During the day, I love my neighbourhood. Everyday, I giggle at the dogs that look like their owners and keep my eyes open for lucky nuns. I sit in quaint cafes and drink coffee. I have picnics on the grass while my skin burns in the Andean sun.
Like many urban centres worldwide, however, after dark the city streets stop feeling quite so comfortable. I get wary after sundown, looking around me twice and walking faster. I spend most evenings inside my apartment with the curtains drawn.
One night a year, however, we take back our streets by turning them into an outdoor art show. From six pm to one in the morning, we emerge from our apartment buildings to overcome the streets with creativity. For months, artists from across the city work on their street and performance exhibitions.
According to the great source of all knowledge (Wikipedia), the White Night was first started in Russia during the endless northern summer nights. The idea of an all night festival spread around Europe, first in France and eventually incorporated the idea of street art. La Noche en Blanco,as it is known is Spanish, finally made its way to Bogota in 2013.
Last year, I spent time carefully examining each exhibition, trying to find meaning in each artist’s expression. This year, I focused on only the experiences and all of the art blended into one colourful, moving, flashing, dancing, shining show. I sat and read children’s books on the floor of a bookshop with friends while drinking canelazo. In the next moment, I was following the neonlit signs reclaiming the canal in front our my apartment building, while chewing on roasted corn. Then I was watching graffiti take over a blank wall in front of my very eyes.
It was glorious, not simply because of the art, but because the act of being out on the street together made our neighbourhood safe. Instead of viewing each other with suspicion, we laughed and ooohed and awwed together at light shows and street paintings.
One of the reasons that I love art so much is because it creates spaces where we can examine our world from a different angle or light. During the White Night, the street art demonstrates the possibility of what these streets could be like. It did not solve the problems of violence or structural injustices, but it did illuminate, for one night, the possibilities that exist after dark with a little collective creativity: safe, inviting and a place of community.