Every October, the museums, galleries, theatres and other institutions of Paris come together to put on a show that lasts from sundown to sunup. La Nuit blanche (on October 3 this year) is modelled on Saint Petersburg’s White Night celebrations, though Paris’ version is too far south of the North Pole to be illuminated by the sun all night. Still, it’s a brilliant event. From around 7pm to the early hours of the morning, all kinds of Parisian cultural spaces open their doors and offer unique experiences. I have heard classical poetry recited in churches, seen experimental short films at the UNESCO headquarters, and had my ‘fortune told’ by some very creative actors at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées. Of course, this year’s event will be more socially distanced than normal, but there’s still plenty on. Plus there is a digital version running online alongside the in-person festivities.
The exhibitions, performances and other displays are the heart of the Nuit blanche, but what I love most about this night of culture is the feel in the streets. People really get into the concept and after dinner time, the banks of the Seine and the surrounding areas on both the rives gauche and droite come alive- or rather, more so than usual. In fact, the stretch between 9pm and midnight can get a little hectic. I personally like to wait until midnight before heading out; there are still enough people around for it to feel festive, but there’s less chance of being crammed into a tiny gallery with dozens of other people.
The Nuit blanche mostly takes place in the central region around the Seine, but you should always consult the event’s map, because there are sure to be performances in some unexpected places you wouldn’t find just by wandering. Such was the case for me with the Espace Fondation EDF.
Tucked away down a quiet lane of a Saint-German-des-Prés street, near the Sèvres-Babylone metro, the Espace Fondation EDF is a small but sleek exhibition space. Designed for temporary exhibits rather than a permanent collection, the EDF changes shape with each new exhibition. In keeping with its name, (the EDF is the national electricity provider, Electricité de France), on the Nuit blanche when I visited, the space was transformed into a colourful light show, deep reds and neon blues illuminating the interior in strange and enticing ways.
Paris is so full of established museums and famous permanent collections, it can be easy to forget that the city is also brimming with other kinds of spaces that show the new and the avant-garde. As la Muséophile, I am fiercely protective of the city’s museums. But I am also the first to urge everyone to look beyond the most established institutions and explore the shifting landscape of small galleries scattered around town. Especially if you can do it at three in the morning.