Nuit Blanche moved to Scarborough this year, transforming what used to be a suburb into a haven for contemporary art for one full night.
Artists, art enthusiasts, and residents are developing a new appreciation for community and creativity as a result.
“There are so many artistic mediums that are going to be present all the way from black performances, spoken word, music, film, sculpture, and sound installations,” curator Alyssa Fearson said in as she prepared for the landmark event.
Fearon spent more than a year planning Nuit Blanche after the City of Toronto appointed her curator. She honed in on “STYLL”— a phrase unique to Scarborough — as a concept. (It’s pronounced “still.”)
Watch Fearon explain the “STYLL” concept:
STYLL, the theme for Scarborough’s Nuit Blanche, is Fearon’s way of expressing all of Scarborough as a community that fosters creativity and innovation for a long time.
The word represents the resilience of people who are still here and still making positive contributions to the community, with a twist of slang to the spelling.
“I really wanted the exhibition to represent and reflect the community through and through. All the way from the beginning of the actual name of the exhibitions through to the artists’ work that will be part of the event,” Fearon said.
Nuit Blanche may have helped people change their perceptions of Scarborough, Fearon said.
“Hopefully people can step outside their comfort zone a little bit, try something new, come to Scarborough and see that this is a place where a lot of exciting stuff happens,” Fearon said.
The first Scarborough Nuit Blanche marked an important emphasis on artwork and artists in Scarborough and constructed a newfound appreciation for creative communities outside the downtown Toronto core.
With 10 projects and more than 30 artists and people working in collaboration with artists, both residents of Scarborough and visitors took in work that was both a commentary on Scarborough and a showcase of the community.
The Observer spoke to Fearon and two other artists who participated to get a deeper understanding of their contributions.
ALYSSA FEARON, Curator
Fearon graduated from York University five years ago with an MBA and MA in art history. Over time, she shifted her focus from the Jane and Finch area to Scarborough, which she has always called home.
No Vacancy is Fearson’s most-known curated piece for the Myseum Intersections Festival last year in March. Myseum is Toronto’s own museum with art that are specific to the city.
Fearon’s curated piece was a photo-based series showing the history of motels on Kingston Road.
They’ve relatively been misrepresented or misunderstood, she said.
The piece illustrates the shifting social places within Scarborough by combining themes and issues contemporary artists work with, specifically involving place and what it means to a community.
HIBA ADBALLAH, Artist
Text-based contemporary artist Hiba Abdallah wrote her way into Scarborough’s Nuit Blanche art scene with stories from 11 local residents.
“It’s really special to me and in a way I feel very honoured and privileged to be able to share their intimate stories about how they really feel about that place,” she said.
“The messages you will be seeing will be a mix of fiction and non-fiction and you don’t really know where the lines cross.”
Stories were projected on a 90-foot facade that combined themes of immigration, mystery, and stereotypes.
“Everyone [from the project] was from a different background so culturally we were all very different and it made for deeper, more complex conversation across age, experience, culture, religion in some cases, and traditions,” said Abdallah.
Her interest in text and language comes from negotiating culture and language. She uses communication to connect those two elements.
After growing up on P.E.I., living in Windsor, and moving to Toronto, Abdallah ponders people’s perception of place and what it means to call somewhere home.
“Being able to carve out a space in Nuit Blanche to give locals a place to tell their stories literally is a different kind of pressure,” Abdallah said.
“It is important to have a section of Nuit Blanche this year dedicated to a community that is super special,” Abdallah said. “It is really meaningful to me and specifically to the people I got to work with.”
TIFFANY SCHOFIELD, Y+ Contemporary Artist
As one of the four young artists who is part of Y+ Contemporary, Tiffany Schofield and her co-founders will be shared their individual passions for art and Scarborough during the all-night event.
“The name Y+ came from a couple of different origins,” Schofield said.
“We were thinking of the fact that our generation of millennials is technically Generation Y, and operating in Toronto is associated with YYZ, but since we’re on the periphery we’re sort of Y+,” Schofield said.
The Y+ Contemporary serves as a studio and storefront gallery located near Morningside Road and Sheppard Avenue.
Their video installation, being who you are there is no other, is a two-channel series that captures dancing performed by Jessica Karuhanga and Ahlam Mohammed.
Their other piece, collective gestures, is a series of cast hand sculptures made from molds of hands from people in Scarborough.
“We really wanted to make sure that residents of Scarborough were involved with Nuit Blanche from the beginning and could come out and see themselves represented, in this case literally,” Schofield said.
She has mainly done work in video practices that often use the body and is responsive to landscape.
“The work that I’ve been doing for the past couple years has been very much in response to the Scarborough landscape specifically.”
The pressure on the artists at Y+ Contemporary leading up to the even was clearly emulated but for Schofield, seeing the turnout and the response is what she was most excited and nervous about.
“What I’m really hoping to see is that it’s not necessarily people coming out and getting a new impression of Scarborough, but people from Scarborough who are coming out and have the opportunity to see themselves and see Scarborough a bit differently,” Schofield said.