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Lumiere light spectacular returns to Durham as City of Culture 2025 bid ramps up

Durham’s light festival returns this month aiming to impress the City of Culture 2025 judges as well as visitors from across County Durham and beyond.

Lumiere 2021 will light up the skies and buildings of all shapes and sizes and age across the county with a four-day programme of 37 artworks by international, emergent and local artists from Thursday 18 to Sunday, November 21.
Created by Artichoke, Lumiere has taken place in Durham every other year since 2009, and for the first time this year it extends beyond Durham City, with six spectacular installations across County Durham.

The event is commissioned by Durham County Council and is supported by Arts Council England through Lumiere’s status as a National Portfolio Organisation (NPO). 

And it comes a month after County Durham was named on the longlist for UK City of Culture 2025 by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS). 

Borderlands Partnership, made up of Northumberland, Cumbria, Carlisle City, Dumfries and Galloway and the Scottish Borders, missed out. 

Durham County Council has until January to finalise its bid to reach the final shortlist and a monsoon-free return of this popular long weekend can do the County Durham bid no harm against Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon, Bradford, Cornwall, Derby, Southampton, Stirling and Wrexham County Borough.

Helen Marriage, director of Artichoke, said: “With the UK City of Culture programme, historically it’s been about big cities and this year, for the first time, they changed it to allow places to apply.

“So the fact that County Durham has got through to the last eight is really remarkable and the example we are showing this time with Lumiere is where the programme is concentrated in the city but has its tentacles right cross the county.

“And we have always worked in the county.
“We work with schools, with organisations, we are doing more than 55 workshops across the county and we work for months in advance of the programme, so the addition of the installations themselves is just like the icing on the cake.

“Artichoke have been here since 2009 making Lumiere happen and each year it has grown, each year it has more economic impact. 

“I think it’s almost an example to cities of culture around the world of how to work with multiple stakeholders across big distances to create something that is nationally and internationally significant but absolutely grounded in a place and in a local community.

“The thing that most impresses me about Durham, and we work nationally and internationally, is the absolute commitment of the people; that we are welcomed every time.

“We are very often asking people to do things that are slightly outside the norm, just to make it work, and we have almost never received any resistance. People are very willing to embrace a new idea.

“All we have ever had is, ‘how can we help?’ And that, I think, is really characteristic of County Durham.”

Accordingly, Lumiere 2021 includes Marks in the Landscape, six major new works to light up landmark locations across County Durham.

And there will be everything from a giant desk lamp to huge hanging flowers, which re-imagine household plastic waste, and works raising awareness of hidden disabilities and the separation and loss experienced throughout the pandemic.

Lumiere 2021 has also launched its first online interactive artwork that allows anyone to take part from wherever they live.

According to a Durham County Council study, Lumiere 2019 generated substantial economic returns for Durham, with the total economic impact valued at more than £11.5 million – despite the heavens opening for three of the four nights. 

The return on the council’s £600,000 investment in the project was up 1925 per cent, with a net visitor spend of £2.8 million.

Councillor Amanda Hopgood, leader of Durham County Council, said: “As the UK’s leading light festival, Lumiere has truly put County Durham on the map and is a shining example of how culture enhances the vibrancy of our communities.

“It also demonstrates the scale of our cultural ambitions, which are driving forward the Durham 2025 campaign and no doubt helped to secure our place on the UK City of Culture 2025 longlist.”

Durham University is sponsoring three Lumiere 2021 installations to light up some of the city’s newest and most historic buildings across the four-day spectacular, which organisers will be hoping can avoid the torrential weather conditions of 2019. 

Anthology – Into the Light is a collaboration with Durham University and New Writing North that will see ten of the UK’s most exciting poets write new works to be projected on to the walls of Durham Castle, home to University College. 

CHRONOS will illuminate the Ogden Centre for Fundamental Physics with a projection and soundscape that takes the viewer on an audio-visual voyage through time and at St Mary’s College, almost 2000 LED bulbs will be used to create the illusion of figures moving across the college terrace, in a piece called Scattered Light.

This year’s installation on the façade of Durham Cathedral, entitled In Our Hearts Blind Hope, will feature a specially recorded soundtrack including a 35-piece orchestra of Durham University students, conducted by first year music student Jude Holloway.

Lumiere 2021 is open each night between 4.30pm and 11pm and in a change from previous years, the controlled city centre peninsula area will be ticketed for the entirety of the festival opening times every night.
This is to manage audience numbers as part of measures in place to offer a COVID-19 secure experience.
Only nine installations of the 37 in the city programme require a ticket at all times.