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'Element of magic:' Nocturne art event reaches milestone 10th anniversary in Halifax

Nocturne: Art at Night happens from 6 p.m. to midnight this Saturday across Halifax and Dartmouth.

Nocturne executive director Lindsay Ann Cory and Nocturne co-founder and past chair Rose Zack pose for a photo in the Halifax Public Gardens.

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Zane Woodford / Metro

Nocturne executive director Lindsay Ann Cory and Nocturne co-founder and past chair Rose Zack pose for a photo in the Halifax Public Gardens.

Strange lights dance on the harbour and across brick buildings as music, laughter and calls of “Hey, did you see this?” drift over the large crowds moving through Halifax’s darkened streets.

In it’s tenth year, Nocturne: Art at Night this Saturday has grown to attract more than 30,000 people to explore Halifax and Dartmouth for a free “magical” night that showcases artists’ work in public spaces or galleries, boosts local business, and changes how we see public spaces for the rest of the year.

Reaching ten years also feels like Nocturne has been “set in stone,” says executive director Lindsay Ann Cory.

“We’re a … staple event here in Halifax, and because we have that ability to be nimble we can keep changing it, and it’s not the same every year,” Cory said in an interview at the Halifax Public Gardens, site of this year’s multiple Anchor projects, alongside Nocturne co-founder and past chair Rose Zack.

Khan Lee's 'Red, Green, Blue' Anchor project.


Khan Lee's 'Red, Green, Blue' Anchor project.

Both women agreed Nocturne’s success is owed to the small but mighty and “nimble” force of unpaid board of directors, artists, supporters and volunteers that have kept the event evolving and reacting to different things going on in the city each year - perhaps better than a larger institution could.

But mostly, Zack said the amount of public interest has astounded organizers from year one - when they weren’t even sure if they could go beyond a one-off event. That year, Zack said a crowd of 4,000 people overwhelmed artists and business owners on Barrington Street who weren’t expecting such numbers.

Now, Cory says she knows many restaurants, shops and businesses on both sides of the harbour put on Nocturne projects or specials, with some saying it’s their busiest night of the year since most attendees say they spend $10-20 on the night.

“Art is important in a community and it’s important to stay around … it makes our community better, it makes our city more fun to be in,” Cory said.

Kelly Zwicker's 'Auraboros' Anchor project


Kelly Zwicker's 'Auraboros' Anchor project

It was only around year four that Zack said she began thinking “this has really become something,” but the core values of the event around supporting artists and making it accessible haven’t changed over the years, besides improvements like adding a curator or paid staff member for the first time this year.

It’s been exciting to see the calibre of art get more interesting each year, both Zack and Cory said, adding their favourite part of Nocturne is having past projects spring to mind for the rest of the year when looking at local spaces, like the ferris wheel on top of Citadel Hill, or a graveyard where passersby wrote messages to the dead.

“You have a vague silhouette of an experience that you had for one night only, and there’s some element of magic there that … makes the city feel more intimate, and feel more connected,” added 2017 Nocturne co-curator Anna Sprague.

Looking to the future, Cory said growing the event might not necessarily mean more projects, but more resources to support artists doing large-scale work, more artist talks leading up to the event, and finding ways for people in rural parts of HRM to get back and forth.

For a full schedule and project list go to

Highlights of Nocturne 2017

A stroll through the Public Gardens for Nocturne this Saturday will show projections and dancers weaving amongst the flower beds as Anchor projects in the 2017 theme of Vanish.

Curators Anna Sprague and Emily Lawrence worked with the artists to arrive at these projects in one contained area for the first time, with solar-power batteries also used for the first time.

Vanish asks people to revisit city sites and think about other histories that aren’t as prevalent as ones we know, Sprague said, and finding ways to mark Canada 150 as settlers.

Habiba Al-Sayed's 'Pushback' Anchor project


Habiba Al-Sayed's 'Pushback' Anchor project

Anchor projects include light installations, dance, sculptures of beds under soil, a party bus filled with BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, people of colour) performers, and the struggle of clay being pushed through the Gardens’ gates that’s an “opportunity for dialogue surrounding race and Islamophobia.”

Sprague and Lawerence said other highlights of the roughly 102 projects include AIRHORN at the Central Library (live music scored to interactive glitter painting and movement), Inter-Harbour Communication Co. on both waterfronts (siblings separated by the harbourtrying to communicate with large letters and signs), and Mark Hines’ “elegant” project of shining a bright light on Citadel Hill from NSCAD.

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