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Six years ago, Laura Levin and Kim Solga reflected in CTR on their travels through the 2008 edition of Toronto’s Scotiabank Nuit Blanche all-night art festival. That review offered a trenchant critique of the ways in which “the event that is Nuit Blanche” was beginning uncomfortably to “eclips[e] the art that is Nuit Blanche.” Today, with nearly a decade of Nuit Blanches in Toronto behind us, with attendance numbers increasing every year, and with Toronto an established “creative city” at the forefront of urban neoliberalism, that critique seems almost too obvious. Nuit Blanche is now marketed and represented in the media as a good-time street party, but it does not necessarily follow that the meanings Nuit Blanche makes for spectators on the ground are in any way stable, or necessarily banal.
In October 2014, Solga set out for Nuit Blanche with a vanload of students from her undergraduate performance studies seminar. The goal: to experience as much of the festival as possible, with an eye to investigating the ways in which the art on offer hailed it spectators and invited active, participatory engagement. What did Nuit Blanche want from a keen and largely novice group of performance art enthusiasts? What would it offer in return? Would it let them down? And, if so, what might they learn from their disappointment?