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The King St. West entrance to the Bank of Nova Scotia on Jan. 12. (Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail)
The King St. West entrance to the Bank of Nova Scotia on Jan. 12. (Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail)

Scotiabank drops sponsorship of Toronto’s Nuit Blanche Add to ...

Nuit Blanche, Toronto’s annual nighttime street art exhibition, has lost its biggest sponsor, Bank of Nova Scotia.

The bank was the title sponsor and officially confirmed it was yanking its investment less than two days after this year’s event started. It had informed the organizers at Nuit Blanche of its decision in February.

The move is somewhat out of step with Scotiabank’s larger marketing strategy, which has directed investment into sponsorships of arts-related events. The bank sponsors the Giller Prize for authors, the Contact photography festival and a photography award, and other events including the HotDocs documentary festival in Toronto. (Anyone who has attended HotDocs will have seen the ad playing before every film extolling the bank’s support of the arts.)

Sponsorships (including the big-ticket support for the National Hockey League) make up a sizable portion of Scotiabank’s marketing budget. Last year, it spent more than $25-million on “community events” just in the Greater Toronto Area. Its support of Scotiabank Nuit Blanche had been part of those investments since the after-dark art crawl was created in 2006. But now, one year shy of its 10th anniversary as title sponsor, it has ended the relationship. According to Nuit Blanche, Scotiabank’s investment represented less than 50 per cent of its revenue, but was the largest sponsorship investment.

“In 2015, we completed a review of our sponsorship priorities and decided that Nuit Blanche no longer aligns with our sponsorship strategy,” Heather Armstrong, director of communications for the bank, said in a statement. She declined to explain why the property no longer aligns.

The bank has assisted organizers with finding new sponsors, paying their consulting team to review the sponsorship offer and to provide advice.

However, Nuit Blanche itself has not always had a stellar image. That goes beyond the inconvenience of shutting down major streets to traffic – arguably worth the inconvenience to increase the cultural vibrancy of the downtown core. The festival has also become known not just for the inclement weather guaranteed at an outdoor event around October, but also for hit-and-miss exhibits, sometimes unruly and drunken attendees, and a climate where not everyone felt safe – all under the presence of the Scotiabank name.

This year, police received calls about people with guns, a stabbing, alcohol consumption by minors, fights, and other incidents. A crowd at Yonge-Dundas Square threw bottles at police officers.

Ms. Armstrong said incidents like these were not linked to the decision.

Terry Nicholson, director of arts and culture services and economic development and culture at the City of Toronto, deferred questions about the reasoning for the end of the sponsorship to the bank.

“They told us that they changed direction,” he said in an interview. “This is not a donation. They’re trying to sell product. They have to make a decision about what best aligns with their marketing strategy.”

Mr. Nicholson said he has not heard from other sponsors expressing concern about the incidents this year.

“There is a crowd that are not art fans, and they do their own thing,” he said, adding that in recent years, the organizers have been reviewing the locations for art projects. Incidents have been contained to sites where there are no exhibitions; Yonge-Dundas Square held none.

“Our goal now is to contain it, period.”

Nuit Blanche’s other sponsors include clothing retailer H&M, Subaru Canada Inc. and tissue maker Renova. The event organizers hope to sign on another title sponsor, but could also look for a number of smaller sponsors, Mr. Nicholson said. The city has also hired a consultant and is in the process of creating a five-year plan for the event to clarify its objectives.

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