A magical night at Nuit Blanche

nuit blanche edmontonA couple weekends ago, Edmonton saw its first Nuit Blanche event take over downtown and transform it into one giant art party. There was a pedway full of balloons (well, half full), a stack of bouncy castles, 120 trees covered in wishes, decorated potholes and dozens of other creations.

I didn’t get to see any of that. I was in my booth at the Grand Market from 7pm until 3am, selling my artwork and watching something amazing unfold.

I’ve been experimenting with pop-up workshops and interactive activities at markets and art sales. Normally people come to these events to see art and buy products, but I want to give them the chance to participate in another way. As Elizabeth Gilbert says, when people are only consumers and not participants, it’s like they’re “not allowed to contribute to the evolving story of a universe that’s in motion.”  I want to give people the chance to contribute to that story, in whatever small way they can.

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When I set up my booth Saturday night, I didn’t know what would happen. Partly because my plan to staple foam core to the wooden frame my boyfriend built did not work, and partly because I didn’t know if people would want to play the game I’d devised. I thought they might be too nervous, too shy, too insecure. Or worse, they might think it was silly, childish, boring, or obvious. Thankfully it turned out better than I could have imagined. My brother was there helping me set up and he graciously agreed to drive to my house to get the proper tools to attach the foam core, and pick up a bunch of things I’d forgotten for my display. He returned remarkably quickly and screwed the foam core in place. I had my canvas. Now all I needed were my artists. He and I both set to work doing our own version of the game, but before long we had to step outside the tent to make room for the crowds of people that started to gather.

The principle was simple. Take a question from the jar. These were all about creativity somehow, and ranged from simple (What’s your favourite colour and why?) to complex (What role does creativity play in your life?) and from cheerful (Has anyone ever praised you for doing something creative?) to somewhat dark (What does failure mean to you?). There were 72 questions in all, with 2 or 3 repeats of each question. Next, read the question and think about how it makes you feel or what thoughts it brings to mind. Then use the art supplies provided (maps, magazines, yarn, written music, a thesaurus, fabric, markers, crayons, scissors and glue) to create something that expresses that feeling.

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The response was inspiring. Based on the number of thumb-tacks I went through, around 150 people played the game, and they covered the entire board. There were times when the tent was so full that people had to stand in line to get to the craft supplies table. More importantly though, the way people dove into the game split my heart wide open. They were so open in their responses to the questions, so bare and authentic and heartfelt. Looking over the board I was struck by the level of depth they managed to access with just a few scraps of paper.

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I loved hearing people discuss their responses with their companions, loved seeing people who got dragged in by their friends and then put real effort into their creations. People left the tent with big grins, telling me that it was fun, that it really made them think, and it started some great conversations.

All I wanted to do was create a magical experience for strangers on what was already a magical night. That’s  not asking for much is it? I think I succeeded.

Here are some photos of what people created:

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I’m hoping to do this activity again at another event so hopefully you’ll get a chance to try it if you haven’t already. In the mean time, I would love to hear from you. What does creativity mean to you? How do you express it on a daily basis? Leave a comment below!

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