Arts & Life
Canstar Community News
While Nuit Blanche events across the country have been cancelled or moved online amid the coronavirus pandemic, Winnipeg’s all-night art party is pressing ahead.
On Thursday, Nuit Blanche Winnipeg put out a call for artist proposals for its 2020 event, which is scheduled to take place at participating venues in the city’s core Sept. 26 from 6 p.m. to 11 p.m.
"It took us quite a while to feel like we really could do this in a responsible way," says David Pensato, co-chair of Culture Days Manitoba, which oversees Nuit Blanche Winnipeg. "We just really feel that after all of this time that has passed, that this could be a very positive, gentle way for Winnipeggers to experience the arts again after so much absence."
Elsewhere, Nuit Blanche events in Saskatoon have been cancelled owing to COVID-19 and events in Toronto will be presented online this year.
"We really felt that here in Winnipeg, the way that people have been very responsible, that doing a small-scale version of this would be feasible," Pensato says of the decision to promote in-person events.
An estimated 25,000 people have attended the local event in years past. To avoid large crowds, the Nuit Blanche has done away with its popular interactive public art installations at The Forks and Old Market Square in the Exchange District.
"We’re not having any massive events," Pensato says. "That would be irresponsible."
He couldn’t say whether the organization would be monitoring public spaces on Sept. 26 to keep tabs on crowd sizes.
Artist submissions are being accepted until Aug. 17 and pitches must meet Manitoba public health guidelines for gatherings and physical distancing. As is always the case during Nuit Blanche, according to Pensato, matters of public health and safety are the responsibility of participating artists and venues.
"We don’t organize a festival, we create a framework for people to participate," he says. "Before we complete the registration of an event, if there’s a red flag there we’re going to speak with the organizers."
Nuit Blanche Winnipeg is funded by the Manitoba Arts Council and artists selected to participate receive an honorarium of $500 or $1,500. The compensation is similar to 2019 and there is currently no additional funding for artists to provide things such as hand sanitizer or crowd control at their installation.
"I guess it depends on the nature of the exhibit," Pensato says. "If you’ve got something illuminated in a storefront, for example, I’m not sure what kinds of (precautions) you’d need."
The Winnipeg Art Gallery, which is a cornerstone Nuit Blanche venue, will be participating in "one form or another," either through in-person or virtual programming, said a gallery spokeswoman via email. Admission will be free, but crowds will be managed through the WAG's timed ticketing platform.
A map of 2020 installations will be available for download at nuitblanchewinnipeg.ca in September. Culture Days Manitoba has also changed its format and will be expanded from several days to a full month of in-person and virtual events between Sept. 25 and Oct. 25.
Organizers of both events will be watching how the pandemic progresses in Manitoba over the next two months.
"We’re certainly going to be keeping our eye on how things shift and change," he says. "If we have to pull the plug, we will."
Eva Wasney is a reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press.
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