Why is an environmental magazine organizing an arts festival?

In an article profiling NIGHT\SHIFT in the Waterloo Region Record, arts columnist Martin DeGroot asked what an environmental magazine is doing “organizing a festival of art, culture and adventure along a downtown street?”

Martin did a great job answering that question, but we figured we’d expand a little more.

What is A\J?
A\J is Alternatives Journal, an independent Canadian magazine that has published cutting-edge environmental journalism since 1971. We’ve been based at the University of Waterloo’s Faculty of Environment since 1984 and moved into a downtown Kitchener office in late 2011. Our staff team includes a number of long-time Kitchener residents, artists and movers-and-shakers, plus some new faces and a lot of uWaterloo students.

Where did the idea come from?
The idea for a late-night event started with brainstorming for an issue launch event for our Night issue, which is out on newsstands right now. Through conversations with local artists and the City of Kitchener, it grew into something much bigger (and more exciting!) than we initially envisioned, and eventually turned into NIGHT\SHIFT.

Why the name NIGHT\SHIFT? Why not Nuit Blanche?
We like to think that the name sums up the goal of shifting common perceptions that people hold about Downtown Kitchener. We didn’t have anything against Nuit Blanche in particular, but we figured we’d see if we could come up with something else we liked, and NIGHT\SHIFT stuck. We’re still using the ‘light’ theme of so many other nighttime festivals in the language and imagery promoting the event. Our hope is that we can encourage people to see Kitchener in a different light and think about the city in new ways.

NIGHT\SHIFT also speaks to the time change happening the same night, the turning of seasons and the sense of possibility inherent in both gaining that extra hour and this somewhat magical, spooky time of year. It’s a bit of an homage to the city’s industrial history as well.

What does it have to do with the environment?
Envisioning change and a better future is a central goal at A\J. Exploration of the world around us is integral to achieving that goal.

We see NIGHT\SHIFT as encouraging people to engage differently with the built environment of downtown. The event and the artists involved are repurposing a number of pieces of downtown infrastructure, from roads and windows to trees and back alleys.

We often forget that urban environments are still part of “the environment,” broadly speaking, and our approach to cities as a society will have vast implications for what our future looks like.

Plus, we love Downtown Kitchener and are constantly looking for ways to build relationships with other members of the downtown community. We also really like playing at the intersections of art and  environmental concerns, something you can see in a few of our previous issues, including this spring’s Art & Media.

How did you choose the installations?
A lot of the activities emerged organically, from talking with downtown businesses and local organizations, or people reaching out to us after hearing about the event.

All of the major artist installations and performances went through a juried selection process, with input from A\J, the city and a couple of established local artists.

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