My article “Halifax’s Nocturne and the Spectacle of Neoliberal Civics” will be appearing in the journal Public (no. 45), dedicated to the topic of “Art and Civic Spectacle.” Nocturne is an all-night arts event, sponsored by the city and modeled on Toronto’s successful Nuit Blanche, which features curated works of public art and performance, extended hours at galleries and other venues, and planned and spontaneous happenings.
While these events can be tremendously exciting and are often spaces for incisive, critical work (some of which I discuss), my article raises some difficult questions about the politics of such events and the works that are featured (and celebrated). My general argument is that the enthusiasm that greets events such as Nocturne needs to be approached with caution. One aspect of the sort of politics of urban space at play is tinged with (and shaped by) a broader culture of neoliberalism and the privatization of social intercourse. Neither are these “civic spectacles” separable from their historical context and geography. In Halifax, “civic spectacles” are haunted by the city’s past and present of race and class injustice. More broadly, in an age of the so-called “creative class,” public art events can risk participating in gentrification, subtle (but powerful) forms of exclusion, and, ironically, a culture of neoliberal individualism
While many excellent and critical pieces and performances make these sort of events important moments of politicization and possibility, more work needs to be done to ensure that even these “public” and “free” events do not contribute to the privatization of culture and the folding of art and creativity within our destructive economic system and its cultural idiom. A preliminary version of this article will be available soon. Or you can read an interview I did shortly after Nocturne 2010.