When I cast my thoughts back to this time last year – a time filled with loss, sadness, the same four walls and the only in-person conversation you had was with your household bubble – it’s almost hard to believe that I’m sitting down to chat with Helen Marriage to discuss this year’s Lumiere Festival.
“Lumiere only programmes every two years, so we were lucky enough to never have missed a show, but on a personal level, everyone’s lives were uprooted, routines were changed and the whole world stood still for a little while. This is a perfect way to celebrate coming out of the dark,” says Helen.
“I think it’s an incredible opportunity for the community to come together. A lot of people are telling us they can’t wait to see year’s illuminations and feel a sense of normality for Durham again. It’s the perfect opportunity to be with family and friends, to walk the streets whatever the weather and enjoy the beautiful architecture. I believe it’s a real symbolic moment as we’re travelling into the light from very dark times,” she adds.
Lumiere is the UK’s leading light festival, that has been brought to life by Artichoke, creators of extraordinary art in unusual places.
Founded in 2006 by Helen Marriage and Nicky Webb, Artichoke aims to work with artists to create unique, large-scale experiences that appeal to the widest possible audience in public spaces, not in theatres, galleries or dedicated art spaces, but with the idea that the public can encounter amazing work by amazing artists rather than having to know about them in advance and buy tickets at a cost.
“Everything we do is free to the public, is always done on a large scale and really tries to make a difference in people’s daily lives. I was always interested in the difference between the audience from those who would pay for tickets and know in advance what they were or going to see and those who could just turn up to something for free and enjoy the art for what it is and not for what it’s known for.
“That’s the idea with Lumiere, I was always interested in transforming a city like it was an art gallery or a theatre so the streets become a stage and everyone could feel welcome,” explains Helen.
Expressing talent and bringing people together is what Lumiere is all about. From small artists, to big names, this inclusive event showcases work from creatives from all walks of life.
“We’re doing a lot more work with local community artists, we ran our BRILLIANT scheme which is under the heading ‘Could you be brilliant?’ where anyone who was interested in making a piece of work could enter the competition. We’ve chosen five artists from that competition to showcase in this year’s programme.
“We’re also doing an amazing amount of work across the county with school kids and educational establishments to extend the opportunity to make something for Lumiere to as many people as we can. While it has this really amazing international group of artists who are making work, we also balance that with a lot of opportunities for local people too.
“Because we’re working on such a big scale, the artists we work with get to do things that they never normally would think of. If you’re only ever working in a white box studio or a black box theatre or something, you have a certain number of seats with a stage of a certain size, but with us, they can be wildly creative and can completely think outside of the box,” Helen explains.
Festival after festival, thousands of people flock to Durham to see the magical lights, but what can we expect from this year?
“We don’t really ever focus on themes, but this year sees the new development where for the first time, we’ve got installations outside of the city centre. We’ve been lucky enough to receive some extra funding to programme in the county, so we’re doing six big scaled pieces in places like Seaham and Peterlee, we’ve ventured out a little into the countryside and we’re at Raby Castle amongst other places.
“The festival has expanded its footprint which is great for those who don’t want to come into the city centre, but still want a sense of what’s going on. There’s going to be some truly amazing art for people to admire, including a variety of pieces that you can participate with on the night. We’re doing this fabulous piece with Visit County Durham which is tracking people’s hopes for the future.
“In the programme you’ll find the hashtag #LumiereHopes, which you can use on social media to input your hope, and both online and in real life the tree will grow and each of the branches will be filled with numerous hopes and dreams. This is just a simple thing you can do on your phone that will make a huge impact on what this piece will look like. There’s tons of work like that, there’s also a big musical piece, which you get to play if you’re there and it all illuminates beautifully – we’re trying to create real opportunities for people to feel like they’re part of it as well as admiring the pieces that other people have made,” Helen expresses excitedly.
As well as enjoying the mesmerising artwork and dazzling lights, visitors can enjoy a bite to eat from the new temporary food court located along the riverside walkway as well as stopping for a mid-walk coffee break or snack at one of the many food stalls that will be dotted around the city centre.
Foodies can also feast at some of the city centre’s beloved restaurants due to some traders extending their hours and opening their doors to people throughout the whole period. Everyone wins!
It’s only natural that some may still be a little wary about venturing out into big crowds and with over 150,000 people expected to attend, Artichoke have worked tirelessly to put safety protocols in place.
“The beauty of not being a venue means we’re one step ahead for once,” laughs Helen.
“We’re working closely with the council and the other agencies to put a lot of provisions in place to make sure that the event and the people attending are as safe as possible. The amazing thing about Lumiere is it’s free to attend and it’s completely outdoors, you don’t have to go into the cathedral, you don’t have to go into a building, you’re as safe as you are going about your normal daily lives,” she explains.
For us, it’s a magical evening filled with pure joy, beautiful scenes and memory-making moments. For Helen, the Artichoke team, the artists and everyone else involved, it’s taken a lot of hard work.
“It takes about 18 months of planning for it all to come together. We start with the artists and we talk to them about it. It’s been a bit different this year as no one has really been able to travel so there’s been a lot of Zoom meetings and Google Earth street hunting,” laughs Helen.
“No one can imagine the amount of work, not only from us working on it full-time here at Artichoke but everyone else including the likes of the county council, fire, police, ambulance, planners, the university, the cathedral, all of the emergency planning that goes on around the event, crowd control, traffic management and all of the people who out of kindness allow us to use their buildings.
“So that might be the church or a shop and we couldn’t do it if these people didn’t allow us to, so we work completely in partnership with everybody locally to make this amazing thing happen. I think it’s probably going to be one of the biggest free events that has taken place since the Covid pandemic, so it’s really a big responsibility on us to ensure that everybody benefits as much as possible,” Helen adds.
In a time where everyone is desperate to add some positivity and magical moments into their life, the upcoming Lumiere Festival is promising to do just that.
How do I attend?
As always this incredible event is absolutely free. Many of the installations are accessible without a ticket at all times. However, the controlled City centre area of Lumiere will be ticketed for the entirety of the festival. Free tickets can be booked via lumiere-festival.com.
What about the county programme?
The county programme is unticketed for you to enjoy at your own leisure except for Solitude at Finchale Priory. This artwork is not accessible by car so bus tickets will be available to book online via lumiere-festival.com.
How do I get there?
Durham City Centre can be accessed via local transport links and we recommend planning in advance for parking. All county programmes except for Finchale Priory can be accessed at your own leisure, but please see site facilities for access and parking prior to attending.
For Finchale Priory, your special ticket comes with a bus ticket, you can’t visit here on your own due to the narrow access road.
Do I need to show a Covid pass?
No. Lumiere is an outdoor event.
How can I support?
Every penny that makes Lumiere Durham happen is raised by Artichoke, a registered charity that relies on the generosity of businesses, charitable trusts and donations from members of the public.
By supporting you can help to transform the streets of the city, bring some of the world’s leading artists to the North East of England, and give people of all ages the chance to take part in extraordinary community and education projects.
If you would like to make a one-off donation, please visit artichoke.uk.com/support