Follow these 10 tips and you'll actually enjoy Nuit Blanche

Nuit Blanche artists past and present share advice for getting the most out of the annual all-night art party.

Nuit Blanche artists past and present share advice for getting the most out of the annual all-night art party

The scene at Nathan Phillips Square during Nuit Blanche Toronto 2017. This year's edition, as well as other similar events around the country, are part of 2018's Culture Days programming. (Courtesy of the City of Toronto)

Hello! Nuit Blanche Toronto 2019 takes place Saturday, Oct. 5. The advice you'll find in this story from 2017 is still solid, though. Have fun out there!

This weekend, Toronto's all-night art party will rage all over again. Nuit Blanche returns at sundown on Saturday, Sept. 30, and this year, the events all focus on the same theme. Titled "Many Possible Futures," you can expect programming with a social justice bent, and four downtown zones will host most of the action.

But navigating the scene is always a challenge, even if you've braved Nuit Blanche for all 11 editions so far. What to see? How to get there? When to start? And, most importantly, what should you do if you want to actually enjoy it?

For the answer, CBC Arts tapped some Nuit Blanche artists past and present. They shared their essential tips for doing it right. And for readers outside of Toronto, these pro tips will serve you well, wherever your "night-time art thing" is happening. (Winnipeg and Saskatoon hold their own Nuit Blanches Sept. 30, and Halifax and Kitchener, Ont. host Nocturne and Night/Shift later this fall.)

Street view of The Guardians by Vladimir Antaki, Nuit Blanche Toronto 2016. (Courtesy of Nuit Blanche Toronto)

Plan your route

With 85 projects at Nuit Blanche Toronto, accept the fact you'll never see everything. Ekow Nimako's advice: make a list of your absolute must-sees. (The enormous Lego sculpture he created for Nuit Blanche 2015, for example, was on top of ours.) "If you pick those that interest you in advance, you can't avoid missing them," he says.

To do that, you'll want to spend a little time researching what's happening. That's Paddy Leung's top tip. Says the artist: "When I'm getting ready for NB, I'm always curious to read about each artist's work before I start my route. This helps me understand the context of what I'm about to experience."

For that info, the official program guide is the best place to start, because as Alex McLeod notes, you'll want to "read about the exciting projects as well as the ones that may not be getting as much coverage."

You can use GPS to navigate the map of Nuit Blanche events on the festival's official website, and as you're plotting your route, make sure you're thinking about your return journey. Many projects will develop as the night unfolds, so McLeod suggests keeping that fact in mind. There's an opportunity to revisit some of your favourites as you stumble home.

Pneuma by Floria Sigismondi appears at Nuit Blanche Toronto 2016. (Courtesy of Nuit Blanche Toronto)

Grab a friend (or two)

"With the exception of those lone wolf art critic types, rolling solo can sap the excitement out of the event," says Nimako. Leung totally agrees, with one caveat: "When it comes to friends, less is more!"

Two's company, and three's a crew. Says Leung: "Going with a big group is asking for trouble — it's hard to keep track of everyone."

Plus, Nimako says: "Add too many minds into the mix and you'll spend half the night arguing about which exhibit to see first, last or not at all."

"But if you assemble a small group of friends that you feel safe and comfortable with," Leung says, "that means less stress and more fun!"

Despite appearances, this is not a Nuit Blanche nap zone. Get some sleep before hitting the streets. Scene from inside Philip Beesley's Ocean from Nuit Blanche 2016. (Courtesy of Nuit Blanche Toronto)

Get some shut eye

Even if you're not planning to be out from sundown to sunrise, Ashley McKenzie-Barnes reminds you that a little self-care goes a long way. "Sleep well the night before if you plan on making the most out of the night." May you dream of empty streets and short lineups.

Dress for the weather

Sure, last weekend brought an unusually scorching heatwave to Toronto, but it's still technically fall — so when the sun goes down, prepare for a temperature drop. Do your mom proud and wear a few layers. Some sensible footwear, a scarf, hat and mitts will also serve you well. "Maybe an extra pair of socks," suggests Leung.

"Unfortunately, it's not a fashion show," says McLeod. But it is an all-night art party, and nothing brings a party down like someone who's whining about cold hands and blisters. "You want to be always comfortable and warm during Nuit Blanche," says Leung. "That way you will enjoy the magic of the city and the artful experience."

This piece by Daniel Canogar was projected onto Union Station at Nuit Blanche Toronto 2016. TTC will be running all night this year. (Courtesy of Nuit Blanche Toronto)

Whatever you do, don't drive

"Explore by bike," suggests Callen Schaub. And if that's not an option, McKenzie-Barnes reminds you that the "best form of transportation is walking and TTC."

"Take advantage of the fact that TTC runs all night long," she says, "so there's no reason not to reach the sites you want to see."

Wait until the wee hours

More than 1 million people did Nuit Blanche Toronto in 2016. Those are the numbers from an Ipsos Reid study, but even without the stats, anyone who's braved the downtown knows that NB can be a mob scene — one that could make agoraphobes of us all. But it doesn't have to be that way.

"If you hate lineups and crowds, don't stay inside," says McKenzie-Barnes. "Take a nap and tackle the night early in the morning." By 4 a.m., the stroller-pushing families have been in bed for hours and only the most hardcore "hipster Halloween" crowds will remain. That leaves you plenty of time to roam the streets in peace.

At Toronto's 2015 Nuit Blanche, Anandam Dance Theatre presented Glaciology, a performance that elapsed over the course of the entire event. (Courtesy of Nuit Blanche Toronto)

Just be nice

About those crowds — here's a warm and fuzzy reminder from Alex McLeod: "Be kind and helpful to others that may be overwhelmed. It can be a lot for us to take in!"

Manage your expectations

It's a one-night-only event, which means most projects won't be revealed until the sun goes down on Sept. 30. So even if you've been Googling Nuit Blanche for weeks, seeing a project in person will still pack a surprise.

Says Nimako: "Odds are you won't be impressed by everything you see so it's good to keep an open mind and not expect too much of the event." No worries, though. You'll still have 84 more projects to check out. As he says: "Part of the fun is just roaming."

"Silent Knight" by Ekow Nimako appeared at Toronto's 2015 Nuit Blanche. (Courtesy of Nuit Blanche Toronto)

Forget everything we just said

Sometimes, the best plan is no plan. "Be open to experiences," says Schaub. That's his No. 1 tip. "I love the idea of exploring the city where around each corner could be a unique experience. It brings back a sense of discovery and culture to Toronto."

Adds Leung: "You may stumble onto new art installations along your path so be open to explore what's around you when you're attending to Nuit Blanche. You never know what you will discover and learn from this experience!" 

If nothing else, see these four projects

Leung, Schaub, McKenzie-Barnes and McLeod all have projects at this year's Nuit Blanche. Click their names for more info on where to find their work.

Ashley McKenzie-Barnes and Merna. Domesticate Me, 2017. (Courtesy of Nuit Blanche Toronto)
Artist Paddy Leung, hard at work on her Nuit Blanche project, Garden Tunnel: Puffland. (Courtesy of the artist)
Alex McLeod. Elevation, 2017. (Courtesy of Nuit Blanche Toronto)




Leah Collins

Senior Writer

Since 2015, Leah Collins has been senior writer at CBC Arts, covering Canadian visual art and digital culture in addition to producing CBC Arts’ weekly newsletter (Hi, Art!), which was nominated for a Digital Publishing Award in 2021. A graduate of Toronto Metropolitan University's journalism school (formerly Ryerson), Leah covered music and celebrity for Postmedia before arriving at CBC.