Helen Marriage is the architect of Durham’s much-loved Lumiere light festival which returns for its tenth anniversary in November this year. Prepare for some surprises she tells Kathryn Armstrong

Helen Marriage has a high appetite for risk. She is the force behind the much-loved Lumiere light festival in Durham, which for four days every two years makes the city dazzle.

Lumiere always brings with it spectacle, surprise and scale. Waterfalls from bridges, illuminated riverbanks and jaw-dropping installations that suspend your disbelief and strike at your senses.

The light festival turns historic Durham into a magical wonderland with surprises at every turn. Visitors snake through familiar streets which for four days become anything but.

In November Lumiere will celebrate its tenth anniversary and for Helen Marriage, director of Artichoke, the company that makes it happen, the thrill will be in bringing back some favourites and also exceeding the expectations of visitors who want to be thrilled.

“It’s exciting to be planning for this tenth anniversary edition and I’m especially looking forward to selecting my ‘Director’s Cut’ from previous festivals. Over the last decade, around 150 artworks made by hundreds of artists involving thousands of community participants”, says Helen.

Lumiere takes place every two years and is 18 months in the planning. Helen has to take on the role not only of creative force, selecting installations and artworks, but also that of part-engineer, part project-manager to ensure that the huge-scale installations are ready for the switch-on, bang on time.

“I have a high appetite for risk”, she laughs, referring to her very definite deadline for the festival’s opening.

“It’s almost like building an estate for a short time. We have all these builders and contractors. For most projects things can run over – but for us it opens when we say it does. For this I really have to pay tribute to the crews – they work so hard to make sure it is all up and running”.

This might mean them using crossbow-style equipment to fling wires across rivers from one riverbank to another to create a net of light in the dead of night. It might mean having to engineer pumps to feed water for a temporary waterfall. These are epic-scale installations which bring with them – to the outsider – scary logistical complications.

“I can tolerate risk and am super-optimistic that everything will be OK”, concludes Helen.

She is delighted that Durham has embraced its status as ‘Place of Light’. Her family is from the city and so it holds a place in her heart.

“It is a compact city and that is why people have an intimate association with it. To work with the scale of it and bring landscape and art together is a gift.”

LUMIERE: SHEDDING LIGHT ON DURHAMHaving such familiarity with Durham means that Helen can visualise artworks in situ – but what comes first – the place or the piece?

“In 2015 one of our artists wanted to do a piece about fog. She came to Durham and down by the riverbank beneath the cathedral she said ‘it has to be here’ – it was just where I had wanted it to be.”

The legacy of  Lumiere is the permanence in the city of some of the commissioned works – the latest of which is Heron, unveiled in November to mark a year to the 2019 festival.

Heron is an illuminated homage to one of England’s most magnificent birds, and now shines as a permanent public sculpture on the banks of the River Wear.

Created by artist Jon Voss and debuted at the 2017 festival, this permanent acquisition has been made possible through the support of the Banks Community Fund. ​


– Returns to Durham 14 – 17 November 2019

– 2019 is the tenth anniversary of Lumiere in Durham

– A new installation, Heron, was unveiled on the banks of River Wear on 14 November, 2018 to mark the year-ahead moment

– Over the past decade, around 150 artworks have been shown as part of Lumiere

– The festival contributes significantly to the local economy with a record 240,000 visitors in 2017

– Durham city is now known as ‘Place of Light’

– The legacy of Lumiere is that Durham has become the permanent home of some of the festival’s installations. Alongside Heron, the growing collection of public art includes projection artwork Helvetictoc at Clayport Library and ​Lightbench at Freemans Reach also overlooking the River Wear

Make it happen!

Lumiere is made possible by the support of Durham County Council, Arts Council England, local sponsors, business and funders large and small – businesses like the Banks Group which through County Durham Community Foundation, supports local environmental and community improvement projects in the areas surrounding the company’s operations.

Mark Dowdall, Environment and Community Director at The Banks Group, says: ​”​As a longstanding County Durham-based business, we are proud to be helping to further extend Lumiere’s local cultural legacy by enabling the eye-catching ​Heron to become a permanent part of the Durham City landscape.

“This is the third permanent ​Lumiere installation that we have supported through the Banks Community Fund, following ​Helvetictoc at Clayport Library and ​Lightbench at Freeman’s Quay, and we believe they all make a positive, long-lasting contribution to both local residents’ and visitors’ enjoyment of our wonderful city​.”

Sarah Coop, Artichoke’s Development Director adds: “Lumiere is only possible with the help and support of local sponsors and funders large and small. What is so wonderful about Lumiere Durham is that it is a massive community effort. Everyone comes together to make it happen. We are calling on local business to support this spectacular anniversary edition and become proud partners in this event which offers a showcase to the world”.

Since its inception in 2009, ​Lumiere has grown year on year and now attracts hundreds of thousands of local and national visitors to Durham, looking to experience the historic city ablaze with light.

The festival, which contributes significantly to the local economy, experienced a record 240,000 visitors in 2017 across an expanded footprint, with more than half of the installations located outside the central peninsula area.

Simon Henig, Leader of Durham County Council, said: ​“Lumiere has been really important for County Durham over the past ten years, attracting tens of thousands of visitors and bringing millions of pounds into the economy. Its programme of community engagement has also ensured that residents from across the county are not only able to enjoy the festival but also have the opportunity to get directly involved in it.

“I am very much looking forward to ​Lumiere 2019​, which promises to be another spectacular event. Although the programme has yet to be announced, ​Heron is the perfect reminder of what we can expect next year​.”

Fundraising for the 2019 festival is underway now, with local developer Milburngate being one of the first to sign up.

Find out more about how to get involved by contacting Artichoke’s Development Director: [email protected]

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