Staying up all night in the nonstop city

Fun is something that Tel Aviv takes seriously – and its annual ‘White Night’ arts and culture fest proves it.

311_white night (photo credit: Joanna Paraszczuk)
311_white night
(photo credit: Joanna Paraszczuk)
Tel Aviv’s Layla Lavan is a showcase for the city’s vibrant artistic and creative scene. Thousands of people took to the streets of Tel Aviv last Thursday, July 1, to take part in the city’s annual “White Night” all-night arts and culture fest.
From art to yoga and everything in-between, the nonstop city served up a delicious smorgasbord of allnight treats reflecting its eclectic mix of cultures, its sense of humor and the carnivalesque atmosphere that permeates its streets during the humid summer nights.
Though the atmosphere of the Layla Lavan is uniquely Tel Avivian, the concept of an all-night art and culture festival originated not here, but in the northern Russian city of St. Petersburg. During the summer months, the sun barely sets in St. Petersburg.
The phenomenon is known as a belaya noch – a white night – and celebrated with a month-long series of arts and cultural events.
In 2001, Parisian mayor Bertrand Delanoë decided that the French capital could host its own version of the white night fest: a dusk-till-dawn celebration of culture that would bring contemporary art to the masses – for one night at least.
Like so many Parisian trends, Delanoë’s Nuit Blanche was considered très chic, and the concept quickly spread worldwide. Today, over 120 world cities from Amsterdam to Zurich host annual all-night art and culture festivals.
Never a city to miss out on a party, in 2003 Tel Aviv decided it, too, wanted to join in with an all-night culture fest of its very own. Originally intended to mark UNESCO’s awarding of World Heritage status to the White City, Tel Aviv’s version of the white night became not only a celebration of local art and culture but also a night of fun in the true spirit of the nonstop city.
Fun is something that Tel Aviv takes seriously: When the Layla Lavan was originally established, the municipality passed an amendment to the city’s laws allowing local businesses to remain open all night on the last Thursday in June – thereby putting the festival on a par with Israel’s other two all-night bashes, Purim and Independence Day.
Even in a city in which so many shops, cafes and clubs stay open all night, every night, this is not just another all-night rave for hipster twenty-somethings; it’s a party for the whole family, a cozy neighborhood celebration that encompasses the whole city.
From large events at places like the Eretz Israel Museum and mega-shopping mall, the Dizengoff Center, to small parties at tiny art galleries and fashion boutiques, there’s something for everyone to enjoy.
This year’s Layla Lavan had a particularly international feel, perhaps because it coincided with the football fever that is gripping Tel Aviv during the World Cup.
Rothschild Boulevard, that quintessentially Tel Avivian street at the heart of the White City, was given a dash of French culture for the Layla Lavan, playing host to 100% Paris, an installation of French video art. Curated by Marie Shek, the wife of the former Israeli ambassador to France, 100% Paris features work by leading French-born and immigrant artists.
“This is art that normally one can only see in galleries in Paris,” says Shek. “But for the White Night we chose to project these videos in coffee shops, on walls, on the outside of galleries here in Tel Aviv, so that anyone can see them. We want people who don’t really know about video art to fall in love with it.”
PART OF a yearlong celebration of the relationship between Israel and France, 100% Paris seeks to show that art cannot be the property of a single country or group of people.
“Art is international,” emphasizes Shek.
Artists include Tania Mouraud, whose video installation Or Donc features images of Paris’s City Hall and Quai D’Orsay. Projected onto a grimy wall behind a bar on Rothschild Boulevard, Mouraud’s images create an otherworldly portal into the French capital, via ghostly flashes of Paris superimposed on Tel Aviv.
As well as looking outward to international art, the Layla Lavan is also a celebration of the very best of homegrown culture. In recent years, Tel Aviv has begun to make a name for itself in the fashion world. A few steps from the bright lights of Rothschild Boulevard is Gan Hahashmal, an old industrial area that is fast emerging as the hub for Tel Aviv’s up-and-coming young designers.
To showcase its rich fashion culture, Gan Hahashmal threw its own Layla Lavan party, Hashmal Lavan (White Electricity), offering visitors the chance to shop until dawn in 45 of Tel Aviv’s trendiest boutiques.
Fashion designers Michal Nir and Keren Or own and run the Kerenvemichal boutique on Rehov Levontin. The Layla Lavan is a fantastic way for new people to learn about a part of Tel Aviv they may otherwise never visit, says Nir.
“The aim is to bring as many people as possible to Gan Hahashmal,” she explains. “Lots of people still aren’t aware of this neighborhood, so we wanted to give them the chance to come look at the shops and see how much is here and how close we are to the center of the city.”
Thanks to the Layla Lavan, young designers like Nir and Or can show off their work to a fresh audience, while the public can get to know the young talent emerging right here in Tel Aviv.
“So many people came to Gan Hahashmal for the first time on Layla Lavan,” adds Nir. “That includes lots of people who don’t live in Tel Aviv.”
For musicians also, Layla Lavan is a unique chance to perform to new audiences. Layla Lavan Shahor (White Night Black), a street party at Beit Ha’ir (City Museum) in Bialik Square provided a night-long mix of the best of emerging Israeli talent.
The party’s organizers, deejays Itai Drai and Tzach Bar, together form Tabac, an organization which promotes new Israeli musicians.
“We based the concept for Layla Lavan Shahor on the very best of black music – jazz, soul, calypso, funk and blues and finally hip-hop,” explains Drai, who adds that although these genres have their roots elsewhere, the Israeli musicians brought a unique Hebrew flavor to the music.
“We had hip-hop artists rapping in Hebrew, for example,” says Drai, who emphasizes that spaces like Beit Ha’ir and events like Layla Lavan are incredibly important for emerging musicians.
“This is an excellent place for new art and new artists,” he adds. “It’s very Tel Aviv.”
A few years after the city of Tel Aviv was founded, Yehudit Harari, one of its first residents, describes a public celebration in the Rothschild Boulevard area: “All boundaries, all borders have been transcended,” she wrote. “It was just a taste of jubilation, without any order, without any plan.”
Today, a century later, Tel Aviv shows no signs of letting up its fast-paced, public life.