Nuit Blanche Toronto 2019 will turn Scarborough into theatre, curator says
Nuit Blanche Toronto finally came to Scarborough in 2018, and flourished there.
Now the all-night art festival will return on Oct. 5 with something new and unexpected: Scarborough presented as theatre.
That’s the pitch from Ashley McKenzie-Barnes, Scarborough’s new Nuit Blanche curator, who will take over the spaces around Albert Campbell Square, and Scarborough Town Centre next door, where Year 1 curator Alyssa Fearon staged her exhibits.
For Year 2, McKenzie-Barnes intends to “redraw” and “flip” those spaces into “three acts” telling stories from Scarborough “on a really grand scale.”
For her imagined theme, Queens and Kings in Scarborough, Albert Campbell will become the People’s Square; Cineplex Coliseum Scarborough Cinemas in the mall, the Amphitheatre, and the rotunda of Scarborough Civic Centre, the Royal Court.
It’s a vision meant to “deconstruct conventional and societal perceptions and truths” in contemporary culture, and McKenzie-Barnes formed it with certain artists in mind, such as Hebru Brantley, Ebony G. Patterson, Jordan Bennett, Mark Stoddart and Hatecopy.
Many are both Scarborough natives and internationally known, but for all of them this Nuit Blanche will be their first time showing in Scarborough; for some, it’s the first time in Canada, she said in an interview.
McKenzie-Barnes isn’t expecting “your typical downtown crowd” to see her theatrical take on the festival. Raised in Scarborough by parents who emigrated from Jamaica, she looks forward to a local audience: West Indians, South Asians, East Asians, Arabs, Indigenous people, people of first and second-generation immigrant families.
Scarborough, she said, is a unique community Nuit Blanche “kind of missed” from the event’s Toronto founding in 2006 until 2018, while Scarborough’s people weren’t travelling to see the festival downtown.
Though she lives in Toronto’s Queen West area now, McKenzie-Barnes said most “Scarberians,” even when they’re out of the place, are proud of it.
“It’s a hotbed. It’s kind of in the forefront of a lot of aspects of arts and culture without getting credit for it,” she said.
A Humber College alumna who started teaching there last winter, McKenzie-Barnes has a background in design and spends time “connecting the dots” between advertising and mass media, corporations and community.
By being recognizable as a creative leader in the black community, she said, she’s making space for others to assume that role too.
McKenzie-Barnes is among the subjects photographer Yung Yemi shot for an exhibit which will soon be up at Toronto’s Union Station. In February, she’s curating photography at the Marilyn Brewer Community Space for Harbourfront’s Kuumba Festival.
Artists can still apply to be part of Nuit Blanche in Scarborough and downtown as part of the festival’s Open Call project, which accepts applications until Feb. 4, and its Independent project, which accepts until Feb. 14.
The City of Toronto says it will host information sessions on community participation in these programs in Scarborough on Jan. 17, from 2 to 4 p.m., and on Jan. 22 from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m., at the Civic Centre on Borough Drive.