Les nuits illuminées

Photos courtesy of Christine Chun Chang and LA Benoit

Glittering purple and blue, the snow was painted in the soft light of the churning ferris wheel, standing amidst a crowd of milling viewers in the heart of Place des Arts. In the background, a projection danced across the face of a building—one of many art installations at Montreal’s 12th edition of Nuit Blanche.

Each year, Montreal joins hundreds of other cities across the world in an annual celebration that showcases the arts. The concept stemmed from Helsinki’s Night of the Arts festival in 1989 and Jean Blaise, the founder of the Research Centre for Cultural Development in Nantes, France. He organized a festival known as Les Allumées—The Lighted Up—in Nantes in 1990, where he transformed the city into an outdoor art gallery from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m., showcasing six different artists from six different cities. Twelve years later, Les Allumées inspired the first installation of Nuit Blanche in Paris—which was also directed by Blaise—and since then has spread to countries like Canada, Australia, and Chile.

Unlike other cities, however, Nuit Blanche forms part of a greater initiative known as Montreal en lumière. The festival draws around 900,000 fans each year over a 10-day period to experience a range of visual and performing arts. This February, Montreal itself was the muse for its own festival. Renowned Montreal-based chefs contributed to the gastronomy aspect of the festival, while artists found inspiration from the city in the pieces they created for showcase.

“There were so many activities and fun things to see [in the] Place des Arts complex. The ambiance was appropriate for all ages, and I would definitely go again! [...] It was great to see Place des Arts filled with so many happy people—everyone came [together] on the cold night to spend time with each other.”

— Veronica Li, U3 Arts

“Graffiti always struck me as something that belonged outside, defacing the side of my corner [depannéur.] So watching them paint right on the gallery wall seemed so wrong, but I couldn’t look away. It made me sad that it would get painted over for the next exhibition, but that’s kind of the point, isn’t it? Like Nuit Blanche itself, these murals are sort of a one-night-only deal.”

— Mingye Chen, U3 Arts & Science

“For someone who does not live downtown, one of the main reasons to go out on Nuit Blanche is that the metro is open all night. I do not have to worry about how I will get home or spending extra money on a taxi with a student budget. [It allows me] to wander to new places in Montreal. However, this year, I got so exhausted from walking and dancing—in a good way—that I just ended up cabbing.”

— Roman Radetskyy, U3 Microbiology & Immunology

“The event was bright and colourful, and a great way to get out of the McGill pocket and see the local music scene. The crowds were lively, which added to the excitement of the event. One of my favourite parts was roasting sausages and marshmallows by the fire pits.”

— Katie Lee, U3 Pharmacology