By Clara Gaspar
Returning to Durham for the fifth time, it is estimated that Lumiere 2017 attracted a record of 240,000 people over a four-day period.
The biennial festival has seen its audience grow with each presentation. In 2015 visitor numbers reached around 200,000. This is a 14% increase compared to 2013 (175,000) and demonstrates a continued increase from 150,000 in 2011 and 75,000 in 2009.
Lumiere was mostly popular with students as well as with the local community. Pierre Davies, a second-year student at Durham University stated: “It was an amazing event. It was incredible seeing so many people around Durham and the city in a new light, pun intended.”
Lumiere, however, did not please everyone. Matt Lavelle, a second-year Biology student, said: “I’m an avid stargazer so wasn’t a big fan of the light pollution.”
The light festival was coordinated by events company Artichoke and commissioned by Durham County Council, Arts Council England and Durham University.
It featured 29 artworks by international artists, such as Finland’s Kari Kola and Canadians Rami Bebawi and Daniel Iregui.
Works by more local artists were also on display. British artist Hannah Fox projected her work ‘Our Moon’ onto Durham Castle, while Cumbria-based Emma Boyes celebrated Northern heritage with her paper cut-outs of NorthEastern Landmarks at Durham Railway Station.
In addition, the work of Durham University’s own History PhD student, Finola Finn, was displayed at The Count’s House. The suspended red heart drew on 17th-century imagery in order to explore our sense of self, placed beneath the ancient proverb ‘Know Thyself’.
Helen Marriage, Director of Artichoke, producer of Lumiere for Durham County Council, expressed her satisfaction with this year’s festival: “I think this has been my favourite Lumiere festival so far.
“Part of the joy of programming this festival is thinking about ways to keep it fresh and new each time, and I think we really have achieved that.
“Of course, some pieces appealed to some more than others, but with 29 separate installations, I think Lumiere offered something for everyone.
“At the same time, we continued to push the boundaries of what is possible, including creating Pablo Valbuena’s once-in-a-lifetime work at Durham Cathedral, an extraordinary technical feat of synchronicity involving 60 bell-ringers triggering lights and exploring this iconic building as an artwork in its own right.
“As always, the support we have had from our commissioner, Durham County Council, has been exceptional, and the involvement of local people at every level, from participating in artworks to the 315 who volunteered as festival makers, has been exemplary
Meanwhile, Durham councillor Simon Henig highlighted the more tangible effects that Lumiere has brought to Durham: “Together the five editions of Lumiere have seen more than 800,000 people counted through the peninsula entry points alone and I anticipate that the £21m in economic benefits delivered by the first four festivals will rise significantly once we evaluate the 2017 edition.”
He outlined the social benefits and diversity of the festival: “Around 1,300 people have also had the chance to be part of the event, thanks to the community outreach programme which can provide life-changing opportunities.
“We have also hosted guests from as far apart as Canada, Switzerland, Senegal and Russia. “This is, without doubt, the most international of the Lumiere events we have hosted and I would like to thank the public, volunteers, staff and, of course, Artichoke for another truly world-class event.”
Before the festival opened on Thursday 16th, Marriage announced that Arts Council England had pledged funding for Lumiere’s sixth and seventh exhibitions, suggesting that Lumiere will indeed be returning to Durham in 2019.
Photograph: Zoë Boothby