Nuit Blanche

all nighter

Nuit [new-eeBlanche [blahnsh] (‘All-Nighter,’ literally ‘White Night,’ in French) is an annual all-night or night-time arts festival. A Nuit Blanche will typically have museums, private and public art galleries, and other cultural institutions open and free of charge, with the center of the city itself being turned into a temporary art gallery, providing space for art installations, performances (music, film, dance, performance art), themed social gatherings, and other activities.

The concept came from Jean Blaise, artistic director for special events, who founded the ‘Centre de recherche pour le développement culturel’ (‘Research Center for Cultural Development’) in Nantes, France, in 1984.

In 1989, the ‘Helsinki Festival’ established its ‘Night of the Arts,’ ‘when every gallery, museum and bookshop is open until midnight or later and the whole city becomes one giant performance and carnival venue.’ That same year, Jean-Marc Ayrault became mayor of Nantes, and his program included renovating the central city and establishing a ‘contemporary patrimony,’ which led Blaise to create a late-night cultural festival, ‘Les Allumées’ (‘The Lighted Up’). His concept was to have an arts festival in Nantes, 6 p.m. till 6 a.m., over six years with artists from six cities: Barcelona (1990), St. Petersburg (1991), Buenos Aires (1992), Naples (1993), Cairo (1994), and Havana (1995, the Cuban government refused to issue travel documents to the 300 artists expected, so the event was formally canceled, though events did take place).

In 1993, a year and a half after the St. Petersburg edition of ‘Les Allumées,’ the annual White Nights Festival in that city began adding a specifically cultural component to a longstanding annual event that included street carnivals and the Scarlet Sails celebration. The expanded White Nights Festival has included pop culture (e.g. the Rolling Stones in the open air at Palace Square) in 2007 and high culture events (‘Stars of the White Nights Festival’ at the Mariinsky Theatre under Valery Gergiev) every year since 1993. In 1997, the ‘Long Night of Museums,’ took place in the newly re-united Berlin with a dozen participating schools and exhibitions; the number has risen to 125, with over 150,000 people taking part in the 2005 event.

In 2001, when Bertrand Delanoë became Mayor of Paris, his deputy, Christophe Girard, invited Blaise to create an event there, and the ‘Nuit Blanche’ was born. The concept of Les Allumées was scaled down to a single night and focused on the offerings of Paris. ‘The first night-time trail through the streets of Paris and its contemporary-art scene took place in 2002, and the opportunity for anyone to explore artistic creation for a night has come back every year since.’

The idea of a night-time festival of the arts has spread around the world, with events in over 120 cities, including Toronto and Montreal, and several European capitals (Paris, Brussels, Rome, Madrid, Riga, Bucharest and Valletta) which have chosen to pool their efforts as ‘Nuits Blanches Europe.’ The cities share their experiences and exchange projects and artists. Each year, new cities become candidates. In 2013, the first Melbourne ‘White Night’ saw an estimated 300,000 people attend, exceeding initial estimates and constituting the largest event of its kind in Australia.

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