Nuit Blanche Calgary update

By DJ Kelly June 16, 2010

I should have posted a Nuit Blanche update months ago, but there had been so much movement over that time things never felt settled enough that it made sense to post an update. With recent events however now seemed to be the best time to let everyone know what’s going on.

Here’s the whole story:

On December 9, 2009 I saw a tweet from a friend in Toronto saying Scotiabank Nuit Blanche was now accepting applications for the 2010 festival. I retweeted saying something like “why don’t we have this in #yyc?”. My tweet was then retweeted and echoed by about 10 Calgarians. I thought to myself, what does 10 retweets really mean? What sort of support does that translate to? And so I put together a Google Docs form asking people to provide their details if they “might be interested in helping plan or attending a Nuit Blanche in Calgary.”

In two days 150 people had signed up.

Suddenly I was faced with a reality: that’s a pretty good critical mass, but what’s the next step to make a Nuit Blanche in Calgary a reality?

I thought about it and realized with my contacts in the arts I could at the very least get the right people in the room to talk about it. And with 200 people (where the list ended at after about five days) we knew there were people who wanted it in our City.

So that week in December I met with two people from Calgary Arts Development and pitched them the idea. And then I met with five people from the Calgary Downtown Association. And then a few others I know in corporate community investment, and even Michael Green from the High Performance Rodeo. Everyone said the same thing: it’s a great idea and we should make it happen.

Obviously I couldn’t do it on my own – not to mention I didn’t have any interest in organizing a festival – but buoyed by the 200 names on the list I felt I should at least see it through. As luck would have it toward the end of my meeting with CADA, Karen Ball mentioned that I should talk to a friend of hers. He had mentioned to her before that he thought Calgary should have a Nuit Blanche, but – I’m paraphrasing her words – he didn’t know the kind of people needed to make it happen. But she thought he and I would counter balance each other because I knew the people and he knew Nuit Blanche. He knew it so well in fact, because he had curated a zone at the Toronto Nuit Blanche for two years.

Email introductions were exchanged and a few days later I was sitting in the Auburn Saloon with a pint of Grasshopper in my hand across from Wayne Baerwaldt – a complete stranger. We chatted a little bit about our backgrounds: me in arts marketing, him the curator and director of the Illingworth Kerr Gallery at the Alberta College of Art and Design, before quickly getting to the point of our meeting. I must have talked for 10 or 15 minutes straight, laying out everything I knew about making Nuit Blanche in Calgary a reality, everything I learned from the half dozen or so meetings I had the week previous. When I was finally out of breath, Wayne asked one or two simple questions, which, if I remember correctly, I answered surprisingly succinctly, and then he said “okay, let’s do it.” I was taken aback by how easy it was to get him on board, but I did nothing more than put my hand out to shake his. I had a partner.

And a partner who is knowledgeable too. A month or so after that we had a tour of Stephen Avenue with Janet Jessiman, the manager of Stephen Ave from CDA, Karen Ball from CADA, David Down, senior architect with the City of Calgary, and Paula Dozois, a prof from MRU and a friend of Wayne’s. Following our hour and a half tour, it was decided that Stephen Ave was the place and the festival should probably run from City Hall to Bankers’ Hall with two major installations per block. Ideas for big brought in installations were exchanged, as were ideas for smaller projects undertaken by local artists. (That’s not to say some of the big installations won’t be done by local groups however.)

Things were getting real and it was time to become real. In order to apply for funding we needed to become an official not-for-profit society and we needed five directors to do that. Wayne approached Paula, and we also added Rita Mckeough and Diana Sherlock, both instructors from ACAD. We had our first meeting at Paula’s house on April 24 and the paperwork was filed by lawyer Tyler Shandro (who was one of the original ‘re-tweeters’), arriving in Edmonton on May 11.

Last week it became official as the Certificate of Incorporation from the Alberta government landed in my inbox.

We are moving forward with a target of September 2011 for the first Nuit Blanche Calgary.

Grants are about to be applied for, but in our first VERY rough budget we estimate it will take $300,000 in cash to make the kind of splash we think a first year needs to have. Potential sponsors will be approached soon. The plan is being developed. Identifying our needs at the same time as applying for funding.

Wayne has already had meetings with Scotiabank Nuit Blanche in Toronto about ways that we might be able to work together, and he’s just returned from Berlin where he spoke with organizers of their Nuit Blanche.

We’re serious about making this happen – even if I’ll need to take a step back soon lest I be suddenly “organizing a festival” like I said back in December that didn’t want to do. But we’ll need your help soon to make it all a reality!

So if you haven’t done so already please fill out this form: It’s still the original form that started it all.

And please share the link with your friends!