Big Beat: Nuit Blanche Ottawa

Lainie Towell, the street art curator for Ottawa Nuit Blanche 2012, leans into the table and says firmly, “It’s happening, that’s the main thing, is that it’s happening. We’ve got enough artists, and enough partners that it’s happening.”

There’s always been mild skepticism that the one-night extravaganza of pop-up art will happen in Ottawa, perhaps, unfairly, due to an earlier, failed effort, and stoked more recently by the sudden departure of respected curator Stefan St-Laurent from the Nuit Blanche curatorial team (with much speculative chatter in artsy corners).

No wonder Towell wants to be emphatic, as she is during a lunch seated next to Megan Smith, the British-Canadian artist recently returned from a decade in England and signed on as Nuit Blanche Ottawa’s visual arts curator. The pair brim with enthusiasm as they talk about the recent open call for artists, and how more than 130 projects were proposed and approximately 90 were selected, involving 150 or so artists in galleries, businesses and open spaces through West Wellington, Hintonburg and the ByWard Market. It starts at 6 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 22, and ends 12 hours later at 6 a.m.

“Megan and I have the maps out and we’re trying to plug everything in,” Towell, says over lunch at Dantessa, on Cooper Street. “We’re also imagining what it’s going to be like experiencing Nuit Blanche, so we’re going from space to space, from neighbourhood to neighbourhood and mapping out the entire flow of the project,” says the Ottawa dancer and writer.

Nuit Blanche Ottawa will not be like the much larger and richer Nuit Blanche in Toronto. Ottawa’s first “white night” will be born as a more modest affair, which seems eminently sensible.

“When you look at any event starting out, we actually have carte blanche to work with the artists and make something exciting,” Smith says. “A lot of people saw Nuit Blanche as an opportunity to do something different. . . The nice thing about it is you can test, or be very playful for one night, and I think that appealed to a lot of people.”

Some works will stay in place, others will roam, as performance and theatre artists move between and between the three hubs – Arts Court, the St. Brigid’s Centre and the Ottawa School of Art.

Some projects will go all night long, and others will stop and start at other times. “I like that model that we allow flexibility, because some Nuit Blanches expect you to be there from 6 to 6,”  Smith says. “I feel that restricts some projects from happening.”

There’ll be a shuttle bus, and around midnight organizers will push traffic to the hubs and away from sleepier neighbourhoods.

The complete list of projects will be unveiled at 7 p.m. Friday, June 29, at La Petite Mort Gallery (306 Cumberland, 7 to 10 p.m.) As our lunch dishes are cleared, the curators tease me with brief descriptions of the projects they are most anticipating.

Towell names Genevieve Thauvette, the Ottawa photographer.

“She’s doing a performance art piece,” Towell says. “She’s going to be dressed as Marie Antoinette, and she’s going to be in a big cake, and she’s going to be singing Happy Birthday all night long. . . I love the idea of taking art out into the streets, and taking something that’s so simple and creating something that’s just so extravagant.” To anyone familiar with Thauvette’s elaborately staged and costumed self-portraits, the Nuit Blanche project sounds like a photo set taken out of the studio and onto the street.

Smith mentions the Blink artists collective, in Major’s Hill Park. The artists will turn their building into a beacon of pulsing light and sound. “They just encapsulate the whole Nuit Blanche energy by becoming experimental and daredevils,” Smith says. “I think it’s ambitious.”

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