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Art Night heads north to Dundee for its debut edition outside of the UK capital

Having made its legacy in London, one-night cultural extravaganza Art Night is travelling to Dundee for its 2023 edition – its first full programme to be held outside of London. 

As we’re partnering with Art Night to support them on the streets of Scotland (alongside Dundee’s Street Advertising Services), we chatted to Artistic Director Helen Nisbet about the changes this has brought about for the festival, and teamed up with the curatorial team – Elizabeth Ann Day, Becca Clark and Jamie Donald – for a shoot in the city.  

Since starting in 2016, Art Night helped to develop arts engagement in the English capital with new commissions and works being shown in unusual, unexpected, and carefully curated locations with major cultural partners. From Westminster, Whitechapel Gallery and Walthamstow to the South Bank and Battersea Power Station, 2021’s mid-pandemic iteration of the festival saw them take first steps outside of the city, to UK-wide locations like Eastbourne, Birmingham, Cardiff, Skye, Derry, ‘and crucially… Dundee’ (including a partnership with BUILDHOLLYWOOD that manifested Guerrilla Girls’ The Male Graze as a national series of billboards).  

Now in its sixth year, 2023 will see the festival breaking new ground with its first programme to be held completely outside of London. Travelling to eastern Scotland, Dundee will host Art Night when it occupies the city on the 24th June 2023. With ten commissions by local and internationally celebrated artists occupying both civic and public spaces in the city, the festival will run alongside Inwith – showcasing a cross-section of Dundee’s impressive and varied arts and community programming. Now, Art Night ‘champions the possibilities of decentralisation.’  

With this year’s festival including work by Danielle Brathwaite-Shirley, Emma Hart, Inefficient Solutions, our own previous collaborator Nabihah Iqbal, Tai Shani, Saoirse Amira Anis, Richy Carey, Lucy Mckenzie, Heather Phillipson, and Maria Fusco and Margaret Salmon, they will occupy locations like the Arthurstone Community Library, Greenmarket Car Park, V&A Dundee, RRS Discovery, Baxter Park Pavilion and more. With a curatorial effort like this, Art Night enables people to interact, explore, and engage with their city in a way they normally wouldn’t. Buildings take on new purposes, locations earn new utilisations, and the area feels cast anew.  

To find out more about the developments for the festival and the promise this brings for its future, we spoke to Artistic Director Helen Nisbet ahead of 2023’s edition. 



Helen Nisbet - Artistic Director of Art Night

Could you begin with telling us a bit about yourself and your role within Art Night? 

Sure! I’m Helen Nisbet, I’m Artistic Director of Art Night. Previous to my appointment, Art Night was curated by a series of Guest Curators from 2016 – 2018. I joined in 2019 and have been curating the festival and leading the vision of the organisation since then.  

This is Art Night’s first year with a full festival taking place outside of London. What prompted the move? 

Since joining the festival in 2019 it was always my ambition to take the festival outside of London. Luckily our co-founders Philippine and Ksenia were on board with this ambition. We did a pilot during the pandemic in 2021 – 50% of the programme took place online and 50% in physical space, across a month, all across the U.K. including Derry, Skye, Abergavenny, Swansea, Warwickshire, Eastbourne, Birmingham and crucially… Dundee. 

Saoirse Amira Anis, symphony for a fraying body, film stills, 2023
Emma Hart, Mamma Mia! 2017. Ceramic and metal. Installation view, the Whitechapel Gallery, commissioned in collaboration with Collezione Maramott. Photo: Thierry Bal. Image courtesy of the artist.

What led the festival to Dundee? 

I had a magical few days here in Dundee around 10 years ago. I met amazing people, saw brilliant art, found a gorgeous top in TK Maxx, attended a braw session in the Speedwell Pub (where we’re hosting a traditional music session for Art Night this June). So, I knew it was a special place, and it was always at the forefront of my mind when thinking about where our first national festival would take place. But after spending time with the Directors and Curators of the incredible cultural organisations here, meeting the teams at the artist-led spaces, community groups across Dundee and the folk who run the museums… It’s very much down to their support and enthusiasm that we are where we are now.  

This year’s commissions include installations, film, performance, live events and sound. Could you tell us a bit more about them? 

Art Night always features a real mix of mediums. Even when inviting artists to make a project for the festival, we don’t have preconceived ideas about what they might do. So, there will be musical performances, flower shows, film, song, billboards, video games and glam rock. You’ll have fun.

How did you go about curating the spaces for the festival in a new city? 

By spending a lot of time in Dundee and appointing a majority local team. Together we got to know some inspiring people and some brilliant spaces in the city – libraries, shopping centres, galleries, car parks, theatres and more than one ship. There are so many wonderful venues we would have loved to work with but couldn’t – we have a finite number of projects and it is important that each venue works for each artist. 

And what about Inwith, running alongside the commissions – could you tell us more about this ‘cross section of Dundee’s art and communities programming’? 

Thinking about that well known word “outwith” – used in Scotland, but not outside Scotland; we utilised the opposite word “inwith” to describe projects that are already happen here in the city, projects and people we are in awe of who make important, sparky, joyful work which is so fundamental to Dundee and its cultural scene. We’re presenting these as a snapshot – to celebrate them and to give them a platform during the festival.  This series of events is curated by Dundee-based curator Elizabeth Day.  

With the change in location, do you think this has changed the festival in any way? Has it been a different planning experience too? 

The fundamental fact of Art Night remains the same – one gorgeous location, one electric night, presenting ambitious work in civic spaces by brilliant artists. Everything else is different – Dundee as a city, as a host, a community and infrastructure has changed us all forever. The energy and generosity of Dundee is infectious. Art Night will never be the same again.  

What are you most excited about for this edition? 

The moment everything opens and I see crowds of people walking from venue to venue, embracing any possibility. 

DCA Image Credit: DCA / V&A Image Credit: ©Hufton+Crow / The Rep Image Credit: N/A / GENERATOR projects Image Credit: Ben Douglas Photography / Greenmarket car park: N/A / Hospitalfield Image Credit: Photographer Ruth Clark / HMS Unicorn Image Credit: Rhys Boyle / Arthurstone Library Image Credit: Alistair Wilson / RRS Discovery Image Credit: John Pow / Discovery and Museum Image Credit: Discovery Point / Verdant Works Image Credit: Verdant Works / Cooper Gallery, DJCAD entrance. Photo by Sally Jubb / Keiler Centre Image Credit: Kathryn Rattray Photography / Agency of None / Dundee Design Festival 2019

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