was home to Scarborough Royalty, a large-scale installation in Albert Campbell Square. It included a projected street art-inspired compilation of the tagged names of Scarborough neighbourhoods by Duro The Third, a veteran of Toronto’s (and Scarborough’s) graffiti scene. The loading dock below the Civic Centre became Scarborough Made, large photos and videos by Alex Narvaez and Sid Naiduwith that revealed “everyday people” sharing their stories. Students from Mary Ward Catholic High School filled the public library with Visualizing the East Side, a series of interactive projects that collected data and opinions from visitors.
Scarborough artists were well represented. Reconnecting STC is a series of photos of local figures and Scarborough Mirror clippings by Mark “Kurupt” Stoddard that showcases achievements by Scarborough personalities. Below the City is a street-long vinyl banner depicting a vibrant and diverse Scarborough experience through photos by Esmond Lee. Anthony Gebrehiwot’s From Boys to Men is a stunning series of larger than life portraits displayed in Scarborough Town Centre that challenges views of masculinity.
Some projects remained on view for weeks following Nuit Blanche, but sadly most were removed after October 6. Wouldn’t we all benefit from having permanent public art installations that celebrate Scarborough’s culture and lives? I wandered the evening with thousands of viewers who could be heard enjoying recognition of what they already know is here. We know that we live in a place where kings and queens could be quietly donning robes around any corner.