Visiting Durham Lumiere 2017

The fifth edition of Durham Lumiere took place in Durham City from 16 to 19 November 2017. The UK’s largest light festival featured 29 artworks in locations across the city.

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“It’s world class. Durham shines bright on a global scale,” said Simon Henig, the leader of Durham County Council, at an event unveiling the installations that were displayed during Durham Lumiere.

The event “illuminates history and heritage in a unique way”, added Mr Henig.

The previous edition of the biennial light festival, in 2015, drew 200,000 people into the city over four nights. The economic impact on Durham and the surrounding region has been estimated to represent at £9.6 million. Local businesses invest £2 million to help make the event happen, adding to funding received from Durham County Council and the Arts Council England.

“It’s a huge team effort…we love being here,” commented Helen Marriage, the director of Artichoke, the creative agency that initiated Durham Lumiere in 2009. Ms Marriage emphasised the involvement and helpfulness of the local community. Around 2,000 people participated in the 2015 outreach programme featuring learning events and activities.

Shining bright...a sign for Lumiere.
Shining bright…a sign for Lumiere.

Tickets for Durham Lumiere

From 4.30pm until 7.30pm on each evening of the four-night festival access to Durham’s city centre was restricted to ticket holders. Tickets could be acquired, free-of-charge, from venues across the county.

“It does get really busy and it is a challenge to get people into a city that was built to keep people out,” quipped Ms Marriage.

Durham Castle and Cathedral, which jointly form an UNESCO World Heritage Site, occupy the highest point of an easy to defend loop in the River Wear. Find out more in the book, Durham – The Great City (£):

“Programming has been complicated by the huge amount of building work that’s going on,” admitted Ms Marriage, commenting on the construction projects being undertaken in Durham during 2017.

Les Lumineoles on Market Square, part of the fourth edition of the Lumiere Durham festival.
Les Lumineoles on Durham’s Market Square, part of the fourth edition of the festival.

What can people expect to see?

Redhills, Durham Miners’ Hall, was utilised as a Lumiere venue for the first time in 2017. A 3-D video projection featuring images of public workers was projected in The Common Good by Shared Space and Light.

The 2017 edition also featured a flash mob in the Umbrella Project performance choreographed by Cirque Bijou.

Hundreds of pieces of glass, hand-blown at the National Glass Centre, in nearby Sunderland, were arranged in St Oswald’s Church, forming the installation What Matters by Schuster and Mosely (£):

Visitors to Durham Lumiere could interact, using smartphones or torches, to create light graffiti at Colour by Light. The artwork, by Stockholm-based Floating Pictures, will be installed on North Road.

Heron, by Jon Voss, was installed permanently by the River Wear for the 2017 Durham Lumiere. Lightbench, an illuminated bench overlooking the waterway, is a permanent legacy of the 2015 festival.

The Red House by Patrice Warrener, part of the fourth edition of the Lumiere Durham.
The Red House by Patrice Warrener, part of the 2015 edition of the festival

Durham University and Lumiere

Durham University, one of the world’s top 100 universities has supported Lumiere since the inaugural festival.

Cosmoscope, a commission supported by Wellcome, was created by academics, scientists and artists led by Simeon Nelson. Inspired by studies of the human body and contextualising the beating of the heart in the cosmos, the work was displayed in Crown Court Gardens.

“It’s great to see the excitement on people’s faces when they see an installation that’s actually some incredible research,” said Dr Keith Barlett, Durham University’s Director of Culture.

Cosmic Architecture, by Nina Dunn and John del’ Nero, was at the Ogden Centre for Fundamental Physics, a building designed by the architect Daniel Libeskind.

Dr Barlett believed it is important for the university to play a key role in Lumiere: “The heart of the city is the World Heritage Site and we share that with the partners from the county and the cathedral. Being part of the Lumiere festival is an obvious thing to do. It engages us with our community and it engages our academic research with that community.”

It’s also a good opportunity for students, according to Dr Barlett. “Our students are fabulous. They volunteer in all sorts of different ways. The opportunity to volunteer in something as amazing as Lumiere isn’t something they are going to miss. We’re expecting a huge number of students to be part of the Durham Lumiere festival,” he said.

Fogscape, on the River Wear, beneath Durham Cathedral.
Fogscape, on the River Wear, beneath Durham Cathedral.

Corporate entertainment at Durham Lumiere

“There’s a lot of corporate entertaining. We have a VIP hub, which our sponsors can come to and bring their clients. It’s open every night of the festival. It’s sponsored by Durham Gin. People can come and get a gin cocktail and Greggs pasties. It’s a lovely place to come out of the cold and there’s a lot of networking for businesses who don’t know each other,” said Sarah Coop, Artichoke’s development director.

“The first time I tried to get people to sponsor it, they were thinking it was a lot of twinkly little lights. Whereas now they know what it is. Now we have figures; economic impact studies. We know how many people come and how businesses benefit, so that makes it an easier sell,” she added.

“The development board is a great way of getting into local businesses. We do so much community work now. People want to be part of it. It’s a real success…eight years, we’ve been here now. We’re not a flash in the pan and we’re not disappearing,” said Ms Coop.

The Arts Council England has already promised funding for a future event, so Durham Lumiere looks set to return in 2019.

Having a whale of a time...Mysticete, a 3-D whale by Catherine Garret, part of the 2015 event.
Having a whale of a time…Mysticete, a 3-D whale by Catherine Garret, part of the 2015 event.

Further information

The Lumiere website has details about the Durham and London festivals of light.

Learn more about organiser of Durham Lumiere via the Artichoke website.

See This is Durham for tourism information relating to County Durham.

Photos illustrating this post are by Stuart Forster.

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Taking a dip...a humpback whale appears to dive into the River Wear.
Taking a dip…a humpback whale appears to dive into the River Wear.


  • Amber Britain

    October 20, 2017 at 00:46 Reply

    These pictures are so cool! Durham sounds like such a cool place. I hope to visit someday!

    • Stuart Forster

      October 22, 2017 at 10:40 Reply

      Along with the cathedral and castle, Durham has some lovely riverside walks and is a fine place to chill over a weekend. Lot’s to do if you can make it.

  • Lewis Small

    February 8, 2018 at 04:42 Reply

    We visited the Durham and London editions of Lumiere. The compact nature of Durham City made it a joy to walk round!

    • Stuart Forster

      February 9, 2018 at 10:17 Reply

      I’m yet to visit the London edition but hear very positive things.

  • Phil McKinnon

    February 15, 2018 at 14:43 Reply

    The London Lumiere was awesome. Next time we need to book a train journey and visit this one.

    • Stuart Forster

      February 19, 2018 at 08:48 Reply

      Book well ahead to stay within the city centre!

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