A Brief History of Nighttime Arts Festivals

Think all-night arts extravaganzas started with Nuit Blanche? Think again.

The first modern all-night arts festival we could track down was Finland’s Night of the Arts, which began in 1989 as an addition to the annual Helsinki Festival in 1989. All museums, bookstores and public parks remained open throughout the night, with diverse art-related events spread across the entire city. Night of the Arts continues to occur annually at the Helsinki Festival, attracting attendees to explore culture and art in the streets of Helsinki. Some of the events seen at the Night of the Arts today consist of impromptu poetry recitals, outdoor cinemas, circus performances, free concerts, and artistic pieces such as webs of yarn and a 4-km-long domino chain.

In the same year, Jean Blaise of the Research Center for Cultural Development initiated Les Allumées (French for “the lighted up”) in Nantes, France, a series of six-day festivals over six years, featuring artists from six different cities.

In 1993, St. Petersburg, Russia introduced the White Nights Festival during the summer solstice. 1997 saw the inaugural Long Night of Museums in Berlin.

In 2001 Jean Blaise was invited to create an event in Paris. She took the Les Allumées concept, scaled it back to one night, and the first Nuit Blanche took place on October 5, 2002, focusing on Paris’ contemporary art atmosphere. The festival continues annually in Paris, and similar events happen in over 120 cities around the world, including Toronto, Montreal, Guelph, Ottawa, Italy, London, Brussels, Rome and Madrid. There’s Luminaria in San Antonio, Seoul Open Night in Seoul, South Korea, Santa Monica’s Glow – and now we’re adding Kitchener to the map with NIGHT\SHIFT.

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