Nuit Blanche: Turning the Tide

Riversdale continues to be a fertile proving ground for arts, artists and festivals. It’s where great ideas can germinate and take root.

Last year, my wife Carrie and I attended Saskatoon's inaugural Nuit Blanche event in Riversdale. For us, the event was a hugely successful celebration of local art and performance, but more importantly it represented another interesting step forward in how Saskatoon is maturing as a city. 

You see, the idea of a street arts festival requiring street closures of 20th St West and performances going late into the night just 5 years ago would have been an absurd proposition in Riversdale. But if you look back at what's happened over the last 6 years, it should have been entirely predictable that Nuit Blanche would emerge from Riversdale. Let me explain...

In 2009 my wife and I bought a church in Riversdale. Our business plan was simple: buy church, renovate it in 30 days, throw a huge party showcasing 13 local artists and performers, then try rent out the church as artist studios and hopefully (fingers crossed) pay the mortgage. Perhaps not the most well thought out plan, but we didn't have kids at that point and were willing to work our tails off to make it happen. 

Art Performances at The Cherch on Avenue G with approximately 300 people in attendance.

The event was an epic success. We had an audience of about 300 people for the night, most of whom had never seen performances like the SSO double bassist Richard Carnegie doing his spoken word "Big Bad Wolf" routine. Or Adrian Stimson's performance of "Buffalo Boy". Or Kyle Syvverson's dance performance. The artists were diverse and each had 5-10 minutes to show their stuff. DJ Gaff kept the music pumping between performances and the audience ate it up. 

The feedback we received from the event was overwhelming. A handful of local residents attended and one in particular said "thank you: for throwing this event, for bringing an audience, and for breathing life into the neighborhood for one night." The artists who performed loved the fact that we'd created an event for them to do something less mainstream. AKA and Paved Gallery ran the bar and took all of the proceeds that night, helping to fund their programs. We paid all of the artists who performed and managed to barely break even that night. 

Art Performances at The Cherch on Avenue G with approximately 300 people in attendance.

Art Performances at The Cherch on Avenue G with approximately 300 people in attendance.

As it turns out, the Executive Director of the Mendel Art Gallery was in attendance that night and he asked Carrie to spearhead a fundraising event for the gallery using our event as the template. That's where LUGO came from, which ran from 2010-2015, selling out every year. 

We ended up renting out the church to several local artists, one of whom ended up buying the building from us a year later. It's still used as artists studios and has seen upgrades since we sold it.

Given our experience, Carrie and I were left with one very simple impression of Riversdale: it's a neighbourhood that welcomes new ideas. Fertile ground for innovation, indeed. Which is why we decided to set up a permanent home for our business in the neighborhood.

The Two Twenty was intended to be, in it's most simple form, a shared office for Shift Development, Crystal Bueckert (BLDG Studio) and Daren McLean (Territorial Creative) to run our respective businesses. We were friends, sometimes working for each other, all living in Caswell Hill (within a block of each other) and close in age. It just happened that the building we bought (220 20th St W) happened to be 18,000 sq ft, which was about 18x larger than what we needed. Rather than search for a smaller building, I decided it was better if we searched for more friends to help us fill the building. 

How do you find new friends? Well, our answer to that question is always "throw a party"! The grand opening event for The Two Twenty saw about 650 people come through the doors to experience music, breakdancers, spoken word, dance and all kinds of other chaos. Similar to the church party it was the first time for many of our guests to be "going down to Riversdale" for an event. We cut holes in the wall to make the bar accessible, spilled all kinds of wine on the floor and, generally speaking, took the new shine off our renovation.

The building today houses approximately 160 people working day in and out via the 50 businesses that we host. 

One of the largest events that came out of The Two Twenty was bringing Park(ing) Day to the streets of Riversdale. Technically, I think it started with Charles Olfert at AODBT Architecture, but he passed the torch when Carrie was willing to run with it...and run she did. In collaboration with Mane Productions, Stall Gallery, Trendblazer and numerous other tenants in The Two Twenty, the first Park(ing) Day was a resounding success given that just 2 months of planning went into it. There were about 1000 people that skipped work on a beautiful fall Friday afternoon and came down to hang out, see parking stalls transformed to green space, hear music, eat food and enjoy life. The event has carried on annually with the torch constantly being passed back and forth between Carrie, our staff and numerous tenants of The Two Twenty. 

So here's why Nuit Blanche was a turning point, in our opinion. While Nuit Blanche was spearheaded by many tenants and friends of The Two Twenty community, neither Carrie nor I had anything officially to do with it. When we attended it last year, it was the first time we'd attended a major event in Riversdale as guests, not hosts. It showed us that the flame that's burning in Riversdale doesn't need gasoline thrown on it any more. And most importantly, that Riversdale continues to be a fertile proving ground for arts, artists and festivals. It's where great ideas can germinate and take root, both for the newcomers to the neighborhood and the long standing organizations like Saskatchewan Native Theatre Company (first theatre company to do productions in Cree with English surtitles) and la Troupe du Jour. 

I know I won't be missing Nuit Blanche this year...and I hope you'll join us, too