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Google This: People Make Lumiere

Ahead of the launch of online photography exhibition People Make Lumiere tomorrow, we catch up with Artichoke’s Senior Producer and one of the logistical legends behind Durham Lumiere.

By Becky Hardy

Ahead of the launch of online photography exhibition People Make Lumiere tomorrow, we catch up with Artichoke’s Senior Producer and one of the logistical legends behind Durham Lumiere, Kate Harvey, to find out how she’s forged a career in the fantastical, what’s in the pipeline for next year and just what it takes to put the UK’s largest light festival together

Lumiere refuses to be dimmed by COVID-19 and is all set to illuminate Durham once more in 2021. But to mark exactly a year until then, Artichoke – the team behind the magic – have created a special photography exhibition which will give online viewers a unique glimpse behind-the-scenes of the UK’s largest light festival. Kate Harvey tells us more.

The return of Durham Lumiere has been confirmed for 2021, so we literally now have a light at the end of this pandemic tunnel! How important would you say Lumiere is to the North East?

Lumiere is a really extraordinary festival for the North East. It’s been taking place now for more than 10 years and it really brings people together. It’s an opportunity to explore the city, but it’s also an opportunity to show the city off to audiences who don’t know it. Everybody’s always keen to see what’s going to be out on the streets next and it gets Durham shared through images right across the globe.

2019’s festival was a special 10-year celebration of Lumiere. What do you have planned for next year’s festival?

We’re talking to lots of artists at the moment, looking at places across the city and really getting artists to respond to the extraordinary topography and architecture that Durham offers. I’m not going to give away any secrets just yet! But there’ll be lots of new ways to transform the local landscape.

What can we expect from the online People Make Lumiere exhibition?

It’s an exhibition that’s been put together by our photographer, Matthew Andrews, who has covered all of the Lumiere festivals. Matthew takes such wonderful images of the artworks, but he also works a lot behind the scenes: taking pictures of the preparations for the festival and some of the people who go to great lengths to make the festival such a success. So you can expect to see things you wouldn’t normally get to: what happens ‘backstage’, if you like.

What’s the reality of Durham Lumiere in the week before it opens?

The festival brings lots of people with very different areas of expertise together – artists, technicians, experts from Durham County Council, crowd and traffic management teams, partners from sites like the Cathedral and the university – so it’s a huge operation. We work right across the city for a couple of weeks before the festival opens and often it’s in the dark so it can be quite difficult, but we try to work around the business-as-usual of the city. Once all the installations are fitted we come together in what we call our ‘Boneyard’, which is where we hear the stories from all of the different installations coming together. It’s really busy but everybody pulls together to make every year more special than the last.

Could you tell us a little bit about your own journey with Artichoke?

I’ve actually been with Artichoke for about 13 years now, so it’s been quite a long journey! When I finished university, I was working in theatre. Then, in 2006, I saw The Sultan’s Elephant by Royal de Luxe in London and I was just blown away by the scale of the work that Artichoke was producing. Royal de Luxe is a French theatre company who specialise in street spectacle and Artichoke closed the centre of London for them. Audiences were really witnessing a piece of magic that they just didn’t imagine was possible on the street. So I guess I was won over by the opportunity to be a part of an organisation that could make those kind of things happen.

And what does your role as Senior Producer entail?

I work alongside Helen Marriage, who is the Artistic Director. Helen comes up with the ideas that Artichoke wants to create and my job is to make all that a reality. So I sit between the artists and the logistical challenge of bringing everything together.

What are some of the greatest challenges of your role?

No day is ever the same, as you can imagine! Taking artists and their fantastic imaginations and trying to insert that into a living, breathing city means you’re really thinking on your feet. But you come into contact with a really wide range of people, which is what I love about my job. And working in Durham is fantastic. It’s a beautiful city with amazing people who love the festival and want to be a part of it. It’s a real privilege to bring Lumiere to life there.

What’s been one of your favourite installations from the festival so far?

Oh, that’s really difficult! We’ve been really lucky with who we’ve been able to bring to Durham so far. I think the installation that Fujiko Nakaya did in 2015, which we repeated last year – the fog installation on the banks of the river underneath the Cathedral. She’s an extraordinary Japanese artist who has been working with the medium of fog for over 50 years. For that piece we facilitated a collaboration with a lighting artist called Simon Corder, and being able to witness the transformation of that familiar landmark into something totally unique was beautiful.

What would be your advice to anyone looking to pursue a career in the arts?

I think the arts are really central to society and to be able to continue to develop new ideas means new people coming in all of the time. So it’s important people do continue to forge a career in the arts, but I have to admit that it’s particularly hard at the moment. The way that the pandemic has closed venues and a traditional way of working has made us all stop in our tracks. But artists are still creating really extraordinary pieces of work and they will continue to find ways for them to be shared. And I do think the opportunity the pandemic has provided is a conversation. It’s made everybody think again about their own practice and how to engage with communities. So I’d say connect with people who have great ideas and try to seek as much inspiration as possible. Producing artwork is hard work – you’re certainly not doing it for the money – so you want to be working with people you really admire and respect.

People Make Lumiere: the festival behind-the-scenes exhibition will go live from 18th November at: lumiere-festival.com

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