There were two reasons why I opted to stay in and watch the season premiere of Saturday Night Live this past Saturday night.
One: I was feeling particularly run down after a long week. Two: I didn’t want to brave the rowdy Nuit Blanche crowds and traffic to get across town from Dundas and Dovercourt.
It’s a shame, but the reality is that the vibrant, free all-night arts festival just isn’t what it used to be.
In theory, of course, it’s a great idea.
One of the best parts about Nuit Blanche is its accessibility – it’s an affordable way for Toronto’s general public to experience some of the most creative artistic talent the city has to offer. It’s also a way for some of the city’s respected artists and galleries to showcase their work to a mass audience.
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I get all that. But, let’s be honest: the Nuit Blanche of recent past has become more of a rowdy, debauchery-filled street party than a festival of art.
This year, the iconic Toronto sign in Nathan Phillips Square was vandalized when people scribbled over some of the letters in black marker, leaving their names and social media handles.
The city came alive for Nuit Blanche 2016 🌃🌒 A photo posted by Stephie & Eric (@thewanderingsoles) on
The good news is the damage was only temporary and the marker has since been washed off. But still; somebody has to pay for those cleanup costs, adding to the $1 million-plus tab the festival already costs the city.
I’m not trying to sound like a jaded old party pooper. I love a few drinks just as much as the next hard-working young professional (YP) does – especially on the weekend. Of course, the festival does happen on a Saturday night and the city does facilitate drinking by keeping bars open until 4am on Nuit Blanche.
I’m not suggesting that the whole thing needs to be a particularly conservative, rigid and orderly experience – in fact, its casual fluidity is one of the best parts of Nuit Blanche.
The festival offers an approachable means for the less-seasoned (but curious) art enthusiasts to experience art outside of a stuffy gallery or art show without feeling intimidated by the experience.
And I love that (as I do any public art initiative).
But, sometime in the past few years, Nuit Blanche has turned into a drunken street party reminiscent of Frosh Week, where you’re more likely to step in a puddle of barf or be bumped into by a drunken idiot than get close enough to the art to get a quality Instagram shot.
How can it generate meaningful exposure for artists if people don’t even remember seeing the art in the first place?
The rowdiness seemed to start back in 2013 when the festival took a tragic turn for one 19-year-old man, who was stabbed amidst the night’s festivities outside of the Four Season’s Centre.
Also in 2013, the Toronto Eaton Centre backed out of hosting any events thanks to graffiti, vandalism and “so much damage at the hands of unruly event-goers that management decided to withdraw its sponsorship completely,” the Toronto Star reported.
Last year, the scene in Yonge-Dundas Square involved riots, a stabbing, a slashing, fights and bottles being hurled at Toronto police officers.
Of course, there are pockets of the city – like the Spadina Museum and a selection of galleries – that still offer a quality Nuit Blanche experience. And, admittedly, I was impressed by some of this year’s art that managed to make its way through social media channels.
But the debauchery more than distracts from this amazing art – it disrespects it.
The fact is that rowdiness in recent years is likely the reason that this year, the festival returned without the backing of its longtime title sponsor, Scotiabank. After last year’s festival, the bank said that the Nuit Blanche “no longer aligns” with its sponsorship strategy.
Sadly, it also no longer aligns with the tastes of many of the city’s YPs, thanks to its reputation as something to steer clear of at all costs.