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Ottawa’s first Nuit Blanche brings city’s simmering arts community to a boil

Aidan Parchelo | Fulcrum Contributor

Photos by Justin Labelle

A vibrant night of art descended upon the city Saturday night for Ottawa’s first ever Nuit Blanche.

The annual all-night arts festival has taken place in cities all around the world for more than 20 years, but made its Ottawa debut Sept. 22 between 6:22 p.m. and 4:23 a.m. at a myriad of locations throughout the city.

Artists were to contribute works based on this year’s theme, “Life is beautiful.”

Some exhibitions were set up at stalls, others under bridges; they overran whole buildings, were projected onto walls, occupied courtyards, or simply roamed the streets. The majority of exhibitions converged within the ByWard Market and Hintonburg, with free shuttles to transport festival-goers between the two areas. There was also a kids’ zone in Hintonburg for the younger art enthusiasts.

By the wee hours of Sunday morning, there was evidence all around of a magical night wrapping up. Marie Antoinette and her musicians packed up string instruments and a giant cake, great herds of clay elephants migrated out of the Planet Coffee courtyard, and a giant toy top teetered to a halt on the wall of the Rideau Centre across from Arts Court.

The massive event boasted dozens of locations, scores of volunteers, and an incredible turnout.

Karen Diepeveen, editor and chief financial officer for local arts and culture blog Apartment 613, was set up in the market at what she called a “Canadiana photo booth.” Festival-goers got to dress up as Mounties, explorers, or soldiers, and pose in front of a mountain backdrop for a photo, which was then uploaded to Instagram and projected from the window of a nearby building.

“It’s been awesome; we’ve had tons of people come through … everyone’s really excited and there’s a really great energy going on,” Diepeveen said. “I’m really excited that this has taken off and that there’s so much interest. I think it’s awesome for Ottawa.”

An arc of shopping carts sits at Saint Brigid’s Centre for the Arts

Ottawa’s inaugural white night was held one week before Toronto’s seventh Nuit Blanche, while Montreal’s 14th begins Feb. 21. Nuit Blanche Ottawa also operated in tandem with Festival X, Ottawa’s photography festival, and the Ottawa International Animation Festival.

While many exhibits occupied repurposed venues, some local arts studios opened their doors to public perusal of resident artists’ work. As event-goer Adam Moscoe observed, Nuit Blanche shone the spotlight not only on new and exclusive arts venues and exhibits, but also on galleries that are open all year.

“I have been to Nuit Blanche in Toronto and Israel … but this is something really different,” said Moscoe.

“It’s nice to be in my own city and experiencing all the artists … there are places and galleries here that are around year round, not just special for tonight,” he said. “I wouldn’t normally go in, but a night like this gets people excited about the arts and gets people energized to walk—and not only to the special exhibitions in the one-night-stand type things, but also just to the permanent galleries that we have in our city and the richness of art in Ottawa.”

Nuit Blanche was an opportunity for artists to garner exposure for their name and craft, and was received with an outpouring of support that brought the city’s simmering arts community to a boil.


  • Spring 2022: Desiree Nikfardjam Fall 2021: Zofka Svec 2020-2021: Aisling Murphy 2019-2020: Ryan Pepper 2018-2019: Iain Sellers 2017-2018: Ryan Pepper